I managed to make it to the start line of my first duathlon clenching my chest from a viral infection, anointed in nervous energy and daydreams of the nearest bathroom.
In many ways, I think the universe likes to piss on my imaginary cornflakes with some form of mishap to my body. This time it came in the form of a respiratory infection. Ah, nothing like the good luck charm masquerading in the form of a dry cough with an annoying wheeze from your chest. If this wasn't my first duathlon, perhaps I would've considered staying home -- but race costs make my lint wear sponge rollers like a black eighties mom gripping a belt because you didn't come home by curfew. I suppressed my bitching and toed the start line glancing at my Garmin app and hoping that all of my hardware wouldn't fail me for the fiftieth time this year. Most first time experiences are special and despite the circumstances, I longed for this feeling for a few years.
Race Day Morning
The first buzz from my alarm didn't feel real; I didn't go to sleep until after midnight. For five years, nothing's really changed about this reality with the rare exception for events that start late. I shifted my phone to the side of my bed as I hit the snooze button three times. By 4:45 AM, I allowed my urge to use the bathroom to wake me up. It was hard to breathe after twenty or so steps. Touching the semi cold hallway floor sent me into a dry coughing spell that made me wheeze enough to concern my husband.
Am I really going to do this duathlon this morning?
My limited budget didn't care much for my lungs. This race cost me around 70.00 USD but between inspections for my bike, time invested on training and hours away from my home forcing me to order emergency mediocre takeout at least once every two weeks provoked me to chalk up the sound of my chest begging for help. I allowed the steam from the shower to open up my lungs as I waited for the phlegm buildup to leave my system and started rummaging through a stack of fresh unfolded laundry that my husband bought up to our bedroom floors for me.
Typically I'm much more organized and meticulous about my race day adventures. Frankly I've been a bit disheveled since returning to New York City from the Hood to Coast Relay. Although my bags were unpacked, some things have been sitting in the same place for a week. My mind is divided in several directions. Between thinking about this duathlon, my first powerlifting meet in six days, a host of speaking engagements and places to travel within a four month period, my focus is sitting on the edge of the Williamsburg Bridge looking to take a swim. I found my one of my favorite pairs of Superfit Hero shorts: A striped black and white print with a smooth but sturdy texture, whipped out my tester race vest from Ultimate Direction, a simple black top and a medium support bra. I chose a random pair of Swiftwick Maxus socks and opted to go with sneakers lighter than my HOKA ONE ONE Clifton 6s: A broken in pair of HOKA ONE ONE Rincon that treat me pretty good on shorter runs.
Eric, my hubby, looked at me with a poker face that told me he was a bit concerned. Last night we considered taking a Lyft from Brooklyn to the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park but again, my pockets held onto a belt waiting to slap me and I didn't think the time difference would be significantly different. If circumstances were different and I wasn't traveling with someone, I would've rode to the race -- I'm actually glad that I didn't. I never did one of these races before despite training and my earlier athletic adventures of doing this for shits and giggles.
He grabbed my bike and backpack, pumped air into the tires and did most of the hard work for me. My race day breakfast was last night's dinner: One homemade empanada thanks to my procrastination. I didn't have time to go to the store nor did I want to take a chance with outside food. We walked over to the train and jump on board less than two minutes after waiting.
Upon exiting, an eight minute walk took me to race day central and I suddenly needed to use the bathroom for the third time -- this didn't happen. My race starts at 7:30 AM sharp and it was 6:50. This gave me enough time to freak out, rack my bike, retrieve my race bib and get myself together. I would be forced to play the shart or fart game for possibly two hours.
So We're Starting Three Minutes Earlier Than My Phone -- Cool
The New York Tri Organization have a really family friendly kinda vibe. I saw a few people who recognized me before lining up. It couldn't have been more than 200 participants at this event. This is much smaller than my road or trail events. As I walked up to the start line, I already knew that I'd be dead fucking last. I quickly unfucked myself and told myself to not get irritated if someone told me to move faster. Negative thoughts on new things cloud my judgment and I desperately tried to shake them off. I didn't see my husband after he kissed me goodbye and before I knew it, I was running for the first stint of my race.
We started on Cat Hill -- fuck Cat Hill. It's a troublesome little runt that typically punches me in the calves something deadly. I opted to push myself to run up -- hill training I suppose -- and I was thankful for the decline that kicked in 45 seconds later. The run was very familiar to me considering I participate in a lot of New York Road Running events and every time I do the NYRR 60K, I have to pass Engineer's Gate as a checkpoint. I quickly knew my strategy around this duathlon: Maintain a 14:30 - 15 minute pace for 2.2 miles and allow the bike to buy me more time. Despite being an ultrarunner, admittedly I have a lot more speed on a bike; this is when my chest isn't trying to stunt to the size of Texas.
