Swim. Bike. Run.
Thoughts the night before my first triathlon.
There is no doubt that crossing the finish line of a race brings a sense of euphoria. But ask anyone who has trained for and finished a race…the real transformation happens in the training. The journey.
Training for anything-whether it be a 5k or a 100 miler, is likely to change anyone. You learn things about yourself. You take risks and you gain confidence. Having trained for and run a few half and full marathons, I knew that triathlon training would have a huge effect on me, but I think I underestimated just how big that effect would be.
As I’ve gotten older, and more specifically since I’ve started running (about 5 years ago), I’ve found myself seeking out challenges. I was never one to challenge myself, for I found my comfort zone far too, well, comfortable! So last fall after I had completed the NYC marathon, I thought it would be fun to shake things up a bit with training. I mean, I love running, but was ready for something different and challenging, but that would still allow me to run. I started researching triathlons in Maine and came across Tri For A Cure. The best thing about this triathlon is that it is all women. While I admire and appreciate male athletes, they can be a little, well, intimidating. So the idea of an all-female tri was appealing! The only downside…it’s challenging to earn a spot in this tri. But lucky me, I earned a spot through the lottery and was in!
In each area, I had worries and fears…but I also learned so much. Here’s a snapshot of my training journey…
My fear: losing running fitness.
I was the least concerned about the running piece, as it is 3 miles, which is a manageable distance for me. At first, I really missed my weekly mileage and long runs, fearful that I was going to lose some of the running fitness and endurance that I had gained over the months of half-marathon training. But I didn’t need to worry about that as I was too busy learning the ins and outs of cycling and swimming! I think my longest run in tri training has been 6 miles, but most runs were 3-5 miles. It turns out I’ve enjoyed this little break from long distance running, knowing that it will make my return to marathon training all the more welcome and exciting!
My fears: riding in traffic, falling off, crashing, having to walk my bike up a hill
When I was a little girl-probably 9 or 10 years old-I was riding my beach cruiser and my feet slipped off the pedals. I ended up with four holes in my calf from the pokey parts of the pedal, and bruised, um, how do I say it…girly parts. I have been on a bike a few times here and there over the years but have never enjoyed it. So I’ve never had reason to own a bike! Ruthie is a super online shopper and found me a great deal on a used road bike (advertised for “children or small adults”) on Craigslist. Doug went and checked it out for me, and all of a sudden I’m riding a bike with very skinny tires, weird gears, and unprepared legs! Doug has been very patient with me-teaching me tricks of the trade, talking me up the hills, and talking me down from the edge! I’ve always known he is a great teacher but this confirmed it to me again.
I joked with him that a good ride is one where 1) I didn’t die, and 2) I didn’t throw curse words or insults at him!
The hills have definitely been a challenge, but having recently ridden the tri course, I’m glad we’ve trained on hills! A bonus of my tri training is that Doug found a road bike on Craigslist as well so he has picked up cycling again. He has a great mountain bike, but a road bike is more suited to what he wants to do.
What I learned: Most of the things I was afraid of happened! I crashed, I fell, and I got up and kept going! I learned to ride in traffic without hurting myself or pissing off drivers. Most drivers are accommodating and understanding, although there will always be a few jerks that keep things interesting! The one thing that I didn’t do was walk my bike up a hill. However, I did stop a few times on a hill to get through my little anxiety attack, but got back on and finished the hill.
My fears: the lines on the bottom of the swimming pool, the visible change from the shallow end to the deep end, breathing, open water swims, choking on water.
Oh, swimming. My nemesis. I’ve always lived by water-Lake Gregory and Seal Beach being two of my long-time homes. I grew up going to friends houses who had pools, and even tried out for my high school swim team (now that was a disaster! Another story for another time).
But somewhere along the way, I developed a fear of the bottom of the pool. More specifically, the black lane lines, the drastic dip into the deep end, and the drains. Basically the whole shebang. So I started swimming at the Y before tri training officially started, to get a jump start on training. In an effort to avoid looking at those scary things I listed above, I swam too fast as I crossed the pool, and ended up winded, out of breath. As time went on and my fears subsided, I swam slower and more assuredly, allowing me to go farther before needing a break. Before too long, my biggest fear about swimming was no longer the pool itself, but getting a spot in a lane during busy times!
Pool training is one thing, but I had to get in the water at some point. Open water. The ocean. I found a wetsuit on ebay and luckily it fits like a glove. A very tight glove! Haha! I couldn’t delay any longer and knew I needed to get my scared self in the water. I started at my mom’s house-she has a dock in the sound with relatively calm waters (although a strong tide). Doug kayaked next to me (thank GOD!) and I ‘swam’ from mama’s dock to a dock down the way. As I spent more time in the water, I became more comfortable but it was, in a word, terrifying. I lost a lot of confidence.
The next week, Doug and I cycled the tri course and I attempted to swim the tri course. Again, panic and fear set in almost immediately. I thrashed about in the water and made my way out to the end of the jetty and back. I was embarrassed and worried. All of the ‘what-ifs’ came rushing into my anxiety-riddled brain.
Then I discovered that there was one swim clinic left. I signed up and paid the fee. The entire ride down to the lighthouse I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t take a deep breath. My hands and feet felt tingly and my head ached. I was letting it get the better of me and I hated it! But once I got there, I calmed myself. I saw a sea of 100+ women in wet suits, swim caps, and goggles-all there for the same reason I was there. It was empowering, and in the end, I had a successful swim. By successful, I mean that I finished! It wasn’t pretty and I wasn’t fast, and I’m not sure what stroke I was doing, but I made it out of the water! I know I am not the best swimmer or even a decent swimmer, but I know now that I have what it takes to get through the swim.
What I learned: The pool isn’t so bad! In fact, my biggest anxiety about swimming now is getting a lane! Open water swims are still a huge challenge for me-emotionally and physically-but I know that will change every time I get in the water. I’ve also learned, or have been reminded, that swimming makes me very tired and very hungry!
So what have I learned about myself? I’ve learned that it’s ok to push myself through discomfort. I’ve learned that it’s ok to be scared, knowing that pushing through the fear will make me stronger and more complete. I’ve learned that it’s never too late to face a deep seeded fear-no matter how irrational it may seem. I’ve learned that my body is capable of far more than I give it credit for. I’ve learned that it’s healthy—mentally, physically, and emotionally—to challenge yourself. I’ve learned that I need a lot of support, and who I can count on for that support.
And hopefully, after tomorrow, I will have learned that I LOVE triathlons and will sign up for another one!
Thanks for reading, friends. Love to you all.