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Can you be fat and still fit? My first sprint triathlon

Monday, July 16, 2012

7AM sunday July 15, I started something I would have thought was impossible for me: a sprint triathlon. swim 400 yards, bike 12 miles, run 5K. I finished in 2 hours and 2 minutes.
Here we are at 5:30AM, heading into transition. My kids were as nervous and scared for me as I was for myself. Getting hurt was my biggest concern. At 47, are my tissues resilient enough to handle this? Yes, I'd done all 3 events back to back as a trial run, in Spark tradition, a virtual triathlon to make sure I could do it. On the big day, I didn't know how nerves, interacting with other people would play out.

The volunteers for the event were absolutely uplifting from packet pickup, marking, setting up transition area. TriAggieland lived up to the "true to each other as Aggies can be" tradition. It helped that some volunteers and competitors were friends from my kids' sports events, and that my brother in law also competed. I knew I'd have people looking out for me. I was trembling setting my bike on the rack, checked my transition area more than once: I had a beach towel on the ground, supposedly to mark out my area. Ha! Infringed on big time. The towel really helped me find my spot hurrying to and from. Goggles for swim, towel to dry off after so i could spray on sunscreen before outdoor portion; bike shoes, socks, gel, helmet; visor + running shoes + 2nd gel for run. I wore flipflops to get in and out of transition's parking lot with scattered gravel. Ditched them off to the side and retrieved them after the pool. I had my glasses and case with me, again set it off to the side while in the pool. The swim was 400m snaking through TAMU's natatorium.
500 competitors starting every 5 to 10 seconds. Chatting with others in the stands, it seemed most of us were first timers. Perhaps this is explained in that our town hadn't had a local tri in 20 years. I know I would likely not have taken on this challenge this summer if the race weren't so close to home. My number was 350, so lots of time to talk to people around me. Nerves seemed common, as well as kindness.

I'd swum 400 meters in my usual 25m pool in about 12 minutes. I'd signed up for the race with a 14 min swim time. I was intimidated by nerves. Yes, my arms were trembling waiting in the water before my "go". I was so glad we could jump into the pool a few people early to acclimate.

I wasn't able to exhale steadily for the first few strokes; surrounded in a few moments by other swimmers. My swim perspective: slow and steady. Other people: zoom down the lane, hang on the end til you catch your breath, zoom down the lane, wait again. Some people passed me on 3 or 4 lengths (of 8 total), with them stopping at the end, before I moved far enough out of their range while they hung on the ends of the lanes catching their breaths. I finished the swim in 15 mins, and I don't think I was ever so happy to finish 400m. My nerves were much more in control heading out of the water. The water was my most "comfortable" zone, so still nervous about what was ahead. I walked through first transition, gathering my glasses and flip flops as I went. High fived my sister, son, niece, nephew as I went past. Still slightly shaky as I dried off quickly, bent over to put on socks and shoes, sprayed sun screen. The other bikes in my immediate area, who were crammed next to mine, had already gone out on the course.

My concern with the bike: falling and taking someone else down with me, especially with my challenges acclimating to clip pedals. I was very relieved that only 3 of us were mounting bikes at the same time, with lots of room around us. Bike felt great. The course had a few inclines, not "hills that would make you cry" Lots of support from volunteers, other competitors calling out encouragement. I even passed a few people on the bike portion, felt like SuperWoman (or maybe Jamie Summers). The bike course was double loops on a 6 mile course. Fun to wave to the family twice. Fun also to cruise past Vet School bldgs where I worked 25+ years ago (when I never would have considered doing this type of athletic event.) 12 miles in 50:43, 14mph. I was expecting to do about 12 mph. I rode a Giant Hybrid bike with skinny tires. My clip pedals and I got along fine, not that I had to unclip until the end of the ride (I was so grateful for police traffic control.) I remembered to loosen both feet in plenty of time before I stopped. Victory! My husband and daughter were waiting for me to come in from the bike course. A boost of happy! They were as impressed as I was that I didn't crash, I think.

By the time I finished the second bike loop, there was no one very close to me. I managed to secure my bike to the rack, which was again pretty crowded. Kicked off the bike shoes, shimmied into running shoes. Happy that I remembered to remove my bike helmet and grab my visor. I wished I'd drained my bike water bottle before setting off to run. By the time I realized it, I would have been close to knocking someone else's bike down to reach my bottle. Second gel in hand, I walked out of T2. The person who had signed me in at packet pickup, and cheered me on heading to the bike, was cheering me again as I headed out of T2: OK, 350 (my number), give me 3 more!

Talk about self-conscious! Jiggling from top to bottom, trying to find my jogging stride. The course was almost over-run by the very competitive people who had already finished. I felt like they were moving much faster than I was while they were simply meandering around. So many people yelling out encouragement! Found my sister, son, niece, nephew just before the water stop. Another boost of happy.

Gulped the cup of water, could have used more. I was concerned about having enough water to balance the second gel, so I didn't use it yet. I get why people would carry their own water for the run: make sure you have it when / where you need it. I didn't want the extra heat (and weight) of a camelback. I might try training with one to have water access.

The run circled through Kyle Field, Aggie football stadium. I remembered when I could finally get on the field with my senior ring, taking my kids down on the field at different games. Saw my brother in law (#133) as we passed through Kyle Field's tunnel. He said, "don't push it too much, walk." I ran through the first mile, through the wet zone of kids with squirt guns, then walked the second mile, after grabbing water (really appreciated water). Jogging while holding a paper cup of water stumped me. I took the second gel (hedging my bets whether I'd need it). Kept on, cheers from volunteers, no other runners very close to me. Turning toward the Former Student Center giant Aggie Ring to finish mile 2 and head back to Kyle Field was an obvious perspective: work so hard to get that ring. 25+ years later, I worked what seemed even harder to finish this race. Got more water, and encouragement from the volunteers, then ran the last mile back. Kyle Field was nearly silent, as I was the only runner heading through at that time. Coming back through an under-the-road tunnel, my husband came to meet me, ran a few steps beside me. Turned into the sunlight and my son and daughter joined me. Up the slight hill, finish line in sight, I brought my niece and nephew with us. No other runners were close to me, so we all finished together. At the end, a 12th man towel soaked in ice water felt like bliss. An Old Ag passing out the medals, who looked as happy as I felt that I finished.

Here's the photo-op at the end. My family stayed to cheer in the last few finishers behind me. my kids are talking about doing the kids' tri next year.

What I learned: I can do what seems impossible with plenty of prep, plenty of commitment and grit, and lots of support from friends and family. The tri community was incredibly supportive throughout the training, the event, everything. Regrets: none! Questions: I don't know if I should have run that second mile. A day later, my calves are feeling the exertion, so perhaps the conservative approach helped me stay injury-free. Wishes: I wished I'd lost more weight during training :) Ya know the article that says exercise doesn't mean you can eat whatever? True. Would I do it again? Yes. Proud: I didn't cop out of training, I completed the event, I overcame my self-consciousness about my appearance to do what I needed to complete my goal. If completing a sprint tri is fitness, yes, you can be fat and still fit.
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