This weekend, I did my first triathlon of the 2012 season.
Flashback to the year 2000, the last time I did this race. How long ago was that? I placed 3rd in F20-24. I am now F35-39. A new friend, Chris Waterstraat, was also there placing in his age group, M25-29 (don’t tell him that he turns 40 next year). He also nearly picked up a boyfriend, when the cop directing traffic gave him his phone number.
Galena was my first race where it clicked. It was my second triathlon, the first being a local women’s race where I breast-stroked the entire 400 meters. One of my finer moments in athletics, only to be outdone by taking the time in transition to brush my hair. The following year, 2000, in Galena, I remember putting my face into the cold 50-something degree water, panicking as the gun went off, breast-stroking to the first buoy, then having a moment of get over yourself followed by ‘real’ swimming. Shortly thereafter, something clicked. I remember how the water felt, how the sun splayed across the water and finding rhythm. I loved it. It is a feeling that keeps me coming back to races today.
Since then, I haven’t done the race though I spectated two years ago, 8 weeks away from giving birth (all I remember is feeling hot and huge). I never had the desire to return to the race because logistically, it’s complicated. There are two transition areas. Which violates my rule that you never do a race that involves getting on a bus, let alone two of them. The water is usually very cold. And mid-May in Chicago can bring some nasty weather.
But this year I wanted to do some smaller races, locally, enter: Galena.
I traveled to the race with Jen and Karen. Karen posted on Facebook that she might learn something from traveling with us “elite” (or, aging elite age group) triathletes. Let me sum up what she learned:
1 – they forget 50% of their race gear in the car, realizing this at transition when the car is 2 bus rides away
2 – they talk incessantly about eating chocolate or ice cream but then follow it up with why am I not at race weight
3 – they win their age group but then are never satisfied
The travel experience was filled with a lot of laughs, stories, gossip and a healthy dose of vagina talk (hey, you can’t put 3 women into a car for 2 hours without talking about it). And what can only be described as a priceless Miss Daisy moment: going to dinner at 4:45 pm, only to realize the restaurant didn’t open until 5 pm. The best thing about traveling with Miss Daisy? You never wait for dinner. We were the only ones in the restaurant at 5 pm.
Jen let us stay in the home of one of her sorority sisters, an adorable summer home nestled in the Eagle Ridge territory. The one thing that struck me was how quiet it was there. Another perk of traveling with (nearly menopausal) women is that the house was kept at about 60 degrees – perfect sleeping temperature. I was in bed at 6:22 pm (also what happens when you finish dinner at 6). By 7:22 pm, I was asleep and slept for 10 hours.
What felt like a lot of time in the morning (my wave went off at 9:39 am!) quickly turned into feeling rushed and chaotic. There was a lot of stuff to bring, to drop off and organize. A bus ride to T-2 to set up our run stuff then a 16 mile bus ride to the race start. The bus driver missed the turn to the race site, then tried to do 3 point turnaround on what looked like a one lane country road with drop offs on either side. Needless to say, I was sitting next to Jenny Garrison, who was ready to call her husband to tell him she loved him. I have never been more scared on a bus.
Thirty minutes later, we arrived at transition. I dropped my bike off the night before, letting some air out of the tires because it was about 100 degrees in the cove used as transition. I found a pump and then had the OH FUDGE moment where I realized I forgot my crack pipe. I had a disc wheel but no adaptor. Neither did the bike mechanic. I’ve shouted a lot of crazy things in my life (mostly when drunk) but found myself running around shouting DOES ANYONE HAVE A CRACK PIPE? (never has TriSports.com been more proud to sponsor me) Finally found one and then got to setting up transition.
After making what felt like another three dozen errors of forgetting things or doing the wrong thing, I was waiting on the beach with Jen. All of the men went off in age group waves, then the women in respective age groups. The gun went off and we ran into the water. I knew who I needed to follow and dove in after them. Within moments, my goggles filled with water. I stopped and fixed them. A few yards later, it happened again. I stopped again. A few yards later, it happened again, I stopped again. I don’t know what I was more frustrated at – the goggles or myself for stopping! Is this my first triathlon!? (what's next, breast-stroking?) Finally I got myself swimming and felt great! But there went my competition.
The run to transition is long and transition itself is filled with painful rocks. YOW! But the bike course made up for it. The bike course is hilly but impressively scenic – beautiful! You’re either going up at what feels like a V02 max effort, hard stomping up the hill or down the hill coasting. There is no rhythm on the course, you go up, you go down with no flats. In fact, I found myself not aero for most of it! I passed a lot of racers, including two women in my age group early on but I knew the real competition was ahead.
