I walked down the Pedestrian Village and entered the transition zone. Everything on the bike looked good, so I put the bottles into the cages and double checked my bags in the change tent. Yup, all fine too. I put my wetsuit on and started walking to the swim start. It was a cold morning - about 7 degrees C - and I was getting cold. I hoped that the water would be warmer, otherwise I might be in a bit of trouble. :) There was so many people out heading in the same direction and you could feel the energy in the calm air.
When I got to the beach, it was amazing. So many people, so many neoprene suited people, so many boats in the water. The mist was hanging over the water, and clouds were low on the mountains. It was quite the postcard moment. Music was pounding, people were excited, people were nervous. I was pretty nervous and pretty emotional. But soon enough the CF18 flew over and the cannon went off and the elites were on their way. That gave me 10min to try and gather my thoughts.
I chatted with a couple of other athletes, and before you knew it 7am was here. The CF18 flew over again, the cannon went off and the mad chaos of the mass start was in the water! I had no desire to get caught in there, so I waited back for about 30sec before walking into the water. Thankfully it was WARM! Much warmer than the air temperature and I started to appreciate the lake more and more. The water was warm, clean, and suddenly inviting. That was the point where I did my first dolphin dive and started my swim.
The water was so clean, so clear. It was so much better than swimming laps in the pool and dealing with the chlorine, hair clumps like jellyfish waiting to grab onto your face, and no people. I had clear water all around me, and I settled into a rather comfortable stroke - and after seeing my swim time, perhaps a bit too comfortable. I was out of the water in 1h18, which is my aerobic swim pace (slightly under 2min per 100m). Yeah, I could have gone harder, but I felt fresh heading towards the change tent.
But even with that relaxed swim stroke, I still got into trouble. No more than 5min in, I had caught the chaos. All of a sudden I was surrounded by bodies, and could feel others on my legs. I started to swim head-up and tried hard not to do a whip-kick - I didn't want to nail anyone behind me. It seemed to take a long time to find open water, when suddenly (after what seemed like minutes) I thought "get away from the buoys" - everyone converges to the buoys to navigate and shorten the course. If I went wide, there'd be less to deal with. And that's exactly what I did. Unfortunately, I couldn't just swim there because of all the bodies. So, I grabbed shoulders. I hate doing that, but it was my only option. I grabbed shoulders and pushed laterally, NOT vertically - instead of dunking people, I just pushed them sideways out of my way. I'm sure I pissed off people, but I kept their heads above water. It was working and I was getting out of the foray and I felt solid...
...until I saw "her." I don't know who she is, but she was out cold. Two other athletes had her on her back, waving to the rescue crews. I don't know what happened before or after that, but I do hope she was okay. There was nothing more I could do to help her, so I refocused and kept on going.
When I hit the open water, I was fairly wide of everyone else suddenly, probably 10-15'. At that point, I didn't care. I just started swimming, focusing on form and getting back into that groove. I just swam and found some feet to follow, and then pass, and more to pass. We hit the first turn, and then the second one, and then headed for the swim exit. At this point I knew I was good to go - no stress, no panic, no trouble, and no leaking in the goggles so my contacts were good to go. But that exit was damned hard to sight! No matter what I tried, I just couldn't find it. So I moved a bit closer to people and just followed the swarm. I was still wide which I thought would be good, but that part of the lake gets shallower faster, and the rocks and boulders there were terrible to get over. I actually rolled across them to get to deeper water and smoother ground. It felt good.
That's when I realized that 1h18 of non-stop swimming messes with your legs. And your balance. Neither seem to work right. I wanted to get out faster, but I couldn't - not without risking a twisted ankle or a complete flop onto my face or ass. I just walked up, found the zipper pull on the wetsuit and started getting ready for the peelers.
For those not aware, "peelers" are the most desired volunteer spots at these races (so I'm told). They work in pairs, and their sole job is to get you out of your wetsuit as fast as possible. I had mine undone to the waist, and wiggled it down past the top of my shorts. I found two peelers, laid on the ground, and >zoom< they pulled that wetsuit off me faster than a sneeze! Even better - my shorts stayed on.
I got up, thanked the peelers, and ran the carpet for 300m to the change tent. This was my first experience with the crowd front-and-center. Thousands lined the route on both sides, screaming, cheering, waving signs, honking horns, ringing cowbells - it was bloody incredible and I teared up a bit feeling all the emotion being generated. People I didn't know called my name out and cheered for me in at least 2 languages. All that helped my legs to come back and my shuffle turned into a near-jog and before I knew it, we were at the change tent.
It was a busy time there, and I had a tough time finding a seat. Not that I cared. I really wanted to make sure that I didn't forget anything or miss anything. Even in the tent it was an incredible experience - everything from tears of joy to a guy bearing it all applying lube to himself in preparation for the ride. All I could do was laugh, and I just wondered what some artsy sociologist would write about all this.
Finally, I was changed and ready to go. The volunteers were INCREDIBLE, and did all the work for me - they gathered all my swim stuff and placed it into my first transition bag - it would be waiting for me at the end of the race. With that, it was into the bike area, where things were kinda quiet. A bit of arm pumping opened up the crowd a bit, and just as I got to my bike, I heard two familiar voices - my wife and daughter! They were right there waiting for me, and it was so awesome to see them! I got my bike ready, slapped on the helmet, took it off the rack, and headed straight for my family dodging all the others headed for a bike ride. I didn't know what the day would bring, or when I'd see my family next, so I had no hesitation stopping to see them and give some hugs (and get some in return). With that, I was off, wishing my family could be there with me.
The open, hilly road was waiting.