Monday, September 19, 2011

Triathlon: What Was I Thinking?

Pacific Grove. What was I thinking?

It would've been easy to not do the race. Even my husband, David wasn't asking me about it. I'm pretty sure he figured I wasn't going to race. There were a few friends that knew I'd signed up for it, mainly my friends the Floyds and my tri buddy Joy, but I didn't really advertise it too much, probably leaving an "out" in case I didn't do it.

I had little intention of doing this race, and I can't tell you why or what changed. A friend named Dave that I had met at Pacific Grove 2 years ago called me up and encouraged me to attend. ("victoria, this is God speaking....). And my friend Bobby and I had a spirited twitter exchange. I wouldn't commit to coming but it was them that made me realize there actually was a part of me that wanted to go, but not sure if I wanted to race; I think I just wanted to be a part of this race scene with folks that I consider my friends, and for some reason, David wasn't racing any Olympic or shorter distance triathlons this year and the 2 Half Ironmans he did compete in were void of any of these familiar faces. I realized I wanted to be among these triathlon community friends but the only way to do it.... was to race!

I already paid for the slot. I already had the wetsuit, a really nice one thanks to wetsuit (thanks Patty!) Though I have to admit that I went out in the ocean a few weeks prior and discovered that the pool is nothing like the ocean! I completely panicked and there I could touch the bottom during the entire ocean swim. Knowing this, I am still surprised I decided to compete in this triathlon. There was a part of me seriously concerned that I wouldn't be able to manage the swim and that I'd panic.

Seriously, I had so many concerns! Could I really survive the swim? Could I even get out of the wetsuit without help? (no one is allowed in the transition area unless they are a competitor) Would I be cold and uncomfortable? How would the bike be? I'm not used to riding with lots of people, and I'm still scared of clipping in and out of my pedals. Add to that, I wasn't sure if I could even take a sharper turn that I'd need to do for the 2 laps. And then there's the run: I wasn't too afraid of that, as I had already resolved that I'd simply walk it. I didn't care. I knew there was no hope of running it and....... I wasn't sure I'd even make it to the run, so I didn't even plan that far ahead.

Despite all my fears and misgivings, after some encouragement from my tri buddy Joy, I decided I wanted to race and informed my husband David. He was nothing but supportive, and I almost wonder if he was waiting for me to make this decision on my own. But once made, he was giving me all kinds of advice, especially on the best way of laying out my transition stuff, where to put my shoes, socks, cycling shoes, some sport jelly beans because I still am scared of gel.


I couldn't sleep at all. Not sure it was nerve, excitement, or the 5 diet cokes (diet pepsi actually) that I had with some church friends after church that night. David had loaned me his nice tri bag that made me LOOK the part of a triathlete but i sure didn't feel like one! Regardless, I do think having a nice bag like that is helpful. David reminded me of what to pack and I was all set the night before, yet still couldn't sleep. Finally, at 2am I fell asleep, only to be woken at 5:00. We were supposed to be in the car headed for the race by 5:30, but that's not always easy with 3 kids, so we didn't actually leave until nearly 6. My swim start was at 7:40, nearly the last AG wave of the day and I had yet to register. I ate a cliff bar and water as we made the drive to Pacific Grove.

We arrived a bit after 7pm and I had no problem at all registering. Tri-Cal does a good job at making their races enjoyable for the athletes and spectators alike. This was actually my third time at the Pacific Grove Triathlon, yet incredibly different this time, being a racer instead of a spectator with a camera.

Since we were running late, I got my package and race number, and headed to transition, where I said goodbye to David and my 3 kids. First, I have to say this now: I can't believe how enthusiastic and encouraging my kids were to see me race. The cheers, the hugs, the encouragement, it was the sweetest thing ever. They'd been to so many triathlons - David's triathlons, I though for sure this was all boring to them, but they were so encouraging to me.

