Victor Jo Ciavaglia, of Bensalem PA, shares her first-ever
multi-sport experience at the Philadelpia Women's Tri (turn Du).
(abridged post, for full story visit Jo's website at PhillyBurbs Blog )
"Du" I have any idea what I am doing?
Here I am headed for the finish line.
In every competition, someone has to finish in last place.
But, please, don’t let it be me.
Most of us don’t like to admit that. We tell ourselves that we compete for the thrill of competing against ourselves … the satisfaction of achieving our own personal victories.
Sure. Just, please, don’t let me be the loser.
With that in mind, let’s start this story with the ending: Of the more than 1,200 women of all shapes, sizes and ages that competed in the Philadelphia Women’s Triathlon, I was the last woman across the finish line.
For my first-ever multi-sport competition, the highlights included a less-than-14-minute mile - my fastest yet, and crossing the finish line with help from a triathlete angel.
Lowlights … so many … included falling off my bike at dismount, dehydrating and post-race extreme pain. But more on that later along with the lessons learned.
Race organizers emphasized the day was about fun; after all, it’s called “Go Diva.” Some competitors fixed tiaras on bike helmets and sun visors and a few wore feathered boas. I also love that this competition, like other triathlon-duathlon competitions, has an Athena category for women over 150 pounds. (Out of nearly 250 women registered for the duathlon I was one of eight “Athenas.”)
We cheered for each other on the course. Even strangers along Kelly Drive got into the spirit. A female Philly cop directing traffic at the Philadelphia Museum of Art yelled at me: “Keep going, girl.”
But in the 90-plus-degree heat, multi-sport competitions are no joke, not even a little. This year, the swim leg of the race was canceled for a second year — so it was a duathlon (also called a “du”): a 1.9-mile run, a 17-mile bike and a 3.1-mile run.
People invest hundreds, even thousands of dollars, into equipment, accessories, entry fees, travel and training for these races. Even amateur competitors will devote virtually every weekend in the summer and fall seasons to competitions.
I’ve heard that people train for these races like it’s a part-time job.
Which is one lesson I learned: I should have trained harder and smarter.
Women at least 30 pounds heavier than me kicked my butt, running at 12-minute mile paces to my 15-minute pace and finishing the bike loop in less than two hours.
How, I wondered?
Training is the answer veteran triathletes gave. It makes all the difference.
In retrospect, my self-training was less than consistent.
I knew running was my weakest area — I should have run more often. See, the key with running is you have to not only keep it up, but keep pushing yourself to run farther, I later learned from a fellow spin instructor.
Another mistake was overconfidence. I teach indoor cycling classes several times a week, so I figured I’d be a strong biker.
Oh, but a stationary bike, even one that has gears, is not even close to long outdoor rides. During the first 8.5-mile loop, I figured out quickly that I could not reach the water-bottle cage — so I went two hours without water in the sticky July heat.
To make matters worse, my carpel tunnel in both wrists was so bad, my hands literally fell asleep.
Ninety minutes (and one 8.5-mile bike loop) into the competition, I briefly contemplated taking a chance at getting caught cheating by following a crush of women exiting the bike course having just finished the second 8.5-mile loop.
During the second loop, a nice guy in the pace car behind me finally pulled alongside me and pointed out that I’d done three-quarters of the race in the wrong gear. I was spinning my wheels, literally, using valuable energy.
Even after I finally geared up, my bike pace stayed so slow, I could hear the pace car gunning its engine behind me. I kept thinking, any moment, I’d be DQ’d (disqualified).
Every Sunday bike rider along Boathouse Row passed me. An old man on roller blades passed me. Near the art museum, I dodged pedestrians who obviously thought the triathlon was long over.
As I approached the bike dismount, I had pretty much decided I was going to dump the race (meaning quit). I announced it loudly as I passed Langhorne Manor resident Peg, who has done the Philly Women’s Tri, but this year was a spectator, not a competitor.
At the dismount, completely dehydrated, I fell off my bike and into a tree. You can imagine this scared the hell out of the race volunteers. I immediately started alternating between crying and repeating that I didn’t think I could finish, but I wanted to finish. And could someone - please - hand me my water bottle.
A nice skinny blond girl tried to reassure me. She asked if I trained for this? Yes. Then you’re an athlete, she said.
No, I’m not. I’m a quitter.
Another guy told me how his friend had to quit during the famed Ironman Triathlon. Does that mean he’s not an athlete?
Hello, that’s IRONMAN — a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run … no comparison.
Some other guy asked who the pictures that I had pasted to my bike and helmet were of. Uh, me, like, 10 sizes ago - before I decided to try this athletic lifestyle.
I’m not sure how long I sat there. Long enough to drink my Gatorade and a half a bottle volunteers brought me. They suggested the medics check me out. I’m fine, I told them: The President is Barack Obama … my name is Jo Ciavaglia … today is July 11, 2010.
And Peg is an angel.
Right there, she offered to walk the last 3.1 miles with me.
By now, I really, really wanted my finisher’s medal, so I got up. Got my bike and went into transition — which was almost empty since most people had already headed home. I headed down the tunnel toward the 5K route, where volunteers cheered me on and handed me an icy washcloth to stick down my bra.
Then I was off … walking … very slowly ….
My legs - I cannot accurately describe the pain, but I imagine it’s similar to riding a horse bareback for three days. Peg assured me the pain would be less before I crossed the finish line.
So we walked and walked. I could see the second-to-the-last woman in front of me. Other women who were on their way to the homestretch kept cheering me on.
At the one-mile water station, a volunteer doused down my back with cold water, another experience I cannot accurately describe other than pure heaven. At some point, the race organizers sent another volunteer to check to see if I was alive.
At the turn-around, I told the volunteers I was the last one, so they could start packing up, which apparently they had started doing.
As I neared the finish line, I was met by a guy who had to be a personal trainer. I say this because he started yelling at me Jillian Michaels-style. He was telling me I was going to finish strong.
I laughed. Dude, I’m in last place.
Doesn’t matter, he replied - this is your goal, your personal victory.
I just want the medal, I told him.
Forget the medal, he said, this is about you, your personal victory.
I appreciate what you’re saying, but, really, I just want the medal.
But I was feeling a little better, so I sucked it up and ran — or what I call running — the last 50 yards.
People cheered, probably happy that it was finally over. Peg’s daughter acted as paparazzi documenting that I actually did finish. Spectators (mostly volunteers) held their hands out for high-fives as I passed. The loud speakers announced me as the last finisher.
I crossed the last timing mat. A guy put a heavy purple and pink medal around my neck.
My final time was 3 hours, 38 minutes and 37 seconds.
For context, the second-to-the-last duathlon finisher was 28 minutes faster; the last triathlete was 17 minutes faster.
But, at least I finished, as so many people have reminded me since.
Be proud, they say. Think about all those people who slept in Sunday.
I am proud, kind of. I like my medal. I have also discovered I have muscles in places I never would have dreamed.
I also have a new, strange renewed sense of athleticism.
Well, 24 hours after the race, I did 30 minutes on the elliptical … 48 hours post-race, I went a 2.5-mile jog - a slow jog.
And 72 hours post-race, I signed up for my next one!