"Even after the worst race ever, there are things you can be proud of!"  
The trip to Calgary was exciting, filled with dry humour and high expectations for the day that was ahead of us. While we were roller coasting through the highway, I was desperately trying to rest my eyes and mind by watching cows ruminate. They generate such a perfect serenity around! Regardless, my heart and brain just wouldn’t calm down.

After driving around Calgary, we finally checked-in. The busy Hostel didn’t promise a peaceful night and I was a little pissed off by the fact that they wouldn’t let us keep our bikes in the room. The clock was ticking unusually slow and I was hoping the alarm would set on soon so that I don’t need to pretend I’m sleeping anymore. Lesson #1 learned: No more shady hostels before the race day.

At last – 4:45!, time to get up and get prepared for the big day! The kitchen was unfortunately closed, and we couldn’t get our breakfast I was really looking forward to the entire night. We hit the road in a flash, stopped by McDonald’s for the washroom break (which turned to be everything but that) and finally came to the parking lot, approximately 1km from the lake where the race was supposed to begin.

It was painfully freezing for my taste, so I decided to stay in the car, with the heating on, while I was contemplating if I should stay or should I go? I was debating with myself, calculating how much time, sweat and money have I spent to get there. Questions like: Have I truly come prepared? Do I really need this kind of stress in my life? What the hell am I doing here? What if…? were breaking against my head.

After 15 minutes of lingering, epiphany woke me up, and I started to run around the parking lot in an effort to pull myself together. Stefan had already gone to find the spot in the Transition, because his start was at 8:00, while Jan, Glenn and I stayed behind. I really had to use the washroom, and it almost came to the point where you just don’t care about who’s around, you just have to do it right here, right now! Fortunately, for potential spectators, that didn’t take place. However, striptease did. I swiftly took off my street clothes and put on my racing attire (yes, that’s right, showing my bottom off), packed the bag, and soon we were on our way to the T1.

My sincere apologies to Glenn and Jan for having them disconcerted and big thanks for bearing up with me! Lesson #2 learned: No matter how frustrated you are, don’t get other people affected by it, too! And, for the love of God, organize yourself well beforehand and don’t dig up through the bags looking for your bike shoes 45 minutes before the T1 closes!

The three bikes were set up at the only rack left, so at the far end, right next to each other, which turned out to be the best spot. I made sure that my labello (the lip balm I am hopelessly addicted to) was neatly placed on the towel, together with biking and running shoes. I took my really nice second hand Orca wet suit, and went to find Stefan before he swims away. 

The Half IM start was really exciting, announcing the fear that was gradually increasing in and all over my body. That was the first meeting with open water for me! A multitude of antsy swimmers hurtling into the lake! OMG! I was ready to leave, vanish, disappear, go without a trace! Two laps, each of 1km, passed quickly by me, and I was happy to realize that Stefan came out 4th!

It was time for the “Olympic” swimmers to get lined up. My heart was ready to jump out of my rib cage; my legs were trembling, partially due to the incredibly cold weather, partially due to overwhelming anxiety. And there we went, running into the dark lake, a mass of 248 people, all highly worked up, with different goals in our heads: some of us set our minds to win, and some of us, just to survive! Yikes! After just one stroke, I realized that free style is not going to be the swim technique I would use this time. Panic attack struck me in no time, and I started breaststroking with my head high above the water. It was the time to quickly reset my goals, from sub 30 minutes (which I can swim easily in the pool) to simply stay alive. As I was struggling with my short breaths and the pulse that seemed to be over 200, the only thing I had in my head was, never, ever to repeat this horrible experience in my life. The orange buoy on the beach appeared to be miles away, but with every new stroke I knew I was closer, if only there wasn’t for this antsy crowd which kicked and hit me in my head, back, arms, legs, everywhere! I thought: there’s no way I can do this, as soon as get there, I’m getting out, nothing will stop me, I don’t need this! Orange thing was just at the reach of the hand and I decided: you are going to suck it up now and go all the way to the end, conquer your fears and fight! Lesson #3 learned: In stress situations, readjust your goals, and no matter what, fight ‘til the end!

As I ran into the T1, ranting and bitching out loud about how terrible and scary open water experience I had (like somebody really cared), my watch was showing 35 minutes and some seconds, and I thought, wow, that’s only 5 minutes more than anticipated – I have to make them up on the bike! That was the point when Glenn showed up in the T1, too, swiftly took his bike off of the racks, and saluted me on his way out, leaving me to my own despair.

Bike leg was great! I enjoyed every moment, and was truly happy for the first time in the race! I managed to easily pass many racers, got passed by only 1 or 2 guys, and no woman. In the T2 I saw I had 1:10 time, and I was really happy. Lesson #4 learned: There are always some enjoyable parts in the race!

Alas, I realized that my happiness was short-lived, shortly after I started running. My knees were already achy, and I knew this is not going to be a really enjoyable run. After couple hundreds of meters, Stefan lightly snapped me on my bum reminding me that the number should be worn in front. Oops! And then he disappeared. Somewhere between 5.5-6km my left knee let me down, and I had to stop and stretch it for a few moments. Then just before the 8km mark, the right knee died on me too, and another stop-stretch was in order. At the so-called “heart breaking” hill, I started to walk again, and then I heard Josh’s voice yelling at me:”Sanja, run!!!” And so I did until the end, with horrendous deep pain in both of my knees. I passed the finish line in mediocre 2:44:23.

In summary, I am happy I didn’t collapse in the lake, and dropped out, like a wimp. After this experience, I am really looking forward to another race, new opportunity for overcoming this really terrifying experience! GWN here I come! 

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