The Devil’s Lake Triathlon, what can I say? I have been thinking about completing this particular triathlon for 13 years. When I was pregnant with my first child, I watched my husband as he crossed the finish line, and I was more than a little intrigued. A seed was planted that day, and though it took quite a long time to bloom, I finally made it!
My husband and I decided we would do it together. I thought it would be a great way to celebrate our 15-year wedding anniversary, my birthday, and the end of summer all at once.
I spent a lot of time this past summer training for and anticipating my two triathlons. But my road was not without challenges. Those that have read my blog post chronicling my first triathlon know that I cracked my ribs one week prior to that tri. And though I am feeling remarkably better, I am still healing.
What you may not know is one week after that triathlon, I went on a fun and relaxing 10-year anniversary trip with my book club to Lake Geneva. As we were enjoying a concert at a local festival, I managed to get my toe stomped on by a drunk and belligerent bride-to-be. She was so lovely and apologetic that she threw beer on my cousin because apparently breaking my toe caused her to spill her drink.
So with a newly broken toe and healing cracked ribs, I looked toward my second triathlon. I knew I would not be running for at least a couple weeks, as a result I focused mainly on swimming and biking. Which was probably a blessing in disguise.
Over the years, anytime the Devil’s Lake Triathlon was mentioned, I would hear about how difficult the bike ride was. Those that know the area know how hilly it is. If I was worried about one leg of the race, this was it. I trained as much as I knew how on hills in my area, but I was anticipating the worst.
I was definitely not as anxious as I was with the first triathlon. I knew what to expect this time and how to prepare, at least logistically. When to get there, what to eat, what to pack, how to set up my transition space, I was good to go.
When the day finally arrived, though, the anxiety kicked in a little. I did not sleep well, and on the drive to Devil’s Lake, my heart was in my stomach. I think I was mostly nervous about how cold the water would be. September in Wisconsin can be frigid, and that morning was a balmy 55 degrees. I wish I could say that I invested in a wetsuit, but no such luck.
As I waited for my wave to start (the last wave of course), my nervous energy transferred to my bladder. And the only thing I could focus on was getting in the water so I could relieve myself. At least that took my attention away from the water temperature, I guess. Besides, peeing helped to warm me up.
I was definitely less worried about the swim portion this time around. It was only half the length of the first triathlon, so I knew I could finish it without difficulty, and I did. As I was exiting the water, my only thought was, “Here it comes! This is it, what everyone has been warning me about. Let’s see if this bike ride lives up to the hype.”
Out of the gate I was cautiously optimistic, but to describe it as the worst bike ride of my life would be an understatement. I hit the first never ending climb, and my positivity waned. In my lowest gear, my legs were spinning frantically and I was only moving inches at a time. I passed several people on that first major hill already walking their bikes. At that point, I set my goal at merely remaining on my bike throughout the course.
The hills continued, but I managed to stay on my bike. I distinctly remember noticing a large, fuzzy, red and black caterpillar as I was desperately pedaling up yet another hill. I thought to myself, “That caterpillar is going faster than I am.”
If it was possible the downhills were almost more nerve-racking than the up. I was relieved to rest my legs, but my desire to not tumble head over wheels to my inevitable death kept my heart racing. I am still harboring quite a bit of anxiety since the fall that cracked my ribs, so I rode those brakes and white-knuckled every major decline.
Even though it was extremely difficult, I was proud of myself and pleased with my progress. My husband had started in the wave six minutes ahead of me, but I was gaining ground. I spotted him as I was approaching the turnaround, and he was just returning from it. I was maybe a mile behind, I was anticipating the moment I would pass him and leave him in the dust.
If I were to grade my training over the summer, I would give myself a 95%, a solid A. My husband would get a 5%, a clear failing grade. A few bike rides, a few runs, and a couple laps in the pool…he had not prepared at all. I was determined to beat him, if only to prove that he obviously needed to get off of his out-of-shape ass and start moving.
For a majority of the ride, I was seemingly alone on the course. Maybe a fellow cyclist several hundred yards ahead of me and maybe one several hundred yards behind, but basically by myself. I was gaining ground on one cyclist in particular as we approached a turn. There were cops at the intersection directing traffic and race participants. I watched the biker in front of me turn to the right, and I followed.
We rode our bikes right into downtown Baraboo. As I was passing the Circus World Museum on Water Street, I remember thinking, “This would be a good place for spectators. Where are all the people? Maybe I’m that far behind that no one cares anymore.” It was at that point that I finally passed the cyclist in front of me, and came upon another intersection.
A police car pulled out at the intersection.
“Are you guys with the race?”
“You’re going the wrong way.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
My brain was not comprehending the fact that I had just completely FUCKED UP. I was in a state of shock and utter discouragement as I followed the police car back to the course. I knew at that point I would not be passing Tim, and I would probably be one of the last participants to finish. I had a brief flash of quitting, I was already exhausted, and my thighs were screaming in protest at the idea of tacking a couple extra miles onto this already treacherous course. But I knew I could never give up, I would finish even if I was the very last person.
Once I was finally back on track, I caught sight of Tim just beginning the run. He must not have been doing so hot if I was still within striking distance even after tacking on a couple extra miles. A small glimmer of hope surged.
I was nearing the end of the bike portion. Thank God! Though, of course, they had to throw in a couple more big hills just to warm those legs up for the run.
With a huge sigh of relief, I dismounted my bike and landed on legs of Jello®. I don’t even know how my legs were physically able to propel me on that run, but they did. My only thought was, “You’re almost done, just a few more miles, you can do it!” I think I was fueled by pure adrenaline at that point. I passed several people still on the course, so at least I knew I wouldn’t be last.
I also spotted Tim one final time as he left the last turnaround. At that moment, I knew with certainty that had I not gotten off course, I would have passed him. I was more than a little disappointed that I missed that opportunity. I was disappointed that I would never know how I would have actually done had things gone as planned.
Most of all, though, I was proud of myself. Proud for setting a goal, sticking to it, and accomplishing it. Proud that although I hit a few bumps in the road, I stayed on track. And proud that even though I got off course, I didn’t give up.
I will come back next year, do it right, and do it better.