Bergamot’s Triathlon Report: Conquering the Fear of the Unknown

I almost didn’t do this race. Was it because I can’t swim? Sort of. Can’t bike? No. Can’t run? Definitely not. I almost did not do this race because it’s something I’ve never done before. Although I am perfectly capable, it would have been an easy cop out. The reasons for not doing this race actually kind of outweighed the reasons I should have in my anxious mind. In the days leading up to the event, the shoulds and should-nots kept running through my head. If you want an idea, here’s a casual, comprehensive list.

Should nots:
I’m not fluent in Spanish. If you think the idea of a tri is threatening in the US, think about doing one in a totally different country with a different language!
I don’t own the proper gear, or any gear at all for that matter.
It cost only 15 euros! I wouldn’t be losing much money.
I didn’t train properly for the swim or cycle portion (re: gear).
I would have to carry the bike to the train, on the train, up and down the stairs, etc. because I don’t have a car.

I want to, and I can.

In the end, my will to succeed overcame my fear of failure.

Which is why I get to write this race report!

I went back and forth mentally until the DAY before the race. It was set for a Sunday, and Saturday afternoon I was going to the neighboring town to pick up a bike from a friend. I had borrowed a swim cap and goggles from someone else, and since I didn’t have a suit, I planned on wearing, omg sorry this is my favorite part, a sports bra and a bikini bottom for the swim!! I had everything I needed for the swim and run, but not the cycling. I was anxious all day about picking up the bike, but I finally did around 7pm. The day before the race. Let me reiterate that. On my way to get the bike I thought, Crap. I’m pretty sure the rules said I needed a helmet. Duh! In my defense, the rules were in Spanish! Helmets are not mandated by law for adults in Spain, so my avid cyclist friends didn’t own one. They frantically messaged their friends, but no one had one. I snagged a helmet from an American friend at the last minute before I headed home to sleep. If I could go back in time, I would confront my anxiety earlier so I can take care of my gear earlier. It was not impossible. I only procrastinated it making it seem impossible.

Race morning I woke up at 6:45 for breakfast. The races are always scheduled late here. It wasn’t even until 10:00am! However, my boyfriend and I had to take a train to another city, so we left quite a bit in advance. Travel time totaled at around an hour, even though the train ride itself was only 20 minutes. Unfortunately, race morning I was feeling pretty tired. I did quite a bit of running the week before the race because traveling and standardized testing had stolen some running time the previous week. I tried to make it up for it, but honestly I should have taken it easy. I jokingly called it a “reverse taper.” Don’t do it.

I am capable, and I deserve to be here.

The Swim: 300 meters
My boyfriend and I arrived at the venue early so I could pick up my bib. It came with a sexy rubber swim cap with my number, 146, in glamorous permanent marker. I stammered out some questions in Spanish, and found a bench to try and relax and get all my things together. I put all the appropriate stickers on my bike, helmet and clothing. I gave my phone and camera to my boyfriend and headed toward my transition box for set-up. I entered with my gear, and it was checked by an official. The man stationed next to me chatted with me while I vented about my nerves and it being “mi primera vez,” my first time. He was super helpful and assured me that this would be easy. He confirmed that all my gear was in order. I left my transition box, got marked up for the swim, and headed to the indoor Olympic pool. I looked hilarious in my makeshift swimsuit. I think that reason alone was why I had so much fun. Everyone looked so serious and experienced, and there I was, smiling like a loon, simply happy to be there. An official explained the swim start times in very fast Spanish, so I confirmed what he said with another athlete. She was so helpful and kind too. My first tri was off to a good start thanks to some wonderful Spanish people! I chatted with another woman, bib #149, about how the swim would go. Since her number was close to mine, we went in similar waves! We went in numerical order by bib number, 2-3 people in a lane at once. This was good so no one could tell how slow I am! ๐Ÿ™‚

I was most nervous for the swim, but that’s where I had the most fun. Once I entered the building and saw the other athletes, I didn’t feel nervous anymore. Plus it was fun exercising my Spanish and chatting with them. I didn’t let anyone’s outfit or gear intimidate me. I reminded myself that I was just as capable as they were, and that I deserved to be there.

I started third in my “heat,” and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I have no idea how long it took me because that was not the focus of my day. I simply wanted to finish. And I did! I hopped out of the pool, a little tired but ready to conquer to cycling portion. I ran on this funky carpet from the indoor pool to the transition station. It was a decent distance away. I know I took a long time at the transition station. I ripped off my cap, toweled off super fast, and pulled on my shirt and shorts over my still-wet bra and bikini bottoms. Putting my shoes on was the worst. Once I had those and my helmet on, I did a quick once-over of my station to make sure I had everything, and took the bike and ran. We were allowed to run in the transition area, but not ride the bike. I awkwardly ran it to the “starting line,” and I was off!


The cycle: 12 kilometers
This little beast was advertised as being 10k, but it was actually over 12. I had borrowed a friend’s road bike, and it felt funky to ride. But it was much faster than any of my other immediate options! Once again, I reminded myself that this was my day, that gear didn’t matter, and that I didn’t care that several people on racing bikes were blazing past me at the speed of light. I also reminded myself of Oregano’s tri advice, which was to conserve energy during the cycling so that I had gas in the tank for the run. She was so right! I did my best to keep a moderate pace that was both fast but not murderous. Unfortunately there were a lot of hills too, which was something I hadn’t prepared for on a bike. Nevertheless, I made it! This portion ended up being the most nerve-racking one because of the super speedy cyclists whizzing by me on a narrow road. Thankfully, the narrow parts were short-lived. It went by in a flash, and I was back at the transition station. I took a quick swig of water, threw off my helmet, and took off running. It was the easiest transition, and one perk of having improper gear. I didn’t have to worry about changing my shoes multiple times!


The run: 2 kilometers
By the time I had swam and cycled, I was feeling really tired! It was an exhilarating type of tired though. I had seen my boyfriend on the course while I was biking, and I noticed he was near the cross country course too. I was looking forward to seeing him again, and that kept my energy up. I ran out of the transition area, around the building with the pool and finally across a track and then a road to the course. In reality, it wasn’t very far. But on tired legs and lungs, it seemed like a lifetime. I passed a couple people, even though I felt like I was moving at a glacial pace in comparison to the biking. If I had to estimate, I would say I was running a 10:00 pace. Before this, I assumed I would be running faster, but I didn’t anticipate how dang tired I would be. Plus I didn’t really care. I was happy to be doing it I couldn’t believe how fast everything was going and how I was completing my first triathlon! I smiled the whole way. I saw my boyfriend who snapped a few pictures, and I finished less than 10 minutes after I saw him. The course started downhill and ended uphill. I thanked my lucky stars that it was less than two miles!

Facing my fears
A sprint tri is the perfect test of mental toughness. It’s short enough that it’s do-able for any distance runner, and it’s long enough to be tough. My official time was 59:12, and I’m freakin’ proud. I faced my fears, the fear of the unknown and the fear of failure, and I went out there in my not-official bathing suit and my secondhand bike, and I did the damn thing.

I'm a student of law and life. A Jill of all trades, master of none. But I'm hoping to master something, sometime. ;) Preferably a sub-23 5k and a sub-4 marathon!

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  1. So glad you decided to do the race! Congratulations!

    (also, you may have been running faster than you think. There’s a strange speed perception thing that happens when you get off a bike where you’re going faster and start running on tired legs. The world seems to be going by super slowly in comparison to cycling, but your running might not be as slow as it feels!)