One Person Racing is Racing with a Community Behind Them

Race Reflections from the Santa Cruz Triathlon, Sept 25 2022

While a race is completed solo, there is often a team, whether clearly defined or not, behind the person who is racing.

When I started my swim, breaking through the pounding waves at Cowell’s Beach in Santa Cruz, I found my spot alone and uncrowded and began the smooth and steady strokes that would take me through the parked sail boats, around the end of the wharf with big orange buoys on my right, and then back towards shore. But before we got started, This Girl is on Fire by Alicia Keys was blasting. The wave of 40+ year old ladies stood waiting for our start time. I looked around me and sang, “These girls are on fire,” because why the heck not. We were about to enter the water, face our fears, push ourselves in this moment together. We were girls on fire. There were volunteers on paddleboards lining the swim, creating a corridor for a safe swim. We were not alone.

As I turned towards shore, a place where I often get a little seasick and nervous, I thought of my friend, Kerra Bolton, who has been learning to swim in an effort to learn to scuba dive and map sunken slave ships. She has been facing her fears day in and day out. Her ongoing bravery in doing what challenges her powered me towards shore. My anxiety was shed as I thought of her and remembered what an amazing thing it is that I was doing in this swim.

I ran out of the water, up the beach, across the street and down a path to where my bike was parked and waiting. My husband and kids rang cowbells and cheered for me – my team! My bike had been knocked over (tires too big for the parking space). The words of the coach from Purple Patch Fitness, the company I have been relying on for a great triathlon plan, came to mind, “Control the controllables.” My bike had fallen, and I could decide how to respond. In my last race, I got a flat. Things go wrong. We do our best to keep on going. I righted my bike, got my biking shoes, helmet and sunglasses on and ran out to where I jumped on my bike and pedaled.

Following more of my coach’s advice, I had decided before the race not to pay attention to my times, but rather to trust the training and race in the most present way I could. Before the race, I had created a plan for myself about when to eat, how much to drink, and then let my body guide me for the rest. I pushed myself on the bike and felt my heart beating, strong and quick. I heard my breath, watched the scenery, passed and got passed by people. I marveled at the speed of the cyclists in their aero position and at the people riding whatever bike they had on hand. As I turned up the hill at the halfway point in Davenport, a 15 year old boy with curls dangling from under his helmet and riding a BMX bike challenged me as we rode up the short, steep incline. I knew that my gravel bike would efficiently carry me quickly down the hill and beyond him, but I admired his strength and power and desire to beat me.

I pressed into my pedals and rode hard down the rolling hills, easing up a little on the uphills to save my legs for the run. The waves slammed and the fields along Highway 1 stretched towards the ocean. I counted the miles and began anticipating the run as I turned down the twisting West Cliff Drive. As I rode the last 3 miles, I could see the fastest racers running towards the 10K turnaround. I wondered if all of the swimmers were out of the water. And then I slowed my bike as I came back to the transition. The guy just in front of me slipped and fell just as I was getting off my bike. He got right up, and hurried into the transition even as everyone leaned in to make sure he was okay, and I followed him in.

The run is always a challenge and because I haven’t been able to run the same amount of miles I used to due to a herniated disk, I wasn’t expecting much. I considered my coach’s recommendation (thanks Michael Olzinski) that I not limit myself to my expectations – a recommendation that I have uttered to other people and one I believe in strongly. Sometimes we need someone else to remind us of what we believe. You see, we are never alone.

I set off on my run, walking briefly when I felt overwhelmed by my heartrate or breath. The fastest male triathletes were already passing me on their way back to the finish line, a couple had likely already crossed. I cheered! Then soon after, I cheered for each one of the fastest ladies. As I neared the third mile and the turnaround more women streamed by me on their way back, and I steadied my focus on my run. The Rocky theme song blared from one of the houses, and I laughed. My body was feeling lighter and better than I had imagined. As I made the turn back towards the finish line, I looked around me. A gentleman was struggling and stretching and we chatted. His side was hurting. I passed on my strategy for when that happens to me. Breathe out on the step of the side that hurts. I ran on. Was there another woman on my tail? Maybe. I saw someone eyeing me near the turnaround. I focused on doing my best and finishing strong. I walked at the water station. 20 steps. I remembered what a friend had reminded me of. “I am doing this on purpose.”

As I came to the last half mile, I thought about the coffee my husband, Jonathan Mooser, would have and how wonderful it would be to be finished. I thought of the people who had texted me their cheers. I thought of how, at the start line, among the Women on Fire, someone had joked, “My favorite part is when I’m done with the swim. Then when I’m done with the bike. Then when I’m done with the run.” Oh yes, Woman on Fire, me too.

The last tenth of a mile is all downhill and onto the sandy beach, so I ran with all of my heart to the finish line, raising my hands while looking for my support crew, not spotting them. The announcer called my name. I stopped my watch and took a nice deep breath, savoring the first steps of being done. Someone placed a medal around my neck. Another person volunteered to take the race tracking chip, a velcro anklet, off of my ankle. I glanced towards the crowd and spotted my family, husband with a coffee in hand, and waved in glee. In head nods and words, I congratulated those people I saw who I had spoken or connected with in one way or another on the triathlon route.

The many people who made up the experience of my triathlon, that webbing of a network, is one that I appreciate so much. One of the reasons I love the thrill of the race is the people moving together towards the same goal, that finish line. The energy of the supporters and volunteers, the friends and family watching and waiting to hear how things went, the coaches, and the others carries the racers, and though we move alone, we move together. I am grateful for my team – friends who texted or asked about the race, my family who cheered me on from the sidelines and beyond, the coaches whose expertise and guidance led the way, and to all of the people who cheered and volunteered.

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