3:54am - Getting ready
I finally get up out of bed, 36 minutes before my alarm clock is set to go off because I just can't sleep. I have the ultimate triathlon breakfast ... two Rolaids Soft-chews. LOL My stomach is in knots, my abs are actually ACHING from being clenched all night long. I want this thing over and done. NOW.
I unpack my backpack to make sure I have everything, despite having packed and unpacked my bag three times the night before. Yep, everything's there, and nothing has disappeared overnight. Tennis shoes, socks, two towels, swimming cap, timing chip and anklet, two bottles of water to wash my footsies after the swim, my run tshirt with bib number attached, two Cliff bars - one for my "real" breakfast, and one for transitions, bike helmet with my number stickered to the front, baseball cap for the run, and sunglasses. Carrie is letting me borrow a pair of goggles for the swim because my son lost our shared pair the previous day at the pool.
I'm a nervous wreck and decide to do something productive - I pace the length of my kitchen to the den until 4:20 am when my daughter comes out to snuggle. She's my shadow - always up within minutes of my waking. She helps me put sunscreen on my back, and is a little chatterbox.
Before I know it, Carrie and Jeannie are ready, and after three hugs and four kisses from my daughter, she whispers "Good luck Momma" in my ear, and we're off.
5:06 am - The drive
I am quiet in the car, more so than usual. I'm driving, which is good because it gives me something to do, instead of mentally freak out and go insane. I'm glad Carrie and Jeannie are in the car with me because it prevents me from babbling to myself, which I'm prone to do in times of stress.
At this point, I am basically repeating the same things over and over in my head ...
I chose to do this.
I CAN do this.
I WILL do this.
No sweat, just go out and do your best.
All you need to do is finish.
Before I know it, we're pulling into the offsite parking area. The parking lot is pretty full at a little before 6am, but we're able to find a good spot. A shuttle is ready and waiting for us, so we don't have to wait in the chilly country morning air.
I sit next to an older woman on the shuttle - she tells me she's a grandma and this is her 4th triathlon. I tell her I'm a momma and this is my 1st triathlon. She tells me I'll have a great time, that this is a great beginner triathlon. I ask her for some words of wisdom and she replies, "Just have fun!"
6am - Setting up in transition
We follow the crowd of athletes to the transition area. One of the security guys shouts at us to show proof that we're athletes or we're not getting in. I fumble with my bag and show him my bike helmet with my number stickered on the front and I'm in. There are several volunteers marking up the athletes - I pick one with nice handwriting. I'm not sure why this is important, but for some reason I have an all-consuming thought that the numbers written on my arm must be PERFECT.
Fortunately we racked our bikes the day before during the Expo so that was one thing less to worry about. Our area was the very last row, the farthest away from the entrance to transition from the swim, but the closest to the bike exit and return and run exit. There are ALOT more bikes on our rack than there were the day before, and the bikes were packed in tight as can be. I set up my stuff on a grassy area a few steps away from the bike rack. One more good piece of luck from having an outside row. It turns out great because I get more space than if I had set up next to my bike.
I fuss with my stuff, making sure everything is just right. My OCD complex rears its ugly head as I make sure my towel is perpendicular to the curb, and the items on my towel are perfectly spaced out in relation to one another. Why this matters, I have no idea, all I know is that my run shirt must be folded just-so, and lay exactly in a square to the right of my Cliff bar and Sports Beans, which are perfectly spaced out and exactly 2 inches below my bike helmet, which is turned upside down with my sunglasses nestled inside.
I fuss with my things for a few more minutes before I say "F--- it all", realizing how ridiculous I am. As if placing my sports beans 2.25 inches below my bike helmet will make a difference. I furtively straighten and smooth my run shirt, then force myself to walk away.
I find Carrie pumping air into her bike tires, and Jeannie is nowhere to be seen. Poor girl - apparently her inner tube burst as she pumped her tires, and she ran off to a bike vendor for assistance. The security guy is yelling at us to clear out of the transition area, but Jeannie still isn't back yet. Carrie starts taking things out of Jeannie's bag when she runs up and puts her repaired tire back on her bike. As I watch her effortlessly put her tire back on, I mentally kick myself for not attending the bike repair clinic at the expo the day before. If I get a flat on the ride, I'm screwed.
6:40ish - Waiting
We meet one of Carrie's former college friends from Illinois. This is her 2nd triathlon, and is in the same wave as we are. She's really sweet and encourages me that I will do just fine. We skip the line for the porta-potties in the transition area because the guy is still yelling at us to get out of transition, so we make our way to the grassy area to watch the elite athletes start off the race. The race officially starts at 7am, but our wave doesn't start until 8:20am.
