Zoë Stagg

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Why I am not now, or have I ever been, a camper.

Food and gear and clothes and more gear and more food — and this is just mine and hers, minus a bike and a stroller. AND we’re sleeping indoors.

Never mind, I can’t do the race, I’m too tired now.

(Gear layout behind the car so I CAN’T forget to repack anything.)
"Um. Do you need help?" 

The guys in front of me in my (attempt at an) unobtrusive corner looked back, seven, eight times before they gave in, and tried to figure out why their people watching was suddenly bikini, bikini, bikini, Jacques Cousteau. 

"It’s new, I have to practice, thank you, I know it’s ridiculous."

Kids literally pointed. I was like the Baby Ruth in Caddy Shack. 

But my 500m time trial was 12:00 — times three, and we might be okay on Sunday. 

Then people can laugh all they want.

"Um. Do you need help?"

The guys in front of me in my (attempt at an) unobtrusive corner looked back, seven, eight times before they gave in, and tried to figure out why their people watching was suddenly bikini, bikini, bikini, Jacques Cousteau.

"It’s new, I have to practice, thank you, I know it’s ridiculous."

Kids literally pointed. I was like the Baby Ruth in Caddy Shack.

But my 500m time trial was 12:00 — times three, and we might be okay on Sunday.

Then people can laugh all they want.

Try Club: Week 25…

If last week was gloom and worry, this week is playing defense. The charge: will I be able to finish the swim in an hour? The argument: (I am clinging to like a life raft), when I very first started training for a multi-sport event, I timed my 200m at almost eight minutes. This is eight minutes doing breast stroke, with my head above water. If I make that time stretch to 1500m, it’s almost an hour. SO. By that quadratic equation, if I swam my untrained worst, I could do it?

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I mean, also keep in mind, I was dealing with some very big crimes against aerodynamics back then-

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-that I have CLEARLY sorted out in the “looking cool” department.

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This is my last-ditch effort — turning myself into a raft. I wasn’t going to suit up. The water is supposed to be warm enough to go without, and it seemed beyond my scope for a first go. Though, if the first go ends if I don’t make the swim? I’m pulling out all the tricks.

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And that’s how I found myself at the EXCELLENT Wheel Sports in Weselberg. It’s a magical oasis of technical goodies in the middle of a rural town.

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I kind of wanted everything in the store. They were incredibly helpful, and very patient with my undignified contortions, trying the joker on. I ended up with an Orca Sonar, and a big no-no — no new gear on race day.

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Well, it won’t be totally new — I AM going to take it out once before we go, and once the day before…and practice my inaugural open swim at the same time. I know. I KNOW. But that’s the element I couldn’t help.

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I trained all of the above — and too bad. I’ll have to add inopportune stuff at the end. Cookie, crumbling.

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I had a pretty good last full training week, and it’s close enough that I’m planning nutrition and supplements (sodium tabs, Marmite) and checking the weather. I’m SUPPOSED to be done by 11:00, when it’s about 80. So barring disaster…

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Though if disaster finds me? I’m sure we’ll find something else to do with out time.

The 20th Anniversary Madrid…

It’s a very fortunate existence that allows you find yourself revisiting a European city you first saw when you were 16, a full 20 years ago. Then, it was courtesy of a Spanish Club trip funded by a summer of hostessing at J’s Family Restaurant and Pie House, and I remember the Madrid of a 16 year old — MANGO, and searching the perfect Spanish-inspired hair clip and souvenir ashtray/change holder for my first real boyfriend.

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Which is to say, I remembered almost nothing. There was no spark of dé ja vu, or whatever the Spanish equivalent might be. I remember things — how our hotel room was three twin beds with six inches between, the never-ending drop down to the courtyard below, and the kids from Pennsylvania in our tour group.

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I don’t remember it being such a CITY. Maybe because I had no point of reference at that point, but Madrid pulls you into an immediate New York rhythm. The people scattered at sidewalk tables well into bedtime, the pace, the street fashion that wakes up your brain, and the choices.

Choices everywhere.

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Which is why on our first night, we were able to exercise our other eating-out-with-a-toddler trick: Sushi Boats. There’s no wait, it’s easy to take turns, and toddlers love tempura. At least this toddler does.

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She also has a deep, abiding appreciation for street musicians. As we walked off our road trip well into lateness, she stopped and appreciated every group, clapping and delivering a coin into their case VERY ceremoniously.

