Yesterday, I celebrated our Country’s Independence by participating in the Freedom Springs Triathlon, just a short hour drive West of my hometown.
First of all, I must give you a little background of why this was so epically terrifying to me, but also more than that about overcoming those fears and finishing.
At age five, I was a wee ginger in a big adult pool that loved the water, but did not know yet how to swim. My non-swimmer way of enjoying the water was holding onto the side of the pool and bouncing my way around the outer areas including the deep end. On a sunny summer afternoon while enjoying “my way” of the pool my hands slipped off the edge and the next thing I remember was waking up to a lot of people over me and big eyes of relief that I was breathing. That moment instilled more than four years of terrifying fear of the water into me. As a self-proclaimed tomboy growing up, not being able to swim, but more than that, fearing the water was simply something I had to face head on and finally did by about age eight in a family pool with a very patient uncle. He endured endless hours of panic, screaming and all out fear, but by the end of the day he had me swimming under water no longer fearing that I would drown. It was as the old cliché says, A GOOD DAY!
So with that said, here’s my recap of the Freedom Springs Triathlon, my first Sprint Triathlon completed on July 4th, 2013 in Marianna, FL where I FACED my biggest fear, the SWIM, head on.
More than four weeks ago one of our close friends came into my office and asked me to participate with him in his first Triathlon. With a lot of hesitation, I inquired about details but mostly how far you have to swim. When he responded with just a quarter-mile, I thought to myself, that’s doable and worth giving a shot! Later that morning he forwarded the details of the race which would happen to be only four weeks away at that point. I thought to myself, is four weeks really enough time? Not being a strong swimmer, I knew that the swim would be my biggest part to conquer. I reached out to several people who are in my circle of runners and inquired about the whole process, but most of all the swim. I got a resounding, YOU CAN TOTALLY DO IT!, and I decided then to just go for it.
The bike and run part I knew would be no problem for me except for fatigue, especially after exerting so much mental energy getting through the swim. I have really enjoyed my spinning classes over the past year and gained a lot of “get up that hill” knowledge from my friend and spin instructor, Shannon. I also gained a lot of focused running insight from my awesome running partner, Tammy. Keeping in tune with your body and knowing your limits on the run, she was right there with me on those last 3 miles in spirit and Shannon on the bike telling me to GET UP THAT HILL and get to that finish line! So there it was, my hurdle, I had to focus on just getting in the water for the four weeks and getting slow laps in, which I actually did with a kick board at my local fitness center.
The weeks began to pass quickly and my friend came in several times and asked me how training was going and I responded with the typical, “it’s going good, how about you??” His response, I did 40 laps yesterday. But I must say he is a swimmer and was worried more about the bike and the run part of the race. The last week before the race his last response was, “I know you’ll smoke me at the bike and the run, but I got the swim hands down!”
So the day before my triathlon, my wonderful hubby Harley met me at a local bike shop where he purchased my beautiful blue TREK Marlin. Here’s a shot of my girl at the store!
The morning of the race, I was picked up by my friend Ken about 5:45 so we would have time to get over to the Park and setup. Needless to say, after almost going into Georgia, we needed that extra time and finally arrived at the Park about 30 minutes before the race began. YIKES! Ken’s response, “I didn’t want you to have to look at that water for so long”, he really knows how to help a girl out!
We checked in and headed up to drop our bikes at the transition station and then back down to the water for the start line. I had emailed and messaged with my friend and fellow runner, Jennifer weeks before and she met me at the edge of the water where we slipped into our wetsuits. Much needed and welcomed in that 60 degree dark spring water that awaited us. We stood and talked about the swim and the fact that I had not “mastered” the swim yet and was feeling pretty uneasy about the quarter-mile. Jen comforted me with the reassurance that she would stay right there with me if I wanted her to and recommended that I just stay on my back to prevent panic. WONDERFUL ADVICE this proved to be!
We were summoned to the start line which was just past the dock area of the swimming area of the Spring. I immediately began to have a small panic attack, but remembered that I just have to finish the swim, no mater what it takes and no matter how I get there or how long it takes. Jen stayed true to her word and swam slowly right along side me constantly asking how I was doing and if I needed to stop and rest. Not seeing how much farther I had to go I think is what actually got me through the swim part without panic and having Jen there to support me meant more than I can even begin to express in words to you. Getting around the turnaround buoy I knew that I had this, I just needed get to the swim finish and out of the water and the biggest challenge of my race would be behind me, which I totally did and I was not even the last one out of the water!!
Getting out of the water and my wetsuit, Jen said, “ok, time to pick it up” which we made our way to the transition area in the pouring rain and I quickly slipped on my tank top over my TRI top and clipped on my Fuel Belt that had my bib. I didn’t take the extra time that I should have to properly clean off my feet and put on my socks. Instead I wiped them off barely and slipped into my running shoes, clipped on my helmet, slipped my gloves on that my hubby loaned me and off I went for the 10 mile bike ride part.
