the musselman

Mary Dougherty

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I'm a fine art film photographer living in the mountains and traveling to tell beautiful stories

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The sun was barely peeking out over Seneca Lake when I woke up at 5:40. I put on my triathlon uniform, a tight fitting white top and blueish gray shorts that I had worn since my first tri five years ago. I sprayed on some sunscreen as Matt chirped “don’t put too much on” since it can block your sweat and keep you from maintaining a good body temperature (he later explained)… so I stopped there and later blamed him for the thigh high tan socks I would be walking around with for the rest of the year. I stood in front of the mirror trying to make the biggest decision of the day, how to do my hair. Under a swim cap it didn’t really matter, but then it had to fit well under a helmet and a hat for the run, plus no one wants to see the mangled mess at that point anyway. I opted for a few braids just to keep things in place and the nerves started to build as the clock ticked closer to the start of the race. With our bags packed we hopped on our bikes and rode the two miles in to the start from our hotel. We passed a long line of cars waiting to enter the park as I assured myself that riding in was the right choice. Volunteers stood outside transition areas with strongly scented black permanent markers, ready to brand you with your age and race number. I had once relished in wearing that temporary tattoo, especially in the days after a race when it stood as a symbol for what I had done. Now my leg said 27, and it surprised me that I was already in my late twenties. “How did that happen?” I wondered as I found my row and rack and set up my folded towel with helmet, number belt, gels, extra heed, shoes, etc… in what I thought would be the most efficient manner to retrieve. Once set up I met Matt and we walked over towards the swim start, and my mind drifted back to February when I signed up for the race. Then it was snowy, cold and it seemed like there was little hope for summer and yet here I stood on a sunny shoreline ready to go for a swim.

Swimmers were called up in waves and different colored caps grouped and then set off. I watched as light blue, yellow, and white started as I gathered with the pink caps on the sandy shore. It was our turn, and we waded into the surprisingly warm water towards the two orange buoys that marked the start. The minutes were counted down and when we reached go we were sent off with a wave of cowbells and cheers. The start was surreal as I knew it was the beginning of a very long day. I tried to get into a rhythm but was overcome with the out of place feeling you get when waves start to rock you and the water you look through is cloudy. I stood up since it was shallow enough still and cut my big toe on a zebra mussel. That’s why they call it the musselman. I had to get my head in the game and forced myself into freestyle while I thought about the smooth pool workouts I had put in. I should have practiced in open water more, but it was a little late so I just needed to get through it. I was paralyzed into swimming slower than I knew I could, but finally the end was in sight and I climbed out on to the boat launch and began to peel off my wetsuit.

Matt stood outside the transition area casually and I knew he had waited longer than he expected for my arrival. I put on my helmet and sunglasses before grabbing my bike and heading out on my 56 mile ride. I had never ridden 56 miles, 35 was the farthest I made it in my training. It had been a challenge to train with weddings each weekend and the travel involved for some of those. A day off here, another there meant that I went in to the race less prepared than I would have liked. That’s okay I reassured myself, I knew I could do it and I was going to one way or another. I rode past the spot on the bike where I had stopped in my very first triathlon and turned around to get the timing chip I had pulled off with my wetsuit. I should have kept going but I didn’t really know better then. Five years later I was riding five times as far. My bike was significantly lighter with the carbon wheels I borrowed from Zach, whose wedding I photographed just a few weeks earlier. I looked ahead and kept pedaling as I turned on the play list in my mind and sung some of the top songs I heard each weekend at weddings. I tried to just sing one song each ten miles, but I soon started to skip around as if the bumps in the road made the song jump tracks. It did the trick and made the hours on the bike easier, which had become increasingly hotter as I rode.

I pulled into transition excited to be on the last leg of the journey but amazed that I would start a half marathon. I had run one other half marathon, in Baltimore in an even 1:30. Today would not be as fast. I told my legs to switch from biking to running and they ignored me. Eventually we cooperated, albeit reluctantly and I made my way around the 13.1 mi course. I stopped at each aid station and put ice cubes down my shirt, poured water over my head and stayed hydrated until I made it to the next station. It helped that they were located at each mile, not only because of the 90+ degree heat but because it broke up the run and made it go by more quickly. A few people gathered outside their houses to cheer and some even had hoses with aa offer to spray down anyone on the course. I always approached with open arms and pointed eagerly at myself just in case they didn’t catch that yes, I wanted water and as much as possible. Many people stopped to walk at the hill on mile 6, but I refused. I don’t blame them and since I had already lost my age group in the swim most of the people I was with were in the 35-50 range. The miles went by fairly quickly, especially for 9 minute miles, and soon I was on the home stretch towards the finish. I could see the tents in the distance and the faint sound of the crowd and announcer as I neared the end. I saw the finish and killer instincts kicked in as I picked up the pace and passed two girls right before the line.

I did it. Now to do it better.

ps. thanks again matt for being the best support team out there! also good job taking pics – I thought you would all enjoy a few! also thanks for all the encouragement guys and if you have more questions about training or racing feel free to ask. I hope this post was some encouragement to try your own if you’d like!

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