Iron Girl Columbia Part One: Pre-Race

“Another day, another dollarrrrrrr, that’s what I’m working for todayyyyy.” Ugh. I grab my phone to shut off the alarm. It couldn’t be 4:15 already, could it? The cheery bluegrass song I had set as my alarm tone to inspire me to get up during the work week wasn’t working its magic today. Ugh. Suck it up, buttercup, get up and get going. Fine, stop badgering me, I yell at myself. I’m not at my best in the mornings. Does 4:15 even count as the morning?? On a Sunday to boot. Whose bright idea was this??

On this particular Sunday morning, I’m getting up at oh dark thirty (or I guess, technically, oh dark fifteen) because I’m signed up to race in the Iron Girl triathlon in Columbia, MD. This summer marks my third year of participating in triathlons and the second time I’ve registered for Iron Girl. I have conflicting feelings about the race and my early morning malaise is further grumpified by my lack of all out enthusiasm for the event.

I love Iron Girl because so many women who would be hesitant to take on a triathlon feel confident enough to try an all female race first. I hate Iron Girl because of its insistence on using Girl instead of Woman. It seems like a backhanded compliment- “You’re strong and tough and you can do this… girl.” I love Iron Girl because I hear announcements at the race like “So-and-so is 71 and a cancer survivor and this is her first triathlon!” and am awed at the strength and guts of the competitors I’ve signed up with. I hate Iron Girl because for an all woman race the announcers are always men. I love Iron Girl because the racers are so supportive of each other, even during the middle of the race you hear calls of “Great job! Keep it up!” and similar sentiments. I hate Iron Girl because out of the seven or eight races I’ve done it is the only one that has a mandatory bike inspection before the race and it feels patronizing. Maybe it’s a coincidence that the only all woman triathlon I’ve done and the only one with this requirement are the same race but I doubt it.

I thrust aside my still sleeping cats and roll out of bed. No snooze today, no way. I need to get going and get on the road. I turn on my nightstand lamp and Tater Tot blinks at the bright light then yawns and tucks her head under her paw. For a moment I am violently jealous of my cats.

I had prepared well the night before and after a quick rinse in the shower I don my race gear- a pair of tri shorts, extra heavy duty sports bra, and a tight spandex UV shirt with long sleeves. Easier than sunscreen. I slip on a pair of sporty sandals and grab my bag and head downstairs to the kitchen.

It’s hard to eat this early in the morning (on top of race nerves to boot) but I had bought an almond croissant the day before figuring the nuts and sugar and carbs would be a good start. (I can feel hardcore triathletes shuddering at my lackadaisical approach to nutrition.) I grab a banana and the croissant along with some coconut water for the bike portion of the race and throw them in my bag. I make yet another quick, obsessive compulsive check of my bag and, satisfied I have everything, head out the door.

For this race you have to rack your bike the day before so that was one large item off my checklist. Not that it mattered, in at least one of the endless dreams I had during the night I had left my bike at home only to realize this as I transitioned out of the swim. I mentally check off my gear once more before I pull out of the garage. Helmet, sunglasses, bike gloves, water bottle, coconut water for water bottle, gel cubes for bike pouch, bike shoes, running shoes, running socks (no socks for the bike portion, just easier that way), race number, baseball hat for run (this is important, I hate running without a hat), croissant and banana for breakfast, Cliff bars if I need them later. Pretty sure I am good to go. I need water and caffeine but will stop at 7/11 on my way out of the city for those.


Racking the day before makes the morning less hectic.

I arrive at Centennial Park and follow the guidance of volunteers waving fluorescent wands around to find a parking spot. I park and grab my bag and my diet Coke Big Gulp out of my car and head for the transition area. The morning is dark and chilly and damp and my feet are soaked by the dewy grass. But that’s okay, I’ll be jumping in a dank lake in a bit, no worries on my damp tootsies right now.

Upon entering transition, I find a volunteer doing body marking and submit to the indignity of being marked with the age of 43 on my calf. I’m 42, I mutter to myself. It doesn’t matter, your age in these events is the age you will be by December 31st of that year. And I’ll be 43 in a few weeks anyway so really, get over yourself, I command. The volunteer wants me to take off my shirt to write my race number on my arms but I tell her I will be wearing the long sleeved shirt the whole race so don’t bother.

“But, but you’ll be so hot!” she says.

“I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure?” she asks.

Goddamnit lady, who is doing this race, you or me? My grumpiness is still in full effect.

“I’m sure,” I say.

She writes my race number on my hand and it isn’t until later I notice she transposed the numbers. 476 instead of 467. Why couldn’t she have done that with my age I think with a laugh.

When I reach my racked bike I see I have lucked out. My bike is lonely on the rack, neither of my neighbors have shown up. My mood improves further. This means I have actual elbow room around my spot and transitions will be easier.

I spread out my bright orange Baltimore Orioles beach towel under my bike and set up my gear and pump up my tires. It only takes a few minutes and I look at my watch. Another hour until transition closes and even longer than that until I start the swim. This is the part I hate the most. Waiting.

After visiting the porta-potty and milling around a bit, I make one final check of my bike and gear. All good to go. I yawn. If they only started these things at a decent hour my times would be so much faster I think to myself for about the thousandth time. With nothing else left to do I head down to the swim start. I’m in the sixth group I think. Not a bad wave really.

The sun is making a muted appearance beyond some clouds and I’m glad it won’t be glaring off the water. In my last Iron Girl I had difficulty seeing the buoys in the first leg of the swim as we swam east into the rising sun.

The Star Spangled Banner begins and I rise to attention and put my hand over my heart, hoping those few still milling about can feel my dagger stares in their backs. I whisper the “Oh” part to myself and smile.* When the anthem is done the race officially begins. Not too long now…


*For those who aren’t Baltimore Orioles fans, when the Star Spangled Banner plays before the start of an Orioles game the crowd bellows out the “Oh” in “Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave.”


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