Biking, my favorite part of the triathlon, hands down! I hopped on my bike and turned on my Nike GPS watch so I would know how far I had left to pedal through the 10-mile part of the triathlon. I made my way to the beginning of a long country road that I was able to soak in as I pedaled along. Beginning my bike part I didn’t even care how many people would pass me or how long it would take, I just wanted to soak it in. After mile three I got in my groove and approached my first group of fellow cyclers and passed them. It was nice to be competing with people who had a smile on their face and words of encouragement along the way. I rounded the corner to the turnaround part and saw someone already walking their bike back, she had thrown a chain and had not spare or tools to fix it. I thought, wow, that could totally be me. I turned around and had made really great time, not that time was my focus. I seemed to be maintaining about a 3:20 mile pace on my bike even with the slight rolling hills we had and it felt wonderful! As I made my way back and I was at mile seven, I passed another triathlete and her partner on the side of the road and asked if she was ok and realized she was in “melt-down” and kept trucking forward. With 2 miles left on my cycle ride I began to think, you’ve pushed your legs and that run is gonna be TOUGH! Did I mention it was also pouring rain on us the whole race?
I rounded the corner back to the transition area and dumped my helmet and placed my bike back into the bike rack and off I went to the run. I topped the hill and made the turn for the 3 mile out and back course down a muddy dirt road. UGH!!! Yeah, I thought about the fact that I was grateful I had chosen to wear one of my older mileage shoes when I started that run. I began to see some familiar faces on the run right away, Jen, who is an awesome female triathlete passed me with a high-five and words of encouragement and a smile and others that I did not even know kept encouraging me along the way. Approaching the final hill to the turnaround point I finally saw my friend Ken, who also gave me some encouraging words and a high-five along with the information that the turnaround was just ahead. I was just so proud to see him kicking butt (Did I mention he’s a “big boy”? I was so proud of my friend I got teary!) on the race that the fact the turnaround point was ahead did not even matter to me.
As I topped the hill I began to feel a lot of pain in my right foot. The choice to not take the time and clean my feet properly and put my socks on . . . . BIG MISTAKE! As I approached the turnaround a water station was in sight and I hydrated and asked if I could use a cup to clean off my feet (which didn’t help). I began to make my way back to the finish line and realized that I had made a huge mistake and now I had an injury to deal with. Huge abrasion blister on my right foot that was getting worse by the minute. In a moment of thinking ahead to the next week I decided THE SHOES ARE COMING OFF! I assessed the muddy road and didn’t see a lot of garbage or glass around, if any, and felt confident that I could totally run that last mile and a half to the finish line sans my shoes! I took them off, tucked them snugly under my arms and off I went. Still passing runners, who at this point were amazed that I had removed my shoes, shouted out, “WHATEVER IT TAKES TO FINISH!” and that is just what I was thinking. I was not allowing anything, much less a poor decision in transition, to stop me from finishing this race! Pouring buckets of rain fell, sometimes so much that I could barely see that far in front of me, my contacts began to bother me. I thought to myself, “REALLY, I’m going to have to dump them too!?!” But I did not have to.
As I approached the pavement and the final stretch to the finish line, I had a second of forethought that this was gonna hurt and decided to just keep pushing forward. I will finish this race set before me! I passed two women on the final stretch to the finish and saw my friend Jen at the finish line waiting for me along with Ken and one of my other co-workers that came out to support us in the pouring rain. It was an awesome SOAKING finish to an epic day of learning. That’s me, the barefoot Ginger at the finish line with Jen (far left) and our fellow TRI Mama, Shanin.
So what did I get out of this new-to-me beast they call the TRIATHLON!?!
- TRAIN, train your A$$ off. Put in the time and if you still are not confident in any part of the series make a backup plan like I did with the wetsuit and swimming on my back!
- Find a support system. Having many of my fellow Moms RUN This Town Mamas in my corner encouraging me and reassuring me that I CAN do this made even the toughest portions of my first Triathlon totally doable in my mind! NEVER let ANYONE tell you that you can’t do it! To me that just gives me more determination to prove them wrong!
- Listen to your body! If I had not removed my shoes and ran barefooted for the last mile and a half of the triathlon I would not have been able to finish, much less continue training in the coming weeks. Foot injuries are no joke for a runner!
- ENJOY EVERY SECOND. I smiled and enjoyed every single second of this Triathlon. I removed the “Just a Sprint” from my mind and realized, no matter the distance of this race, I AM a triathlete now!
- Take something from it and grow. This triathlon showed me something about myself and my look towards my future. It showed me that more than anything I want to be an athlete again! I want to face each day of training with the knowledge that only I hold myself back and NO ONE can ever stop you from attaining your dreams if you don’t let them!
I don’t know what my official time was for my first Triathlon yet, and frankly I DON’T CARE! The only thing I care about is that I did it. I went out there and I did something that I was afraid of more than anything and I finished! I am already looking to my next race to sign up for! My suggestion to you, do something that scares you to death just to show yourself that you CAN!