I wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning to give myself ample time to chug coffee and stress out. Training would have been an excellent idea, I think.
While I started the summer with the best laid triathlon training plans, my preparation maxed out at three (count ’em, THREE) trips to the pool (back in July), runs no longer than three miles, and a handful of long but casual bike rides. I have done nothing race related for the last three weeks.
I click through last year’s results one more time to gauge approximately how long I need to be able to keep my head above water before drowning (anywhere from 12 to 35 minutes) and choke down an almond butter and jelly tortilla. It tastes like terror and regret.
Friday night I drove the hour to the race site to scope it out in attempt to calm my nerves. The sight of the open water swim distance only made things worse, and I almost walked straight back out without registering. To hell with this race.
As expected, the swim is the worst. I’m in the last heat with the rest of the novices so we don’t get in anyone else’s way. (Good.) I thought watching the other groups take off would calm me down, but seeing two more experienced competitors require a kayak rescue only sends me into a tornado of anxiety. Panic rises. (Bad.)
Recurring advice I got from triathletes was to stay calm in the water and focus on my own breath. While training for the swim would have been a smart move physically, nothing could have prepared me for mental challenge of willingly throwing myself into one of my biggest fears quite like good old yoga. I am positive that the only reason I get across the water at all is thanks to years of training my breath to calm my body down.
I’m in the water for 25 minutes and much of that is spent on my back counting breaths and strokes that calm me down before flipping over to check my direction, panicking and returning to the back stroke. When I finally pull around the third buoy and realize I’m going to make it, I lighten up and start chatting with the rescue kayakers nearby.
“I’ve never swam this far ever in my life,” I confess. “I think my boyfriend thinks I died.” She laughs and asks if I want to hang on to the kayak for a second to regroup but I decline because if I’m going to do this I’m going to do it all.
When I finally make it out of the water, Nick runs me up to transition to the bike. (I will appreciate this later.) With the dreaded swim behind me, my only goal is to pace myself and finish.
I spend most of the bike ride talking to myself. The first 10 miles are quick and painless but the last four start to feel heavy and slow. “Do not slow down do not slow down do not slow down.”
After a brutal last hill, I coast down around the final bend back to transition to the run and there out of nowhere are my sister, her boyfriend, Nick, and six of my very best friends from college who rolled in undetected from Florida, South Carolina and DC. I lose it.
This is what I look like the moment I realize they’re all there:
I almost drop the bike and hug everyone but they’re all yelling “GO RUN GO RUN GO RUN” so I breeze by in a daze, re-rack the bike and go run the last 3.1 miles of the race. (I will appreciate this later.)
There’s a lot I can’t believe at this moment: 1) that I made it through the swim, 2) that all my friends just showed up completely unannounced, and 3) that I am totally going to finish this god damn race. I am floored.
The 5K, unfortunately, is a cruel cruel joke. The course is a double loop down-and-back so you’re just trudging along the same 3/4-mile strip four times. There is absolutely nothing fun about this setup and my legs feel like jello but I’ll be damned if I won’t finish strong. I certainly don’t expect to PR this 5K but all I want is to do it all without stopping. I also just want to get to the end to see my friends. On my fourth and final trip up the route I’m all smiles as I cut right down the hill and through the finish line. I still can’t really believe it.
Cane Creek Sprint Triathlon 2014
750-meter swim – 25:53
T1 – 2:46
14-mile bike – 57:53
T2 – 1:52
5K run – 30:11
TOTAL – 1:58:33
This race was hard but not impossible. It was as much mental as it was physical, and in the end I learned that I’m a lot stronger in both regards than I think I am. More importantly, though, I learned I’m stronger with a support system. Without Nick there I would have walked the first transition and without my surprise ambush from my friends I probably would have walked some of the final run, too.
At no point during the race did I ever know where I was in the lineup or how long anything was taking me. I didn’t have a watch or look at any of the timers. I was just doing the best I could. It wasn’t until sauntering down to the snack table and checking my phone that I realized I had finished in less than two hours. And it wasn’t until seeing that that I realized sub-two had been my secret goal all along. I just never wanted to say it because I didn’t think I could actually do it.
Those two little bursts of support from Nick and my sister and my friends during the transitions are what kept me (barely) under two hours. I didn’t even know that was important to me.
This weekend was completely insane and the race was really the least of it. I have never felt so loved (and in love) and so happy and so completely at home and at peace. My cup runneth over.
No I will absolutely not be doing it again. 🙂