Swim, bike, run – done! In the spring of 2010, after 5 months of bed-rest while pregnant with my twins, I recovered from their birth and all I wanted to do was get moving. At first, this meant being able to climb a full flight of stairs – literally – without stopping to catch my breath. But soon I was running around the track by my house, and then venturing on longer runs through the parks in my city, and then running road races again with my husband and my running friends. My fitness came back and my ambitions rose, and I set my sights on two things: a triathlon and a marathon.
I’d read that the Pat Griskus Sprint Triathlon in Connecticut was known for being particularly welcoming of triathlon newbies, so I decided that was a good race for me. I registered in January 2011, which gave me plenty of time to re-acquaint myself with swimming, something I hadn’t done much of since my lifeguarding days as a camp counselor during summer breaks from college. The only bike I owned was a heavy mountain bike. Reluctant to commit to a pricy, lighter-than-air tri bike, I put some road tires on this behemoth and fervently hoped the clip-less pedals I’d installed would make up for its heft. Little did I know learning to ride with these – or more accurately to dismount with these – was an endeavor all on its own! After toppling over at a variety of street-corners and other embarrassing places, I finally solicited advice from one of my patients, a veteran triathlete. He advised WD40 on the pedals to help me slip in and out more easily, and this made things a lot better, but I never felt as confident a rider as when I wore Keds sneakers and used the good old toe cages on the pedals.
The training was busy, but fun. Most days I did more than one kind of workout – a run in the morning and a swim in the evening, a bike followed by a run, etc. – and this was my first experience with doubles. My aerobic fitness skyrocketed. I began to feel like an athlete, and I had never thought of myself this way before even though I had been a runner for most of my life. I lived in a constant state of flowing endorphins!
On the afternoon of the 6pm race my husband drove me down to Connecticut. In the car I nervously downed a peanut butter sandwich, the only thing I could stomach in my state of anxious anticipation. It was a hot, heavy day, and dark, billowy clouds started to assemble as we pulled up to Quassy Amusement Park, where the race would take place. I lined up to get body-marked with my number and “FT” for “First-Timer”. Then it was over to the transition area, where I set up my bike and carefully laid out all my things. I paced around until it was time to head to the swim start, but just as I walked over with my husband we heard rumblings of thunder. And then downpour and lightning! All the racers crowded under the covered picnic area. Squeezed against a crush of wetsuits I wondered: would the race be cancelled? Was all my training for nothing?
Just as the starter was about to call the race, both the sky and the rain started to lighten up, and the rumbling thunder receded into the distance. The rain tapered to a mild drizzle and we lined up on the beach of Lake Quassapaug to start the race. The horn sounded, and…chaos! I entered the water into a thrash of kicking feet and legs, and swallowed huge mouthfuls of sour lake water as waves from the fray slapped against my face. My heart was pounding. Stroke, stroke, stroke, sight, breathe, stroke, sight. The buoy marking the turnaround seemed miles away. Soon the swimmers spaced out a bit and I was able to get into a rhythm; I stroked with all my might and made it to the buoy, then turned back for the shore.
I could see the sun breaking through the clouds as I emerged from the water, and caught a quick flash of my husband’s face as he waved at me while I ran up the beach toward the transition area. I stuffed my feet into my bike shoes, which were soaking wet from the rain, grabbed my bike and off I went into part two!
The air had cooled from the storm and I felt a breathless stillness as I biked onto the road. Distracted by the beauty of the slanting sun on the fields around me, I almost forgot I was racing until the whizz of more seasoned triathletes passing me on more streamlined bikes brought me back. I knew I was losing time–the bike leg was my weakest link–so I just tried to relax, pedal, and appreciate the kind words of encouragement from all who passed me: “First-timer! Great job!” It was true, there was an amazingly welcoming and joyful group of athletes here at this race and the cheers and camaraderie carried me along.
When I finished the bike loop and arrived back at transition, I tried not to skid on the rain-slicked road into other riders finishing up. Quickly, I changed into my running sneakers and my damp singlet, grabbed a gel and my fuel belt, and headed back out of transition for the run. “Hard part is over!” cheered my husband as I ran by him, and he was right! Finally, the run! I felt energized, back in my element, and started passing other runners, reeling them in one by one. Five kilometers was over in the blink of an eye, and I could see the railroad tracks a few yards from the finish just up ahead. Sprinting, my arms raised, I crossed the finish line in total exhilaration. I had done it!
Driving home after the race, thrilled but exhausted, I reveled in the satisfaction of having done something I never imagined I could do. And I knew then that I had the grit to try a marathon…a story for another time.
If you’ve run a triathlon, what was your first like? If not, what reservations have kept you from giving it a shot?