My First Triathlon and What I Want to Remember

IMG_9557I did it. My first triathlon. It was “only” a sprint length, so 1/3 mile swim, 8 mile bike, and 3.1 mile run, but it was a HUGE hurdle for me to face mentally, considering I was and AM only comfortable in 1 of the 3 disciplines. And I only trained for 4 weeks (see my previous post Triathlon 101 – Step One: Commit). And I got a head cold 3 days beforehand, and a migraine the day before (and still have one). And I taught a cardio dance class at 7:30pm the night before.

Beginner poor planning problems.

But I did it.

And for the first time in a long time, I am really proud of myself. I did something… for ME. Something really really scary… TO me.

I want to remember this moment.

I want to remember the BEFORE: that I cried every week for the past month.  I want to remember the DURING: what a panic attack feels like.  I want to remember the AFTER: what a high it is to make it across the finish line, and that high is still going!

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BEFORE: I cried every week for the 4 weeks leading up to the race.

Week One: Crying at the Pool

On my second day of swim training, I had to bring my 7-year-old daughter with me to the pool. I gave her some dive toys and told her she could just play while I swam. And I told her I was going to swim 33 laps non stop.

Well, we got in the pool, and I went off. I did TWO laps. I stopped next to her, and I was on the verge of tears because I couldn’t keep my breath calm enough to continue. I was so disappointed and so upset at myself for not being able to do the 33 laps nonstop like I set out to do. Two. I did only two laps nonstop.

I looked at my daughter and said, “Mama can’t do it. I can’t do it.” I pretty much gave up on the triathlon at that moment.

“Yes you can Mama! You can do it!” she shouted to my surprise.

I had given up but my daughter had not. She gave me that extra push of hope and inspiration to try again. I gave her a big hug and told her, “Thank you cutie.” And I started swimming again, with a new refreshed determination. This time I did it. 33 laps nonstop.

She probably does not even remember this moment, but I will forever. She believed in me.

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Week Two: Crying at the Stoplight

I bought a starter bike three weeks before the race – my first bike since I was 12 years old.  Needless to say, it was my first time wearing cycling shoes and using clip on pedals, and figuring out how to use gears.  On my first real ride, I did a 17 mile loop where the race was going to take place.  It was a great opportunity to check out the terrain, and practice how to shift gears.  Everything was going great.

On my way home in the final few miles, I had to make a left turn at the stoplight.  It was tricky to lift up my left hand and merge to the left turn lane.  That already made me nervous.  But I made it to the lane and unclipped my right foot, ready to stop.  Unfortunately, my weight was shifted to the left, and… because my left foot was still clipped in, I completely fell over like a tree being chopped down.  With cars lined up behind me.  Shocked and embarrassed, I picked myself up, half laughing half crying.  When the light turned green, I didn’t even attempt to get on the bike.  I ran on the crosswalk pushing my bike along – avoiding all eye contact with the drivers around me.

Then I did it again a few stoplights later.  Unclipped my right foot, fell to my left.  Again.  It’s mortifying.

Week Three: Crying at my Dance Class

Two weeks to go and I got most of my gear at this point, including my new Synergy wetsuit, Orca thermal swim cap and Mack ear plugs.  My friend Lizzy and I decided we should do a test triathlon at the actual race site so we could swim in open water for the first time, and see how the bike and run felt afterwards.

I was so nervous that morning packing my car with all the gear I needed for swimming, biking, and running.  I had stomach problems.  I had to pee all the time.  My heart was racing.  I couldn’t focus.

Oh, and I had to teach my dance class first.

Well, I showed up at the dance class, trying to keep my mind focused on what I was going to teach.  But then I made eye contact with Lizzy, and at that exact moment, we both lost it.  I burst into tears because my nerves were out of control.  We wanted to do this test run, but we didn’t too.  I had to share with my dance students what was going on with me because I was a wreck.

Week Four: Crying at my Yoga Class

My theme for my yoga classes this week was “Overcoming Your Fear.”  I taught a wall class on handstands and inversions for my power yoga class.  I found quotes about facing your fears.  I made playlists with songs about confidence and bravery.  I shared honestly about my triathlon and my fears of swimming, or drowning, or simply failing.  And in my last yoga class before the race, I realized that I couldn’t just share about my fears anymore, I was really going to have to face my fears.  Very very very soon.  And yup, you guessed it, tears.

