I don't think I've ever shared this race report here, as it was from back in 2003, my frist triathlon experience. It was pre-weight loss surgery and pre any notion I would want to continue with triathlons and one day complete a full Ironman.
The Birth of Team "Tri Divas"
Courtney, Alana and I met through Weight Watchers. I suppose by now, it’s almost 10 years ago. Each of us have weight-loss goals we have been working towards obtaining, but since losing weight was not our only goal, we wanted to be fit as well, we all started doing different types of physically demanding athletics. Our level of activity was something that we all had in common.
I decided, when my weight loss seemed to slow down tremendously at 260 lbs. with a long way yet to go, I needed a new challenge to focus on. I decided on the Danskin Triathlon. This was something even a beginner, who could dedicate at least 6 weeks of training time, could complete – or so the write-up implied.
I mentioned the event to Courtney. She thought it was a terrific idea. She and her best friend Alana both decided to dedicate themselves to doing it. Well, as things would turnout, life got in the way. Since training obviously was not a priority for all of us, January became February, and February became March. Time was escaping us, and tensions were high. None of us wanted to say that we couldn’t do it.
Courtney came up with the idea for the relay team. I didn’t even know you could do it as a relay team. This would be the perfect answer for us. It would give us a great first-time experience, and allow us to see what it was all about.
So it was decided. The next day, Courtney created and registered, officially, team Tri-Divas. There was no getting out of it now. We were committed.
The Day We’d Been Waiting For...
After getting to bed later than we hoped on Saturday night, we woke at 4:30 am to set-off on our challenge. I was really nervous, as was Courtney and Alana.
We nibbled on some protein bars, just to get something in our stomachs, and headed towards the course. By the time we parked, shuttled, and got to the transition area, there was already a flurry of activity. The sun was just coming up over the lake, and the waters looked calm. It was beautiful at 72 degrees with a slight breeze. We dropped our bags in the transition area and checked out the scene.
I really thought I would stick out like a sore thumb, given my size. Not the case at all. There were women who are larger, smaller, fit and less fit; all kinds were there. Really, the only really "triathlete" looking women were the Elite class, who compete in these things for a living. So, suffice it to say, I became more comfortable with my body, in less time than I thought I would.
Eventually the waves of participants were being launched. We were the second to last wave to go (out of 25 waves, I think). Each wave had 100 women in it, so the water filled with swimmers quickly. The first swimmer exited the water, completing her .75k in about 17 minutes. The support shown by the spectators was so amazing. As mothers finished the swim leg, an exited the lake, their children were rooting them on and their husbands were professing their love, running along side them up the hill to the transition area. When the team Teen Survivors (teenagers surviving breast cancer) started exiting the water I got the chills. Here I was taking on this challenge. Knowing what it meant to me, I couldn’t begin to fathom how they were feeling that moment.
I couldn't watch Alana start the swim, as I had to go get my bike setup. I had yet to pump my tires and get my gear together at the bike rack. My nerves were really bad by this time. They had blocked entry to the transition area (where my bike was) until 8:15, so I couldn't get back in. With Alana launching at 8:25, I was concerned I wasn't going to be ready to make the transition.
Alana completed the swim in less than 40 minutes. A totally amazing feat, as the winds had picked up tremendously and made the water choppy, to the point that it was white-capping. Couple that with the fact she had never swam in open water, let alone in this type of event! As I saw her come into the transition area, my adrenaline was pumping. I was so motivated by her accomplishment.
We exchanged the chip, and I was on my way. I was so worried I was going to do something stupid, like not being able to get clicked into my pedals, while hundreds of people were watching. Thankfully nothing like that happened. Although after I made the first turn from the start line, my athletic bra (a full body tank) rolled up over my stomach and took my jersey with it. An awful site for the spectators, oh well! Needless to say, I noticed the breeze and fixed it. Just my luck to the most loathed part of my body hanging out for the world to see. Ugh!
This ride was the biggest challenge of all my rides. If the high winds weren't coming right at me, they were moving across me. It was difficult to keep a slow, steady pace when folks were passing me right and left. I knew that in order to finish, that was what I was going to have to do, use my energy wisely and conservatively.
While huffing and puffing up a hill, I kept my sense of humor. A volunteer, riding a mountain bike with a fully-loaded backpack of repair gear, seemed to pass me effortlessly. I yelled to him, between breaths, “Do you think you make that look a little more difficult? Just look like you’re struggling, for me? Okay?” He laughed and said while he pointed to the backpack, “but I have all this!” I just shook my head and laughed. It actually helped to get my mind off the current incline I was challenging.