I love to run – no matter what, the race always ends with what I love to do. The first mile is mostly downhill. The rest of the miles were HOT! There were only two aid stations on the course so I brought along a small Fuel Belt bottle with water + Zym (great idea). I passed a lot of people on the run but again – no women that I recognized. I knew they were up there, but where? At times I felt I was moving fast, other times I wondered – am I really going hard? Or am I just settling? The final mile felt amazing – it was mostly downhill but it was also that point in the race where I felt like my legs were really there and they were ready. I run for that feeling.
All in all, I ended up winning my age group and placing 8th overall. When I texted Chris my results, his reply was this:
Not bad for someone who didn’t know they were racing two weeks ago.
Truth be told, a little over two weeks ago, I was almost 8 weeks pregnant. And then I had a miscarriage. The second one in 6 months, the last one being at 10 weeks in December. Both involved surgery, both involved a lot of feelings I wasn’t prepared for: I felt so confused, sad and empty. I haven’t said anything about it because it’s awkward, personal and painful. I’m still not sure why women don’t talk about it – it’s ridiculously common yet going through it I have never felt more alone. It's something you suffer through quietly without any answers for the dozens of questions that circle in your head – mostly….why?
But life moves forward and after it you find yourself with two choices: either spin your wheels in one place worrying and wondering about the why or keep moving forward. I knew the only way to recover from it was to keep moving forward. It’s the only way I’ve ever known to deal with anything – in sport or life. You’ll get beaten down, you’ll hurt and you’ll want to give up but if you just keep moving forward you’ll quickly gain momentum.
So less than two weeks ago, I told Kurt it was time to start training again. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to regain fitness. I spent weeks doing short workouts that mostly consisted of spinning on my bike or swimming easy. I did very little running. I told him I was signed up for Galena, 10 days away. And showing up to a race underprepared is not I how race. When I race, I want to race hard and race well. But Kurt very matter-of-factly said to me, follow your original race schedule and go race Galena. But you don’t understand, this is the Chicago National World Championship. His reply: just put your head down and race.
I knew if I didn’t race, it was only because I was scared of accepting that this was where I was at right now. Scared that not being at my best would mean it wasn’t worth putting myself out there. Scared of comparing myself now to comparing myself before. Scared of using this as an excuse to stay at home and not have to deal with undesirable outcomes. None of this made sense. It was going to be a beautiful day, I was capable and I love to race – if I stayed at home, it was only to protect my “self” – self confidence, self esteem, ego needs. That is not why I race.
Yesterday, I told Kurt about my race, which to me felt like a train wreck of rookie errors, yet his response was simple:
Don’t forget what you’ve been through in the past 6-8 weeks, kid
I need to respect what I’ve been through, be patient with myself. Whether you’re coming back from an injury, just starting out in sport, coming back from a baby or setback – the process takes time. It will be uncomfortable, heck maybe even embarrassing! (example: me - in transition in the morning). Most will give up before they get anywhere. While I wait to gain fitness and get faster, I need to remember that I do this sport because I love it, because I CAN. Not because I need to win or be the fastest. There’s a big difference, and this difference is what I believe keeps athletes in the sport for a very long time. When you need to win, you do anything to get there – you cheat, you overwork, you burn out, you play only to your strengths. When you do it because you love it, you last. This is something I learn as I get older – at some point, it becomes more than just going to win or set a PR. At some point, you’re out there because you love doing it and you just want to keep asking more of yourself. Or you look forward to facing your weaknesses and fears because you want to learn more about yourself.
And at some point, the excuses and fears will get bigger (too old, too slow, too hot, too heavy, too far off the lead girls, too unfit). If anyone digs deep enough, they can find an excuse for anything. But only you choose to listen. The only way I’ve gotten ahead in this sport (or life) is to ignore all of that and go after it. I think back to Galena, 12 years ago, when I panicked in the water – I could have stopped right there, hopped on a boat and called it a day. Panic in the water, fear of drowning – great excuses! But 12 years ago, I kept going and look at where this sport has taken me – destinations, friends, a business, a husband, a child. That swim 12 years ago taught me a valuable lesson: keep moving forward – on to the next race, the next mile, or the next big thing. That approach will get you where you want to go.
My hope in sharing this is to suggest that we’ve all got reasons and excuses why we shouldn’t be out there. We all have obstacles, setbacks, fears and challenges. The degree of them is irrelevant because one person’s minor setback is another person’s catastrophe. It’s all relative and very, very personal. When you let that excuse or fear limit your behavior, you lose – you never find out the answer to what if, you let yourself instead stay safe through fear and inaction. All of that is very unfun and limiting. Win or lose, there is a world of possibility out there. Don’t be afraid to go after it!