Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me :)

Today is my birthday, in case you didn't figure that out from the title. I was going through some old journals at work, and I found a hastily scribbled poem that I wrote last summer, I think sometime in June. Anyway, I really like it, and thought it would be fitting to post here on my birthday.


Just for today
I'll climb that mountain
and come down the other side
I'll leave behind that part of me that almost died

Today I'll keep going
at that steady pace
without fearing the tiger at my back
It's no longer a race

I won't run to you
or away
I won't hope secretly
that you'll ask me to stay

I'll hold myself
with my own two arms
I'll tilt my head towards God
when my heart sounds it's intruder alarm

For today,
you'll see the girl I once was,
a thousand years before
I swear, today, you'll be able to see so much more

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Summer of Firsts Part III - My first triathlon

I want to start off saying I really can’t describe myself as "athletic."

Yes - as an adult - I’m fit and active, and I usually work out 5/6 days out of the week, but as a youngster not so much.

I was more what you might call “artistic.” I spent my days reading and writing poetry. I gotta give it to my parents, because they sure tried. I signed up for soccer, summer swimming, basketball, and gymnastics …  hated them all with a passion, and quit them after a year, which was the minimum commitment my parents made me endure. I enjoyed biking and rode my bike everywhere as a kid, but it was leisurely - definitely not racing.

Softball was the only competitive sport I played consistently, and although I did get pretty good at it, I stopped playing after eighth grade, and based on a recent trip to the batting cages (15 years later), the magic is definitely gone.

So, to decide to do a triathlon at 30 years old was actually a big feat for me to embark upon. I'm a little more motivated as an adult. I had to learn how to properly swim, be able to run more than a mile (which really didn’t happen until about six months ago – I got up to 3 miles right before the Sunburst Races) and bike competitively for almost seven miles.

Then, I had to be able to put all of those things together and not die while doing it.

I spent about a year training just to be comfortable with it and know that I could do it. I had heard the Eagle Lake Short Sprint Triathlon on August 6th was good for beginners and smaller since it was only the 2nd annual, so I decided to do that one first to help prepare me for the Niles Super Sprint Triathlon, which Kyle and I will do together in September.

I started the day optimistic. I wasn’t nervous, just energized. We showed up way early so that I could get my station set up without feeling rushed. I also had to pick up my electronic chip, and wait in line to get the numbers written on my body. There was quite a bit of time where, as I wistfully watched the first few waves push off, I was just standing there with my swim cap on, itching to get in the water and GO.

I was doing the short sprint (200 meter swim, 6.9 mile bike and 1.4 mile run – this is a small triathlon) and the long-sprinters had to go first, so that accounts for the waiting. But that morning I thought I would be incredibly nervous, and I just wasn’t. I had prepared so much that I knew it was game time. I was ready. Mentally and physically, I felt great, and eager to get my first triathlon under my belt. I wasn’t expecting to beat anyone or make any kind of crazy time, but just feeling excited to finally do it.

Despite my eagerness (is that a word?) I made one big mistake right in the beginning that put me behind: I underestimated my swimming potential.

I had spent lunch hours at the Notre Dame Rolfs pool (which was roped lengthwise at 50 meters, or twice the length of a normal pool) doing laps over and over, in addition to swimming on the weekends at Kyle’s gym. I had made huge strides in my swimming and I was completely ready for that 200 meter swim. Yet, after hearing horror stories from others of getting pushed in the water or kicked in the face, my low swimming confidence got the best of me. I had never swum in close proximity with so many people – I don’t even like sharing my lane at the gym pool! So because of this fear, I decided to count to about 8, waiting for everyone in my wave to go first before I jumped in after them.

Big mistake.

Apparently, there were people doing the triathlon that had not prepared much for the swim. People in front of me were on their backs paddling while I was stuck behind them, not at all able to use my hard-won swimming skills. I spent so much time wading there with my head up, looking for a place that I could squeeze in and get past them, but there was none. Every time I stroked twice, I had to stop and wait for the people in front of me for a few seconds so I didn’t run into their kicking feet. Once, I tried to do a quick maneuver right to go around a lady and someone from a boat yelled at me to get back inside the buoy. (I was hardly outside it, just along the line for a second).

 Here I was, stuck behind this line of slower swimmers, and there was no way out. I watched so many people get out of the water running ahead of me, and there was nothing I could do about it. Finally, right towards the end, after I had already rounded and come back towards the beach, I was able to get around someone as the line spread out more. The swim was almost finished and I was really not even tired yet! So I got around her, and what do you know, the swim is over. I must have got maybe six or seven good consecutive strokes in during the entire swim.