Looking back, I was anxious the entire month before the triathlon.  Some days were just worse than others, but I was constantly anxious.  I don’t cry often.  Maybe in some movies, or once or twice a year… but this month, once a week.  And now I know when I am truly scared, that translates into crying.

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DURING: The panic attack while swimming is REAL.

I want to remember that the swim portion was just as terrifying as I had imagined.  I started the first 100 meters of the swim probably way too fast for my pace, and at the first buoy turn, it got way too crowded. Someone grabbed my leg. There was splashing everywhere. I panicked and just treaded water waiting for the crowds to pass. But then I couldn’t calm down. I was gasping for breath. I refused to put my head in the water. This next 200 meter section was an ugly mix of breaststroke, sidestroke, backstroke, freestyle with my head out of the water, treading water, and doggy paddling. Yes, doggy paddling. I really didn’t think I could keep going. I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to climb onto the kayaks and give up. I told myself I’d never do this again. I told myself I couldn’t do it. I hated that moment.

Then I turned the final buoy (still doggy paddling) and remembered my swim experience with my daughter 4 weeks ago.  I didn’t want to fail my kids, who were watching me swim and cheering me on.  I couldn’t give up.  And I didn’t want to doggy paddle to the swim finish line.  So somehow that mental switch composed me and I was able to catch my breath.  I told myself to finish slow and steady the final 200 meters just like I have been training. I swam freestyle the final third, simply motivated by the fact that I was so close to getting out of the water.  I was calm and happy getting out of the water.

But those few minutes in the middle were seriously MISERABLE.  Panic attacks are no joke.  A few minutes felt like eternity.

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AFTER: Believe in yourself.

After the slowest swim ever, I made up a lot of lost time on the bike ride. Somehow I relied on my strength and muscles and just went for it. As fast as I could. And I LOVED it. Surprisingly, the bike ride was my favorite part by far and I had a huge smile on my face the entire ride.

The run was consistent and steady as expected.  I was surprised I held an 8 minute pace even though it felt like a 10 minute pace.

My finish time was 1:08:03 and what in the world? I was 54th overall and got 3rd place in my age group (females 35-39)!!! I seriously was just trying not to be last! I left before the awards ceremony but for sure that would have been my first podium!  HA!  Now THAT was unexpected.

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I want to remember all of this while it is fresh.

My highs.  My lows.  My super highs.  My super lows.

Wow, what an experience.  WHAT. AN. EXPERIENCE.

Now the question is… do I keep training and try it again???  Can I compete my best effort next time versus having a panic attack?  Or was the swim that terrifying that I don’t want to put myself through that again?  Or should I just go back to my handstands?

Or both?  =)

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Thank you thank you to all of you who have read my post to here… who have silently cheered me on this past month.  Thank you for believing in me.

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Triathlon 101 – Step One: Commit

Tandem Electric Bike Around Angel Island

The last time I rode a bike was renting this tandem electric bike to ride around Angel Island for my mom’s birthday. Not a triathlon approved bicycle, I’m sure.

What in the world did I just commit to?

I went on a run a few weeks ago with my fitness twin, Lizzy (both of us were born on March 10th, although I am 5 years older).  We run regularly once a week for an hour or so.  We’ve both run a marathon before (for me, it was a one-time 26.2 miles when I turned 26 years old).  Yeah, so I’d say we’re average runners.

Lizzy told me that she started taking swim classes in the start of September (and like me, she had never officially swam a lap before), and she had worked up to swimming a mile each class.  And… with this new “skill,” she had a goal of training for a triathlon.  Not just any triathlon, but the Ironman one day.

Lizzy knew she could share this with me because I would understand.  I know she can do anything she puts her mind to.  I know this goal is attainable.  She can absolutely do it.  No doubt.

Problem is, this is where the twin factor comes in, because now I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  Ok, obsessing about it.  A triathlon?  I’m turning 40 in 6 months and do I want to do one too?  It was like a switch in my head that I never knew was there.  And now that switch was ON.

