At some point last fall, while I was heavily over-worked and feeling sorely underappreciated, I decided I wanted to take a vacation. No, I NEEDED a vacation. The problem is that I’m not very good at traveling alone. For a few days, I’m totally fine and blissfully relaxed at having no one to please. Pretty much all communication with the outside world will stop when I’m on vacation, and that is perfect by me. But after the hubbub of making sure the complicated travel plans go off without a hitch, once I’ve arrived and everything is just waiting to be explored… I once again realize the brazen adventurer inside of me is actually more of a shy observer. At some point, I then become lonely and anxious and desperately wish I had someone to adventure with.
BUT I NEEDED A VACATION!
I will just have to keep it hush-hush that I’m a useless travel companion – I can’t speak Spanish and I can’t drive… So I planted this idea in the heads of two friends, Brandt Champion and Shelley Harper: “Wouldn’t it be cool to swim in the Panama Canal?”
And this is how I came to be racing in Panama on February 16th.
Also last fall, I decided I wanted to have a lofty goal for 2014. After a little bit of thought, I decided my lofty goal would be to try to qualify for 70.3 Worlds. Sure, I’ve only done two 70.3’s so far in my triathlon career, but why not put together a whole season of them and try to race at Worlds with women who do this as their day job? As my coworker likes to tell me – If I’m in for a penny, I’m in for a pound. To further complicate my plan, I was too busy to race in the fall, so to accomplish my goal I would have to make all my qualification points in the spring. Since I’m still focusing on Collegiate Nationals, the time frame for racing a bunch of 70.3’s becomes quite limited.
Taking all of this into consideration, I decided I should get an early start! And who doesn’t want to swim in the Panama Canal? So my plans for the 2014 season were set by early October, and there will be no backing out.
And right on cue, life decides to throw a few dozen curve balls my way. (Jokes on you, Life! My depth perception is so bad I wouldn’t have caught those balls even had they been aimed straight at me!) I managed to come down with a particularly nasty case of something that seemed like whooping cough but maybe wasn’t. For all of November and December I was down for the count. On top of that, school and teaching were kicking my butt pretty hard every day, and without warning pretty much all the areas of my life I thought were structurally sound just came crashing down around me one after another. And that’s how January 1st found me – oh well, new year, new adventures! Right?
In early January, my lungs sort of started cooperating again, and I was done teaching, so I slowly ramped up my training regimen from the slug-life (lying in bed all day) to… well, what I consider a heavy training load of 10-15 hours a week. A 6-week preparation was apparently just fine, because the race was awesome*.
*Okay, it was 95° and humid and the sea breeze was pretty stiff, and there were definitely moments during the run that I was pretty sure I was moving backward. I won’t say it was my best race ever, but I am very happy with how I stuck to it. Plus, now I know where my fitness is, what I need to work on for the next few races, and what it takes to swim with a pack. I’ll let you do the splits stalking – I can’t do all the work around here
But the really awesome part was the adventures we had in the process. I think my partners in crime, Brandt and Shelley were keeping a tally of “things that went wrong (and then went right.)” I’m going to give you small sampling of them.
Where shall I even begin?
-Shelley’s car wouldn’t start the morning we were going to drive to the airport. She had to get a new battery before 8am. Very few tears.
-We almost didn’t have enough room in the cars for 3 bikes and 3 bike boxes. Brandt and I are much better at tetris now, so at least we have that going for us.
-I had slept about 2 hours during the 48 hours leading up to our flight. Once aboard, I was dead asleep for the entire 6.5 hours, missing out on grabbing a customs and declarations form. Once off the plane in Panama City, every single service desk in the terminal was out of them. When I finally found the forms and filled them out, the passport desk kept the wrong form and I had to fill them both out again. Brandt and Shelley had already sailed through and collected the bikes and bags before I even made it to the passport stamping process.
-I’m the oldest person in our band of triathlon misfits, but I don’t know how to drive. It turns out no one in Panama cares that I rented a car with a motorcycle license. Don’t worry – Brandt was our fearless chauffeur. (Have I mentioned I’m a useless travel companion?)
- Panamanians are very assertive on the road. They drive unapologetically and opportunistically. Brandt loved it. Shelley refused to ride in the front seat, ever. We only got lost a few times – my fault as per usual.
-Brandt’s bike got hungry at some point before the race and decided to eat his seat mounting bracket and one of my allen wrenches. After a lot of bike shaking and head scratching, his Transition regurgitated the lost parts from deep in its bowels.
-Brandt and Shelley were incredibly excited to try Panamanian beer after the race. They have this tradition… well, anyway, it turns out Panama Light is not very tasty, nor does it shot-gun well.
-Brandt ate a pig tail (not the hair-do) that looked like a finger, and other questionable pig body parts… All in the name of gastronomic curiosity. He didn’t know what Mondongo was; when he found out he had some pretty serious buyer’s remorse.
There are a million more stories, like how Brandt and Shelley stalked Heather Jackson out of the awards ceremony so that they could talk to her. She and Shelley are best friends now, by the way. As is Hector the shuttle driver, Tomas at the hotel’s concierge desk, anyone else who has ever spoken to Shelley.
So all in all, I think the season is off to a great start. And I’ve had my vacation. Now I’m savoring “real life” while I recover from my vacation. Big thanks to Eric for supporting my crazy plans for the season (and the roller coaster of “things that come up” along the way) and the support of my team - Fast Forward Triathlon.