I wander away from the group to dip my toes in the lake, and the water is surprisingly warm. I can't believe the mass of athletes on the other side of the lake, lined up and ready to swim. There are officially 2,544 athletes, and 25 waves. We're in the mixed age group category, so we can go in any wave from 22 - 25.
Sally Edwards, the Chief Inspiration Officer of the Trek Women's Triathlon gets the crowd pumped up, and someone with an exquisite voice sweetly sings the national anthem. I've sung the national anthem many times at sporting events, but this is the first one where I'm an athlete. This moves me to tears, and I live in the moment.
I remember that I have to pee, so we start the .5 mile walk to the porta potties by the swim start. We don't go very far until we reach the end of the line - I swear, there are at least 150 people in line for a porta-potty. At this point, we still have over an hour to wait, so we spend a good chunk of that time in line.
There's an athlete in front of us wearing a bodysuit performing "interesting" stretches and jumps. Another athlete in front of us is really sweet and we discover we're both tri newbies. The time passes with alternating quickness and agonizing slowness. After waiting an unbelievable 45 minutes in line, I finally get to use the bathroom. It's amazingly clean (I guess that's what you get at a women's only triathlon), but I still make sure my eyes are everywhere except down.
After our potty break, we make our way to the starting line. There are 2 more waves of purple caps before it's all yellow (that's us).
8:10 am - In the corral waiting for our wave
I am a nervous wreck. I stand on my tippy toes above the sea of yellow caps, straining to see the opposite side of the lake. We're swimming into the sun and the glare off the water is blinding. Jeannie helps me by explaining I need to swim between the lifeguards standing on the floating platforms. I anxiously scan the beach for a white cap - the amazing ladies that have volunteered to be swim sisters. I remind myself to live in the moment and think ...
I did everything possible to prepare for this moment.
I am strong.
I am powerful.
There is no turning back.
I am powerful.
I can do this.
All too quickly, our wave enters the water, and we're just 2 minutes away from our swim start. To my relief, I find a white cap and ask her to accompany me on the swim. She smiles at me and says, "Of course I will, athlete." Huh, me? Athlete? Her words brings tears to my eyes and my goggles promptly fog up. My Swim Sister, Lynn E, kept talking, but it was like buzzing in my ears. Everything was so surreal ... like things were simultaneously going in slow motion and fast forward at the same time. I run to Carrie and Jeannie to give them hugs and thank them once again for coming do to my first tri with me. And then, the buzzing clears and I hear Sally Edwards begin the countdown ...
Swim Sister Lynn E leads me into the water, telling me we can walk for quite a bit before we actually have to start swimming. She is holding two swimming noodles on leashes and tells me I can grab onto them at any point if I need to. She does the side stroke, facing me and talks to me the entire time. She is like a mother hen, guiding me along, praising me and encouraging me, telling me I can not fail.
I will not fail.
After what seems like an eternity, which in reality was a mere four minutes, I hear the final wave get into the water. In no time, they all pass me, and I am the last woman in the lake. Surprisingly, I feel no shame in this. In fact, it calms me and I accept it for what it is.
Swim Sister Lynn E asks me if I want to flip over and try the back stroke, which I do. The backstroke was my failsafe while training - the plan was to flip over and backstroke when I felt tired or needed to catch my breath. Unfortunately, I didn't account for waves in the lake and swallowed and inhaled water - I sputtered and choked and panicked, but Swim Sister Lynn E was there, calming me down. I grabbed onto one of her noodles to clear the water from my lungs and took deep breaths. I asked her how far we had come and she replied 1/3rd of the way.
Sweet baby Jesus ...
It feels like I'm swimming in tar and making no progress whatsoever. But I keep on kicking and try to get into a rhythm. At this point, Sally Edwards, swims up to me. She asks me my name and asks why I'm doing this triathlon.
"Because I can," is my answer.
I will not fail.
Sally tells me it's her job to be the final woman to cross the finish line, and she can't do her job until I get across this lake. We're about half way across at this point. Sally asks me what my preferred stroke is, and I say the doggy paddle LOL She tells me she's going to teach me the breaststroke. I look at her incredulously ... Are you serious? You're going to give me swimming lessons? Now? In the middle of a triathlon?
Sally shows me what to do, and says we'll just try five strokes to start. She has Swim Sister Lynn E hold a noodle in front of me, telling me to grab on after five strokes are done. When I'm ready, I give it all I've got. Sally counts out ... one, two, three, four, five. I lunge for the noodle, heart racing and sputtering water out of my lungs. Sally and Swim Sister Lynn E commend me, and say when you're rested, let's do another five. I give them the okay, and they count out ... one, two, three, four, five. Then Sally asks me if I can do 10 strokes. 10 strokes turn into 15 strokes. 15 strokes turn into 20 strokes, which turn into 25 strokes.