After about 4 or 5 miles into the course, I started passing folks who had previously passed me. Conserving my energy was now paying off, and that started to build my confidence. I had a few moments where I just knew I had used the gears precisely as I should have. It was as if, for a moment, I was an expert rider. I was able to make excellent use of the downhill momentum. It felt so good to get it right. I really felt like an athlete.
At the half-way point, the watering station was asking, "Drink it, or wear it!?" I chose to wear it. The volunteer drenched my chest with a cup filled with cold water. It was so refreshing. I felt amazingly reenergized. I knew at this point I had two large hills ahead of me, before I got to the last, and largest hill of them all. These next two hills had me going speeds of over 30 mph on my practice rides. I knew I would need to maneuver them conservatively in order to have anything left for the big one.
Going down the side of the second of the two, I was now staring at the largest, and last, hill in front of me. I heard the cheers of the 5Kr's, running along the perimeter of the park, rooting me on. I wanted to root for them in return, but I couldn't yell back as I was out of breath, so I left them with a thumbs-up. I was stroking as hard as I could, wishing I could keep my breathing as steady as I was managing to keep cadence. The hill was so steep; I could feel my quads quivering with every stroke. A volunteer began rooting me on, "You're almost there... keep that angry rhythm going!" I was angry and it was obvious. This hill beat me each time in practice runs. I didn't want to get off the bike and walk it. I was grunting and cursing the wind with every pump my legs made. 15 to 20 feet from the top of the hill I had to get off and walk. I was mad, but not nearly as defeated I had felt during my practice rides, because this was the furthest up the hill I had ever made it, and I realized that immediately. Even though I felt that given the challenge the wind presented, this would be my worst time. I was okay with it -- I knew it was the hardest of my previous runs there.
While walking up the hill there was another woman walking feeling about as bad as I was. I yelled to her, “Come on, let’s ride!” We both got on and got back to the business of riding. We made the second-to-last turn into the park together, and were now on what starts out as a flat road. My legs recovered a bit and I was on my way, picking up speed. I felt bad leaving her behind, but knew we helped each other get going again. I made the final turn, and could see the finish line on the top of what is the most deceiving hill of them all. It doesn't look like much, but after doing rest of the course, this hill may as well be as large as the tallest and steepest hill of the course.
I was determined to not get off my bike, as I had in all my practice runs when I’d walk back to my car. Not today, damn it! I was riding right to the dismount line. I grit my teeth and starting grunting again. I came in like I meant it! I got to the dismount line and crossed the finish line, completing the 20k in 1:09. I was crying, trying to drink water and gasping for breath all at the same time. Later I would find out that 1:09 was my best time on the course ever – improving my time by over 20 minutes from my last ride!
Courtney and Alana came running up to me to see if I was okay and to make the transition – good thing too, because I wasn’t even thinking about the chip at that point! I couldn't even talk. I raised my leg and motioned to them to take the timing chip. I told them, "Go, go, go!!!" After they made sure I was okay, they were on their way. As I walked to my bike back to the rack, people were rooting for me, "Good job!" "Great finish!" It felt so good.
Still crying because I couldn’t believe that I finished, I got back my spot, racked my bike and started to recover. Next to my rack sat this seventy-something year old woman. She asked me if I was okay. I told her I was fine, just that I was so happy to have done it. She told me that she had just completed the 5K portion of the tri with her two daughters who were about my age. To top it off, she was a breast cancer survivor. She told me her story. I told her, she was my hero. They had just finished in 2:12. I shared with her our team’s story, how we met, how much weight we lost, and she said, “Now don’t make me cry!” We settled on being each other’s hero for the day.
The sun was getting hotter and hotter and the storm was getting closer to the lake. I drank some water, ate and apple, and recovered. Then I went to find Courtney and Alana on the 5K course. They were moving fast, because I went to one of the checkpoints, where I thought for sure they’d turn up, and they were no where to be found. I knew that Courtney was feeling like she had less of a challenge than Alana and I had, simply because she had done 5K’s before. But the wind, which had picked up even more by now, and the terrain presented just as much of a challenge for her as it did for us. I knew she would take on the challenge, in the exact way she takes on everything! I walked the course backwards from the finish to find them, and I did. They were just coming up the last big hill. We walked the last 1/4 mile together. The closer we got to the finish line, the more cheers were heard from the spectators. They announced our team name, and our individual names, and awarded us medals around our neck. Never did a piece of metal mean so much.
On the back of the medal is an inscription, "The woman who starts the race is not the same woman who finishes the race.", better and truer words could not have been inscribed in its place.
I am not the same woman I was before. I believe fully, we are stronger than we feel, and braver than we ever could imagine we would be. Do not ever underestimate the power of belief.