Or – “My Renaissance Man Olympic Distance Triathlon Race Report”
To say I was nervous about my first Olympic Distance Triathlon would be an understatement of epic proportions. I had signed up to do the race about 8 months ago because I knew it was 2 days before my 40th birthday, it was in the town I went to college, and it was an Olympic Distance (0.9 mile swim, 25 mile bike, 6.2 mile run) which was my next big goal. Then, one of the former Fleet Feet coaches who taught me how to ride a bike 2 summers ago started his own training program for that specific race. I signed up for that class in late winter/early Spring.
But then two things kinda changed our schedules a bit. 1) Our house was later getting on the market than we thought due to contractor issues and 2) I changed jobs to one requiring I work in an office on the other side of town, adding a commute to my days. These two things meant that I would need to be spending more time cleaning but I would have less time to do it since I would be home less. So my already tight schedule become even tighter right about the time training started.
Luckily I was dedicated and I really stuck to a lot of the training plan, I just did almost all of the bike rides on the trainer in my house and almost all of the swims in the YMCA pool as I could make group rides or Open Water Swim sessions. So, I knew that I was fit enough to do the race, but I was worried about not having enough road or OWS experience.
I woke up at 4am to do some work I have to do for a website every Sunday morning. It only takes about 10 minutes but it has to be done. I was sitting in the hall of our hotel room trying not to wake everyone. Donnie woke up for the day and came up to me and whispered, “Good morning!” and I looked up at him, started crying and said, “I AM SO SCARED.”
So. That tells you where I was that morning before the race.
The thing about triathlons is there’s just so much you have to worry about. Stickers on helmets and bikes and swim caps, body marking, chips, transition set up, you have to get out on your bike once before the race to make sure everything is working properly, you need to do a warm-up swim. With a foot race you just show up and run, but not with a triathlon. And for someone with high anxiety, this DOES NOT HELP WITH PRE-RACE STRESS.
I also had a series of unfortunate events the 24-hours prior. I found out my A Goal of 4 hours was the cutoff time, my bike computer died (it keeps me from going too slow), I forgot my tri shorts at home so we had to turn back after being on the road 45 minutes. I was just SUPER STRESSED.
But the amazing thing about training with groups and being active in your community is that you show up to a “local” race (this one was close enough to be considered local) and you see familiar faces at every turn and they all know you’re terrified (many of them are terrified too) and it becomes a giant group therapy session which is like taking a Xanax for your nerves. Everywhere I turned friends offered smiles or words of encouragement, some expressed their own nervousness which made me feel SO MUCH BETTER because there’s something about being reassured that you’re not the ONLY one panicking that can calm you. I got hugs and advice and all of those faces and smiles and pats on the back were – HONEST TO GOD – what got me in the water that day. I live a very blessed life, much more of one than I feel like I could ever deserve, and the majority of those blessings are demonstrated in all of those beautiful faces who talked to me before that race yesterday. I wish I could knock on all of their doors today and thank them personally because I would have never toed the line yesterday without each of them.
And my husband – captain of Team Zoot – helped me so much. He coached me through my warm-up swim when I decided I couldn’t calm down enough to start with a freestyle. “I think I’ll do a sidestroke until that first buoy so I can get my breathing steady.” “Great idea!” he confirmed, knowing that my calm breathing would be a major requirement for me to survive that swim.
I started out with the sidestroke and…well…long story short? I basically swam the entire almost-mile with the sidestroke. I just could not get my breathing calm enough to do a freestyle. With the sidestroke, I could sight on the buoys to make sure I was going in the right direction (I’m not the best at sighting with the freestyle) and I could watch for other swimmers (I still get freaked by bodies near me) and I could make sure I was making forward progress (I fear not being strong enough to swim faster than a current) so I just settled into the sidestroke. We made a turn down a channel, probably about 400m into our 1600m swim and I could feel myself slow down so then I kinda started to really panic more than before. I looked around for a kayak to hold on to. You can take a break with a kayak, you just can’t make forward progress. There were none around that I could see. Then I started to panic more because stopping to look had me drifting backwards and I thought, “If I find a kayak, I’m quitting, I’m not strong enough to beat this current.” (FYI – most people said there was NO current. I’m just a weak swimmer.)
But there were no kayaks that I could see (I was swimming into the sun) so I just kept going and watching my slow progress along the shoreline. I started singing the ABCs with my strokes, trying to guess how many ABCs would get me to the turn bouoy which signified halfway. I could tell I was passing some swimmers, not because I was faster, but because I was swimming a very straight line since I was doing the sidestroke and could see where I was going better. That was reassuring to me a little bit, that even though I was doing the unprofessional sidestroke, I was gaining ground on some so I wouldn’t be last out of the water. Since I’m slow on the bike, I didn’t want to be last out of the water.
