What happens when you go from being last to first? You buy kale. Lots and lots of kale. At least that's what I did. Rewind.

Oncoming Train

I am enjoying traveling with the Wilmington, NC crew to paddle races. The Watermans Paddle for Humanity in Washington, D.C. was my second paddle trip this season. It's interesting to tell people I'm from Wilmington. "Ohhhhhhhhh," is their general reaction. "Don't worry, I say. I'm not a threat. I'm always in the back." Paddlers from my area have developed a reputation for being good paddlers. I have developed a reputation for being in the back. To head to D.C., we met at Starbucks and loaded boards. Alex's truck had five boards with lots of lovely streamers hanging off. I prayed nobody would rear-end him. Luckily, he was in the back of the caravan, or one of US would have ended up rear ending him. Before that, though, was the train.

Ready to roll.

Midway through a conversation including brains and bonk breakers and genealogy and my snack bag (For the record, I packed light, but I still had about 7 bags. I could have brought more. I ran out of pants and there was more room in the trunk.), we headed over a railroad crossing WHILE THE GATES WERE COMING DOWN.

I swear that one second lasted one minute. "Nooooooooooooo." If there was  warning light, we sure missed it. That was near-death experience #1.

Near death #2 came about five minutes after our first stop. Greg swerved to the side of the road and stepped on the brakes.

BLOOP (The sound of the text message John missed because he was DRIVING)

EEEEERRRRRRRRRKKKKKK (The sound of our brakes hitting it hard in the rain on the side of I-95)

"F***********************k!" (The sound of me screaming while we nearly rolled down the embankment.)

"Kevin, what the EFF?" (The sound of John reminding Kevin that we HAD JUST STOPPED TO PEE FIVE MINUTES AGO.)

"I hadn't noticed." (The sound of John commenting on me saying I'm a nervous passenger.)

Yep. This is what you think it is.

Near-death #3 happened somewhere between Richmond and Washington, and I don't even remember what it was. I know we had one because when asked by the race organizers how the drive was, Eric said "Fine, except we were almost killed three times."

Social Paddle

We got there too late for the clinic with Slater and Dave. I had my first opportunity to contract tetanus while changing into my suit. We were at the Washington Canoe Club and it was all closed up. I wear a one-piece. Can't change in the car. I did, though, find a shed full of rusty implements and just enough space to squeeze into and shut the door.  

We were all PUMPED for the social paddle. Social paddling is what we do best! The various attendees hopped on their boards and milled around out in front of the canoe club.

"There's no MILLING IN PADDLING!"

We set off to paddle the race course. After about 20 minutes we looked behind us and the 8 or so of us were the only ones out there. The Kennedy Center loomed over us. We went a bit further south and saw the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. It was kind of surreal to see the city from that perspective.

Alex, Wes, and Greg Paddling under the Key Bridge

Sweet Greens

The night before the Charleston race, I ate pizza. The night before D.C., we ate salads. If you spend a lot of time with people who eat healthily, it will rub off on you.

Marissa was in seventh heaven. She eats salads for breakfast. The next morning I called her while we were on our way to breakfast.

"You might have to eat a bagel."

"I'll deal with it."

But we found salads for her, eggs for the rest of us, and Santa Claus hanging around the Marvelous Market in Georgetown during his off season. I am, according to him, going to have 2.75 kids.

Our Permit is ONLY for the LAST RAMP

Staging a paddle race in the middle of a big city is no picnic. The race organizers did a wonderful job. I'm pretty sure we spent more time carrying boards around than we did paddling. There was a Swedish embassy right next to the race start. There's no parking in front of embassies. We were launching from the Thompson Boat House, but we only had a permit to use the end of the ginormous dock and the very last ramp. Our pre- and post-race activities were at a swanky restaurant on the harbor. I think the real housewives of D.C. were sunning themselves on the big yacht parked out front. We felt decidedly scuzzy wandering in and out of the restaurant to get to the bathrooms. I saw a lot of $3,500 handbags.

Later that night, we ventured out on the town in our flip flops, watching the city girls teetering around on 6 inch heels. "Is Pretty Woman back in style?" said John. "The sight of women running around dressed like hookers is definitely not appealing."

The Race is On

We have been doing sprint clinics in Wilmington with Sweaty and the crew. 4-6 sprints, complete with turns. The hardest part of any race for me is the start. There are so many people. The water is churning and boiling because everyone is digging, digging, digging. There are paddlers stacked three or four deep along the start line.