Before I know it, I can see the sandy lake shore where we are to exit the swim. Sally then tells me, "Michelle, you're no longer the last woman swimming anymore, and I have to leave you so I can do my job." I look behind me, and to my disbelief, she's right. I shout out my thanks as Sally swims away to help another athlete, and before I know it, I hear the people on the shore cheering for me, and the lifeguards are telling me I can stand up and make my way out of the water. I vaguely remember giving a few lifeguards high fives, and whip my swimming cap and goggles off my face - gotta look good for the photographer, right? LOL
I take 2 steps on the sandy shore and pitch foward onto my knees. Whoa - going from a horizontal position to vertical upright position is no easy feat. I get back on my feet, and am able to run, yes RUN, into transition.
Goal Time: 1 hour
Actual Time: 33 mins 20 seconds
Swim Rank: 2502/2551
My first transition goes pretty smoothly. I run all the way to my spot, uncap the two water bottles and rinse off my feet. I have enough water to wash the sand off my legs and hands where I fell. I throw my cap and goggles onto my towel, dry off my feet, and put my socks and shoes on. I open my Cliff bar, break off a chunk, shove it in my mouth, take two swallows of my G2, grab my bike helmet, put my sunglasses on, and grab my bike of the rack. I guess it pays to be slow - all the other bikes are pretty much gone, so I don't have to struggle to get my bike off the rack.
Goal Time: 5 minutes
Actual Time: 5 minutes 16 seconds
I'm very happy to be on my bike. Very happy until I notice my front tire is wonky. It's wobbly, and keeps rubbing against my front brakes with every revolution. It feels like the brakes are engaging with every revolution. What. the. h-e-double-hockey sticks?
Whatever. I have to keep going.
On my way out to the first turn, I see TrainerGirl, practically standing in the middle of the street. I am so thrilled to see her, I dare to take my hand off the handlebars to wave at her and yell out her name. The smile on her face stays with me as I hear her cheer me on.
The bike ... oh the bike. I thought the course would be flat. Ha, I must have been high on sugarcrack when I thought that! The course consisted of pretty consistent rolling hills. Nothing serious or steep, but they were very consistent, one after another. The course was very scenic and pretty - farmland and houses here and there.
Before I know it, I've passed the 2 mile mark and I'm feeling great. I've managed to pass a few riders, and a few riders pass me. I get into a rhythm, switching gears to get up a hill, coasting halfway down the hill before pedaling to build up my speed before the next hill. The four mile mark passes by and I'm feeling really really good. I can't believe how strong I feel.
I am powerful.
A mother-daughter duo come alongside me and we talk as best we can. The daughter just turned 14 on race day, and was excited to be doing the race with her mom. We exchange a few more pleasantries, then they pass me by. I'm ok with this.
There's a water station at the 6 mile mark, and I slow down to try to grab a cup of water without completely stopping or falling. I'm successful, and you have no idea how proud I feel LOL I do my best to toss the cup into the garbage can but miss by a mile. I yell out "Sorry" and build up my speed again. We pass a firetruck and a few firefighters ... wow, one of them was pretty hunky. I resist the urge to turn around and get another look at him ... crashing now would be pretty pathetic (although hilariously funny).
Miles 6 to 8 felt like someone was playing tricks and moved the 8 mile marker farther because it seemed like they were much much longer than the previous mile markers. I remember seeing an arabian horse ranch (and almost crash because I'm gawking at the beautiful horses), then am so happy to see the 8 mile marker. It's placed in front of a house, and the family is sitting in lawn chairs cheering me on. The grandpa yells out "Keep going lady, you're looking strong!"
I am strong.
Miles 8 through 10 go quickly, and I am so happy to see the 10 mile marker because it means I'm almost home. I'm still feeling great, very strong and powerful. I haven't hit any walls yet, energywise, and am looking forward to getting off my bike.
I'm finally going up the final hill of the course and wind my way back down to the main site - I pass TrainerGirl again on my way back and I yell out that my butt hurts. LOL
I finally see the bike return, and the volunteers yell at me to get off my bike and walk across the timing pad. My first few steps are wobbly and I lose time trying to regain my balance. I cross the timing pad and the volunteer tells me, "Great job, athlete!" I tell her my butt hurts. LOL
Goal Time: 1 hour
Actual Time: 1 hour 2 minutes 21 seconds
Bike Rank: 2463/2551
My legs like they're possessed and want to keep going in circles instead of fully extending and taking steps. A few triathletes - already done with their races - yell out and cheer me on. I thank them all and wobble my way to my area. Thankfully my area is close to the bike exit so I don't have to go very far.
