I am a newly minted triathlete. That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.
It was touch and go there for a while.
Way back in January, I had written down “Try a mini-triathlon” on the fitness goals poster at my boot camp class. When it turned out that the mini-tri and the mud run our group had signed up for (see last week’s post) were happening on the same weekend, I cursed the Sharpie pen’s permanence on the poster. I was stuck with my publicly stated goal.
Tried to back out…
“I don’t think I can do the tri,” I said to Francine, my fitness instructor and training buddy, as we were warming up for class six weeks before the race.
“The mud run’s on Saturday, and the tri’s on Sunday. I may be too tired, or even injured after the muddy obstacle course race. And Jacob’s got a soccer game Sunday morning, too. I don’t like to miss those games.”
Francine just looked at me with her big blue eyes.
“Really?” was all she said. Like me, she is an experienced mother of teens. Perfectly executed one-word response.
Francine was also doing the mud run the day before. And her son was on Jacob’s soccer team. I couldn’t use either excuse. Damn.
She reminded me that we’d be finished with the tri before the soccer game even started. It was, after all, a “mini” tri, which is even shorter than a “sprint” tri. It sounds better if I say it’s a quarter of the length of an Olympic triathlon.
The event, “Tri it Now,” is designed to give participants a feel for the triathlon experience. With a swim length of 250 yards (10 lengths of an indoor pool), 4 miles on the bike, and only 1.5 miles of running, it’s like a little tapas plate tri.
Suck it up, Martha.
Nothing to do but show up for training…
So, in addition to the boot camp classes and training runs we were doing to prepare for the mud run (and another neighborhood 5K a few weeks beforehand), Francine organized one day a week of swim and bike training.
Getting the swim gear together was the first challenge. I found a bathing suit, but no goggles. My husband lent me his, but the strap disintegrated the first time I tried to put them on (shows you how often we swim).
It took me two weeks to get myself to the sporting goods store to buy goggles. Standing in front of the overwhelming array of options, I chose a bright pink pair. (I never used to wear pink, but it’s become the best protection against my sons “borrowing” my stuff–headphones, water bottle, running socks — all pink now.)
Now I had no more excuses…
Epiphany in the Pool
I come from a swimming family. My mother and sisters were all state-level competitors in the water. I burned out and quit the swim team when I was 11. Sure, it had been almost 40 years since I had raced, but it had to be like riding a bike, right? How hard could it be to swim 10 lengths of a pool?
Not so easy, it turns out.
Just like with running, the first few minutes were the hardest. In fact, just getting the dang bathing suit, cap, and goggles on and lowering myself into the water may have been the steepest hurdle of all.
And just like with running (and meditating), I realized that focusing on the breath was key. Finding the right breathing rhythm, listening to the sound of the bubbles as you exhale, visualizing the stream of your breath released into the water–all of it kept my mind off the work the rest of my body was doing.
I was almost starting to enjoy myself when I realized that Francine had done eight laps in the time it took me to do five.
“You’re FAST!” I said, with a mixture of awe and frustration.
“No I’m not,” she said.
“If you’re not fast, then I’m embarrassingly slow. So do me a favor and let’s just say you’re fast,” I said, rubbing the attractive goggle rings around my eyes.
I watched Francine’s technique. I asked for tips from other experienced swimmers. But I never managed to move into a higher gear. I would have been fine with that, if Francine hadn’t been channeling Michael Phelps in the next lane over.
“Don’t you just want to get it DONE?” Francine asked, when I said I just couldn’t get myself to move my arms any faster.
And there was the ah ha moment…
I didn’t care about getting it over with as fast as possible.
I JUST DIDN’T WANT TO SUFFER
When I told Francine that my desire to not suffer far outweighed my desire to be faster, we laughed about it. But I realized this had become my life’s motto in recent years.
I didn’t care about coming in first. I just wanted to see if I could get myself to the starting line, and hopefully over the finish line.
I didn’t care if the races I was doing were tiny in comparison to what “real” runners and other athletes signed up for (the mini-tri being the ultimate example).
I didn’t care if I finished in the top three (or 10, or 100).
What I find most fulfilling…
is immersing myself in the details of the experience. Feeling how my body can move again after being stopped in my tracks by breast cancer four years ago. Feeling my stamina increase with each successive training session. Feeling the elation of crossing a finish line–any finish line. It’s the elation you get for just showing up.
So I continued to show up, for the runs, for the swims, for the cycling. And I whined a lot.
“It might rain! Maybe we shouldn’t run,” I would text to Francine the morning of (or sometimes the night before) a scheduled training run.
“See you there,” she texted back.
“It’s kind of windy. Maybe we shouldn’t bike.”
“See you there,” would pop up on my phone screen.
“I might get wet. Maybe we shouldn’t swim.”
“See you there.”
And she did see me there (most of the time, anyway).
Stay tuned for Part 2 in next week’s post — Triathlon Day!
If you enjoyed today’s entry and are not yet a subscriber, sign up above for free delivery of new posts to your email inbox. (I promise to never share your information.) Social media likes and shares are always appreciated as well!