So I don’t do triathlons (and I haven’t run a 10K-distance in years). Still, at some point, signing up for the Black Diamond XTERRA triathlon on August 5th must have seemed like a good idea, because there I was.
But I wasn’t alone. My sister-in-law, Megan, visiting from Florida with my brother and their two kids, was right there on the line beside me. Coming to my rescue, she agreed to swim the first leg of the event, while I would take up the mountain bike and—God help me—the run.
But I was happy we were doing the relay together. We had signed up for the 2-women category, only to learn after the event that they had thrown all relay groups together. So we two ladies were competing with 3-person and co-ed teams. But we were really in it for the fun, and, as it turns out, the pain.
Event: XTERRA Black Diamond
Legs: 1000-meter swim; 15-mile bike; 6.2-mile run
Location: Lake Sawyer, Black Diamond, WA (23242 SE 312th St)
Megan had been a competitive swimmer in school, so she put in an amazingly strong swim over the 1,000-meter course. She claimed afterwards that the water was clean and clear—a nice change from the muddy, sandy mess she was used to swimming through in Florida’s lakes and waterways.
Megan set a good pace out to the turn-around point on a tiny island (swimmers had to climb out and “run” across a carpet laid out on the islet and get back into the water on the other side for the return swim).
After she emerged from the water and jogged to the corral where I was waiting with my mountain bike, she had earned us 2nd place among the relay teams with a time of 20:40, which also put her in 2nd place out of all the individual women racers as well.
After grabbing the timing device from Megan and strapping it around my ankle, I took off for the 15-mile bike leg around Lake Sawyer. For those who like to mountain bike in Black Diamond, this is not the course for you. While the XTERRA race officials touted this as the “most technically challenging bike course out of all the XTERRAs,” it’s actually just a bumpy course, with endless tiny rocks and baby heads to jostle your bike. If you ride a full-suspension bike, you’ll barely feel it as you barrel down the trail. If you rock a hardtail like me, you’ll feel every bump, so you’ve got to choose a line, but thanks to my nimble Diamondback Axis, that’s not hard to do.
Still, there wasn’t much technical riding—e.g. difficult rock or root systems, built structures, etc.—on the lake trail. (You’ll find more of this kind of riding on the preferred, Real Life Church-property side of Black Diamond.) Nor was there much flow or elevation change. My vote would be for the event to make use of the much better trail systems in the vicinity.
I will say that it was in fact challenging to try to get up to speed on a trail that had little to no flow. The course wasn’t tiring—I can’t even recall a single hill climb—it was just, well, irritating. Of course, many riders must have been similarly irritated, for when I rolled into the corral after the bike leg, I was in 1st place in the relay event (beating all the boys) and 2nd place out of all individual women (after pro mountain bike racer Karen Dewolfe, who would go on to win the overall).
Back in the transition corral, I spent two long minutes trying to lace up my running shoes while the other competitive relay teams spent 20-30 seconds passing the timing anklet to their third person. I told myself it didn’t matter—I wasn’t in the run for the race; I just wanted to finish. I hadn’t run 6.2 miles in at least two years, and it was a sweltering 91 degrees outside.
The course took us up short, steep sections of winding singletrack and along easy-grade fire road. We also trotted around a section of lakeshore, and up and down a small, strangely placed wooden ramp. By the second 5K lap, my feet were so tired I neglected to pick them up adequately as I gained momentum running down that ramp, and I tripped up on one well-placed baby head. After my digger, I heard an exclamation behind me and decided to get up before being trampled.
Onward, onward. A few people passed me on the run, and I cheered them on. I do believe my attitude and their motivation helped me to pick up my feet a bit better, despite the protests of a stomach that had painfully rejected two gels downed earlier in the run. With every step I tried to convince myself—a rare jogger these days—that running was fun. The one saving grace was the cup of water that a race volunteer poured down my head and neck.
I stumbled across the line, finishing the run in 1:05:40.9. That slow, 10 ½ minute-mile split was about the best this non-runner could muster. When I crossed the line, Team Sturdy B’s (Megan and I) had finished the event in 2nd place, just 40 seconds behind the 3-person relay team made up of two men and one woman. For a moment I thought, if only I had tied my shoes faster—or if one of the other top teams had to tie their shoes at all…!
Still, I was happy I did something far outside my comfort zone. It actually took a lot of pressure off and gave me some inspiration for the future. And I got to compete with family on my side. That’s the best.
Maybe someday I’ll even try a swim leg myself, though I think that’s going a bit far.
See you on the trails, Sturdy Bitch Racing-style.
Angela Sucich, Freelance Writer