It was, in one word, HUMBLING.I had been triathlon training for for a few months now with my team [Lauren- friend/swim coach extraordinaire/motivational speaker, Jen- girlfriend/well-accomplished triathlete/teacher of the transition, Paige- friend/best spin instructor ever/firecracker] but still didn’t feel fully confident or comfortable since a triathlon was something entirely new and VERY different than any race I’d done before. It was because of these three wonderful teammates that I arrived that day with all of my gear set up appropriately, an idea of how I’d transition from one event to the next, a mind (somewhat) focused and ready, and a belief that I would finish strong.
After setting up our transition stations and putting on our wetsuits, swim caps & goggles, we made our way to the beach to await the start. Waist-deep we waited, and when the horn sounded we were off. And I freaked. Swimming in a bathing suit in a pool that has lap lanes is NOT the same as swimming in the ocean in a wet suit as part of a free-for-all. All the technique and form that I’d spent so much time practicing went up in smoke. I wasn’t even putting my face in the water; my arms were flailing and I could see that I was using my energy in the LEAST efficient way possible. My immediate goal became getting back to the beach without a water rescue! The 1/4 mile swim was arguably one of, if not the most, mentally and physically challenging things I have ever done. In that 9:44, I had more moments of truly thinking “I can’t do this. I’m never going to make it” than I have had in all my athletic/fitness/racing endeavours, COMBINED. For me, it felt brutal. I worked my mental muscle HARD, and when I finally got myself out of that water, it felt like a new sort of victory.
I made my way to my transition station, re-focused, and promised myself that the worst was over. I got into my bike gear and tore up the road. I felt so great on the 10 mile bike ride. I rode fast & hard, in an effort to make up for my sluggish swim. I felt that I had earned my right to be on the bike and on the road after fighting my way through the swim. I had an entirely renewed energy because I had fought back all my negative thoughts and forced myself to the finish of the swim. After completing the bike ride, I transitioned once again and got myself ready for the final leg: the run. The run is “my jam”; I’m a runner and its my strong suit. But, MAN, running 3.5 miles AFTER swimming and biking is a whole new story! My legs felt like bricks for the first mile but I kept going, one foot in front of the other, eyes on the person in front of me. I was able to get myself into a good pace and ran the remaining 2.5 miles with a hunger inside that was CRAVING the finish. I noticed that people nearly twice my age were passing me. Men and women ages 40, 45, and 50 were putting one very fit foot in front of another at a faster pace than I, and I was truly humbled. I consider myself to be a pretty fit person, and in these moments I felt mediocre and ordinary. It made me realize that unlike all my previous road races where I’d hope to achieve a certain time or place in my age bracket, in this race the finish line was the victory I was after.
For most of my run (which was without music… a HUGE change for me), a mantra kept playing through my head. “You are tired. You fought your heart out in the swim. You biked as hard as your legs would let you for 10 miles. You are exhausted, and you still have to complete this run. You want to stop, you want to give up. You want to say: this is good enough. But there’s a little voice inside that says Not Yet. Don’t Stop Yet. Not Yet. Not Yet.” With every foot fall, I repeated it to myself: “Not Yet, Michelle, Not Yet.” I kept going all the way into and through the finish with this loop on repeat in my head.
When I crossed the line and realized that I was DONE, a wave of emotion came over me that I’ve never experienced before. It was a different kind of victory; a victory I felt that I truly earned more than any before it. I felt filled with gratitude for my teammates who taught/prepped/motivated/inspired/hugged/coached me through. I felt overwhelmed with the whole experience. After I had some time to let it all sink in, reflect and process, I realized that all the anxiety and nervousness I’d had before my first tri was GONE! The apprehension and fear of the unknown was no longer occupying my head. Instead I now had knowledge of what the event entails, the energy of race day, the transitions, the water, the road. I also was given an idea of where I need to focus my training from here on out. My next triathlon is in 3 short weeks. And my training continues to build all summer until The Big CHEESE in September: The Lobsterman Triathlon…. an Olympic distance doozy! I CAN NOT WAIT!