I apologize in advance for the length! Apparently, I am even more chatty than last year!
The eve of the triathlon, I develop a head cold. It hit me pretty fast and really hard. I drink a bunch of hot tea and pho ga (chicken noodle soup) and take two decongestants and head to bed at 9PM. I’m a big believer in “just plain rest” for a cold. My spirits are dampened and I have that light, stressful sleep that only a busy mind (and two decongestants) can produce. Throughout the night, I have a pendulum of decision-making. One moment, “No, I’m crazy. I don’t want to do this” and the next, “Of course I have to do this.”
My biggest fear is the water. It still haunts me from my last triathlon
. I can’t help but freak out at the thought of getting in that water. The cold. The grime. The darkness. It makes me anxious. How can I possibly do this without a wetsuit? Without a biohazard suit?
By morning, I’m still fighting the head cold but I’ve made a decision (my 100th by now). I remember when I was a kid and we used to open the pool in May. I would get in it and it was freezing! But we had to get in the pool to clean it. So I would jump up and down as fast as I could to get used to the water. If I got out of the pool and got back in, it seemed warmer. My goal was to beat the water. So when I got to the beach, I would get in the water straight away.
We make the trek to the site. My friend, Lisa, has gotten up ridiculously early to cheer me on as well as my usual support staff (AB). The night sky is starting to lighten and a sunrise finally breaks out. This year, I’ve decided to compete in my own age group since the “Clydesdale” category has such a late start (remember I was last to finish last year). There’s a minor freak out moment when I realize that I’ve forgotten my timing chip in the car but Lisa runs back to get it.
Everyone is heading towards the start and I see some people near the pier getting wet. So here I am. Standing on the beach. Facing the glassy bay water. I just storm in. Defiantly even. I hate you water. I hate your cold. I hate how you scare me. Take that!
Hey!... this is weird… It’s not so bad. It’s not nearly as bad as I remember it. It’s not warm but it’s not freezing. And it actually seems relatively clean for bay water. I dunk down to my shoulders. Takes my breath away a bit but it’s okay. My friend cheers on the beach. I smile and wave. I get out and stand around with AB and Lisa for awhile. Since my wave departs somewhat soon, I head over to find the other women in my age group.
And what a fun bunch they are! Some experienced people. Some first timers. Almost all of them are in wet suits but there’s a couple of us crazy enough to go it without. I get into the water about 10 minutes before the start. The deeper water is significantly colder but I have mentally prepared for that and I just go in deeper and start swimming to get the blood flowing. I’ve adjusted fairly well. My face is still having a problem getting into the water. It’s still fighting with me. And catching my breath is hard but I have 10 minutes to figure it out.
I chat with some of the other women. One girl is a first timer and not a good swimmer. I can see the panic building in her. She’s standing with another girl only up to her waist. She shivering and shaking her head.
“Cold, isn’t it?” I smile at her. She looks at me and nods.
I tell her, “Jump up and down. Don’t stand still. You just need to get used to it.”
She starts bobbing up and down. “It looks really far from here,” she says.
“Yeah, but you’ll start swimming and before you know it, you’ll be down the beach.”
She asks, “Are you a strong swimmer?”
“I’m not,” she really starts to panic now. I can just see it in her face.
I make an effort to look at her in the eye, “It’s a short swim and there are no rules about how close to the shore you can be. So if you want to swim in the shallow part, you can. If you panic, you can stop and stand up. As long as you don’t advance forward while standing, you won’t be disqualified. This is your hard part but I promise, you can do it.”
She takes a deep breath and tries to smile, “Okay.”
The announcer calls us to our line. We swim out to the pier and I wave to AB and Lisa. We have two minutes before the buzzer. The announcer makes jokes that the 30-34 age group has made the straightest line. We all laugh about how when he gives directions, we pay attention and quiet down (unlike the other groups). And finally (FINALLY) the buzzer goes off.
Oh what awkwardness!
A pack of struggling bodies starting to swim at all different paces. Bumping into people. Elbows and arms flailing. I start to get into a groove and then a woman in a wetsuit stops in front on me. Bonk! I breaststoke to find a better spot. Start again. I am not in any sort of groove. I am breathless for no reason except the stress of not being in a groove. I take a few strokes and look. Strokes, look. I find a woman in a wet suit parallel to me but closer to the shore that is going about my speed. I start to find a groove and end up passing her. I look ahead. Still a long way to go but I feel REALLY good. Wow. I love this part. In my head, I am no longer in the swim. I am visualizing the transition and the bike ride. Stroke, stroke, I should aim for 13 mph average on the bike
, stroke, stoke, wait, where was my bike in the transition area
, stroke, stroke, order: clothes, shoes, helmet
. I look up and the last buoy is coming up. I have a little bit of trouble actually aiming my swim and overshoot the buoy a bit but now I am heading in to the shore.
My fingertips touch sand: once, twice, thrice. Up! I run to the beach (I wish I could say that it was a graceful run but my legs are wobbling). I hear Lisa yelling and I grin. Ok, the 3 of 7 is my row. I walk towards my bike (see, I am NOT a runner). I squirt some water in my mouth to wash out the gross salt water. I put my clothes on (sports bra OVER my swim suit – so sexy!, bike shorts, shirt) and my socks and shoes (most triathletes do not wear socks). I put my helmet on and untangle my bike from the rack and head to the exit.
But my bike is making a funny noise. What the heck is that?
