What if I decide to just not be afraid?
Sounds silly, but it's pretty simple. I imagine myself standing in the sand at the edge of the ocean this August, feeling a cocktail of nerves, adrenaline and excitement. I'll feel a bit bittersweet, because once I start I will no longer be anticipating my first triathlon. I'll have a moment of self doubt where I realize that I can no longer dream of having a strong performance (when I should be happy to just complete it), because soon the writing will be on the wall.
I will not be afraid.
I will feel the fear creep up from my stomach into my throat, but I'll push it down. I'll remind myself that there is absolutely no way I will be unable to finish the swim. I will fight and I will remind myself of this for 1/2 a mile until I reach the sand on the other side, but I refuse to be afraid. I will not acknowledge it.
Finally, that day came. In February, I wrote this post about embracing fear that included the text above. I've re-read it a few times leading up to Sunday's race.
I woke up at about 5am on Sunday 8/12 and rechecked the bag I had packed the previous night against the list I had made. This list was mostly to get my brain to let go of the endless worry that I would forget a piece of gear or something else important. I slept surprisingly well. I had gone to bed at about 10:30 and only woke up once before my alarm. I made myself a plain bagel with a teeny bit of peanut butter and some coffee for The Husband who was going to get up soon and basically be my transportation/roadie/photographer/moral support all day. I had a really hard time eating. I didn't have the normal upset, nervous stomach I usually do, but the bagel was making me gag. It took me about 30 minutes to eat 5 bites. It wasn't enough fuel for a whole day. I ate a banana, packed the rest of the bagel and brought my stuff down to put in the car. One of our neighbors was up early and outside. He had seen me training early, training late, training early and late and had been cheering me on as I progressed. It was nice to see another person who knew what I was doing who wished me luck.
It was a short drive down to the race, which was based in South Boston around Carson Beach. I can't even tell you how excited I got when I saw the fences, bike racks and transition arches set up. When we came the night before to pick up my packet, I squealed like a little girl and then got a little teary eyed. We got there at about 6:30 and I had a little over an hour until I had to be at the swim start. I set up my transition area as best as I could imagine I'd need it and soon enough it was time for the 8am pre-race meeting.
I met up with the friend who had encouraged me to sign up for the triathlon and headed over with her. I had already put my wetsuit most of the way on and tested out the water. This is strongly recommended if it's at all possible for two reasons. One, you will just feel a little less nervous about the swim if you at least get in the water, if not warm up. Two, your wetsuit will settle around you a bit more and be more comfortable. I recommend searching for some videos online to help you get an idea of how to properly put on a wetsuit. It made the difference between feeling like I was being strangle by a giant elastic band or wearing a functional piece of clothing.
By the time the elite wave started, between 8:20 and 8:30, I was getting pretty hungry. I had taken a Gu energy gel at about 7:30 because I knew I could tolerate it, but it couldn't do much to make me feel full or make up for the light breakfast I had. I found a water fountain and drank enough to trick myself into feeling full. I distracted myself by being a little silly to the music they played and watched my husband sprint off to grab his bike helmet (a spare for me) for a racer who had left his at home in western Mass. I can't imagine how freaked out that guy must have been. I'm glad that I over-pack!
By 9:20 or so it was time for my wave to start. Out of 10 waves, spaced about 6 minutes apart, mine was last. This was on purpose to allow the novice triathletes to take their time without feeling like they'd be run down by the next wave (or people within their wave). The women in my group were great. Everyone was nervous but trying to support the women around them. Some were giving last minute tips. Some were just giving pep talks. I was trying ride the line between feeling like I was going to vomit and being hungry. This was it. Those buoys don't look THAT far away, I thought. The water is calm. I just have to swim out and then I HAVE to swim back. Then the count-down from ten began and I was running into the water before I could really think about it. I was in the front third of the pack and on the inside of the swim turns. I knew this would be a more popular area, since it's the shortest distance, but I just didn't care. I dove in and started swimming.
The swim course is shaped like a really tall trapezoid. The turn buoys at the top of the trapezoid are big blow-up red (orange?) triangles. Between these buoys and the shore, there were two big yellow guide buoys, one going out and one coming back in. I got about half way to the guide buoy and it happened...
You are SOOO tired! Told you you shouldn't have missed your last two swim classes, sore back or not. Maybe you should have done EXTRA swim workouts. You are TIRED and you are not even half way out. Fail. I'm not tired, it's adrenaline, shut up brain! Turn around, there are not that many people behind you. You're going to fade. All of them will pass you and you will be THAT CHICK. Joke-ity, joke, joke, joke. No...no I'm not. (Oh man there are only like 20 people behind me). I swim 90 minutes during my class. That's way longer than this. This is 20. Shut up. I can do this. I just have to get out to the kayak at the turn and if I really freak out I can hold on to it for a minute and then start again. Hold on because you are a BABY.
I stopped, felt all the water around and under me, and then I got kind of pissed at myself. I flip on my back and take a few deep breaths. This is amazing, but I am out in the middle of all this water, swimming like I've prepared to do and my brain is making war with itself. I turn over, put my head down and decided that I would take 10 really strong freestyle stroke with each arm and see where I was. I would just concentrate on form. I'd do stroke drills if I had to!
