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How Hard Can A Triathlon Be, Said No One, Ever

July 9, 2013 7 comments

Taken in isolation, a 1500 meter swim isn’t hard. A 37 km bike ride is certainly not daunting. And a 10 km run? Please, I could do that in my sleep. Backwards.

So entering my first Olympic distance triathlon, I told myself, was nothing to write home about. (Sorry about that, mom.) It would be an interesting experiment, a way to celebrate my year of finally learning how to swim, Phelps style. (Because in my mind’s eye I swim just like him.) It would be – and I really thought this – easy.

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Get. This. Wetsuit. Off. Where is that cord?!

And what better place to spend a few hours splashing around than Squamish? Fresh from the running Whistler Half Marathon in early June, I put the Squamish Triathlon on my race calendar for early July, enabling me to wallow away the remainder of summer nights reliving my triumph over copious glasses of Pinot Grigio, until it was time to cheer on my (crazy dedicated) friend Chrissy and her (crazy dedicated) buddy Steph in the #Ironman late August. You know, a real triathlon. The big show. At which point the celebration would kick up a notch.

Typical me, I under-trained and paid the price. But you just never know until you try. So. Now I know.

Still, a very cool and gratifying experience, if heavy on set up time (and supposedly training time, who knew?). I balked when the website requested athletes be on site at 7 am despite a 9:30 am start, to set up transitions. My sleep requirements go way past the beauty, and verge on the sanity, so this threw me off. Unlike running races, there is no fall-out-of-bed-get-yo-ass-to-the-start.

And transitions remained a rather murky concept to me – what did I really need for each one? Towels, food, iPhone to text for help? I hated the thought of needing something I hadn’t thought to leave myself. What if I was bored out of my mind and craved music for my run? What if I needed a cheeseburger after the bike? Or a bed to rest in? What then?

I managed to figure it out by simply attaching myself to a couple that seriously looked the triathlete part (sculpted cheekbones and Oakley’s) and were so in love with each other that they didn’t notice me skulking around them the entire time. And beside them at each transition. Stalking has its advantages. I watched them hawk-eyed as they hung their bikes and carefully laid out a tiny towel on which to put their accessories. (Me: folded my beach towel to look tiny and placed socks and gels inside my shoes, just like the beautiful couple, then stealthily put my sandwich I’d prepared to the bottom of my bag before anyone noticed.)

There seemed to be a discrepancy as to wear a wetsuit or not, but when the charming ones donned theirs, I donned mine. I could use this duo in my everyday life. Decisions have never been so easy.

A fellow swimmer didn’t crack a smile when I asked him if he’d mind zipping me up – hard on my ego, but then those swim caps aren’t for everyone – but redeemed himself my giving me a few tips. And then I realized he was gay, so redemption all around! He encouraged me to get in that water and warm up so the start will be less biting, and to swim wide of the buoy markers to avoid the traffic jam. Noted.

My game plan was to hang back and swim wide of the chaos, in my own little world. And so I did, zigzagging myself towards buoys (sighting still not my strong point), and by the time I’d reached the second of the three turns, I started to get into my groove. Basically, just in time to get out of the water. Which would be the theme for the day.

So I made some mistakes. People flew out of transitions like they were on fire while I debated eating my Cliff bar. I had to stop and ask the crowd for directions on the bike, and asked a competitor, how many laps are we doing again? By the time I started the run (what were my words, in my sleep, backwards?), the relief I expected to feel (finally, my sport, this one I can do!) never came. Instead, just point me to the finish line please, I want this to be over.

That mouth is full of Cliff bar. Again.

That mouth is full of Cliff bar. Again.

And so with 1 km to go, and my legs finally beneath me and my stride lengthened at long last, I missed a pesky rock on the trail and took one on the chin. Literally. Sailed through the air and landed on my chin in front of two volunteers, shocking them out of their engaging conversation, in my best Jack Tripper imitation.

So there was that.

But also, there was this: Accomplishment. Pride. Sweat. Happiness. Triumph.

And the best part was that my two biggest cheerleaders, my girls (my oldest away with friends so MIA), were there every step of the way, and were more excited than myself when I finished.

Success, and love.

Still eating.

(Still eating.)

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