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I am a Triathlete

Sunday, September 09, 2012

1/2 mile swim emoticon
20 mile bike emoticon
4 mile walk emoticon

The event did and didn't go as planned. I left my house 5 minutes late, which was no big deal. I ended up being packed pretty much perfectly. I think the only items that weren't used were an extra Clif bar that I thought I might need on the walk and the hairbrush I had left in my gym bag... and well, I should have used it! When I caught myself in the mirror without my cap, my hair was all frizzed out and I looked a mess!

Got parked at the event site about 6:20. Stephani had also just arrived, maybe a minute before me. (Stephani has been my training buddy from the EDH team. David is her significant other. Steph is 51.) We started the process of walking our bikes over to the athlete area. The Tri Club had its own rack. Kitty, another of our training members (who truly is an athlete and has done tris in the past) had just gotten there, too. Amanda and Michele, our coaches, arrived with Aurelia (the fourth member of the training group to stick it out the full 12 weeks) and her daughter who was hanging out and cheerleading for us a few minutes later.

We got our stuff all set-up, checked out the swim area, worked on staying hydrated, got body marked, and then joined in cheering for the Dash Distance events that started an hour before ours. Walking around, I had a toe cramp, so I had a shot blok, had some electrolyte-spiked water, and a banana and was fine. We started to get nervous about 25 minutes to go-time as the full-distance event got queued up in the lake. We went down and got in the water and warmed up just a bit. I made the decision to race as an "Athena" - ie, a fat one! - so that I could start in the last wave with Stephani, who was in the last wave based on age. Aurelia was also in the last wave. They called us to the start line and I went completely calm. All the jitters just totally left my body as we crossed the buoy line. We positioned ourselves to the left side, in the next to last row. We were starting with the thought of "start slow and then go slower" and had no desire to get run over in the water. The announcer is saying that we are allowed to hold onto the kayaks if needed, before continuing on our swim. I see the "light" in Stephani's eyes and I practically yell at her, "You are NOT hanging onto a kayak!!!" Her eyes went big and I said, "I have trained with you and you can do this without kayak support. If you need to take a break, you know you can pop up and take a few breaststroke strokes with your head up or flip over to your back, but you keep moving!" She grins, "Yeah, I got this," and the few people around us chuckle... "Go slow, and then go slower!" Time for the countdown! 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!

I felt really good the first quarter of the swim. I got into a nice rhythm and was really comfortable. Turned the corner to the long length parallel to shore... And then the game changed. Toe cramp in my right foot. Arch of my left foot. My right calf pinging. I simply quit kicking and kept my arm strokes smooth... amazingly, I think I passed another couple people. I turned the corner for home and my right hip started pinging... I'm thinking at this point, how on earth am I going to make it out of the water onto shore??? I keep going, pulling with my arms and trying to hold my lower body in the most comfortable positions. I hear my coaches in my head, swim until you touch bottom with your hands... so I do... and then I pray that my legs hold me. They do, but now that I'm upright, my shins start to cramp - although everything else starts to let up... I hobbled... no other word for it... up the hill to the transition area. A worker pulls the tag from my back. Someone else records my number. I pass Amanda, Michele and David who are cheering and I say I'm cramping. They say stretch, hydrate, take a blok. I keep going. I get to the rack and pop a "margarita" blok and down half a bike bottle of water. I try to stretch... I'm walking around in circles around the fence line, moaning and trying not to burst into tears. 5-6 minutes pass and things are getting a touch better, but my shins and toes are refusing to release. I take another blok. Stephanie shows up. She hugs me, and I tell her to GO! That I'll see her on course. David's now on the outside of the fence cheering me on... calming me down. A few more minutes and Aurelia makes it out of the swim course and takes off. Amanda and Michele are now at the fence with David and I'm getting close to panic mode. Amanda makes me BREATHE. I pretend I'm in final savasana and try to find my happy place. I drink even more and things finally start to return to normal and I begin my transition.

I'm at the "why" stage and Michele says that there's always a hiccup in race day, and this is just mine. I have NOT cramped during 12 weeks of training... I was hydrated. I was taking electrolytes in my water from when we got to the course... Lack of sleep? Too much/too little of something? I don't know... but it happened. I come back to, "well, I said I didn't care if I was last, as long as I finished." Michele says, "You know what they call someone who finishes a triathlon in last place? A TRIATHLETE." I turn on my RunKeeper App on the phone and I'm on my way... I was in T1 soooooo long that all the people who came out of the water after me (and there were quite a few) are now long gone. On the park road out to the main road, I start to pass those finishing their 20 miles. And I became a one-woman cheerleader. I yelled encouragement to everyone I could. "Good job!" "Woo hoo!" "Almost home!" "Finish Strong" "Stay Strong" "You Can Do It" "Keep Pushing" - not sure who I was encouraging more... me or them... but those words kept ringing in my ears the 10 miles back, when there was no one on the other side of the road to cheer me on, other than a few course workers.

My ride actually goes really well. I do NOT get off my bike. I slow up and stretch my arms, back, legs a few times, but I do NOT get off my bike. I coast when I need to. I amp up my power when I can. I don't freak out being on a road with traffic. I keep going. At the 17 mile mark, I'm averaging a low 5 minute per mile pace, which was slightly better than my goal after seeing the course, which had longer (although not too steep) grades than we had trained on. The last 2.5 miles are TOUGH. The first 2 miles on the park road are a constant uphill, part of it, probably the third steepest part of the entire ride. I'm in my lowest gear, and checking for one more. My pace hits 5.8mph on the cat eye. I KEEP GOING. I made it to a half mile to go and things level out. I grab a few more gears and lean into it. Quarter-mile to go and there's David! Cowbell and camera in hand CHEERING for me! He's close enough for Amanda to hear him (she was at the run transition area) and she starts screaming for me! I push it in! Michele comes around to the fence and asks me how I'm doing. Amazingly, I'm slightly breathless, but my shoulders and back and arms have held up remarkably well - far better than the last month of training. I'm thrilled with my bike performance.

