Yesterday morning I woke up in Kerrville, strangely calm and collected, as I dressed for my first triathlon. My first triathlon was actually scheduled for about a month ago. I had the perfect pre-race-day prep, hydrated and got to bed early…until the tummy rumbles hit. At first, I thought the stomach pains were just nerves, but by the time I was flip-flopping on the toilet, I knew it was the stomach flu. I was in bed the entire day of the sprint tri I’d trained all summer for. I’d foolishly signed up for twice that distance about a month after that initial race date, but after the tummy fiasco, I considered bumping down to the sprint distance since I’d never even done a triathlon before. But after a few long rides on the bike, I decided to just go for it. So I did. My friend Dena from my trail running group did an open water swim and some bike rides with me at a lake outside of town in the few weeks before the race. I don’t think I would have gone for the quarter distance without her help and encouragement.
This race felt very different. I didn’t do much prepping, besides taking it easy on Saturday. I went to Kerrville alone to stay with my friend Rachel from family camp. I had lunch with another friend in Fredericksburg on the drive out. I enjoyed her rich company over sandwiches at a cute little small town deli and then hit the race expo. I’ve never felt like such a rookie as I checked in my bike and running shoes at two different transition stations.
Rachel took this picture of me as she dropped me off at the swim start.
I had her write her phone number on my arm in sharpie, just in case. I’m a nervous first-timer here with three F’s on my mind: no Falls, no Flats, just Finish!
I sat at the top of the hill leading down to the swim area and another gal from my trail running group walked by. Karen squatted down and said she likes to do the same thing; take it all in without getting swept up in the race aspect. She reminded me to have fun. When it started drizzling, I really did accept that this is fun and we are all just trying to get to the finish line. Karen says the sport of triathlon is the greatest metaphor for life (and she would know, as she’s done more full Ironmans than I can count). I looked out at the calm river before the storm of swimmers rushed in and thanked God for this beautiful morning, for the breath in my lungs and these body parts that work.
Two by two we stepped up the the swim start by age group and before I knew it, I was out there making my way through the murky river with a bunch of other women under 40. I had a 38 written on the back of my right calf and my race number marker’d down both arms. I looked the part in a borrowed tri suit and bright green swim cap. I flipped on my back a few times when the cloudy water freaked me out, but then I talked myself down with small goals – make it to the next buoy. Just one more. And one more. And then, before I knew it, I was being pulled out of the water by race volunteers to run up a green indoor/outdoor carpet to the bike transition. I threw on my shoes, helmet and bib and hit the road.
Nothing makes me feel more childlike than riding a bike with wet hair. It’s one of the best feelings in the world. That post-swim breeze cooling me down was probably my favorite feeling of the triathlon experience. It felt so good to get my legs spinning and finally breathe easily out of the water. The 29-mile bike ride was long and hard. Gusts of wind came and went as light rain fell intermittently. I was so terrified of the wet road portions that I just repeated the words “Don’t. Fall.” But when you bike for nearly two hours, weather conditions vary. The roads dried up here and there, the sun came out and then hid again, another round of drizzle to follow. I was truly scared; it’s frightening to take a corner on a road bike when the roads are wet. I played games with myself to keep my legs pedaling down the road to the next goal and the next. It was hard and I honestly didn’t know if I had that many miles on a bike inside me. But I did. I dug deep, I talked to myself (like a crazy person) and I sang as the rain drops cooled my tired arms. A huge hill on mile 28 dumped us down to the second transition area and I could have screamed, “Weeeeeeeeee!” and kicked up my heels as I rode into the dismount area. I quickly threw on my running shoes after docking my bike and started chipping away at the 10k ahead of me.
I didn’t realize the whole run would be on CEMENT, but it was. The cement path along the river was beautiful. The wind that kept checking in with me on the bike was somehow nowhere to be found on the run. All rain had dried up by this point and it was just hot and muggy. I questioned if I had 6.2 miles left in my body, so I just took it one mile at a time and one water station at a time. These little markers that break up races are everything. And while my Garmin and my body let me know we had definitely gone 6.2 miles, there was still somehow another ½ mile to the finish line. I pushed myself. I didn’t know what my pace was, but I just kept going. And I got there. I crossed the finish line and completed one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
In the end, the swim was 1000m, although my Garmin revealed I can’t swim in a straight line and added about 430m to that, a 29-mile bike ride, and a very hot 10.5k run. I wouldn’t have ordered these conditions, but I can get behind any race that includes BBQ, cold beverages and a tube to float the river after the finish line. It was hard and fun and I’m really glad I had this on my calendar all summer. It’s amazing what we can do if we just tri. Yes, that was cheesy, but so true.