  • No, I don’t swim.
  • I’ve never swam a real lap before.
  • I don’t even have goggles.
  • I never go in the ocean when I am at a beach.
  • I really really really do not handle cold well.
  • No, I don’t ride bikes.
  • When was the last time I rode a bike?
  • I don’t even know how to switch gears.
  • I don’t have a helmet.
  • Forget the helmet, I don’t even own a bike.

Thoughts and thoughts kept circling my mind.  More and more No’s.  More and more stop being crazy.  More and more why do you want to torture yourself?

But just one YES.

A persistent, determined, gritty YES, I can do it.

No!!!  Stop!  Ok, what exactly are the distances of a triathlon?  Let’s get realistic here.  Approximate distances:

  • Sprint: 0.5 mile swim, 12.4 mile bike, 3.1 mile run
  • Olympic/International: 0.93 mile swim, 24.8 mile bike, 6.2 mile run
  • 70.3 Ironman: 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run
  • Ironman: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run

Given that information, I gave myself a “test run.” After teaching a cardio dance class (I equated it to a short 3 mile run), I took a 40 minute indoor cycle class (covered 14 miles), and then attempted to swim.

Ok let’s break down my swim.  It was a 25 yard pool.  I put on my 7-year-old daughter’s goggles.  I swam 2 laps (back and forth), and could not breathe without huffing and puffing.  I had to adjust my goggles every other lap until I found the right fit so that water wouldn’t leak in.  By then I probably had gone 10 laps (with stops), and I was OUT of breath each time.  I looked around me and all the swimmers around me were lapping nonstop, until finally the lady next to me rested.  I humbly asked her to give me some breathing tips.  She told me to work up to “bilateral breathing” which means taking a breath every 3 strokes and switching sides.  Right stroke with breath, left stroke, right stroke, left stroke with breath, right, left, etc.  I tried.  And failed.  I couldn’t breathe to my left without flailing or gasping for air.  Ack.  So I asked another woman for advice.  She said to just breathe every 2 strokes on my right to start and build endurance.  Then work on drills for my left after.  Ok.  By then I had barely survived 20 laps and basically concluded the triathlon was not possible.  But I was determined.  I wanted to swim for the entire hour.  So I took the 2 stroke breath technique and told myself to slow down my strokes, keep a steady, calm yoga breath, and just go as long as possible.  No rushing.  Yoga breath.  “Just Keep Swimming.”

Miraculously, from 20-66 laps, I did it.  Over half a mile nonstop swimming.  Somehow, breathing often and mentally calming down helped me find a rhythm, and that’s what worked for me.  I was shocked I did it.

Which meant, I can do a triathlon after all, well sort of, if you count a pool swim, an indoor bike, and a dance class.

Ok, so IF this really is possible….. then a triathlon is a huge investment!  It’s not just a one time thing.  With running you can get a good pair of shoes and clothing, and you’re off.  A triathlon requires a lot more upfront costs on things that you should be using again and again.  I thought through what I might need (Note: this is from a Beginning Triathlete point of view):

Swim:

  • Water cap
  • Goggles
  • Swimsuit
  • Wetsuit

Bike:

  • Triathlon padded shorts
  • Fitted top
  • Helmet
  • Wrap sunglasses
  • Cycling shoes
  • Bicycle

Run

  • Running shoes
  • Socks

Yes that will add up.  But at this point, doing a triathlon was something I just couldn’t shake off.  I justified the cost as an early 40th birthday present to myself.

Moving on.

Researching races.  Conveniently (or absurdly), there was a local race in a few weeks.  The Marin Triathlon Sprint on November 3rd, 2018.  A perfect test to see if I could truly survive the cold water and swim, ride a bike, and then finish with a run.  And if it works out, the goal is doing an Olympic triathlon in the Spring, followed by the 70.3 Ironman in Santa Rosa July 29th, 2019.

So that’s where I am at today.  I am in too deep now to backup.  At the very least, I signed up for the Marin Triathlon Sprint.  What I choose to do after is uncertain.  But this is a start.  And we all have to start somewhere right?

I am terrified people.  I am really scared of the water and I don’t want to let anyone down if I can’t do it.  Please pray for me.

And a teeny tiny part of me is excited and giddy.  I am determined.  I am focused.  I am proud of myself for trying to conquer some major fears of mine. I can do it.

Time to go shopping.

Original post written on October 12, 2018.