By Tamara Adelman
It was the nineteenth year of the annual race and free beer would be provided at the barbecue, so the next morning, I went to view the race site. I rode my bike and ran a little while I waited for the ranger station to open. There’d been no map of the race course on the race website, and I thought they might have one of the reserve.
I planned to check out the water temperature later by taking my dog Carson for a swim, but first I had to find out where it was. I loaded my gear back into the car as two female rangers pulled up in a white truck.
I said “Hi” and offered to pay a park fee. Yes, they’d heard of the triathlon. Yes, they had a map, and one of them said she just saw a biker.
“That was me,” I said.
“That is a pretty hard hill,” she said.
I shrugged. Her eyes dropped to my abs. The two-piece bathing suit was an experiment I was trying out, since I was thinking of wearing it for the race.
The ranger looked trim. The other woman had a braided ponytail and was a little heavier. She said she was headed over to the Glory Hole entrance, that the swim took place at Angels Creek, and that I could follow her over there. I’d struck the mother lode.
Race day, I was the first racer in the parking lot. It was cool, so I waited in my car for one hour while the race crew got set up. Once I saw the finish line go up, I walked over to registration.
You must be nervous,” a lady whose face was painted with heavy eye shadow said to me. She sat behind a table.
“I shouldn’t be. I have experience with these,” I said and went to position my bike on the rack in the transition area. I overhead another racer say, “I’ve only seen one rattlesnake in my whole life, and it was in the water.” I spun around to get a look at the guy. He was not wearing a wet suit. I was glad I’d elected to wear mine over the two-piece. It provided buoyancy, and maybe ironed out some anomalies of the stroke, and now had that extra degree of protection against rattlesnakes.
There were only one hundred racers. This was the smallest race I’d ever done. It reminded me of my roots on Washington Island. Swimming, biking, and running in a bathing suit felt like being a kid again.
The race director stood out on the dock by the boat launch to give us some prerace instructions. He had long white hair, shorts, and looked a little like Mark Twain. Then he quoted Mark Twain, who said there’s a kernel of truth in all humor.
“Some years we did not have water,” he said as he winked his eye toward the lake. “The water levels were way down, so the swim was more of a run and a crawl.”
We laughed. In a triathlon the swim is first, the bike ride is second, and the run is last. I stood in waist-deep water with the other racers. I thought of Huck Finn and Jim, their time on the river.
“I hate biking,” he said. “Be careful on the final descent of the bike unless you know how to ride it right, in which case you could reach sixty miles an hour.”
“The run is on a trail on that cut below the ridge,” he said, pointing to a mini-mountain behind him. “If you have to pee, just go on the trail. We’ve never had a problem with rattlesnakes. Do not veer off the trail,” he repeated and fired the starting gun.
I made it to the first buoy, but by now the second buoy had moved and was behind a landmass. I kept going, running into some swimmers who’d made the buoy and were on their way back. The second red buoy finally appeared. I fought a current on the way back, but at least no one was swimming into me. On shore, I stripped off my wet suit and ran up the boat ramp to my waiting bike. I didn’t feel tired at all, and conditions were great for racing—not too hot, not too sunny.
The bike route was under fifteen miles, and biking is my strength, so I decided to go as hard as I could. I whooshed past a guy in front of me, startling him. I took it easy on the final descent, as I’d never ridden it before and I had few clothes on—little protection in case of a crash. I was breathing hard from my effort on the bike while I put on my running shoes, but I exited the transition area through the parking lot with a smile on my face.
“You go, girl; you are the second female!” the race photographer said as I passed her. There was a steep short hill, and I climbed it like an angel. Below the trail was a great view of the lake.
My laces weren’t tight enough, but I didn’t want to lose time by stopping to tighten them. I had lace locks on them—a way to get around tying shoes. I still had some water in my right ear from the swim. I had to resort to taking two steps in a row with my right foot and hitting my head on the side with the heel of my palm.
Don’t slow down, whatever you do, or you will get caught. The path in front of me was a neat part with long grasses on both sides. I stopped for a second to tighten my shoes, and soon after I could hear footsteps on dry mud. Someone coming. I tried to hold steady, but the sound of footsteps got louder. She passed me.
Another bump, I should train hills more, no, I should run this hill as best as I can right now. The aid station was at the figure-eight spot of the trail. I passed it the second time and ran to the line with my arms in the air. Yes!
There weren’t too many people around, so I knew I did well. A lot of racers were still out on the course. I grabbed a sliced orange and a bottle of water, walked in some circles trying to catch my breath. I’d stop back at the hotel and shower quickly before heading to the awards ceremony at Utica Park. There was time.
A spectator walked up to me while I was walking my bike back to my car. She had medium-length brown hair and two little kids walking with her.
“I just wanted to tell you”—she paused until she was sure she had my attention—“I’m a fan of yours,” she said. It took a moment for that to sink in. I’d never heard those words before in my life, and boy, did they sound nice. “I really enjoyed watching you race,” she said. “You smiled the whole time.”
“It was a great course,” I said. “I loved every minute of it!” I thanked her and put my bike in my car.
It was cold at the awards ceremony, but I still had a beer. I loved walking to the front when the race director called my name. I won my age group and was the third female overall. I got beat by a 29-year-old and a whiz fifteen-year-old.
Tamara Adelman is a former massage therapist, ironman triathlete, and now writer and golfer living in Rancho Mirage, CA, the playground of Presidents and the Adelmans. She has a certificate in Creative Nonfiction from UCLA.
Adelman has been published in numerous literary journals including Five on the Fifth, Forge, Hobart, Minetta Review, Mystery Tribune, North Dakota Quarterly, Nude Bruce Review, Pendora Magazine, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Rougarou, SLAB, The Storyteller, and Willow Review. Additionally, her story “The Finish Line” was featured in the Literary Mama blog, And I Ran. Her essay “Rustic Canyon” made the Notable Essays list on Best American Essays of 2016, which was edited by Jonathan Franzen.