It was pretty much the cutest thing ever.

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The next morning, we started out with a walk around the Plaza España, and an idea that we’d find the major landmark I remembered — the Prado museum.

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Standing across the street was the first time I felt a jolt of recognition — “Oh! There it is!” We went in, exploiting my two days of Art History before I dropped it, finding the Bosch and Goya, and the ultimate selfie.

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And though Frankie probably won’t remember a thing, she did go through each painting pointing out all of the “woo woos!” (Dogs.) She knows more about art at this point than I do.

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After, we started the one quest that would satisfy both of us — his love of Hard Rocks, and my desire to celebrate the 20th anniversary of thinking a Mai Tai was a Spanish delicacy.

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It’s still pretty delicaciouso.

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We wandered back to the hotel, through neighborhoods that belonged to guidebook authors, students, and artists. 

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After siesta, we found a corner of a park for a popsicle, and the royal palace. It was the second vantage I remembered, and in a storage unit 5,000 miles away, there’s a film photo of me standing about right here.

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There was a radio station festival just outside, and Frankie clapped at all of the bands, jumped in the bouncy castle with the Spanish kids, tried to make herself the star of the magic show, and set up the start of her own 20th anniversary trip.

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She will remember even less than I did, but the new memories I just made? Will last forever.

I suppose if there was ever a “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here,” bookend, it might be this. The first place I was stationed is closing — or at least its crown jewel is. It apparently “has been deemed to have little “intrinsic military value,” and it makes me so, so sad. The affiliate I started at is already gone, and now the place I met Ryan is washing away, too.

The exact location of “Who’s the civilian?” And this.

Logically I know the strip of coastline will still be there, but it’s not the same. And it’s not just a very sentimental piece of my history getting shuttered, for a lot of people stationed over here, it’s a low-barrier way to see more. Not just a barrier of dollars, it can be intimidating to travel when a lot of times it seems like you cross the street and encounter a whole different set of customs, not to mention languages. This place was a magical blend of comfort and adventure.

And it will have a piece of my heart forever.

Try Club: Week 24…

All of a sudden, this is a sport of numbers. I suppose it has been all along, three sports, miles logged — but now the numbers are time. The race handbook came out, and with it the question changes from “Can I finish this race?” to “Can I finish this race in the stingiest amount of time conceivable?”

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The red up there? That was my GOAL. Like, “Yay, hopefully I can do it in an hour!” Now I have to, or my race is done. Maybe there was a way I should have known this when I signed up six months ago? I’ve looked into other course cut-offs (now) — and it seems like this is about equal with the strictest ones out there.

This news almost made me want to cancel the hotel and just forget it. It’s an 8-hour trip, multiple nights in a hotel, kid in the car, kind of journey — that I could really easily blow in the first hour. Done.

Of course, I didn’t help this grim mental state by Googling, “What does IronMan do if you miss a cutoff?”

THIS HAPPENS:

As I rode past the 90 mile marker and approached the u-turn, I saw a group of people, bikes, and trucks stopped ahead of me.  The turnaround point was barricaded so I couldn’t cross the timing mat.  I slowed to a stop, and a volunteer said something to me that I couldn’t understand.  What did he mean I had arrived too late?  I tried to convince him that I could make it back into town before the 5:30pm bike cutoff because it was mostly downhill.  “No you can’t, and no it’s not” he said.  It was 4:10pm.  I had missed the bike cutoff by 10 minutes.  I literally just stood there speechless and in shock, holding my bike.  At one point I cutely threatened to bike back if he didn’t remove my timing chip, and he told me the road was closed.  There were already about 15-20 people who were stopped ahead of me, and another 5-10 that came in behind me.  One girl was silently crying, but everyone else seemed to be handling it ok for some reason unbeknownst to me.  Then it all hit me, and I started crying uncontrollably.  I wasn’t going to become an Ironman that day.

Right. So. How close is this going to be?

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The results from Sunday posted. As best as I can remember, the mats were positioned so that both transitions are counted in with the bike. So half of what I’m supposed to do in two weeks clocked at:

22:30 - Swim

55:26 - Bike (about 50:00 without transitions)

31:13 - Run

1:49:09 - Total.

I can’t even sit back and say, “Check out those 10 minute miles after swimming and biking — that’s what they HAVE to be. Forget just the swim cut-off, racing the clock is going to be an all-day stress.

