Sunday, May 17, 2009

Nice Tri. A lesson about the power of suggestion.

What to do when your story makes you look like a fool? Write it anyway.

Aside from writing, I like to do triathlons. I had a great race today, but it could have been better, and here's how I messed it up. Key information you'll need:

1. I'm 34 years old.
2. My birthday's in March.
3. My swim cap was red.

All important.

Last Saturday at packet pick-up, the guy gave me a red swim cap. Different age groups wear various colored caps. Unlike a tri with a pool swim (where swimmers enter the water single-file, seeded by speed) open-water triathlons like this one start swimmers in big packs, according to gender and age groups. Each gender/age group is assigned a unique swim cap color, and we leave in waves.

When I got home, I read the race information in my packet and saw that Women aged 30-34 would swim at 7:18 a.m. They would wear white swim caps. The Women aged 35-39, however, would swim at 7:21 and would wear red. "Oh," I thought, unquestioning. "I'm in this other group now because of the 'age at the end of the calendar year' thing." USA Triathlon (USAT), the governing body for the sport, groups people according to their age at the end of the calendar year. I was a little bummed to have jumped an age bracket, but that's part of life so let's go have some fun! Yeah!

When we show up on race day, we go through "body marking". Unlike the bike portion of the event, in which the race number is on our helmets and bikes, or the run portion of the event, in which the race number is on our bibs, for the swim there really isn't anything you can wear with a race number, so they write on us with giant black markers. Our race number goes on the upper left arm and front of the left thigh. Age gets marked on the back of the left calf. "How old will you be at the end of the calendar year?" the guys asked. "Thirty-five," I said, still believing. He wrote it on my leg.

At chip pick-up, my chip scans and I verify the information: Rachel Brady, Female, 34. All correct. (How do I rationalize the dual reality? Not sure. Maybe because it's 5:30 in the morning.)

I set my stuff up in the transition area and went to wait at the swim start. A big production was made about making sure we got in the right swim wave:
"If you get in the wrong swim wave, you'll be disqualified!"
"We have swim caps up here if you have the wrong color!"

"Whatever," I think to myself. "Only losers who are really late to the race get in the wrong swim wave."

I watch Women aged 30-34 leave in their nice white caps.
Three minutes later, I leave with Women aged 35-39. Red.

The race is fun like they always are. We were expecting thunderstorms but got lucky with an overcast sky instead. I paid careful attention to who passed me on the bike, always looking at the left calves of any female riders to see how many in my age group passed me. Plenty of 30-34 year-old women passed me, but I didn't worry about them. Afterall, they aren't my competition anymore.

On the run, a 39-year-old first-time triathlete stopped to walk in front of me. I magnanimously encouraged her to run with me, despite the fact she was now in my competition block. We chat. I lament being bumped into a new age group. She takes no pity on me. More 30-34 year-olds pass me... I let it go. When the 35-39 year-olds pass me, I feel a little exasperated but know I'm doing my best, so it's all good.

Hooray for me, I finish.

My husband has surprised me and brought the kids, who are keen to know what the "35" is all about. I explain about the "age at the end of the calendar year" thing. Husband looks at me strangely: "You'll still be 34 in December, Rachel." Brief moment of confusion as I try to figure out how old I am. "No, I just turned 35. No wait. It's 2009, that was 34..." I think about this and talk through it out loud, stupidly. More thinking. HARD thinking.

"Crap," I finally conclude. "It's all that guy's fault who gave me the red swim cap."

The race results have me listed in the correct age group, 30-34, which is a bummer because it makes my swim split, and consequently entire race time, three minutes longer than it really was. I didn't pursue getting this fixed because of the big bruhaha made over getting DQd if we swam in the wrong wave.

My story pretty much ends here. The take home message is that my mind was a powerful thing! Until it turned 34.


  1. It is entirely within your 34-year old right to blame the guy who gave you the red swim cap, and secondary blame falls to the 5:30 (or earlier) wake-up call. Funny story, though.

  2. OMG Rachel Have you been puffing something or what. Bit

  3. Thanks for the fun post! I'm glad you had a good race, even as a redhead.