I pin on my bib, grab the 4th bike bottle (which still has ice!) that's been chillin' in transition, peel off my gloves, throw them in my helmet, snag my phone off my bike, hug Michele over the ropes and take off as fast as my legs will allow! Switched my phone app from cycle to run, throw it in my jersey pocket. Amanda is cheering for me at the run start. I hug her, too, smile for Dave and his camera, and onward! My legs come in before my breath does. The run course is steeper and hillier than we have trained on as well. It's like a service road, red dust, some small rocks, but fairly smooth and doable. I focus on one foot in front of the other. Like on the bike course, I start cheering those on coming the other way. You can here the announcer at the finish calling people home. "Ten minutes and they're calling your name!" "Half mile to go!" "Finish strong!" I make it to the top of a hill and there's the 1 mile station. Plain water? YES! One to drink, one to dump on my head. OH! My phone's in my jersey! Sports bra, which is under my swimsuit, under my jersey, has absorbed all the liquid. No worries there. I keep on going. Another quarter mile and there's no more people... miles 2 and 3 loop around back to the 1 mile station, so I don't see anyone else until I get to the 2 mile aid station. I thank them for staying there for me! One more cup to drink, one more cup to dump. Now we're transitioning off the service road onto a trail. Easier terrain, closer to the lake, I'm feeling great at this point and my pace picks up. So does my brain... the enormity of it all gets to me and I choke back the tears. Back to the main road, a quarter mile to the aid station. The last worker asks me what I need. I ask if he can refill my bike bottle. It's got about 4 oz left of electrolyte water, but the taste is getting to me and I opt to just take a last blok instead of flavored water. He's awesome and totally hooks me up, with an extra cup to dump on my head, and I barely pause for a few seconds. 1 mile to go! I can here the music and announcer. There are still finishers on course. I'm last, but not by a ton - I figure I have no more than 18 minutes to go. The last hill is TOUGH. For a second, I think about stopping and crying... but I don't! I put my head down and leaned into it. Up and over and I'm oh so close... my pace picks up to a full power walk, I can do this!!!

I make the turn for home, over part of the picnic area into the finishing straight! People are cheering and I'm being announced. Michele's shaking her cowbell for all she's worth! Amanda is standing in front of the finishing area and takes my photo. I crossed and threw my arms around her. Michele comes over, as do Steph, David, Aurelia and Kitty. We have a major group hug. A worker hands me water. Another hangs the medal around my neck. I'm trying not to sob. It was such a moment. I'm so thankful for them all for sticking it out, waiting for me to bring up the rear, and for believing that I could do it!

Michele presses more water into my hands and they say they have food for me at one of the tables. I'm no where near ready to eat... I drink - I probably downed 20 ounces in 10 seconds flat! It tasted soooo good. I walk a little more, cool down, get to the table and stretch some. I'm tired, but other than my feet being a little sore, no major issues. System scan shows all lights green! I manage to eat some fruit and chicken. The pasta and salad made me shudder to look at... so I get the protein and the simple sugars into my system. I have nuts, dried fruit and banana chips in my bag. That all sounded way more appealing. We all sat and talked a little, as the event people started tearing down the tents and things around us. Aurelia, Steph and I are super pleased with our performances. We discover we all had our moments. Aurelia got off course in the swim and had to be guided back into shore by kayak support, who herded her back into line! Steph tipped over in the turnaround on the bike course and bent her derailer a bit - fortunately she wasn't hurt and the bike didn't need repairs... And I can't wait to see what our course times were... had I not lost so much time in T1, I think I would have been really close to finishing with Steph. She was 13 minutes faster on the bike course than I was (according to our Runkeeper stats), but I was faster in the water, and she also walked the last leg.

Anyway, we finally got the bikes loaded up. I peeled out of my swimsuit and bike shorts, pottied, put back on capris for a DRY ride home. We said our goodbyes and final hugs and headed out... I managed to dump together almost a full bike bottle of still chilled water from the ice that was left in my first three bottles. (I had four bike bottles with me in a little cooler, plus one other tumbler of water. That little idea worked out brilliantly, if I do say so myself.) I had my snack baggie. I was ready to roll... phone on charger, navigation on, I'm out... and I'm into the snacks... OMG I have never, ever tasted anything better than those banana chips... I don't know what it is, but I'm slightly obsessed with them at the moment. Have I mentioned that I don't care for bananas or banana chips? I had a handful with dinner, too. OMG, best thing ever. Truly wondering if they'll have the same hold on me tomorrow. Kinda doubt it.

Anyway, got home and told this story to my parents. Then went and took a well-needed shower. I was dusty! Have been hydrating like crazy and had a good dinner. One small little blister on my right toe, feet a little sore, shins and hamstrings telling me that they were WORKED today, cheeks a little pink (should have reapplied sun screen during T2), but other than that, none the worse for the wear - at least as of tonight!

Oh, and I broke the news to my mom that I'm planning on doing the CIM (marathon) relay in December, and that actually went over pretty well! 5.8 mile power walk will be nothin' after what I managed to do today!

So many members of my Spark Family have cheered me on during this whole process, and I thank you ALL! When one goes like gangbusters, then has so many things happen that just compile into a large downward spiral like I did, it can get to be hard to see the light. Doing this triathlon was my way of trying to find my mojo, my self-worth, my determination, my belief in myself. New goals are set and I'm feeling so much better than I have in a long time.

100 pounds overweight? Do a triathlon? Crazy? Maybe. But I'm proof it can be done.

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