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Because right. What was my whole goal time, is now the “Do or Done” time. Not. Generous.

I have trained to the very best of the time and opportunity I had available. For six months, it has been my main project. I’ve raced half a dozen 10ks, a few 5ks, a weirdo up-the-mountain race, two Sprint triathlons, joined a triathlon club that speaks an entirely different language, and I learned to swim.

My training totals to date:

Swimming: 43 workouts / Total 22 miles
Biking: Total 592 miles
Running: Total 213 miles
Weights: at least 2x a week / 48 times

I’m going to give it my very, very, very best. But right now? I’m not sure I’m going to qualify to finish.

Die Schnecke of the St. Ingbert Triathlon…

Passing the sixth or seventh fist-sized snail, the only contenders I would indeed overtake all afternoon, I started to assume the entire race was probably the set for a German impressionist film. Just long shots of the rain, cut with ominous close-ups of the giant snails as a metaphor for my various try-hard faces.

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The slow started here. The hand says, “COUNT THIS LAP I’M NOT DOING EXTRA.”

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Everyone took great pains not to get wet before the start of… an event that requires getting wet and staying that way for the duration. (Rain is clearly a different wet than swimming pool. It’s all about intentionality.) We hunkered in the various tents at the finish line to listen to the safety briefing, which to me sounds like,”Well, I hope you can pay attention to the yellow arrow signs, because that’s the only help you’re going to get out there.”

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A combination of setting up in the rain and some very sage sock shaming contributed to a very pared down transition area. Shoes, bib, gel in my helmet for just-in-case, cover it all with Ryan’s slicker, the end.

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The rain had let up by the time the swim waves started, though the sun didn’t follow, and it didn’t make the slightest difference in the temperature. I didn’t dare check then, but it looks like it was about 65 degrees, and if the pool water wasn’t about the same…

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In the wave before mine, a giant, muscle dude got in his lane and hollered like it was Sparta.

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It was cold enough that it took a while to swim without your shivering body trying to gasp while your face was in the water. The other time I gasped during the swim was when I was touching the wall at the end of my 8th (of 15) laps, and people were GETTING OUT. DONE.

Okay, I didn’t gasp. I said, “Jesus.” And started asking the lane monitors how many laps they had me at. At the end of what I thought was my 11th, one guy said I had “600” left — which had me at nine? OH NO. It might have been a translation thing, because when I came back the other monitor said “150m left.” So maybe not 600, but six lengths?

Who cares when you’re the last one in the pool.

Good. Get out, you’re all making waves and splashes.

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My transitions were definitely faster. Minus what felt like a really diva move of wiping the rain off my “sun” glasses, I shook out my helmet, put on my no-sock shoes, and tried to run out. That’s one bit you never practice, but should — running with your bike.

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The ride was pretty pleasant, it didn’t feel as cold, even wet, after the half-mile hill straight out of the gate. The course arrows were just far enough apart to make me panic about six times on the first lap, but I was busier being careful on the wet road to be too particular.

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Probably anyone that starts as a runner feels like it’s over by the time you get to the last leg. That leg has the smallest margin for humiliation at least. Minus another really dismaying hill right out of transition, it was a straight-forward, two-lap 5k. Even though at this point I KNEW I was nearly last, I FELT good. It wasn’t hard. I didn’t hurt. Laying down would have been easier, but running was fine — even when it started raining again.

I do offer to go alone to these things, standing around for a three-second go at “spectating” while most of it is just waiting, isn’t a fair request. Though, at least at Frankie’s age now, there’s lots of people to look at, a lot of chances to practice clapping, and usually new playgrounds next to the start. She was a champion all day (as was Ryan, of course.)

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But I went as fast as my legs would move, hustling to get my spectating crew out of the wet.

And then, it was done. My second triathlon! This time, I was listed as part of the Tri Club I’ve been training with, and they were really kind to include my slow time and general ineptitude — AND cheer when I eventually crossed the finish line. It was fun, this being part of a team.

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The After. We hurried to clear out the staging area so the kids’ race after us could set up. Awesome. Maybe Frankie will think that sounds like fun someday.

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In the meantime — yay, team!

(Results: delayed on account of the giant German World Cup win, I’m sure. I FORGOT my fancy new Garmin, FORGOT to put my computer back on my bike, and I only have the vague notion that it took me 2:00:00 based on Ryan’s photos. 750m/25k/5k.)

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