Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Most Amazing Day

Sandy Hook National Park
Sandy Hook, NJ

It's 1:30 p.m, and I'm waiting ( impatiently, actually) for the ferry to return me to New York. I've been up since 4:35 a.m. And why, you might ask, am I a night prowler in Sandy Hook, New Jersey? Because I just completed a triathlon with my best friend and her daughter.

Good things take planning--and, sometimes, some nudging. I have been nudging Ann to do this tri since March.
"It's a beautiful national park, Annie," I said with my most persuasive tone. "Lighthouse that's been beaming since 1754. Gateway to our ancestors' journey from Europe since the 1600s. But the best part is that it's a really well run tri, all women, many first time triathletes. I love this event."

Next thing I knew, she and Elizabeth her twenty year old daughter had signed up.

So, Saturday, they drove from Philadelphia, I drove from New York, in touch with various cell phone calls to check progress and logistics. Our accommodations ( different hotels) were within ten minutes of the start of the race--and had views of the Atlantic and the stunning peninsula of Sandy Hook that gracefully curves out toward the open sea, its intermittent coves of sandy beaches dotted with fisherman and windsurfers.

We had a high carb dinner in Atlantic Highlands, a little village on the bay that is a throw back to the 1950s, post-rehab. We said goodnight, confirmed our plan for this morning.

My cellphone rang at 5:32.

"Are you on your way," a sleepy Elizabeth queried.
"I'm almost there", I offered, coffee in my hand, windshield wipers slapping away at the overnight dew on the windshield, headlights on high beam, and Scarlatti soothing me on KNYC as I barreled down Route 36.

After what seemed like an eternity of waiting for an endless stream of cars to get into the park via one road, we parked and began our setup at the bike venue. In the distance were the lights of Manhattan, and the graceful arched outline of the Verrazano Narrows bridge.

Eventually, as the sun peeked out of the low clouds on the horizon, the race began. I swam toward the edge of the group of 50 or so, trying to keep my eye on the first red buoy and avoid getting kicked in the face. I turned left after the last red buoy, looking for the triangular yellow, but the sun was directly in front of the buoy, so it was impossible to make out for another 200 yards. Left at that buoy. Now I was getting my stride, and the crowd had thinned out. I pulled hard, looking up from my crawl every fourth stroke to be sure I was on course. Out of the water on the gritty sand, I staggered toward the staging area, grabbing my flip flops so I could run along the stony path back to the bikes.

The wind was picking up a little as I mounted my bike and began the 11 mile straight ride along Sandy Hook's main road. It was hard not to notice the beauty of this place as I dug in with my quads 'til they burned. Every mile or so, a monarch butterfly would float by. Are you heading south, I wondered as I moved along?

I racked my bike and put on my white Nike cap, moving toward the start of the 5K run, my legs wobbly after the ride. The sun was higher now, and the black MacAdam roadway was getting hot. My run wasn't pretty--not long strides with my shoulders back running like a gazelle. More like run a half mile, walk a tenth, run again to the next watering hole.

"You having fun?" The woman running next to me asked.
"Not right now," I replied, a little nonplussed at her cheeriness.

Until mile marker 2. Only a mile. You can do this, girl, I told myself.

I heard a spectator say: "The finish is around the next bend" and decided to push for a strong finish. Shoulders back, arms swinging full, legs high I mentally checked them all off.

"And here comes Mary Catherine Bolster over the finish line. Let's give her a hand."

I thought it was a dream. I've never, ever had my name called over the PA system at the end of a race. What a thrill!

After I got my race medallion, relinquished my chip, and grabbed some water, I headed toward the exit to wait for my friends. I looked over the crowd and saw a guy with a maroon cap with a logo from a Nantucket brewery. "Hmm", I thought in my endorphin-induced euphoria. "That cap looks just like the on my son Ben got at the beach. I guess someone else likes that brewery."

Then, I looked more closely. There, in front of me were my two sons.

My sons had risen at 5:30am, left Manhattan and traveled to Sandy Hook to see my race. On Chris' shoulders, was my redheaded grandson, Ethan, shyly hiding his eyes with his hands and smiling at me. I wish I had had a camera to capture the three of them. Chris, looking sleep deprived as the new father of a two month old son with Ethan on his shoulders. Ben, on his right, smiling like a Cheshire cat. They had cooked this plan up and driven the hour or so in the dark to surprise me.

Not a word had either of them said to me about coming to the race, although I had suggested that they would like the park, and that I was racing, while we were all in Nantucket last month.

"Mom," Chris began, laughing. "We were here for part of your bike and mile 2 of your run. We yelled and yelled. But you were pouring water over your head OR completely zoned both times."

I was speechless as I hugged them both, tears welling up in my eyes.

I've run many races in the past five or so years. And my sons have been very supportive--standing in the pouring rain one Mother's Day race in Central Park with a red rose and a towel! But I've never been so moved as to see them on this early September morning,

Oh, and by the way, another great surprise...I CAME IN FIRST IN MY AGE GROUP!


Linda said...

What a great post, your finish gave me goosebumps! I have grown children also, and their support on days like that, mean the world. Reading about your aches and pains this summer, I'm happy for your awesome race!!! When I raced on sailboats, we always said, "first feels good!" Congratulations, glad to read of your victory!

James said...

I really enjoyed reading this story. It (almost) makes me want to do a triathlon! What a great event to have your family there. I've been getting back into running this fall, it's been wonderful. Autumn is my favorite time for running: the cool, crisp air, the rustle of leaves just beginning to fall, the clinging fog that finally visits our area after two cloudless months of summer.

Good luck with training for the marathon!