Earlier this month despite my most creative excuses (jellyfish and sharks are valid fears), DNF jokes and self-sabotage efforts, I finished the biggest race of my life to date: Galveston 70.3 Half-Ironman. Of course as I write this, I already know it won’t be the last tri or the longest because that’s the deal with us triathletes (wannabe or elite). We can’t stay away from a good challenge. Who else is seeking out and signing up for THREE sports in ONE race for fun? In the words of one of my favorite race signs: “Smile, you paid for this!” It’s true, except for the fact no amount of money can purchase the determination and grit it takes to show up and finish. It’s this exception that makes it all worth it. So in honor of Austin Tri Club, the only reason I felt brave enough to take on this race, I wanted to share a few of my most memorable lessons and stories.
If we fast forward past the nerves, cold toes and stomach jitters of earlier that morning, the swim was hands down my favorite part. All of sudden there were no fancy bikes, helmets and gear. Any pressure I felt from the check-in day before and comments on forums faded away. In a sea of wetsuits and brightly colored swim caps, we all looked the same. Then as we started moving up the dock, the anticipation and excitement in the air was almost tangible. It was infectious and in a curious way, also a little calming. I was ready to face whatever came next and when in doubt, I would just keep swimming (cue Finding Nemo Dory voice). For the first time all weekend, I knew I was meant to be there.
Then, we had to jump off the dock to get to the starting line. Maybe because I had my friend/mentor next to me or maybe it was Pitbull was blasting in the background, but either way, it felt like an adult summer camp and ironically enough the water was going to be warmer than standing outside.
I was joking about something as the buzzer went off - and then it began! Contrary to the spartan wars I had been warned about, our start was far nicer and polite than I expected. As we spaced out, I started to follow the wise “swim slower” advice. It felt ridiculous, but seemed to be working great. Apart from the brief moment when I swallowed too much sea water and wondered if the kayak closest to me was following me as a DNF candidate, the swim flew by and the moment I saw the final turn to shore is a moment I’ll never forget. Pretty sure I smiled underwater the rest of the way. I felt like I could do anything. Literally, “it is all downhill from here” was my mantra for the first 10 miles of the bike. While that was definitely not the case, I will never forget that swim.
Given that adrenaline rush, I am only half kidding when I say I felt like a pageant queen on the bike. Not to mention the miles of fans with signs and cowbells. They may not have been there for just me, but it didn’t matter. This atmosphere paired with some lucky nutrition choices kept me in high spirits (and still grinning) for much longer than I expected. So of course when I dropped my cute new pink water bottle (lesson #99) at mile 20, you bet I got off the bike and jogged back along a ditch for it. I wonderfully had no idea how much the cold wind on the way back would kick my butt.
Which brings us to… THE RUN. The infamous “run.” The ONLY part of the race that I foolishly did not joke about quitting. Now I “get it.” Yet as I somehow propelled my body forward out of transition on frozen toes, I was still very much in denial. With cookies at the first aid station and cheers from the Austin Tri Club tent, I enjoyed the distraction from the fact I was on lap one of three with 13 miles (the longest distance I’ve ever run) to go and burning quads. This instantly changed as I noticed a “Mile 9” sign not applicable me and could’ve sworn some faster runners were prancing. In an effort to refocus, I tried the “walk 30 seconds, run 1 minute” approach for the first lap. It was absolute torture every time I had to start moving again. Not to mention, my walking pace almost made me wonder if I was moving backwards. But if I unexpectedly killed the swim and somehow survived the bike, I had no excuse. With the adrenaline and fast runners gone in the final lap, it was just me. I don’t know if I’d describe it as disassociating or just simply turning off everything to focus on the next step but it worked. The second lap was a blur and by the third lap, it was pure momentum. It was in those final grueling miles,I knew I was finishing this race and silently begged myself to never do it again (LOL).
So in true competitive nature, I will be doing this again since I can’t quite say I’m a full IRONMAN. However, I won't be doing it to prove I'm finally a triathlete. I was a triathlete before I started the race in Galveston, even if I couldn't see it yet. I became a triathlete when I showed up for the Rookie Tri last year with my cheap Schwinn bike and soccer shorts. Just as the half-IRONMAN was significant longer, I had to face my insecurity, fear and anxiety alone when I showed up last year. I didn't have the community I have now, but I did have the drive in me and you do, too. It’s why I’m thrilled to be part of this club and look forward to having fun as we learn more about this sport together. PS, I'm happy to say I confidently mastered the clipless pedals, a week after the race.
This blog post is not sanctioned by the author as a trusted athletic resource or legitimate way to approach your next race. It’s simply an honest look of what it means to listen to the tiny piece in you that believes you’re capable of something seemingly impossible.
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