My M.O. has always been to let everyone go ahead of me and to avoid the churn. I don't want to fall off right at the beginning of the race, and I CERTAINLY didn't want to fall off and drink the Potomac. (I never made it to the Health Department for my Hep A vaccine.)

This time, though, I edged right up to the front of the starters. When they said GO, I paddled like I was running from alligators. (Another story from John for another time.) Going first meant I could avoid a lot of splashing around.

By the time we reached the Key Bridge, I looked over my shoulder and saw LOTS and LOTS of people behind me. I WASN'T IN THE BACK!!!!!! I had a chance.

I paddled in front of the bridge piling to stay out of the current coming toward me and then cut over to turn at the last minute. We turn around concrete bridge pilings in Wilmington all the time. While others planned to swing wide, I hugged the bridge and shot right back around to head through the back side of Roosevelt Island.

In the Weeds

I have no idea what the river plants were growing behind Roosevelt Island, but they definitely slowed everyone down for a while. It was also shallow and there were some crazy zig-zagging paddlers taking up half the river.

At this point, I would usually ease up and stay out of the zig-zagger's way. This time, I thought "FORGET IT. I'M GOING STRAIGHT. THEY CAN GET OUT OF MY WAY!" I didn't run anyone over, but I didn't ease up when a rogue swerver came my way, either. I held my line and let them deal with it.

I started to pass people. I had been paddling pretty darn hard, but I cranked it up a notch. Halfway through the race, I figured out that if I gave it everything I had, I could probably have my best finish ever. 

I paddled harder than I've ever paddled. I breathed hard with every stroke. I was a machine. There was one person left I thought I could pass. Jen. She was on a blue board. I tugged and tugged and tugged. I made it past her. I opened a gap.

I paddled into shouts of the crowd and Pete saying "There's our blogger!" I came in 18th out of everyone in the 5k (~110 or so) I came in fourth out of the women in the 5K. I came in first in my division. (14' race board) Ok, so there was only one of me, but I was still so stoked! Fourth among all of the women in the 5K was HUGE. I've NEVER done that well in a race, EVER. EVER EVER EVER. Several people said "We tried to catch you, but we couldn't. You were a MACHINE!"

Picture I took during the race. If I hadn't done this, I might have beaten Marissa. But I really wanted this photo!

View from the Front

Nobody was more surprised than I at my finish. I paddle with so many incredibly strong paddlers so I always have this feeling that I suck. Going to Florida earlier last week and paddling in D.C. with other paddlers helped me gain some perspective. I don't suck.

I might not be as fast as everyone, but I have a chance to finish well in the races if I try. Being last can be its own self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you have low expectations of yourself, you will meet them.

If you set high expectations, you will meet them.

Paddling, for me, will never be about being a pro. It won't be about being first. It is and always will be about taking care of myself and doing something that I enjoy–something that makes me healthier, fitter, and gives me energy. It will be about trying my hardest instead of making excuses. You could NOT wipe the grin off my face on Saturday. I would have been first in my division, no matter my place overall, because there was only one of me on a 14' board. I'm most proud of my Fourth place in the Women's 5k. Fourth. That's a long way from the back when you have 50 or so other women paddlers. They had to pry me off the podium.

Nerding Out

During dinner, Wes and Sweaty talked endlessly about oxygen levels and the Paleo diet and white flour and nutrient intake, etc. etc. etc. etc. OHMYGOSHIMGOINGTOFALLASLEEP. Apparently, though, I was taking it all in, even as I was nearing my coma-state (I turn into a hippopotamus after midnight.), because I went to the grocery today and got kale and greens and sweet potatoes and chicken and all sorts of healthy stuff. This year has been a journey. I'm having the time of my life. Getting a glimpse of what I can do if I put good fuel into myself and get good rest and spend time with good people, and if I practice, practice, practice, was more intoxicating than any bloody mary oyster shooter. I'm hoping to stay motivated. This might have been the next shove I needed to continue on my path to be healthy. Luckily, I have awesome people around me who are a good influence. I'll keep you posted. I have some big goals in mind for next year. The view from the front was pretty nice.

——————————- P.S. It was SO WONDERFUL to meet so many of my loyal readers up in D.C. I had no idea so many of you were out there. Thank you thank you thank you! Knowing you enjoy what I write means more than I can ever tell you, and is so motivating to me in my quest to get better!

A trip to the Watermans Paddle for Humanity in Washington, D.C. with the whole Mullet Crew.

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