I AM A TRIATHLETE!!
The Danskin women's triathlon was this weekend and it was awesome! It was a sprint Tri so it consisted of a 1/2 mile swim, 12 mile bike ride, and 5k run. I knew going in that the swim would be my weakest event and the bike would be my strongest. Sure enough, on race day I was the third slowest swimmer in my wave, and the slowest swimmer that wasn't using a water noodle as a floatation device. My motto the whole swim was "slow and steady wins the race - I am the tortoise not the hare." I knew as long as I could keep swimming that soon enough it would be over and I could get on with biking. It was hard and took me 32 minutes, but I swam the entire time without stopping to rest and finally was finished!
Next came the biking. I love to bike and had trained by going for bike rides around Seattle and biking to work. There are lots of gradual hills on my typical bike route which paid off big time on race day. When I hit the gradual hills on the race course I passed women going uphill, and felt a little proud knowing I was catching up with those who had passed me in the swim.
During the bike ride I remember cruising up a hill and realizing that it was challenging, but it wasn't really THAT hard. I thought to myself, "Hey, I can do this!" I remember being so proud of my body for rising to the occasion. I felt strong, capable, and alive. And that is really what the whole point of doing the Danskin was. I have friends who had done it in the past and they told me what an empowering experience it was. There is a sisterhood of women young and old, fit and overweight, of every shape, size, and ethnicity who come together for this event. All along the race course we encouraged and high fived one another, sharing in our successes and motivating each other when things got hard.
I felt this attitude of encouragement most strongly in the run portion of the Tri. There was a large portion where the runners ahead had turned around and doubled back toward the finish line, and all along where we passed each other women were smiling, cheering, and calling out words of encouragement. These positive words kept me going and even though I ran slowly, I ran the entire 5k. I even finished with a time that was comparable to the last 5K I ran in March - and that was without swimming and biking beforehand!
The greatest things I took from this experience were a renewed respect and appreciation for my body and for the power of the sisterhood of women. Why does it take an event as extreme as a triathlon to encourage a stranger? We should be acting like this toward one another more often in daily life. It's amazing the impact a smile or a kind word can have.
Also, after months of working out hard, training, and struggling with weight loss, it was truly amazing for me to push my body to the limits and see what it was capable of. I was very scared when I signed up, especially of the swimming part. But I knew that my body has been gaining strength and it was so rewarding to fully realize just how strong I've become over the past several months. I encourage anyone to sign up for something like this to test yourself a bit. It doesn't have to be a triathlon. Maybe a 5k walk is a better place to start. For me, having this event looming out there in the future really helped me stay on track with my exercise and diet regimen.
Speaking of diet, this is also the first event I've participated in where digestive issues did not come into play. Since I've been doing a much better job of really sticking to the diet and not cheating, I felt whole and healthy the day of the race. I didn't have any bloating/cramping/nausea, etc, which was AWESOME, since it allowed me to just focus on doing my best instead of waiting in line for the restroom.
I had packed my supply of no starch snacks for the race, which included 2 fruit leathers, dried blueberries, and raw almonds. On race day I ate two scrambled eggs for breakfast and then ate a fruit leather about 30 minutes before the race, and that was enough to sustain me. I didn't even need the nuts or berries.
The whole thing took me two hours and nine minutes. The swim took me 32 minutes, I took 9 minutes to transition to biking, biking took me 47, I took 5 minutes to transition, and I ran in 35 minutes. At the end I was exhausted but incredibly proud of myself. For the rest of my life I can say I'm a triathlete, and I feel pretty damned accomplished.
For any of you thinking you can't do a triathlon, know that I felt that way too. If you are considering signing up, here are some things I've learned along the way:
-The Danskin has lifeguards in kayaks lining the entire swim course. You can stop and hang on to a kayak to rest at any time, for as long as you need.
-They also have "swim angels" who will swim with you if you're nervous, and even loan you a water noodle if you want. I was a bit nervous and asked if a swim angel would swim with me. She encouraged me when I got tired and made me laugh when I was splashed in the face by other swimmers. She even tried to protect me from the next wave of swimmers that came into the water after my wave. It was really reassuring having her there.
-Training is HUGE. When I signed up I couldn't even swim one lap at the pool without taking a break to hang on to the wall and catch my breath, and I was seriously nervous about being in deep water where I couldn't stand up if I wanted to. I practiced first at the pool with a kick board to increase my stamina, then did pool laps, then switched to open water swimming. The open water swimming was really helpful for me, since I had already gotten scared and out of breath, had water up my nose, coughed, sputtered, and recovered while being unable to touch the ground. This increased my confidence so much on race day since I knew I could calm myself down and keep swimming even if something happened.
-I rented a wetsuit for the Tri and I'm so glad I did, as it helped keep me more buoyant. I didn't need it as much for the warmth factor since the sun came out for the race and the temperature got into the mid 80's, but feeling more buoyant increased my confidence.
-As I mentioned before, training on hills with the bike was also incredibly helpful. There was one hill towards the end of the run that was pretty rough, so I would train a bit on running hills if you're thinking of doing any sort of competitive run.
-Hydration is key. I got a race belt with a water bottle when I did the Rock n Roll 1/2 marathon last year, and I used it again for the Tri. I put my water in the freezer the night before so it would be nice and cold on race day. I also found an electrolyte tablet called Nuun that didn't contain any starch, and that was helpful since I get really sweaty when I exercise.
-Figure out the route ahead of time. When I dropped off my bike I practiced walking from where I would get out of the swim back to where my bike was, which was helpful. However I didn't find out where the run started, and I wasted several minutes wandering around and asking people where to go.
-Get your race number in advance. If I had done this, I wouldn't have had to stand in line for an hour to pick up my packet the day before the race.
-Plan ahead and bring a snack. Events are challenging both physically and mentally and it's important to fuel yourself accordingly.
-Believe in yourself. If you've trained and prepared, you can do it. You might even surprise yourself with what you're capable of.