Yoda does speak words of wisdom (and I am no Star Wars fan). I avoid the word try, as it implies failure is possible. This weekend, however, I tri-ed.
I am the epitome of “never say never.” For years I swore up and down I would never do a triathlon…and I did one Saturday. And…I loved it.
Just a month ago, I wasn’t sure this was the best idea, but I decided to plunge in head-first. I hadn’t swam since I was about 10 and I don’t think (actually, I’m quite sure) I’ve ever done laps willingly. I’ve avoided my bike for years. The last time I rode it with any regularity, I lived in New York City and would cruise a few blocks down 3rd Avenue to teach step classes at New York Health and Racquet Club. Oh, and one other time that I borrowed a mountain bike and proceeded to crash on a very easy trail in Golden Gate State Park and insisted I go to the ER for a laceration on my elbow. The nurse kindly told me she couldn’t do much for me as she had to take care of the 90-year-old man who’d fallen into a rose bush. That pretty much ended my cycling career. Sure, I teach group cycling – on a stationary bike – but I wasn’t too sure that would translate into good road riding.
At 6 am Saturday morning when it was 39 degrees outside, the triathlon seemed like even less of a good idea. I may live in Colorado, but I’m still from San Antonio where 39 degrees means hats, gloves and long underwear – not the pool. I stressed about what to wear, the organization of the race and to top it all off, I was sure I’d be last. I don’t like being last. I am thoroughly comfortable running races. I know exactly what I need and what to expect. I was not comfortable setting up transition areas and walking around in a swimsuit in bare feet.
Once I got to the race start and the marker-equipped volunteers approached me, I did get a little excited. I’ve always been jealous of the moment someone writes your race number on your arm and calf. It looks hardcore – you don’t just pin on a number, your number becomes part of you.
I had visions of being dumped into a pool with six per lane – people crawling over my head and kicking my chest. But this swim was super civilized – only two swimmers per lane. The pool at Ft. Carson is 50 meters, meaning I only had to get through five laps rather than the ten I slogged through every training session. Watching the swimmers in front of me boosted my confidence. Oh, don’t get me wrong, most ended up faster than me and the photos taken during my swim show pretty dramatic form issues– BUT, I did swim. THAT is an accomplishment. Also cool – my friend and I got to swim in the same lane.
Transitioning to the bike was easy enough. I’m a novice, no clips – just straight into running shoes for me. I’d also like to add that my bike is a Cannondale hybrid, circa 1999. I thought I wouldn’t be alone – that there would be many of us non-fancy bike owners and yes, we did see a Schwinn with a kickstand, — but the vast majority of athletes sported upscale models such as Bianchis and Felts I’ve seen at more elite races.
I didn’t expect much out my cycling – I was hoping to do the 12 miles in an hour. After all, my outdoor training consisted of three or four sessions of looping around my neighborhood for 10 miles at a time with 50-minute finishes. Hardly anything that brings about confidence.
But, after a near-death experience involving a turn, a rocky shoulder and a 3-foot drop-off, I ended up riding fast (for me). I even passed a few folks (while being passed by several others). I looked at my watch and estimated the ride took me less than 45 minutes. I was beginning to feel good. The run was next – I know I can run…or so I thought.
Transitioning from the bike was a snap since I already had on shoes. I’d done two mini brick workouts in training, but those involved moving from a spin bike to the treadmill. I didn’t quite realize the gelatinous quality of the legs following a real bike ride. I also had this tremendous sensation that I was moving in slow motion. I kept trying to kick it up in tempo, but just couldn’t seem to feel like I was getting any power. The run had just two hills – both relatively steep – but doable. I felt like I could go faster if I really wanted to – but I’ve been training for a marathon and have learned to override that sensation knowing I have 10 to 15 miles left. I didn’t take the time to strap on my Garmin – so I felt just a little lost. When I turned and saw the finish, I truly couldn’t believe it. That was it? Just a short little jaunt?
Coming over the mat was exhilarating. If you’ve ever finished a race with your kids yelling, friends cheering and your husband booming – you know that feeling. I have done many running races, but this one felt fresh and new. It was like finishing my first running race ever, and then some. My son’s little face looked up at me and asked if he could get me a Gatorade. Then he asked if he could get my medal with me. Both my kids want to start doing triathlons.
I finished in 1:30:31. Respectable, I thought, and far exceeding my expectations. Then I looked at the standings. This time put me 2nd in my age group and 10th overall! To say I am proud of myself is an understatement. I overcame a lot of fears – swimming, going fast on a bike and failure. In overcoming these fears, the most important thing happened — I had fun.
I am determined to become a full-blown triathlete next season as this one is winding to an end. Swimming in Colorado is seeing its last days. I can’t wait to start training – to improve the swim and get a “real” bike. A special thanks to my husband who has returned to racing triathlons just this year after a 16-year hiatus. Without his subtle suggestions, I would never have gotten out there. He is an inspiration and a driving force for everyone he encounters.
It just goes to show, never cut yourself off from things. To say you can’t or won’t do something without even trying underwhelms your life. You really can do anything you put your mind to. My own mother laughed when I said I was going to do a triathlon. She was there when I refused to put my head under water as a kid and knows I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was in fourth grade. Who you were doesn’t define who you are, however. Act as if you have no boundaries, and you don’t.