By Jim Reichheld
A cold mist is rising over the lake as I look out the window, my back stiff and sore yet again. Hard to imagine I’ll be standing lakeside in 75 minutes, ready to dive in and begin the Eastman Splash, Mash and Dash Triathlon. Laughter from the night before is fresh in my mind, a group of friends joining in on the race, most visiting Eastman for the first time. Nine of us will start, from teenagers to forty-somethings.
Over a long, back-porch dinner they wax about the area’s beauty, so remote and yet so close to Boston. The lake in front of us seems to glitter with appreciation. Stories of past races abound as well, and I share my own impression, that the Eastman Triathlon may be the most beautiful and well-run race there is. I note that the bike and run are indeed as hill-ridden as they have heard, but that the swim is flat… meek laughter follows. The sun falls behind the northwest hills we will be running in hours.
The sun has risen bright, the mist has retreated, and green hills frame the early morning blue sky above. A core of Eastman volunteers helps us register and set up our transition areas. Almost suddenly, the National Anthem has played, a sea of colorful swim caps lines the lake’s edge, and I notice that I am shaking slightly. Nervous! My seventh Eastman Triathlon and I still get butterflies and tremble before the start. A large crowd has gathered to cheer for all, about 200 competitors from across the country and Canada, and the camaraderie of that moment is awesome, distracting enough to make me relax, until “GO!” – and we are in the lake.
Furious splashing all around keeps the adrenaline rushing as we all try and lean on whatever advice we have been given – or given ourselves – about focusing on just swimming and not the sense of useless flailing that we all feel instead. Around the first buoy I am already exhausted, but by no means alone. Many have downshifted from freestyle to sidestroke, breaststroke, or backstroke. The shore seems to be fading farther away until we are suddenly at the harbor again, and the crowd is cheering, and we pull ourselves up from the lake, ragged but relieved.
So glad to be out of the water, legs heavy in the air, we head for our bikes. The sun feels warm on our backs as we head up the first of many hills. It’s all about the hills. I creep to almost-stopped as a leading rider from the first woman’s heat, who started many minutes after me, flies by me and asks, “You okay?”
Yeah, sure, I’m feeling chipper. The red barns and deep green fields of Route 10 surround us as the hills slowly come and go. I look up into the wind as I head downhill – the lead biker is ahead, coming up the other side of the road. I think to myself, “Already heading back? That guy is super-human. Who is this person who can head faster up the same hill I am heading down?” My eyes meet his. Mike! Wow! Mike had made us all an amazing dinner the night before. And now he is in first place. I lean into the pedals, inspired.
Pulling into the biking finish, I see my son and his friend Patrick smiling – they yell to me that suddenly Patrick’s tires had both popped along the bike route, a precarious moment that was loud and disconcerting, and then just frustrating and, now, humorous. They will finish the Triathlon together a while later, still smiling. My smile is more a wince, quads burning and chaos around me as the bikes are filing in, lifted into their racks, shoes changed.
There is an odd quiet as I leave the sound of bike tires on the road and loud chatter at the transition area and head into the woods for the run. Hills again. But this is my forte. In six Eastman Tri’s I’d never been passed on the run. Up the mountain and heading for West Cove, I feel strong and fast… wait, ouch, argh my calf. An old injury has resurfaced, and I hobble, then lie down and work out the whatever-it-is that is killing me in that leg. A herd of sweaty-tired humans passes by. Ten minutes later I rejoin them, humbled.
This finish line comes slower than those before, but I appreciate it the most, thinking just 20 minutes before I’d be lucky to see it at all. Glorious sunshine, an appreciative crowd, Charlie’s smiling face, and the souvenir Splash, Mash and Dash hat greet us all at the finish.
I see Mike, who humbly notes he was “first loser,” as an 18-year-old left this 40-something just 18 seconds behind, in 2nd place. He finished eons ago and is totally recovered. I am bracing my arms on my knees, breathing fast and I am thrilled – THRILLED – to be with such a great group of people in such a beautiful setting. Everyone finishes, everyone is smiling, everyone already contemplating how they’ll approach the race a little differently next year. I’ll be feeling chipper again, I’m sure. But there is no place I’d rather be.
Special thanks to the Eastman Crew of volunteers who make this event so special every year.