I’ve been getting texts and emails all morning with folks wanting to know all of the details of the weekend. So I’ll tell my story– not just for you, but to remind me as well, because in many ways, it feels like some alternative reality or a fairytale…
Let’s skip back to Saturday. I had fully intended to write my “one day and counting” post in the evening, after dropping my bike off at the triathlon site and getting a feel for everything. But to honest, I was in too much of a full-blown, heart-stopping panic. You see, we arrived midday, had a lovely lunch with my dear friends Mary and Christine and her hubbie, Phil, and then drove out to Lake Lanier to sign in and rack my bike.
Thought #1: I have never ever seen so many women walking around in spandex. And the leg muscles I’m seeing– holy moly. These people are HARD CORE. Yikes.
Luckily, Mary had done a tri before… so she guided me up to the transition area and helped me choose a good spot for my bike. We walked down the path where we’d be coming up from the lake after the swim… and when I say, down, I mean DOWN. Meaning after the swim, we’d have to run barefoot UP a very steep hill, on pavement, to transition.
Thought #2: My poor feet.
Then we went to a course talk, where we listened to all of the reasons that we could get DQ’d (disqualified), learned about the course and it’s challenges (the woman actually apologized for the last six miles of the bike leg due to the hills), and were provided with every logical reason to run like the wind to my car and drive away very very fast.
Thought #3: EEEEEEK. Let’s go drive the course, shall we?
So I piled into Christine’s van with Mary and Phil, while Deena and the kids, who were extremely bored by now, went back to the hotel to rest. Just driving out of the parking lot onto the course, it felt like we were going up the longest hill known to man. Okay, so perhaps my imagination was getting away with me. And things just look different when you’re driving opposed to riding a bike. But for the next half hour or so as we drove the 19 miles of the bike leg, I was very quiet, except for an occasional plea for Phil to slow down before I barfed all over his mini-van. Inside, the panic had officially ensued.
Thought #4: I am WAY out of my league. How the hell did I ever think I could do this???
That night in the hotel, I wept in Deena’s arms. I talked about not doing it. I called my parents who are always good at giving encouragement. I begged for inspiration on Facebook, and was greeted with SO MUCH love and support and mojo that I couldn’t help but plan to atleast go out there and do my best… which in that moment, meant redefining DQ into something wonderful and daring and splendid, because really, I was absolutely positive that I wouldn’t finish in enough time and that the po po would be coming to pick me up somewhere around mile 4 in the bike course. I collapsed into a very very hot bath with lavender oil and sipped on chamomile tea.
Thought #5: Well, shit. (yeah, I know… not so optimistic sounding, but it’s the truth).
So I went to bed. Good and early. But due to nerves and noisy neighbors, I didn’t fall asleep until around 10:30pm. And at 1:30am, I woke up and didn’t sleep another wink until the alarm went off at 4am. During those very wee sleepless hours of the morning, it was very clear that I had two choices… I could crumble even more into my fear… or I could try and talk myself out of it. So I awkwardly envisioned myself finishing each leg of the race with time to spare– sure, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t believe anything I was conjuring up in my head– but I did it anyway, not much liking the alternative.
Thought #6: Well, here goes nothing.
I was up at 4am like a bolt of lightening. Deena made me a great breakfast, and the kids were up cheering me on. I got into my trisuit, I put on my timing chip, I made sure I had everything in my transition bag that I needed, and away I went with Mary to the lake. She helped me set up my transition area, we had our numbers scribbled on our bodies with sharpies, and then we met up with Christine and took all sorts of pre-tri photos on Mary’s cellphone… most of which I’m pretty sure you’ll never see, because atleast one of us was concerned about how goofy we looked with our swim goggles and caps or our double chins. Eventually, we made our way down to the water and split up (we were all in different starting waves).
Standing there among a sea of rainbow- colored capped women, some in wetsuits, some in trisuits, even a couple in bikinis, was a peculiar feeling. I wondered if anyone would notice really if I bowed out. But my body didn’t budge. Except when I overheard someone talking about the best place to be for the swim, I’d wiggle myself over in that direction- ironically I did this three times until I finally settled into what my gut said would work for me… closer to the left side. But the waiting was horrific. Ironically, while the swim part was the least of my concerns, I hadn’t touched the water, so I had no idea of how cold it would be. At 7am in the morning, the air temperature was in the upper 50s, barely 60 maybe… and the sand beneath my feet was freezing.