Knowing I was running out of time, I gave David a quick kiss and entered The Unknown. I was completely clueless and without a guide. I knew nothing and I knew I knew nothing! I thought that racks would be by age group, and they were, but they weren't marked as such. Instead, they were by numbers. number But I couldn't figure it out, as my number was 4 digits and these were 3. So I called David who informed me to look for my number. And I found it... but it was a tight, tight squeeze sandwiched between 2 bikes. How would mine ever fit? I was clueless but looked around and just tried to put it on the rack anyways and managed to squeeze some room for my transition towel and quickly laid out my gear in the manner David outlined. I have never felt so alone and clueless in my life. Next, where to and how to put on the race numbers on my bike? Some had it on the seat tube, others on the top tube. I looked at my iphone: I had 20 minutes. If I wasted a bit of time, I could legitimately miss my wave. As tempting as it was, I put on my wetsuit. This isn't easy! I got it halfway up and then I grabbed the body glide, my swim caps (David recommended I were 2, one underneath my race color cap) and goggles. Oh and my timing chip. Can't forget that! I ran out of transition, to where David was waiting for me. But there I was stopped by a volunteer asking if I was body marked. I wasn't! I had 10 minutes before my wave started. She marked my arms, hands, and then I lifted up the legs on my wetsuit for her to mark my age and my race number on my calf. David was waiting. He helped with the body glide, sunscreen, and then managed to zip me into my suit and walked me down to the water, telling me that I should try to get in the water to get wet prior to the race start. So I did, but not because I wanted to, simply because he knew what he was talking about, I didn't. I surely DID NOT want to get cold before I had to! But it was good. I even got my whole head submerged, climbed out and waited with all the other over 40 purple capped women. One standing next to me smiled happily and said good luck. I admitted it was my first tri and I was nervous. She was encouraging to me, saying it was all good; they'd not let me drown.

David remarked later that my wave wasn't very competitive. We calmly and slowly clamored into the water. I started out and then realized that I still don't like the taste of salt water. Within about 5 "real" strokes my heart rate was up and I was getting scared. David told me to go slow, slower than I needed to but I thought even that wouldn't work: I simply couldn't do this at all. I wasn't cold but I didn't like putting my face in the water. The salty taste was difficult for me, so I resorted to a rest kick (scissor kick). I was mildly surprised that this kick was just as fast as some of the other women's freestyle stroke around me. (keep in mind, I was at the end of the pack!) But then, nearing the first buoy, the cold water got trapped in my ear (I have a hole in my eardrum) and instantly was in a state or near vertigo. I was disoriented and stopped swimming. I couldn't find my bearings at all. There was a person on a surfboard a few feet from me and I was so panicked I froze. I think a few others saw the terror on my face and I think someone said I could use the surfboard person as a rest for a bit if need be. My heart was pounding; I was so very afraid and wanted to just quit right then and there. Nearly did, but then I though: just calm down, keep moving. If it took me all day, just keep moving. There was another surfboard up ahead, if I was still scared i'd drown, I could just get help. So..... I continued on, but I can't actually call what I did swimming. Instead, I just kept steadily moving forward. By now I was being passed by the relay groups and under 15 year olds. Yep. I'm certain my own kids would've beat me! But I kept going, happy that there still were others behind me. I managed my way through the kelp beds. It wasn't that bad, and mildly comforting to have the kelp around. I thought I could almost stand on it and I liked that.

Near the end, I forced myself to pass a few folks coming up near the shore and I climbed out. What a strange feeling. I was simply thankful I had made it. David and the kids, as well as friends, were cheering me on, and I am pretty sure I made a face at them, I felt so embarrassed to be cheered for and singled out. And I know I had a simply horrible swim. I wandered up the ramp, made my way to transition. I wasn't moving fast, I didn't care. Got to my towel, sat down, pulled off the wetsuit, and attempted to dry off a bit. It didn't seem to work well, so I pulled on socks and cycling shoes, exchanged my swim caps for a bike helmet, and put on my borrowed race number belt and grabbed my bike. Was there anything else? It seemed too simple. I left my water bottle on purpose; I knew it would do me no good because I still didn't know how to drink and ride at the same time. As I went to exit, I realized my number had torn off my race number on one side. What to do? Nothing, I guess, so I tried to exit transition, but actually at the beginning went the wrong way! Still, not a bad transition for a first timer: a bit over 3 minutes. Wow.

