Sunday, July 26, 2015

Or die tri-ing

Last year my friend Dena competed in a triathlon and she convinced me to sign up for it this year. For the low-low price of $115 , you too can become a triathlete. All joking aside, the event is really worth it. It offers just the type of encouragement that first time participants need and a lot of extra love that you don't see in other races. The Win For KC Triathlon is an all-women, sprint tri that requires a 500 meter swim, 10 mile bike, and 5k run. I can confidently tell you that I can complete each leg of this tri as a stand-alone event. That thought is so incredible to me. Three years ago, I was winded walking around Target or chasing my nephew around. But now,  even out-of-shape, I can muddle through  each of the legs individually. However, I was very surprised to discover how incredibly challenging it was to put them all together. 

I'm still struggling to find my groove in the exercise and diet routine. I have the same typical life excuses that everyone else does, and even though I've tried to keep a fairly consistent exercise routine, I didn't "train" to the extent I needed to. I didn't lose any weight to make strenuous exercise easier on my knees or re-train my lungs  to function for me during an endurance event. A week before the event I successfully completed the 10 mile bike portion of the triathlon and two miles of the run. It was difficult, but very doable. It gave me the little bit of confidence I needed to recommit to completing this triathlon, which is a huge point on my bucket list! Unfortunately, I still had that pesky swim portion to think about. 

Last Tuesday, I participated in my first "open water" swim. So basically I got in the lake, started swimming, and hoped I didn't drown before the teenage lifeguards  could get to me on my kayaks. Someone who is participating in an outdoor triathlon should probably do a lot of these swims before race day, but sickness, flooded lakes, and a busy work schedule left me ill-prepared and scared. The whole open water thing was a lot different than swimming laps at the YMCA. I couldn't see ANYthing. I can't walk a straight line sober, and I quickly learned that this same level of direction and grace applies to my swimming practices. But overall, I felt pretty decent about surviving the swim part of my first triathlon, only a few days away. 

On Wednesday I picked up my race packet. It included the timing chip that velcroed around my ankle. Oh, this is gonna weigh me down. I'll just subtract two minutes off my total time to account for this monstrosity. (Actual size...miniscule). It also included the complimentary t-shirt. Why is this so small? Did I order this size? Yep, I did. Oh, I thought I would lose There was also the race bib and bike tab. 868? I can dig it. And let's not forget the swim cap.

The swim cap had been giving me nightmares for a few days. I've never worn a swim cap and I was convinced I couldn't fit one on my giant noggin. And just like I expected, I put it on to discover that my humongous head was just popping it off like it does  headbands. I considered my options. I could back out of the race to avoid embarrassment, or I could use just my legs for the swim portion, while I held down my swim cap. Challenge accepted! Then I realized that my cap came with instructions and my mini-panic was all for naught. I had it on incorrectly. The swim cap fit just fine. I'm an idiot.

Before I knew it, race day was here. It was an early morning with a lot of waiting around before getting in the water. I had a few jitters, but mostly specifically to transitioning from one event to another. I've now participated in enough organized events like this that I don't fear them anymore. I was mostly ready for the challenge. 

I hit the water and I.FELT.AWESOME. I've always confidently owned my slowness. I mean for pete's sake, at least I'm out there giving it all I've got. I'm a slow biker, an even slower runner. I mean, I run slower than some people walk. And I know it's not important, but I wasn't the slowest person in the water. I found it strangely invigorating to be passing people. I felt powerful and it pushed me to swim even harder. I am not fast by any means, but it was nice to feel okay at something for a change.

I'm looking forward to seeing the pictures as we exited the water (and then immediately deleting them), because I know exactly what I looked like as I came out on the boat ramp. 
I felt awesome and accomplished. So, I booked it! I ran past people walking to the transition area.I made it to my bike, dried my feet, put on my helmet and headed up the hill for the bike portion. One pedal, two pedal, three pedal, uh-oh....

I made it only a quarter of a mile before I felt really sick. I got off my bike on the side of the road. My heart was pumping, I could barely breathe, I felt light-headed. I had never felt like this before, but I dropped my head between my legs and drank water for five minutes straight. I was 15 seconds away from walking my bike back to the start and not completing the race. But I suddenly felt much better. I paid over $200 to compete in this. Screw you, body. I was going to complete this race or die tri-ing! (See what I did there?) I still felt winded, but I got on my bike and slowly started pedaling. It was an uphill battle (literally) and I took it as slow as possible so I could monitor my heart rate and avoid over-exerting my lungs again. The bike portion took me 30 minutes longer than it did only one week earlier. 

That was pretty devastating to me. But I should have listened to my sister, "Don't go out like an asshole". Doing well in something felt so good that I applied way too much effort in my first leg of the race. Adrenaline, sprinting between transitions, and not hydrating for the weather is probably what got me. It almost ended my race before it really started and it scared the living bejesus out of me. That 10-mile bike ride was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life physically because I used all my physical strength to build up my body just to get back on my bike. When it ended, the finish line seemed so near. But I still had the run.
Probably not ideal to take your pre-race photo in front of an ambulance. It's like I was asking to need a medic on the course!

I got off my bike and took it slow, drinking plenty of water before I headed over to the run trail. I started jogging and immediately experienced excruciating cramps in my side and legs. I walked the first mile of the 5k slanted to the side, trying to stretch the cramp out. Gatorade saved my life at the first hydration station. I was able to jog a bit for the remaining part of the 5k, but mostly I just walked-taking it easy to avoid any other medical issues. The running trail was lined with inspirational words from spectators. "You can do this! You are beautiful! Sweat now, wine later!" Every woman I passed had something sweet to say or a quick word of encouragement. That was unlike anything else I've ever been a part of.

Eventually, I crossed the finish line. I was last in my age group and only 20 people finished behind me. It didn't end like I thought it would when I started. I was pretty disappointed, but of course happy I survived. For not training like I should have and not taking care of my body, I should have been thrilled. I learned a valuable lesson about protecting my body during this race. I'm not invincible, but I am strong. I told my friend Dena that I loved her and hated her in the same breath. It was the most difficult thing I've ever done.

I took a few moments to reflect on the past few years after the race. Since 2012, I've completed two 5ks, one 10k, a half marathon, and now a triathlon. And I can't help but think that if I can do these things, anyone can. Not only that, but if I can do these things, what CAN'T I do? Pushing myself to do these things and setting goals has helped me form the confidence I need to take on my career and and other life challenges.

Sometimes you have to walk. Sometimes you finish last. And sometimes you put your swim cap on wrong. But being slow and looking stupid has failed to keep me from accomplishing my goals these days. I wonder what's next?
Realized I was going to see the finish line.

Look...a "gold"medal!

Post-race meal from my sweetie.