Thought #7: I feel like I’m waiting in line to be tortured.
I was in the sixth wave… and each wave had about 100 people in it. At 7:25am, the horn blew, and it was my turn to go. I smiled when I first got in the water… it felt like a bath tub compared to the air. But as I began to swim, I’m here to tell you that the fact that I didn’t drown is a freakin’ miracle. Imagine 100 people dashing into the water at once… never mind that I hadn’t managed any open water swim practice, so wasn’t accustomed to the choppiness and to the way it paralyzes your lungs when you first get in… but legs and arms were flailing about all over the place. I was kicked, I was punched, and every time I gasped for air, a wave would splash into my face and I would inhale water. I somehow convinced myself to keep going. There were others who turned back, and a couple who clung onto buoys and had to be rescued by lifeguards. I did the breaststroke all the way, because it put me into a meditative rhythm… I drank a fair bit of the lake… and I didn’t stop to rest once. And in 19 minutes and 46 seconds, I was pulling myself back onto the beach to face the big hill. The most dreaded part of the race for me was just ahead.
Thought #8: Holy moly, look at what I just did.
When I got up to my bike, my helmet didn’t fit. Either my head had swelled from the swim, or someone had thought it was theirs and adjusted it, so I fiddled it with it for a moment and off I went. As I was going up the first hill, I caught a glimpse of Deena and the kids…. I couldn’t help but smile.
I talked to my bike as if she were a horse. I’m sure those who heard me thought I was insane… but it comforted me. Ruby, as I call her, was my partner in this thing afterall.
I couldn’t believe it when I got to the 3 mile marker…
Thought #9: Hmmm… if it doesn’t get much harder than this, I might be able to pull this thing off.
The hills seemed more do-able than they did in the car… or perhaps I was guided by some mysterious, chia-seed-induced strength that appeared after only three hours of sleep. But I only had to get off my bike and walk up two hills during the whole ride, and went faster than I ever had in my little neighborhood training rides. My least favorite part was a particularly long stretch on a four-lane highway… it was a slow incline the whole way for several miles, and the scenery was quite monotonous. But I managed to stay focused, with simple thanks to a sign for a tire shop (Reed’s Tires) that made me think about all of the dear friends who were supporting me through this.
As I neared the end, I knew there was a small, but very steep hill just before dismount at the transition area… I had a plan to get off and walk it. But with the crowds cheering me on, I couldn’t help but give it a shot, and by golly, I was on fire and got up it in one piece… and clocked in at 1 hour, 30 minutes and 6 seconds. Deena and the kids were right there on the other side of the fence, screaming with delight. I hopped off my bike and walked into transition….
Thought #10: OH MY GOD. I think I got this thing.
Starting the run was easy. I felt so empowered by all that I had done up to that point. But only a short bit into the run, as I tried to create a rhythm with my breathing, I started wheezing… I’ve never been asthmatic, but thought this is what that must feel like. I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs, and it terrified me. I slowed down to a fast walk, and the wheezing went away… so made the decision to walk atleast the first mile. I had the time, afterall. Well, I ended up walking most of it, with a few spurts of running that resulted in more wheezing. But it was a blessing. Because slowing down allowed me to soak it all in… the beauty of the scenery, the presence of others on the final leg of the journey, my own power and the realization that I was about to complete a triathlon. As I rounded the corner to the finish line, I couldn’t help but sprint…. and finished with a time of 41 minutes and 3 seconds for the run portion.
Crossing the finish line was a dream come true. I burst into tears, like an olympic athlete who had just won the gold. A woman hung a medal around my neck. A man removed my timing chip and congratulated me. And as soon as I exited the area, I was hugged by my family.
Thought #11: Did I actually just do what I think I did??!
My overall time was 2 hours, 38 minutes, and 47 seconds. The time afterwards was surreal… celebrating with my friends, eating, packing up everything, and driving home, and very very subtle not-quite-ready-to-admit thoughts about doing it again. (Pretend I didn’t just say that).
This was just yesterday, and now it’s like a dream. After a good 10-hour night’s sleep, my lungs feel normal again. And like a kid who got a new ultra-cool set of pajamas for Christmas and refuses to take them off, I continue to wear my medal proudly and bask in post-triathlon bliss. Thank you, every single one of you, for being out there, lifting me up during both my fearful moments and my empowered moments… and for believing in me, even when I found it difficult to believe in myself.
Thought #12: I am so very very lucky.