It is 0220 in Austin and my eyes are open. The strange bed, the extra hydration, and the events that I anticipate for this day have made it impossible to stay asleep. I obsess about my transition bag, but every thing is there. It was packed, checked and systematically rechecked hours ago. I think about the course. I think about not being able to sleep. I worry about worrying about worrying.
I try to turn my mind off in my typical geeky fashion by listening to the BBC World Service. It works for several 10 minute micro-naps up until I had planned to get up anyway.
I rummage through the breakfast treats I had acquired from Whole Foods Market and simultaneously eat, brew coffee, and don my Houston Racing and Triathlon Club uniform. The BBC plays in the background. At some point, there is nothing left to do except shoulder the transition bag and steal out of the sleeping hotel into the dark like a ghost.
In typical, anal fashion, I am five minutes early and one of the first to the parking area. A 20 something girl is going to scrawl my numbers on my body, and that voice of doubt insinuates that the numbers are for purposes of identifying my corpse. She asks my age, and a voice similar to my own says, "40."
Did I really say that? 40? Holy crap. I was a 23 year old orchestra musician only yesterday. Was that even me? Who was that guy?
I move and find my bike in transtion where the mercury lights provide little assistance in seeing through the blanket of darkness. Note to self: flahslight in transition bag.
I put on my mp3 player and settle into the familiar workout mix while laying out my gear: swim, bike, run. I am so early that I now have time just to sit back and people watch. It is a moveable feast.
I see everyone from hottie hardbody, to fireplug man encasing his 300+ pounds in a wetsuit like a mustachioed bratwurst. 40 year old racers who will contend with the pros. 40 year old newbies who will not. Teenage athletes who have the confidence of being immortal. 65 year old athletes who are racing against father time. We are all here, different and yet the same. The course will be hard for each of us, and how much we give to the course is between each individual and his or her conscience.
Eventually, we all go out to the edge of Town Lake. Amid the smiles and jovial conversation, one cannot miss it. Most of us are looking nervously at the water and the distance between the bouys.
But time waits for no man. The horn sounds and the elites are off, gliding effortlessly like porpoises along the water. My group is wearing day glow green swim caps and are the last wave of men before a six minute break and the first women's wave. I hold out hopes that this break will decrease the likelihood that 30 amazon women will swim over me and pummel my lifeless frame.
I place myself at the back of the queue and drop into the water, which is unexpectedly cool. My plan is to minimize the combat swimming by starting at the back and on the outside. Before I know it, the starter has called 45 seconds remaining, 30 seconds, 15 seconds and the horn sounds.
And so it begins.
I did not feel like I took off too fast, but very quickly I am hyperventalating and struggling. I try all my tricks, but none seem to be working. Someone's body or feet or chop is always interfering with getting my wits about me. I am only about one third of the way to the first turn, and I really want to call the whole thing off.
"Who the hell are you kidding. You're no athlete. You're the band geek and the bookworm. Your little brother is the athlete. All the girls like him. Just go practice. You've got an audition and the calculus exam is soon."
"You are not in high school any more. The popular kids are fat and divorced. You are healthy and married. You have been training for nearly two years solid, and I will hear no more excuses. You are not allowed to quit."
"Shut up and swim."
I flip on my back, and take a few breaths to slow my breathing. This is nuts. I can do this. I squash down the anxiety and focus: twelve strokes, site, twelve strokes, site.
Before long, the first turn comes and goes. A little crowding around the turn, but I manage.
Don't look all the way downstream. It is too far. Just look to the next bouy. One buoy at a time. One stroke at a time.
Down near the third turn, I totally get chicked by the swim champ at the start of the first wave of women. I try to stay out of her way.
One stroke at a time. Now we're swimming up stream to the finish and I am dodging feet of someone in front of me trying to backstroke 1500 meters.
I should probably get credit for swimming a mile and a half with the zig-zagging I did around the outside of the course. Nevertheless, I finish the swim--a distance that surely would have drowned me not four months ago. I am not last out of the water. In fact there are 14 people in my age group more wretched than I.
As the volunteers hoist me out of the water, the whole world lurches on its side and my stomach with it. No loss of nutrition is involved, but the confidence of finishing the swim is immediately replaced by doubts about getting on a bike. The world lurches back the other way as two more volunteers are helping to peel the wetsuit from my shoulders. But I am out of the water and doing the barefoot bandy-legged joggy wobble to T-1.
Time: 34:53.6. Pace 2:20. Average HR: 138.