I hit the turnaround point, keeping up pace with the time that I had in mind. When I reached the transition, I noticed that I was the last bike standing on the rack. It's an unnerving feeling regardless of how much you mentally prepare for it. Being DFL is a rough place some days but when you experience it as much as I do, you find ways to get out of the funk. Seeing and hearing my husband shout out to me from the distance before riding off onto Cat Hill once again was enough to give me momentum.
12 Mile Trek and Two Loops of Swearing
Cat Hill wasn't as terrible going up on the first go round. I was thankful to be on my bike and knew that the constant up, downs and drifts ahead of me would help my lungs get back in order. Mentally I was a bit faded after seeing the first set of people swerving on their second loop when I wasn't even at mile three. I reminded myself to not compare their struggle to my own and these are probably really cool people. It's not an easy mantra to practice when you're frustrated about being sick on your first duathlon.
As I edged closer to 110th Street and Central Park West, I knew I was going to encounter something worse than Cat Hill: Harlem Hill, the asshole. She's a flaring wart that's no more than a half mile but I hate her on races. I shifted down and cranked more leg power. A pedestrian zig-zagging between the bike lane and the runner's side made me nervous. My momentum was dying and my anxiety attack started dancing with my oxygen. It took everything in me to not cry. My anxiety makes me feel like I have a lump in my throat and my ugly tears typically produced snot -- I haven't mastered the pretty movie cry yet. I thought about my husband and son, released a big huff and started peddling up painfully slow until I reached the peak.
I will have to do this again but next time, it'll be the final loop. I allowed gravity to release me into the wind, watching my speed crank over 20 miles per hour and then I regained control after a minute of drifting. Thankfully I didn't let one of the volunteers talk me out of carrying both of my Skratch Labs formula. I took a swig and followed it up with a splash of plain water and continued on. Pedestrian traffic started kicking up around mile six and I could see the New York City Triathlon group's banner in the distance. It looked like the leader was finished with his race; I had one more loop and this time, it wasn't so terrible.
Legs Like Bricked Jello: 2.2 Mile Run
I was relieved to reach my last transition. My back started aching around Columbus Circle and I wanted some relief. I quickly took off my helmet, placed my bike back on the rack and headed back for Cat Hill. Initially I tried to run but my legs felt like bricks on top and jello on the bottom. Within a quarter of my run, I started seeing other runners returning back to the finish line. I used this as a glimmer of hope that I wasn't that far behind the last person.
Engineer's Gate served as a marker in my brain to indicate that I was almost at the turn around point and when I saw the petite black volunteer with a reflective vest, I was let out a light sigh of relief. She stood next to signage notifying runners to go back to the turnaround point.
The last mile felt harder than usual and I reduced my struggle run down to a speed walk. I felt no shame in feeling my weight shift onto the pavement. People on the path cheered me on and left me with supportive words. I saw Cat Hill in the distance and I knew once I reached over the reverse side of the peak, I'd run downhill into the finish line.
I saw the volunteer who navigated me through the bike procedures in the distance as she shouted at me to sprint. I gave the last minute of the race everything that I had. I could feel my chest tightening but I pushed until I reached the banner. As I moved towards the race official to receive my medal, I was overwhelmed with nausea from my infection. My husband stopped recording his video and ran to my side. After I gathered myself together, three ladies who cheered me on at the finish from Latinas Who Tri talked me into taking a photo at the finish line. Eric placed my medal around my neck for the photo and we picked up my bike from the remaining rack.
I was pleasantly surprised to see so many signs still intact for me -- the runner who was DFL. We picked up some fruits before making our way to the train station. Eric leaned over onto my bike as we grabbed a seat and drifted off to sleep. I knew I wasn't in any mood to cook and we were both starving. I went to my corner store and entertained Tiger the Bodega Cat as I placed an order for the New York bodega classic: Bacon, Egg and Cheese.
When I made into the house, I lost time sitting on the toilet mindlessly letting go of my stress with the help of Instagram until my glutes went numb. The beads of hot water from the shower pretended to be a live orchestra against my sore muscles. I barely made it through my sandwich, falling asleep next to a knocked out Eric who was as exhausted as I was for the early morning start. After I woke up, my body ached in a way that was unfamiliar to me but welcomed. I dressed my body in Vicks Vapor Rub andiKOR Labs warming gel to recover. As I sat down in my bedroom staring at the ceiling, I digested all of the events that happened today.
In six days, I'll be participating in my first powerlifting meet with the Iron Maiden's Raw Open. New things scare me but being stagnant dampens my spirit more than anything in this world. My week will be pretty light until Saturday; Monday and Wednesday are my last powerlifting sessions before the event. On Sunday, I'll be at the New Balance 5th Avenue mile. Surely these things are hard but when I think back to almost seven years ago when I couldn't move without assistance, nothing is impossible.
Latoya Shauntay Snell
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