I nearly grabbed a jacket for the bike portion but was surprised that I wasn't all that cold. I was soaking wet, yet, not cold. I know I don't ride fast so perhaps a jacket would be nice to have, but...... if I was going to race, I needed to race! So I left the jacket in transition and glad I did. I made my way to the road where the bike portion starts and got on where it said to. I was prepared to be scared of this as well, but surprised that I clipped into my pedals easily and once I started pedaling, I just felt this feeling of freedom as I realized I was done with my swim and now it was just time to enjoy this bike ride. And I did. It scared me for a bit, all the "what ifs" going through my head of others on the road, passing me, etc. But being one of the last has its advantages: I at first felt I was the only person on the road. Eventually I did pass a few folks. and then more. And more. But didn't feel prideful or good about it: many of these folks were on mountain bikes or beach cruisers and I was on a beautiful, light, carbon fiber bike that I don't even deserve to be on. In fact, I HAD To pass all these folks! But I purposefully tried to keep pedaling and at a more than easygoing pace. (though I'm sure my pace is quite slow for any other cyclist) I also made it a point to take in everything and enjoy the course: it' is simply stunning. The day was mostly overcast but not cold and the water and the beach, the trees, it was all beautiful. I'd driven on this road numerous times but being on a bike is so very different; you see it through different eyes. I've never enjoyed the coastline more than on this bike ride.

I was very concerned with the turn around..... would I be able to do it? Yes, not a problem and it made me happy. Along the way volunteers were shouting out encouraging words to all. I heard one shout "Way to Go! Almost there!" on my first loop of the ride and it made me laugh, as I recalled a sermon my triathlete pastor had preached at church last summer after one of his ironman races. I definitely wasn't "almost there!" But I knew they were trying to be encouraging and would mouth the word "thanks" as I went passed them. (I am not accomplished enough to talk or wave while riding much!) On my second lap I relaxed and tried a bit harder to pass folks. It was just beginning to get fun. I grinned as I realized I wasn't afraid and even was having a good time. I had no trouble clipping out, though I did so well before I was mandated to. David tried to get a photo of me but I'm pretty sure I dismounted before he was able to. I walked to transition; why not? I knew I wasn't doing well. But...... you can't stop regardless of how good or bad you are doing, you have to keep going. I didn't want to keep going. I'd have been happy stopping.

Or would I? In transition I spotted my friend Bobby and chatted easily with him, in a very un-racelike manner. He'd already finished. I had a long T2 partly because I didn't care. I took off my cycling shoes, and decided to put on my second pair of socks because the first was damp. I haven't a clue WHY it took me so long in T2. I can't even recall what Bobby and I chatted about. I put on a cap, and grabbed my race number without the race belt and exited T2, with some sport beans in my pocket. I exited with Bobby, and walked up to David and asked if he had the safety pins I'd left in the bag I'd given him. He did, and within minutes my race number was pinned to my jersey. (though David accidentally stuck me with the pin). My kids, once again, they were so sweet cheering me on. I couldn't help but smile and feel genuinely blessed by my family and friends. I ran and a bit late spotted my friend Denise and Dave. Such smiles! Dave ran a bit ahead of me, trying to take photos the whole way, and me, of course, trying to dodge all that. He was so sweet. It is amazing how someone you met years ago at a tri could be so encouraging., but he was an FCA-E guy, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and his love for Jesus shines so brightly in his smile alone. I have a special place in my heart for Dave and his wife Cheryl and the encouragement they are to so many.

At the water/food area I slowed down. My pace was a slow jog already but now it was a walk. I drank my water slowly, ate each sport jelly bean individually, savoring it. It's candy. I like candy. Mixed with some water, it just tasted so good. I've never tasted candy so good. Or water so good. I twas great. I walked a long time and then..... I resumed. And stopped again. Most of the women were walking too. As I was walking past some volunteers I heard their "encouraging" chants: way to go, good pace and I realized; I have no pace! How can this be good? I'm walking! So I tried to run..Then cheers again, from a larger group of my friends and family. I am pretty sure I told one of them that I'd kill them if they took a photo of me. Or if it ended on Facebook. And I think I might have even mean it literally at the moment.

