Nation’s Tri: The Third Wheel

I belong to a global running group, a community of Foreign Service people who try to take their running on the road, wherever they happen to be. They may be trying to fit in runs in baking hot UAE summers (where you run after sunset when it’s a “cool” 105 degrees) or try to make friends with the treadmill when in places where running outside is verboten or make unexpected stops in locales where herds of animals may cross their path. We are a dedicated bunch of crazy runners. Not necessarily fast runners – though we do have a few who place in their respective races – but committed.

Waaaaaaay back in February or March of this year I responded to a post on our group page asking for a person to run the 10k portion in a triathlon team to take place September 7 in Washington, DC. Yeah THAT September 7, you know, the first Sunday back in the DC area after a whirlwind 60 days of home leave and my first week of Chinese training.

So it seemed like a GREAT idea! I could use it to jump start my running when back in Northern Virginia. This couple, whom I had never met, also would have just moved to DC for training the weekend before. It was PERFECT, right? I mean, that’s the word springing to your mind too, I’m sure! I replied immediately. Pick me! Pick me PLEASE! And they did.

Fast forward six months or so… I have run a half marathon in South Dakota a few weeks before, yet it already feels much longer. I am stressed and tired about the start of language training. I book a hotel in DC for the Saturday night – yes, a hotel away from my hotel, because the logistics of getting up at the butt crack of dawn to drive to DC and try to find parking seemed too daunting. My mom stays with myself and C because I have yet to spend a night away from her and I am determined not to have the first night be for this triathlon. My ulcerative colitis continues to plague me and this 10k runs through urban DC (as opposed to a heavily forested canyon in SD), i.e. few if any trees to hide behind should my UC make a pit stop necessary. I have not met this couple I’m running with. Hmmm…this seems a little less perfect than I originally thought.

Thankfully meeting up with my Tri mates proves easy. Though completely unplanned, we find each other the first day at the Foreign Service Institute. We run into each other unplanned each day after that. Even at the packet pick up we find each other at the hotel entrance without arranging a thing. It was rather uncanny.

It is a very good thing we had that going for us because the organization of the packet pick up and staging areas left much to be desired. Racers arriving to pick up packets with their bicycles are turned away as bicycles are not allowed in the hotel (at a triathlon?!). Volunteers at the event appear unable to answer questions. Our cyclist rides his bike down to the transition area to set up only to be stranded down there as the returning shuttles to the hotel stop at 6 pm, although the website and expo announcements say they will run until 7 pm. Then the skies open up and rain pours down. We decide to eat dinner at our respective hotels and meet up the following morning for the next to last shuttle for the start line, departing at 6 am.

That night my mother – a dear woman who agreed to watch Chloe while I run – snores with the force of a fog horn.  (I am sorry mom, you have been outed on Facebook and now in my blog) She tried not to, I’ll give her that. She brought a nose strip, yet it did nothing to stem the tide; I could not sleep. Around midnight, desperate to get some zzzzzs I had an epiphany. I then dragged a pillow and a comforter into the bathroom and set up bed in the bathtub. Yes, the bathtub. Surprisingly, I slept pretty well (I am 5’5” if you are wondering).

I awoke to the news that the swim portion of the race had been cancelled due to a sewage spill into the Potomac River resulting from the previous evening’s heavy rain. After wrenching myself from my bathtub cocoon I head over to the race hotel across the street at a quarter to six. Unfortunately, disorganization continued. Despite being on the next to last shuttle, departing the hotel at six am with the race not starting until 7:15, the bus could not drop participants at the actual start location, just nearby. At the event emcees announced that the “swimmers” would still run into the transition area barefoot. Unfortunately for many relay participants, this was not announced on the website along with the cancellation of the swim portion and some had simply not shown up. Our swimmer was in a dress – albeit a sporty one – and so lined up barefoot with the other “swimmers” to run 500 yards to pass off the timing piece to our cyclist.

Cyclist and I receive conflicting information as to how to reach the hand-off area. One volunteer told us to head in one direction where we met another volunteer who told us to go back where we had come from. We finally just went around both of them, the long way, to find the place, where we waited. And waited. And waited. Though the event started at 7:15, our “swimmer” did not begin her swim-run until 8:23! She was in wave 23, yet between each numbered wave there was also a “named” wave. The first cyclists had returned before 8:15.

At least the weather was perfect for cycling and running. It was cool and overcast – completely different from the near 90 degree and sunny weather of the day before. Still, I had been waiting around to run since 6:15 and with the breeze I felt a little chilled; it was a relief to finally start running around 9:45. Then suddenly, it was all alright. The course was well marked and the volunteers prepared. I ran slowly, without music, my mind occupied with many memories of my previous life in DC. I have run many times in West Potomac Park along Haines Point. I looked across the Potomac to Fort McNair, where I worked as a Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies. Across the Potomac in another direction stands Bolling Air Force Base, where I also worked as a defense analyst. The course also covered streets where I trained for and ran the Marine Corps Marathon, my one full marathon to date. I had missed DC.

All in all, I am glad I participated, though I have decided I will not run more races in DC this brief time we are here, and possibly no other races at all after my half in early October. The time is just too short and the logistics for race participation a little too complicated. As a single parent studying Mandarin Chinese in preparation to work in Shanghai starting early next year, I only have so many hours in the day, only so much free time in a week. I need to recognize my limitations.

Hey, and I did it! Right? In the end I think the best part of it was meeting this other Foreign Service couple, also with a young daughter, serving their country, living abroad, and with a passion for running (and swimming and biking) wherever they happen to be.


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