I finally made it around the turn bouoy and life was so much better. I was swimming with the “current” then, and I did not have the sun in my eyes, and I had looked at my watch and I made it to the halfway point about 8 minutes or so faster than I expected! This was GREAT news! (Not so great that my sidestroke was faster than my freestyle, but still!) So the swim back was much better. I still stuck to the sidestroke, doing a little bit of freestyle here and there, but since I’m crappy at sighting, I found myself going off course so I just stuck with what was working, the sidestroke. When I got to the shore I screamed at Donnie, “TELL FACEBOOK I DIDN’T DROWN!”
I was smiling a million dollar smile the whole way into transition – I was so proud. I just kept telling everyone, “I DID IT! I DID IT!” Even though I don’t love the bike at all, I was just happy to be done with the swim. I was even dancing in transition, I was just having fun! I got started on the bike and was just smiling the whole way.
The bike was uneventful. Because I don’t do much riding on the road my gearing on hills isn’t great and I had some issues with needing to pass someone who slowed down more than I did on a hill, but over all it was fine. I managed to drink a full bottle of water AND take a Cliff Gel all while riding. DID YOU HEAR THAT? I TOOK A GEL! I had never done that before. I had given myself permission to stop and get off the bike when I had single-digit miles to go so I could get some water if I hadn’t gotten enough and get my gel in, BUT I DIDN’T NEED TO! I did start to worry about getting a flat the last 5 miles as I passed two guys changing flats on the side of the road. After mile 20 I convinced myself I could walk my bike if I needed to and still at least finish under 5 hours.
Once I was done with the bike I was smiling bigger than when I was done with the swim! But something weird happened. I got to transition and my family was no where to be seen. I looked at my watch and I was 10 minutes faster than I told them I’d be so maybe they missed me? I got all of my running stuff on and sent Donnie a text, “Starting my run, don’t want you to worry about me!” Just in case he just missed me since I was faster than I expected.
I started the run and it was VERY hot and there was NO shade. I walked a bit getting my phone tracker started, texting Donnie, and getting my camelback on and my second Gel taken. Right as the uphill started I started jogging and MAN my legs were tired. I felt like I was moving SO SLOW. My phone told me my first mile was at 12:xx though and that’s not bad considering how slow I felt like I was going and how I walked a good portion of that first mile getting stuff situated. So, I pushed forward. Once we made it closer to UNA campus I started being really happy because that was my home for SO LONG. So many streets hold memories for me there. The park that used to have the Ren Faire every year, the building I met my husband, my old professor’s house etc. I basically spent the whole 6 hot miles smiling. I even stopped at two places and made volunteers take my picture along the course. I AM A PROFESSIONAL.
I made it to the finish line and was so VERY PROUD of myself. My time was 3:33 which was almost 20 minutes faster than I expected! I made my A-Goal! I got my medal thanked people cheering me on, looked around and said, “Where is my family?”
My friend said, “Oh, so you don’t know?”
“Everyone is fine, but they’re at the emergency room. There was an incident on the slide.”
OF COURSE THERE WAS.
Turns out Donnie had updated some friends so they would tell me, and he had updated Facebook, but I had no idea that my kids were at the hospital (which I ran by, funnily enough) getting checked out after some head injuries. I called Donnie to get the update and I said, “Actually, I don’t even know who is hurt. Who is hurt?”
“Both of them.”
OF COURSE IT IS BOTH OF THEM.
Turns out someone put water on the large inflatable slide which made the kids go SO MUCH FASTER. And then some bigger kids thought it would be fun to push smaller kids down and it was chaos and Nikki went FLYING and out of control and crashed her head at the bottom. She was crying when someone pushed Wesley down and HE went flying and crashed his face into the other side of her head and then they were BOTH screaming. Donnie took them to the on-sight EMT (a handy thing at a race) and they looked at both of them and said, “You really should take them to the ER. We can drive them in the ambulance if you’d like.”
Donnie drove them to the ER where he watched my run from his tracking app from his phone. Since the kids had been on the wet slide they were frozen and cold BUT – since we had TWO AT ONCE – we got a discount on our bill because they used the same room. GO US!
Nikki ended up with a mild concussion so we had instructions to treat her with care etc and Wes might have had a small orbital fracture and Donnie was sent with care and instructions for both and what to look for the rest of the day and when to bring them back. Nikki was really nauseated at first but that faded and they both started acting normal after a good lunch and some time out of the sun.
Donnie felt REALLY bad but it all was fine, of course. I was glad that they kids were fine and was happy that he had been there to take care of them. A lot of us families leave our kids in the watch of other spectators, we have a nice community like that, but I’m glad the day there was an incident it was one of us in charge of our own kids. I’m very lucky to have such an amazing and supportive husband and I felt his love and pride in me even if he wasn’t there in body.
An amazing day where I was held up by my triathlon community. I would have never in a million years thought I would do an Olympic Distance Triathlon 3 years ago – and I couldn’t have done it without so many friends who encouraged me along the way. I could win the lottery tomorrow or inherit Google or become the elected Queen of the Universe and I would still say that my biggest unexpected blessing in life would be the community I fell into as a runner and triathlete in Huntsville, Alabama. There are no better people in the world, I guarantee it.