I panic a little as I see the bike racks - my fortune at being slow and getting my bike off quickly in transition 1 has turned as now most of the bikes are back on the rack and it's impossible for me to rack my bike. In desperation, I squeeze my bike between two other bikes, not really able to fully rack my bike.
My bike helmet flies off my head as does my tri top. I throw my run shirt on, grab another chunk of my Cliff bar, take a few sips of G2, then I'm off for the run.
Goal Time: 5 minutes
Actual Time: 3 minutes 32 seconds
I walk out, giving my legs time to recover. I see TrainerGirl, still standing in the middle of the road. She is grinning from ear to ear and says, "Hey diva, you changed your shirt!" She gives me a high five, and I'm off.
I walked quite a bit before I was able to get my legs to work properly, and ran/walked the rest of the way. I wasted a few minutes at the water station - there was a husband/wife that were manning the water station - I volunteered with them at this exact spot for this tri last year and I stopped to say hi. Just after the 1 mile mark, someone had set up a water sprinkler so I ran through it and immediately pictured my kids playing in the sprinkler at home. This brought a huge smile to my face and pushed me to keep running.
I am strong.
It hits me that I am feeling very very strong. I still haven't hit my wall. My heart and lungs are feeling good. I fully anticipated them to be ready to burst by this point, but they were ok.
I am powerful.
Then, my most favorite part of the tri happens ... at the turn point of the run, a firetruck and firefighters are set up, and they're spraying the athletes with water. Hmmm ... hunky firemen + a wet tshirt contest = a very happy Michelle :)
The rest of the run is a blur ... I remember seeing a beautiful bird with orange wings sort of following me along - he would fly ahead, perch on a branch or land on the grass, as if waiting for me to catch up, then fly on ahead again.
At the 2 mile mark, I can see across the lake and see the finish line. I pick up my pace a little, then to my surprise, I see Sally Edwards coming up to me. I slow down and she wraps her arm around my shoulder. She asks me, "How you doing, athlete?" I smile and say AWESOME! She tells me how proud of me she is, which brings tears to my eyes (and still does as I type this out). She tells me she wants to see me here next year, and I promise that I'll be there. She tells me she has a job to do, and pushes me off.
So many things are running through my head as I run towards the finish line ...
That's me in the orange shirt - and yes, I passed those two PYTs in the run to the finish!
I am powerful.
I am strong.
I have conquered my fears.
I believe in myself.
I am a winner.
Then, I see the white flags by the finish line. They're printed with the words, "You Go Girl!" I hear someone calling my name and am so excited to see my best gal pal Kristen and her husband Bill waving and cheering me on right at the finish line. I grin from ear to ear, wave and cross the finish line.
Me waving to Kristen and Bill as I cross the finish line.
I did it. I am a triathlete.
Goal Time: 1 hour
Actual Time: 49 minutes 52 seconds
Run Rank: 2441/2551
Overall Goal Time: 3 hours
Actual Time: 2 hours 34 minutes 22 seconds
Overall Rank: 2499/2551
Me and Kristen after the finish line
Me, Jeannie and Carrie.
I swam across that lake behind us!!
Happiness is ...
- I did what I set out to do - I finished. It never was about how fast I could be or what place I am in. All I cared about was finishing what I started. And I did.
- I am powerful, I am strong. I have never felt this strong before - my level of fitness far surpasses any level I have ever achieved in my entire life.
- Having a Swim Sister! I hereby promise that one day, I will become a Swim Sister and pay back this priceless gift. I will help a novice athlete complete her swim and give her as much support, motivation, encouragement and love that was given to me.
Goals for my next triathlon (yes, I'm doing it again!)
- Become a better swimmer. Take swimming lessons and get in the pool twice a week every single week until the 2010 Trek Women's Triathlon.
- Buy a better bike and keep my son away from it the week before the race. LOL
- Take Lauren Jensen's Open Water swim clinic in the late spring/early summer prior to the race. Lauren came in 1st place in my tri with a winning time that was less than my bike time!
- Run the entire 5K from start to finish.
I couldn't have done this without the amazing support of my family and friends! Thank you Kristen and Bill for coming out to support me - they took all the photos posted on my blog :) Carrie and Jeannie, thank you so much for coming to do the tri with me! TrainerGirl - thank you so much for coming down to cheer me on - your belief in me makes me feel invinceable! Thanks to my trainers for getting me in the top physical shape of my life!
So ... anyone want to tri with me next year? :)
"The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start." John Bingham