You ever have someone suggest you try something you think is impossible? You think, _________ is what other people do. I could never do __________.
Fill in the blank with whatever seems impossible. Climb Mt. Everest. Hike the Appalachian trail from start to finish. Marathon. Triathlon.
One of those things that my friend Woody Brown suggested for the #50for50 was to do a triathlon. That seemed impossible to a woman who hadn’t run a 5k in 3 years, had never swam a lap in a pool in her life and had only be on a bicycle twice as an adult. A mountain bike not a road bike and actually just on a greenway trail.
As impossible as it seemed I did some research and found out a sprint triathlon typically is a 400m swim (and many are done in pools), a less than 15 mile bike ride and a 5k run. Hmmm. I knew I could probably get back up to 5k on the run. The bike was daunting but doable.
That just left the swim as the one part that scared me. However swimming laps became one of my #50for50 and the confidence it gave me carried over in my experiences stand up paddling and surfing. Plus I knew I was better prepared for other water experiences like white water rafting, river tubing, and kayaking.
I started training in February in the pool on my swimming skills and started couch to 5k on the treadmill. Later I added stationary bike, then spin class, then bought a road bike.
My original goal was a sprint triathlon in Asheville in July but I looked up the bike course and road it in the car. It was a winding, hilly road and enough traffic that bicyclists in the race were not going to be allowed to dismount and walk any of it.
A friend on Facebook mentioned be interested in the Ramblin’ Rose sprint triathlon in Greenville, SC on the very same weekend in July. Plus the Ramblin’ Rose is an all female race which appealed to me since I hoped I’d feel less awkward. Best of all it was only 250 yard swim, 8 mile bike and 2 mile run. SOLD.
As hard as swimming turned out for me especially to begin with I was relieved the swim was shorter. It still seemed challenging and I even hired Kim Peek, of Power of Run as my triathlon coach for the last couple of months of training to make sure I was doing all I could to be ready.
What I wasn’t ready for was the breakup just 5 weeks prior to race day of a nine year long relationship. Although it was very difficult to keep going I had come so far already I couldn’t give up. I was also reassured that I wouldn’t be alone as my mother insisted to come that weekend to help me and cheer me on.
Race day was just one week after my tandem skydiving trip so despite being nervous I felt much calmer about it. There is something about jumping out of a plane that makes you feel so badass everything else is a lot more possible.
However I was in such a stupid hurry when I stopped to pick up Gatorade that morning at a convenience store that I backed out quickly from a parking place and made my mother spill coffee all over her new pants.
Thankfully she was a good sport about it, I got us to the race location at 7th Inning Splash in Greenville, SC and managed to get parked without further incident. I had the bike experts there check the tire pressure since I had previously had a flat tire on a training ride. Then I got the bike and my “kit” all laid out in the staging area.
That is where you transition from the swim to the bike then transition from the bike to the run. I made sure everything was accessible but this area was where I hoped I didn’t mess up too bad.
Momma and I walked around to get familiar with where she could stand to watch me since a lot of the time I’d be out of sight. Before I could get too anxious it was time to line up for the swim.
The dreaded swim.
I had practiced in this very pool just the week before and still didn’t know how I would be able to handle. To be safe I asked to be in one of the last groups since the ankle tracker they strapped on me was going to track my time from start to finish.
As it turns out swimming laps at the Y versus a whole pool full of other swimmers passing me by is a huge mental difference. I am not exaggerating to say that some women were walking the pool (as nobody was monitoring to make sure everyone SWAM the whole thing just that we all did full distance and no one drowned). They were passing me as I was not going to stop swimming even if I was slow and felt panicked from the moment I got passed the first time.
I made it out a few participants shy of an empty pool and ran to the transition area to change for the bike. Shoes, sunglasses, got my helmet on and mounted my bike. The first little hill out of the parking lot onto the main road is a push and then I was biking. I was alone for a bit of the first leg of the course then passed one participant and kept pushing.
At only 8 miles it should be a breeze but the worst part really was the surface of the road was really rough and full of pot holes. Plus regular traffic was sharing the road with us just as if we were not in a race. I came to the big hill at the back of the course and resolved not to walk up the hill as other cyclists were doing. It wasn’t terrible just a steady climb and I had time to make up from my swim.
Once I topped that hill I felt like a champion and I still had two miles to ride plus the two mile run. I wasn’t relaxing however and kept pushing. Soon I could see the entrance back into the parking lot and dismounted shakily into the transition area. Hung my bike up, dropped helmet and headed out for the run.
The sensation right off the bike is nice at first since running almost feels easier. However it faded quickly in the stifling heat.
July is not the best time to be running on pavement in Greenville, SC. I felt like I was breathing in from an exhaust pipe it was so warm. The swim had been early enough and in cool water, then the breeze off the bike had masked the temperature. Nothing could safe me from the sun getting higher in the morning sky however.
I ran most of lap one but by lap two I had to stop for a minute and caught up with a lady also walking.
She seemed to be losing steam and I remarked it hadn’t been so hot in the mountains when I was training. This got a reaction as she asked where I was from. I said Hendersonville and she said so am I. We talked for another minute and then I coached her, let’s run some more, can you?
I started back to running and so did she. We continued, slow and still walked a few more paces on the back of the last lap before I urged her that we needed a strong finish.
She was taller by a few inches and easily took the lead across the finish line and soon I crossed as well.
I dropped my chip and got my medal. My first ever real medal. I had finished a triathlon.
I retrieved my bike from transition and the rest of my gear like goggles and towel, headed back to the car. Momma met me with a hug despite me being a sweaty mess.
At that moment I was feeling tired and hot but so humbled that my 70-something mother had driven 5 hours by herself to make sure her crazy daughter didn’t have to complete a triathlon with no one to cheer her on. Not to mention her standing in the summer heat in Greenville SC on pavement just to watch me for a few seconds here or there as I loped by.
After dropping my bike at the car on the rack I walked back to check my time. I completed the tri in 1:19:32. I finished 61 of 86 overall.
Check this out though. I was 5 of 10 in my age group. What the what? How cool was that? I actually was in top 40 on the bike portion. The run had slowed me down as I definitely had not managed my training pace.
The swim I was one of the last 10 in time. At least now I knew I could swim.
I had started 2019 not even able to swim a whole lap. Progress over perfection I think is the saying?
As I grabbed a snack the lady who I had run with came up and introduced me to her family as the lady who helped her finish the race.
The idea of a triathlon had seemed impossible and yet I had completed it. Better than that though was knowing somebody thought I had helped her finish her race. What she didn’t realize is cheering her on had helped me finish.