I was pretty fired up for the Half Moon Bay International Triathlon. International distance is what I do best, and I knew it would feel delightfully short after last weekend’s 70.3

It was cold and foggy in the morning and transition was first come, first served, with a pretty good size crowd (800+). I still have bad memories from a race back in Illinois, where I was sassed by a group of snotty, entitled teenagers when I asked them to make space on the rack for my bike, so I greatly prefer pre-assigned transition spots. And people my own age. Luckily, this time around my rack-mates were courteous and accommodating, and there was room for all of us.

On this grey day, the ocean swim did not look particularly inviting, and the water temperature, at “56-59 degrees,” was definitely freeze-your-face-off cold. I tried to get a warm-up swim in before the race start, but the combination of salt water buoyancy and my instinctive recoil from anything so obnoxiously cold meant that I just skimmed along the top of the water like a cat, without actually getting wet.

The swim started some distance out from shore, and since we couldn’t hear the announcer from way out there, many of us were still in deep discussion about the possible location of the buoys when the race started. The swim took place in a harbor, and as such, it was filled with boats. The aerial diagram of the swim course had seemed pretty straightforward, but down at sea level, the boats blocked the view of the buoys, so navigation was tough. Unsettling though that was, my swim time was OK, so I must not have gotten too far off course.

The run to transition was REALLY long, but my T1 was 3:15, fastest of the women, despite the epic battle between my wetsuit and my frozen hands and feet.

It was chilly as I started out on the bike, so I immediately set to work on gaining speed and heat at the same time.

I didn’t get a good look at the rock that attacked me, but I was not even two miles into the bike when I heard the crack of carbon rim colliding with something it shouldn’t, and the accompanying fizz of a rapidly deflating tire. Although disappointed, I remained calm as I pulled over to confront my situation. My tire changing skills are at least on a par with my transition skills, and until today I had not had the pleasure of testing them out in a race environment. I know I can change a tire in under 3 minutes, and I had all the tools I needed.

…but there was just one crucial element missing:

My hands.

Numb and lifeless, my Mickey Mouse paws refused to cooperate. I fought with the tire as ten, twenty, thirty cyclists blew past. A police officer on a motorcycle pulled over to observe my struggle. I finally succeeded in wrangling the new tube into place and shot it with a blast of C02. But as I pulled the cartridge away, I could still hear a hiss of air.

My new tube was leaking.

How long until it went flat again? Five minutes? Ten? An hour?

As I stood helpless by the side of the road weighing my options, a girl in a Stanford kit rode past, yelling, “need help?”

“A tube!” I called out.

She pulled over and passed me the tube from her pack, adding seconds to her own race, and selflessly exposing herself to the potential for getting stranded without a spare. This was class and good sportsmanship at it’s finest. I gratefully accepted her sacrifice.  Stanford Girl, you rock!

As I returned to my project, filled with dread at having to fight the tire once more, I realized the new tube would not fit my wheels. Nooo!

I always carry two spare tubes with me for any event longer than an Olympic but I figure if I get TWO flats in a Sprint or Olympic distance race, it’s over for me.

“It’s over for me,” I said to the cop on the motorcycle, with a sad shrug. He nodded.

…But now wait a second.

I got up way too damn early in the morning just to be coming out here to claim my first DNF. My husband and my family didn’t get up at 4am (or stay up all night) to spend three hours spectating in the cold, then watch me throw my big frozen paws in the air and give up. And Stanford girl didn’t sacrifice her spare tube just so I could roll over in despair.

Triathlon is all about working with what you’ve got.

And I’ve got a bum tire, but it still has some air in it… At the risk of getting myself stranded much further out on the course, I decided to just go for it. So I rode that squishy, leaking tire all the way, 23 more miles, and I reclaimed my race.

T2 was clumsy and messy, shoving frozen bricks into shoes with my numb lobster claws, but I still managed to scoot out of there in under a minute. I was relieved to finally reach the warmth and safety of the run, and I especially looked forward to Mile 3, when I could expect to possibly feel my feet once again.

The run was great. Even on this foggy, overcast day, it was fun to run along the coastline, past the spectators and surfers. Setting the rest of the race aside, I focused in on my 10K with everything I had left. While I ended up just 16 seconds shy of a PR, I was still pleased with the strong effort, and I cruised into the finish on a high note.

An added bonus to the day was a post-race raffle win that provided me with a much needed upgrade to my heart rate monitor. Sweet!

Wildflower is up next, less than two weeks away.  Let’s try to stay on the bike this time, shall we?