In the late winter of 2004, I was sitting at a bar with my best friend after work. She looked at me really seriously and said, “I want to do a triathlon. Do it with me!” I looked at her like she had 3 arms coming out of her forehead. “A what?” “A triathlon! It’s where you swim, bike, then run!”
At this point in my life, I rode my bike instead of driving most of the time. I swam (poorly) in high school. And I had no doubt that I could walk a 5k. Wait. How far was a 5k? 3 miles? Oh yeah. No problem. I could TOTALLY walk that. I slammed my shot of whiskey, took a drag of my cancer stick, and said, “F**k it. Let’s do it.”
So we registered for the 2004 Danskin Sprint Triathlon, an all women’s tri that was 750 m swim, 12.5 mile bike, and - of course - the 5k that I was probably gonna walk anyway. Over the next few months, my friend trained and prepped. I… did not. Race day came around, and I showed up, completely unprepared. My friend? She got stuck doing inventory at her work and couldn’t make it. (This broke her heart! It was another 6 years or so before she finally got to do her first tri!)
That morning, I was surrounded by 2,500 women who all looked like they had a pretty good idea of what they were doing. I didn’t know a single soul out there. No one came with me. It was just me and my bag of stuff. I watched as the more experienced women racked their bikes and set up their transition. I threw all my stuff in a pile and grabbed my swim cap and goggles and wandered off toward the water. I wasn’t nervous exactly. I mean you have to have some kind of actual goal for you to be nervous, right? It was more along the lines of, “well, I’m sure I can pull this off… so let’s just get on with it.”
I remember right before the gun went off, treading water in my wave of 100 women and thinking to myself, “this is probably the stupidest thing I’ve done in a long, long time.” And then the washing machine of 99 other pairs of legs and arms flailing around me. The water was a roiling mess, and I put my head down and got to work. It had been so long since I had swum (and I wasn’t a great swimmer to begin with) that my body had ZERO idea what I was trying to force it to do. But some way, some how, I managed to get through that swim and magically found myself back on the shore.
I found my bike again in transition and sat down to recover from my first swim since high school. I was pooped. My arms were noodles. It turns out, 750 m is REALLY, REALLY FAR when you haven’t trained for it! So I sat and had a snack. Then, put on my tee shirt that had my bib on it, my tennis shoes, my camel back, my gloves, helmet, sunglass, shoved a half a sandwich in my bag… pretty much I had ALL the equipment you might need for - say - a cross country trek… and headed out of transition 8 minutes later.
I was confident that the bike was going to be a cinch. I rode every day, all over Austin, to and from work and friends’ houses and bars and the grocery. I was a commuter. Biking was EASY. It never dawned on me that there would be HILLS on the course. The hills were hard, I do remember that, but really I was out there like I was on a leisurely cruise. I didn’t know to push myself, I just pedaled along and enjoyed the fact that it was a beautiful day. I remember getting half way up the biggest hill on the course, lungs exploding and heartbeat in my ears, and getting off my bike and walking. It was comforting to see that I wasn’t the only one. There is no shame in walking up a hill if you have to! At the top, I got back on my trusty steed, laughed at the ridiculousness of that hill, and kept on tralalalalala-ing my way back to the transition area again.
I racked my bike and dropped off all of my equipment and set off to walk the 5k. I high-fived every volunteer I saw and cheered on all the athletes that whizzed past me like they were flying. They were on a MISSION! I was not. I talked to everyone on the course, probably sang some songs, and just walked. Every aid station was a new experience for me (ice? Yes please! Gatorade? Absolutely! Water? I LOVE WATER!) With each passing minute, a grin grew bigger and bigger across my face. I still can’t exactly tell you why, maybe it was delirium, but there was just SO MUCH JOY out on that course. I walked at a good clip and managed to keep my pace around 15 minutes per mile. I felt GOOD! I felt STRONG! And after 2 hours and 25 minutes of relentless forward motion, I came upon the most beautiful sight ever: the finish line.
The tag line for this specific race was, “The woman who finishes the race is not the same that started the race,” and this was exactly true for me. What started as basically a dare in a smelly, smoky, dank bar turned into the beginning ofd a life-changing adventure. And while I was NOT prepared for the race, I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.
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