Something is rubbing my rear tire. I adjust my back light and it stops. Whew.
I start the bike which begins with a nomo hill (no momentum). UGH. This year, my bike has a speedometer so I can monitor how fast I’m going. Turns out - NOT VERY.
My bike starts making a funny rubbing sound. Except this time, it’s the front tire. My guess is that pulling it off and on the bike rack, I’ve misaligned my brakes and one of them is rubbing the tire. It’s worrisome but I can’t stop. Who knows if I could actually fix it.
After the hill, the course detours through Sea World and I lose a water bottle. Silly butter fingers! And it was my favorite water bottle! We head out to Fiesta Island. Everyone and their brother is passing me. What the heck! I thought I was going pretty fast but not even close. Fiesta Island suddenly becomes gigantic because I feel like I’ve been there forever. The noise from my front tire has not gone away and I see no less than four people on the course with flat tires. I really hope that I don’t get a flat tire. Not only because it would suck but also, I would have to walk ALL the way back. No thanks.
The passing continues but I decide that the front tire noise is just my bike trying to mimic the whoosh whoosh whoosh sound of the elite bikes with their disc wheels as they fly by us at Mach 8. There are a few people who give me words of encouragement as I plug along. Thank you! Finally, I get out of Fiesta Island and back through Sea World and make it into my transition area. Except, I can’t find my towel with all my stuff. I wander around a bit looking for my space but I really don’t see it. I know it’s probably me being brain dead after the ride but it’s no where to be found. I finally decide to rack my bike somewhere entirely different and sort it out later. I adjust my shoe laces and run out.
And then walk.
I take a couple swigs of water at a station right outside the transition area and walk. I know this course from last year and the first mile hurts. My legs are not quite ready for walking since they’re still in cycling mode. So I just chug along. It’s a bit difficult at this point because there’s a lot of friends and family hanging out in the park to cheer people on and I’m walking. I smile and wave and put on a brave face. A chubby volunteers calls out words of encouragement to me and it means a lot. It’s a long first mile.
Mile two changes a bit.
Well, I change a bit.
You see, there’s a girl in my age group that passes me (wearing a black and pink tri suit). And she’s fat. Well, not as fat as me but she’s got some curves. And she’s jogging. And well, I’m competitive and I feel the distraction might be nice. Earlier I read in a book about a woman who figures out how many paces made up a mile and she breaks it down so she can count them in sets. It’s a number game she plays with her mind to keep running. So I make a deal with myself: run 20 sets of 10 paces and walk 10 sets of 10 paces and see if you can do it.
So, Tri girl in front of me, watch out! I start to jog as she starts to walk so I immediately pass her. I stay ahead of her for most of mile 2. Did I mention that the passing continues? And the ages just increase? Now I am being passed by 50 year-olds (remember, they started the swim WAY later than me), 60-year olds and near the end of mile 2, a 76 year-old wrinkled man with white hair passes me. My god, do you people have no shame?!
Near mile 2.5 the girl passes me. Darn it! So I try to pick up the pace but I definitely stay behind her. My legs are killing me now. Oh how she taunts me! We go over the bridge and get very close to the finish line and I start walking again. Just in time for the cheering and adoring fans. Of course! I’m walking down the home stretch, about a quarter of a mile away and there’s a cute little girl holding out her hand for people to high five it as she passes but she’s so little no one has noticed her and she’s kinda bummed out. I’m a sucker so I start running again and high five her. I can hear her family cheering louder as I pass. Hee!
Now I can see the finish line and I hear Lisa and AB cheering. Lisa pops out of the crowd and starts running with me. “Come on!” she yells, “You can do it!” So I dig in and finish strongly and feel vaguely like I might puke.
I walk around for awhile and finally head into the rack area to find my bike and towel (and I was so close! Only one rack off!). I fumble with things in a brain dead kind of way. AB and Lisa call to me and I meet them at the exit. At this point, my hamstrings groan and my butt aches and I realize that the impromptu jog was a bit risky but okay in the end.
“You finished WAY earlier than last time!” Lisa yells.
AB says, “Yeah, at least a half an hour.”
“Wow.” (We’ll see when they post the results)
So what did I learn this time out? First, my memory isn’t perfect. The water wasn’t as bad as I remembered. I faced my fear and I am very proud to say it was my favorite part. Second, experience. I felt more comfortable this year because I did it last year. I wasn’t stressed because I knew what to expect. I also had finished it once so I didn’t doubt that I could finish it again. And starting in the earlier wave meant that I got to see some of the actually supporters and athletes. Which was a nice change.
But something else was very different about this race.
I didn’t have that same high from last time. Don’t get me wrong. I was still very excited and I’m still proud of myself but it’s a different kind of proud. It reminds me of people who have maintained a weight loss who talk about how no one comments about their significant change or their grand achievement. It’s harder to maintain because there isn’t a lot of hoopla surrounding it. I feel like I know I can do the tri. I can already call myself a triathlete. There is no “first” surrounding it. There’s no proving to the world that a fat girl can do this (I did that last year). But now, I know it’s just for me. To compete for me, against my times, for the thrill of knowing that I’m a year old and I finished better.
I noticed this time I didn’t “make deals” with myself a lot. Last year, I would make a deal that if I finished something, I could quit. This year, quitting only crossed my mind before the race began. Once I started it, I was going to finish it.
While this isn’t as big of a thrill, I’m still amazed with myself and very happy I did it again… now… how about a longer race?