This past weekend, I did two things that I was afraid of. I was nervous and anxious about both, but you know what? I did them anyway.
On Sunday I completed my first triathlon of the season (my first Olympic distance) and I was scared of the swim. But first, let me talk a little about the bike ride I took on Saturday with the local cycling club.
Since I’m training for the half Ironman (where the bike is the biggest portion), a friend encouraged me to go on one of the group rides on Saturday. They have a distance builder where they add miles each week, and this one would be about 40. I’ve never rode in a group, and I consider myself a beginner cyclist. Falling over when stopping (while clipped in) is a highly probable event. I’m a chicken on the downhills, and I’m not real fast. Those were my excuses to not go. But I tried to rationalize my fear (what’s the worst that could happen) and think of the benefits – different route, company on a ride, learning from others. So I showed up Saturday morning and rode 41 miles with some company. I only fell once, near the end of the ride when a car came to an intersection at the last minute. Other than the car, there was only one cycling witness, and he helped me by putting my chain back on. We talked about how it happens to everyone, and even after people have been riding for years, it happens. So I didn’t die from embarrassment, and the ride was enjoyable. There were a few hills, but nothing I couldn’t handle.
Sunday was the Texasman triathlon. This was my first race with an open water swim, and I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t think much about the bike and run portion, because those distances were manageable in comparison to the swim. My first triathlon last August was a pool swim of 300 meters. The second tri was a pool swim of 250 yards. I have had two open water swim practices in the past two months, which went okay, but my confidence on the distance wasn’t in the best place. Swimming is my weakest link of triathlon, and my fear had everything to do with being able to complete the distance. I’ve done it in the pool, with rest breaks, and pushing off of the wall, but there is so much to consider in the open water.
My first obstacle: the wind. There was a slight breeze, which created some waves in the water. I looked out at the buoys, and all I could think was “Wow, that’s a long way out there!” I got in the water for a warm up swim. Two strokes out, two strokes back. That wasn’t helping me at all. I thought it was a negative aspect that I was in the last wave of swimmers (all female Olympic distance), but as I got to watch the other waves start, I began to calm down. I went out in the water again, and then I started to relax. By the time my wave started I was in an okay place in my head.
When I started swimming, I was good. I was settling into my rhythm and then whoops, I had someone swim into me on each side. Even though it didn’t hurt, it shook me and I had trouble getting back into my swim. I flipped over on my back, caught my breath, and then tried again. This was a repeat process. For the mile swim, there were two marker buoys before you got to the third buoy for the turn. By the time I hit the first marker, I heard someone say “I didn’t expect to be having this much trouble so soon.” The water was so choppy I couldn’t get a good breath without a mouthful of water from a wave. At the second marker buoy, I saw a guy from a previous wave hanging on. I asked if he was okay, and he said he was. I realized my fear of being last out of the water was no longer valid. I kept on as best as I could, but I think I spent more time on my back for the first stretch, and I was well hydrated before I made the first turn from all the water I swallowed. It took me 30 minutes to get to that point. The second stretch was better, there was a bit of cross wind, but I had an easier time. It took me 10 minutes to make the turn back. This was supposed to be the easy part, where the wind pushes you back. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the effect of it because it was pushing me out to the left and I needed to head toward the right. I felt like I was swimming in circles, and didn’t think I’d ever get there. I could see the finish area, with the beach ball on top of the arch, and I wanted to be out of the water like you wouldn’t believe. My arms were tired, but I was finally swimming smoothly, just like in the pool. I had my rhythm on the home stretch. Then I touched saw my husband near the exit. I touched sand, and stood up – a little woozy. It took me 1:04:07 according to my Garmin to complete the swim.
This is my “I really did it, and oh my gosh I’m so tired” expression for my husband who is my best supporter ever!
After some wonderful volunteers got me out of my wetsuit, it was off to transition for the bike portion, where I heard other athletes talking about how awful the swim. That made me feel so much better.
Once on the bike, it took a few miles before I could settle my breathing. It was still overcast, and I felt some sprinkles at the beginning of my ride. My quads were feeling the bike ride from Saturday, but it was manageable. I was just so happy that I did the swim, I didn’t care how the rest of the race went. I took in some nutrition and just enjoyed the road. There were some good hills, which I need so that was okay. There was one lady who I passed going up a hill who called out, “Look at you climbing like a beast.” Apparently that’s my strength on the bike, and I’ll blame my hill running. There was one kicker near the end of the course that I thought might have blown my run. There was a spectator at the top giving positive feedback. “Nice cadence, keep it up.” The bike distance was almost 25 miles, then it was back in transition to head out for a 10k.
The sun started to come out during my run and heat things up a bit. There was Nuun on the course (yay!) so there was one less bottle I had to pack. It felt strange running empty-handed, but so nice. The run portion of triathlon is so different from running a road race. You have loops and people going opposite directions on both sides of the sidewalk, from all three race distances. There were a couple of times, I wasn’t sure if I was in the right place, then I would see a sign or mile marker and breathe a sigh of relief. At a turn around between miles 4 and 5 I lost my footing and stepped off the sidewalk. I almost fell, but caught myself. The volunteers asked if I was okay, and I responded, “I just can’t feel my legs anymore.” I was heating up, and ready to be done, but I was pleased with my running pace. I took a total of 3 short walk breaks, mostly going up a hill to catch my breath, but then I would pick up my pace after the break. There were some overhead sprinklers in a couple of places that helped me cool off too. Coming in near the finish, a young girl called out “The end is near! 400 meters if you’re on your last loop.” Hallelujah!
As I crossed the finish, I was ready to cry. Not in pain, not in regret, but in the fact that I really did it. I did more than I thought I could, and pulled in for a strong finish on the run (with a 9:24 average pace). My official finish time was 3:51:54 (swim 1:04:07, bike 1:41:09, run 58:03).
A year ago, I didn’t have a bike and couldn’t swim with my face in the water. I was nervous starting this journey, but I have done more than I imagined I could, and that is a feeling that can’t be replaced. I have five short weeks until my half Ironman, and a lot of work still to do, but I will keep training hard and pushing myself because I want to keep reaching for those goals.
Have a great week!