Water still dripped down my neck from the swim as the thermometer crawled toward forty. Except for the burn in my thighs as I shifted into high gear, there was no evidence I was connected to my lower extremities.
As I struggled uphill pedaling into a chilly October wind halfway through 14.5 miles, for the first time I wondered… Exactly why am I doing this?
Road conditions: Windy, uphill, cold.
My heart went out to a lady walking her bike up the hill. While I felt bad for her, I admit, I recognized she was at least one person I might beat. (Lest we forget, I was dead last in my second race… see: The Second Time Around: Can It Ever Be as Good as the First?)
Unless she dropped out. Then, she wouldn’t even be counted. Oh, please don’t quit, lady. You can do it. The same words I heard everyone say when they passed me. Hmmm.
That fourteen-point-five stretch was a long boring exercise of pumping against the wind in harsher weather than I’d experienced so far in any training. Pedal-pedal-pedal. Burn-burn-burn. Boring-boring-boring. I reviewed my swim performance.
Freaky is the only word to describe the snake (some call it serpentine) swim in the indoor pool. Feeling like a pro, I swam a warm-up lap in the 50 meter Olympic-size pool. Then we lined up according to the times we’d submitted when registering for the race. I was assigned #399 and saw numbers in the 550’s.
The website said that every 5-10 seconds, a swimmer would jump into the outside lane and start swimming, followed by the next swimmer. At the end of the length, he/she would cross over to the next lane under the plastic lane divider and swim back in the next lane and so forth for six lengths equaling 300 meters total.
In my mind, I’d imagined an orderly swim with swimmers politely tapping your toes if they wanted to pass. What an imagination I have.
It was a free-for-all.
The first group of swimmers, the elite swimmers, those really fast people who dared post the shortest times, jumped in almost on top of each other.
Picture the Cowardly Lion as he’s pushed toward the Wizard of Oz the first time they meet. That would be me.
By the time the count reached the next hundred swimmers, entering the water had slowed somewhat. I sighed in relief. Thirty minutes later, when it came time for me, I hopped right in.
No need to worry about passing anyone though. I swam for dear life and tried to avoid gulping in too much water.
Once again, it seemed all my newly learned and well-practiced swimming techniques were forgotten as I churned my arms. A couple of big bruisers passed on either side of me in a choreographed tandem moment of grace that left me sputtering with relief they hadn’t knocked me under.
Somehow I made it to the end without any major mishaps, jumped out of the pool, and shivered down a corridor, into an outside courtyard, and sprinted the half-block to the transition area where I flung on a jacket, baseball cap, helmet, sunglasses, race belt, gloves, and finally my Vibram five-fingered shoes. (I know, why don’t they call them five-toed shoes?) Cold and wet, my toes did not glide into place. I noticed the first three people in the swim were already back from their bike ride… Sigh. Finally, I too, was off.
The headwind made the last couple of miles on the bike grueling. I just kept pedaling. I noticed fewer people had passed me in this race, but maybe it was because there were fewer people to pass me? Even by my third triathlon, I still marveled over not knowing where anyone was in the standings; you really were battling your own times as far as I could tell. Or maybe I’m just not that savvy to do the math in my head from the staggered starts.
Anyway, as I pushed my bike into the transition area and peeled off my jacket and helmet, I noticed I could no longer feel my toes. Oh. No. I took a few steps and realized I could hardly pump my legs; so I took a few seconds and stretched.
My husband and a good friend cheered me on. My husband suggested I leave the jacket on; still pretty cold. Too late; it would take too long to put back on.
I took off hobbling and running at the same time. A tall guy passed me, but within half a block, I caught up to him. He walked along as I ran. I told him he was a show-off. He said he had a cramp in his leg and had to walk. I told him he was still a show-off. With a grin, in two strides, he jogged away from me.
A couple of girls passed me and once ahead of me, slowed to a walk. As soon as I neared them, thinking I might actually pass them, they started running again. Oh yeah, they were show-offs. J
The first mile seemed a lot longer than a mile. I tried to lift my legs higher and stretch out my gait; then I tried to go faster. Finally, I reached one mile. Then the second and finally the third. I just kept pounding my feet, noting how beautiful the campus at the University of Illinois was. And how big it was.
As I came down the homestretch, I knew my husband would be videotaping me on his phone, so I threw myself into looking like a runner. They called my name out a few yards before the finish line, but before I could savor my finish, another name quickly followed. Dana.
Oh, no. Dana, whoever she was, wasn’t going to beat me. I don’t know where it came from, but… I turned on the heat! And crossed the line before Dana. Woohoo! I’d finished.
And not only finished… I received a third place medal. Yes, out of three… Where are all the ladies my age, anyway?
But, more importantly, I shaved 2.02 minutes off my mile pace, which is pretty huge. I’ve been told most runners would be happy to shave two minutes off their total race. So, yes, I was pretty thrilled with my whole performance. And later, I learned I beat 29 people; that kind of helped too; many of them were younger than me. The final number of participants was 347, so a lot of people either didn’t show up or dropped out.
I never considered dropping out of the race, but on the bike ride when my teeth chattered and I looked down at the goose-bumps on my knees and made quick (bad) decisions where to wipe my runny nose, I spent part of the time wondering what was I thinking to have signed up for three triathlons in 81 days. (As I mentioned, I’m not so quick at doing math in my head; that little exercise took my mind off the wind for quite awhile.)
What really sustained me was realizing everyone else was facing the same obstacles. Maybe some people dealt with it better (or worse) but, we were all battling the same headwind, climbing the same hills, and trying to finish.
I did a LOT of thinking on that bike ride. Choosing to prioritize my time around my physical well-being resulted in taking steps to change. One thing snowballed into another and suddenly, it seemed, I had done three triathlons. Me. Eighty-one days.
Part of it was the planning, part of it was the commitment (meaning I did what I said even if it meant two workouts and three showers a day), and part of it was the desire.
So, I wondered… what else would I—could I—do in 81 days?
You’ll be the first to know. ~ JD here.