I lapped around for my second lap and realized that this run/jog thing wasn't so awful, I simply didn't like it but did that mean I couldn't do it? So for the second lap I ran more than I walked, and even set my sights on passing a few folks, Not that they were in my AG, but it didn't matter. I had to pass them anyways. Again, as I neared the finish, a lot of cheering: Bobby, Dave, Denise, Clyde, David and the kids...... it almost made me cry. I heard David shout out "2 minutes! You can do anything for 2 minutes! And I wanted to retort back "what do you know" but.... he knows! He's a "real" triathlete. But I kept going. I passed a few people, and figured that I had to keep running or they'd pass me. I couldn't believe they didn't. I crossed the finish line, hugged my kids and David, It was a very sweet moment. I have always spent my time behind a camera watching this and here I was, participating in it. So very different. My time was horrible, truly, I think that I have friends that can do the same time in a Olympic distance, which is over twice as long! (the run in this tri was only 2 miles). But it didn't matter. I was done. And glad I had done it.

I still don't feel like a triathlete, I actually want a second chance. I want to experience a tri when I feel like I paid my dues and was truly ready. I want to do this again and have a faster time.

Though I may have finished, I am the same person. I'm still not an "athlete". I'm certainly not a triathlete, that conjures of images of perfection and discipline. If anything, emerging from this, I think anyone and everyone can finish a Sprint triathlon, without working towards it. Was it hard? Yes, Could I have pushed myself even harder? Yes. And it is actually a really neat thought to contemplate: I can push myself more. I want to push myself more.

The rest of the day? Got my finisher's medal, turned in my timing chip, hugged my kids, talked with friends at the FCA booth, chatted with Bobby, gave my post-race meal of bagels, cream cheese, fruit, granola bars and chocolate milk to my kids. I think there should be a triathlete for the unhealthy triathletes that really want a hamburger after the race! Then, we said our goodbyes to friends, and I wandered into transition with fellow racer Bobby to grab my bike and gear, then walked back. My kids were excited to spend time at the beach. But..... I wanted a hamburger, so we bought a burger and fries and a nice, large diet coke (my first of the day) and went to the beach. My kids had peanut butter and jelly that I had made for them before we left. We had a great time at the beach and then on the way home even went by Moss Landing. I was tired, and yet.... so thankful and happy to simply spend time with my family. We hardly did anything, yet enjoyed each other and the beauty of the ocean. And it was more than enough. I just couldn't keep from smiling.

Someone asked today how my race went. I wasn't ready to revisit it. By anyone else's standards, it was a failure. I came in last. I did horribly. I was asked if I at least had fun. "How do you define "fun"" because 2 hours of this stuff .... is that really "fun"? Am I happy I did it? Absolutely. And I'd even do it again, except this time, I want to be ready. Overall, I'm thankful for the opportunity and that I decided to do it. I am overjoyed by my friends that were there and those that expressed an interest in hearing this tale. A friend said a first tri is to be celebrated, I'm not so sure. I just don't know if this one "counts" but.... I am still grateful for so much and it became evident before, during and after this race. I am so blessed, by so much.

I may be able to tell you about this race, but I don't think I can articulate the gratitude I felt afterwards.

TIME: I am not telling, lets just say it wasn't good. But my friends, and family made it priceless. Praising God, reciting His Word on the swim bike and run.... again priceless. So much joy, so much gratitude. A very special day.

1 comment:

  1. V,
    Thanks for sharing your triathlon story!

    We are all very proud of you for completing your first triathlon, and although I'm just trying to figure this stuff out, I agree that you should celebrate your first race. We knew you could do it, but thought that you had left to many outs. Even after Dave and Bobby bugged you, I was very surprised to see David and the kids, and when I asked where you were (looking for a good camera vantage point?) was pleasantly shocked when he said you were racing!

    As usual your description of the happenings really give a good flavor of the day. Congratulations, and look forward to race number two!