Imagine a beach party with about 2,000 of your new best girl friends. Women of all ages, complete strangers, wishing each other well, high fiving, hugging, and laughing. Warming up with zumba and yoga, donning colored swim caps according to age, strapping a computerized chip around their ankles. Spraying each other with bug repellent and sunscreen. Sharing drinks and snacks. Snapping photos. Walking bikes back to cars, talking. “See you next year.”
Welcome to the Danskin triathlon. A women-only three-sport event dating over 20 years, the Danskin Tri, occurs in seven cities around the nation, encompassing a ½ mile swim, a 12-mile bike ride, and a 3.1-mile run.
Today I completed my first tri. I had signed up two years in a row and never went. This year, thanks to my cycling pals who trained all winter (I did not), I signed up and saw it through. I came in 22 out of 84 in my age group, 765 out of 1,600 who completed the entire course.
I arrived at Sandy Hook National Seashore in the dark. Thankfully others, seasoned “tri” athletes, wore headlamps or brought flashlights. I looked at the trunk’s worth of baggage I brought: an extra towel, arm warmers, knee warmers, a long-sleeved under armor, two jackets, two sweatshirts, water, coconut water, Gatorade, pb &j sandwiches, granola bars, apples and an overripe banana. I realized I could pare it down a bit. I stuffed what I could into my tote bag, hooked my bike helmet over the handlebars and followed everyone to what’s known as the “transition” area. This is where you rack your bike; according to your assigned “wave” which is the time you’ll begin the swim section. I was in wave #3, bike rack C. In the 55-59 age group, green swim cap.
Rock music and a warm-up zumba class greeted me at the waterfront, on the bay side of the park. I mingled, chatted. “Is this your first tri?” was the most frequent question. When I answered yes, and probably last, most assured me I’d be back. I stretched and jogged in place. I’m not sure I’ve ever been around so many women at once. A veritable estrogen fest.
Then my “wave” crossed the mats, to be sure the computer race chip records the time, and we’re in the water. But not swimming right away. The Danksin tri is all about celebrating women challenging themselves to accomplish something they might not think to do. “ Hands up: Is this your first tri?” “How many are cancer survivors?” Then a meet and greet your neighbors, give them a high five, tell them they’re beautiful. A countdown and the bar lifts, and into the water.
A half –mile is a long swim. The route is a triangle, keeping buoys on your left. Lifeguards, rescue boats, and “swim angels” armed with foam noodles mark the perimeter. As others start strong with freestyle, I accept that I’ll hang towards the back, mixing up my strokes, enjoying the water and the experience. At the end, you walk over the electronic mats to record your swim time.
I finished the swim portion in 17 minutes. Then back to transition, put on my running shoes, changed my wet shirt into the tri shirt, ate half a sandwich and drank Gatorade. Helmet on; I walked my bike to the beginning of the ride. I opted to use my hybrid instead of my road bike. The route is flat (I’d ridden it before) and I thought if it rained or was very crowded I’d be more comfortable on my hybrid, fatter tires but a slower ride. This made my time longer, about 36 minutes.
I’d been told that running after biking your legs feel like bricks. Since I’ve become more of cyclist, my running has deteriorated and diminished. I dreaded this part of the tri. Determined to finish, I maintained a steady, slow pace. I knew if I stopped to walk, I’d stop for good. I completed the 3 miles just less than 30 minutes.
Would I do this again? I’d been saying “one and done” for weeks. Others from my cycling group who couldn’t participate today want us with them next year. And I did invest in a pair of “tri” shorts, quick drying fabric with less padding than traditional cycling shorts. I guess I should get more than one wearing out of them.