I am really not a competitive person, but I had earned at least a chance at that swim. I was so incredibly pissed at myself! Here I had worked so hard all year to prepare and I couldn’t even swim. I was so much faster than the people I was stuck behind. I limited myself with my mind and I set myself up for failure. I’ll never do that again. I will start at the front - at least that way I’ve given myself a chance.

The bike was a different story. It surprised me with its level of difficulty. I expected that to be the easy-breezy part of the race. What I didn’t expect were the hills. They weren’t huge hills, but anyone who rides knows that even slight (but long) hills can seriously put a damper on your endurance. I was pushing it and passing all kinds of people, but still my legs were burning and I was short of breath. I had done 7 -13 miles with Kyle before, and we had pushed it a little, but it was more leisurely, and it usually wasn’t directly after a swim. Our rides and my time on the spin bikes at the gym really didn’t prepare me for the bike portion. Those 6.9 miles felt much longer than they were! I rounded so many cornfields and corners where I was like “Really? This isn’t done yet?” I was so glad to finally get off my bike when I got back to the transition station.

I really was excited for the run – 1.4 miles is like half of what I normally run, and it was the final leg (no pun intended) of the race. I thought it would be no problem and that my breath would settle down a little by the time I started running.

It didn’t.

This was probably because of the excess physical activity all at once. Normally my exercise-induced asthma doesn’t kick in for anything except running. This time, however, I was gasping for air by the end of the bike, so by the time I got to the run I was already out of breath, which threw me for a loop. I puffed my inhaler and took off anyway, only to find after a block I had to stop and walk for a minute to get my breathing regular. I still didn’t feel like I was breathing well enough, but counted to ten and vowed to run the rest of the way at 10.

 And I did.

Something kicked in, and even though my lungs hurt like crazy, I just kept going at a steady pace, passing quite a few people walking or running/walking.

When I saw that finish line, I kicked it in and ran as fast as I could. The announcer said on the microphone “Here comes number 264 … And she’s happy!” I was smiling big for Kyle’s camera when I hit the finish line. People were clapping and giving me high-fives. I came in at about 51 minutes, which was actually better than I expected. The third-place female in my age group did it in 42 minutes. I had estimated that I’d finish in an hour or more. So I exceeded my expectations, and with the below changes, I know I’ll do even better in my second triathlon, which I’m doing in about three weeks. I know exactly what I need to do now that I’ve been through it.

A few things I will change:

1. Quit being such a girl in the transition. You don’t need to take Advil, wash your feet, and fix your ponytail. Run in, bike out …. Look crazy, whatever. Oh, and don’t be in so much of a hurry that you put your helmet on backwards and have to stop and fix it, eating up like two minutes. Oops.

2. Swim in the front of the pack. They are short-sprinters as well and many of them first-timers. Your swimming ability is better than many of them – just watch where people are kicking.

3. Train for the bike better. Do several 10-mile jaunts with some hills where you really push it. Then 7 miles will feel easy.

4. Do more bike-->runs (outdoors, on a real bike). In my training I had done a few swim-->bikes and one swim-->bike-->Run, but not enough practice with bike-->runs. I need to figure out how to regulate my breathing for the long haul, and it may just be an endurance/practice issue.

5. To prepare for Eagle Lake, I ran through all the triathlon distances once at the gym. I did it in 45 minutes – which just goes to show how unlike real running and biking is compared to gym biking and treadmill running. The week before Niles, I will run through all the triathlon distances outdoors, so it’s more like the real thing.

And a tip for others if you are considering your first triathlon: Anyone can do this.

There were 14-year old kids doing the short sprint with their parents! Triathlon people are this amazing group of great people who come together to do something fun and healthy for a good cause. They will welcome you. I know I complained about slow swimmers, but it wasn’t their fault. It was my mistake for waiting and underestimating myself. I passed one swimmer that was on her back and panting and she still found time to say “good job” to me as I passed her. I thought it was weird, until it happened again … Another struggling biker that I passed said “great job, keep it up.”

I am going to pass on that warmth and say those kind words to others next time. This is an amazing group of people, and I was so glad to be part of that group. Plus, triathlons give you a reason for your workouts. Working out with no end goal in mind gets really boring. Having something to work towards makes it all worth it!

Kyle is already trying to get me to do the regular-length triathlon. It’s not going to happen next year, but it’s definitely in my future!