Past the yellow buoy. Turn buoy up ahead.
If I get to the turn buoy, it's only a short distance across and then I can swim my face off back in! I'm going to make it! Why is my brain such a jerk?!
I round the turn buoy and finally feel like I can swim normally. I can easily see the shore, the start and finish and all the spectators going crazy cheering us in. This is so cool! I feel like I have a birds-eye view of everything, but I'm in the water. I round the next turn buoy and head back in. I'm pretty tired and I see that the wind has picked up and is coming in pretty strong from my left. A few of us are getting bunched up and pushed to our right by the gusts. It's taking a lot more effort to get back in. I really have to pull to the left to stay straight (and off of the poor girl next to me) and I feel like I'm barely moving. By the time I got out of the water I was pretty tired. I saw The Husband taking pictures and I managed to wave. I run up the beach to transition and strip my wetsuit down to my waist. I was warned about the transition being a bit of a jog from the swim and it didn't disappoint. Total swim time was 22 minutes. Since I do it in 20 in a pool, 22 is great considering my mini freak-out and the jog up the beach while trying to take my wetsuit off.
I manage to get the suit off fairly easily. I poured water over my feet to get the sand off and step over onto a hand towel to keep them clean. I dry my feet and put on my socks and sneakers (with baby powder in the socks, another good tip!). No bike shoes for this girl yet. I realize I'm really hungry and remember my bagel. I take a huge bit and, oh hey, it's stale.
I love this picture. It's a mix of, "so hungry!" and "what have I doooooone?!"
Yeah. So that's the beginning of how to have a 6+ minute transition (6 minutes, true story). Eat something you're going to have to chew for-freakin-EVER. I try to soften it/wash it down with gatorade. I double check that I have my helmet buckled and my number belt on and go. Except my legs don't want to run. Definitely not with a bike across bumpy grass. I realized that as I leave the transition area that my bike time has started, but I have to get around and into a parking lot and across the mount line to even start riding. Oh man.
I finally get on my bike and I feel awesome! I love my bike! I don't feel shaky and as soon as I take the turn out of the lot onto the street I take off. I wasn't afraid of going fast, I wasn't afraid of passing other bikes, the wind gusts from the side didn't even rattle me. I saw The Husband and yelled WHEEEEEE!!! I lived through the swim and this is actually a lot of fun!
Only one person passed me on the bike, and it was a male rider on a pretty serious looking bike. He was obviously doing his second loop while I was doing my first. Without being close enough to be drafting (not allowed in most triathlons unless they are specifically draft legal), I tried to stick with his pace. I stayed with him until the turnaround and then I was met with the strongest headwind I've biked in. I bike down at the Cape Cod Canal frequently and have inadvertently gone just as the tide was changing, resulting in a strong headwind out AND back. This was nuts. I almost felt like I was picked up for a second at one point. I pedaled and pedaled as hard as I could, but lost my target. I was still picking off people in front of me, but we were all much slower. I went through the lot to do loop two. Now it was a bit windy out and back, but it wasn't bad. I pedaled as hard as I could, but I still felt slow. I made it back to the dismount line and tried to run my bike back in. It was impossible. I shuffled over as fast as I could, took off my helmet and ate a vanilla Gu with some water as quickly as possible. Almost all the bikes were back. But that's impossible...I passed so many people. My bike time was about 36 minutes for 9 miles. I normally bike that in about 27 without the adrenaline and push of race day. I was really dismayed until I realized that a good part of that was my lead-foot march to and from the mount line. Note to self: transitions and time between legs need improvement! I can't be too upset though. I gained about 33 places between the swim and bike (bike to run...notsomuch).
I ran out of transition and saw zero people on the run. I ran down the sidewalk to get to the street and was overwhelmed by the amount of finishers leaving. They ran the race, possibly went to the beer garden and now they're going home while I'm still out here running! I got into the run lane and finally saw some runners. I realized that I felt like I was all alone because of how the waves are staged. I will probably swim with my age group from now on to end up with more people around me. The run was the only part I really struggled with. I always feel like I'm running really slow after the bike. It feels so different, I have no way to gauge it. Every time I run faster than I normally do. This time I was sure I was bombing it. I felt like I was shuffling. I'd shuffle and then I'd walk. I was pushing myself to run, but I'd end up walking again. I couldn't figure out what my problem was! At the big turn-around point, you can clearly see and hear the finish (more cowbell!), but it's still almost a mile away. Oh hey, free beer! Total run time was about 45 minutes (4 miles).
I finally got to the finish and ran down onto the beach. I made it! I'm going to finish my first tri! I saw the clock at the finish, but it didn't mean much since it started about 50 minutes before I did. I knew I finished it in less than 2 hours so that was cool! I know I'm not supposed to worry about time in my first one, but I had an idea of what I was capable of and I wanted to push myself. Really, I should just consider doing it pushing myself! I included my times to give you and idea of what I did, that I'm just an average person who decided to do something I'm fascinated with (but was frightened of).
I'm a triathlete!
I can't really describe how it felt. I was super excited and already wanting to do my next one. There was just something about pushing through that negative voice during the swim that really made me so happy.
* note: I'm probably going to go back and edit as I remember more, but this is my third sitting writing this. It's time to hit "publish"!