The noise was low, but enough to draw my eyes open, albeit slowly. It was light out, though it was that soft morning light, the kind that is the most peaceful and nourishing and quiet. It’s often missed by everyone except the earliest of risers. Which definitely does not include me.
Paul turned the alarm off and rolled out of bed. He has been nothing but supportive while I stole time away from him and the kids and my GENERAL RESPONSIBILITIES to train for this, and today, it all culminates. Except it’s all still shrouded in that murky cloud of Future, where you aren’t quite sure which way the cards are going to land, but you are positive that they will definitely be played. I could hear the coffee beans being ground, and the eggs start to sizzle. I wonder for a moment how humans actually do this, get up early and just jump into their day. But my mind quickly buzzes over to what lays ahead of me, the reason for the ridiculously early wake up call.
Today is the triathlon.
I stare at our broken ceiling fixture, watching the fan spin around its useless lightbulbs, and I replay the scenes that kept me up most of the night. Though pretty boring in nature, with no impending doom or anything going terribly wrong, these visions still plant a heavy seed deep in my belly, which is starting to grow its roots up into my chest. I blink. Once. Twice. Three times. And assured that I can still make my body move the way I want it to move, I crawl over, slide out of bed, and head to the bathroom where I have my outfit laid out.
When I get downstairs, the coffee is ready and the eggs are being slid onto my plate. I murmur my thanks, quieted not by sleep but by nerves. I eat methodically, knowing that this food will fuel me, but also with a deep understanding that it will also cause my stomach some heartache, because she is a fickle thing who likes to be empty when the butterflies take flight. I glance at the tattoos running down my arms, my identity for the day, number 1330. This will be my name for the entirety of the race, along with BIKER, RUNNER, and SWIMMER. I let my new person embrace this, let her understand that today she is an athlete, that today she can do this because of the hours in the pool, the miles on the bike, and the many routes on the trails, willing my knee to just make it one more mile. Today she is ready.
Too quickly, I am done with my breakfast and it’s time to go. I put my shoes on, give Paul a quick kiss, and head for the back door, my stomach in my throat. Paul calls me back, and in one of those moments that will shine in our marriage, asks if he can pray for me. I melt into his arms, and let his tentative prayer sweep over me. I know that he had probably been dwelling on that question all morning, probably just as nervous for it as I was for the race. That makes it sweeter, and sends it straight to the part of my heart that he nestled into almost 11 years ago. I leave with my head up, my stomach firmly placed back where it should be.
I can do this.
I find a parking spot easily, which surprises me. I gather my bag of everything I need (or so I think) and head towards the transition area, where my bike is already waiting for me. I go straight to my spot, worried that, despite having almost an hour before the transition area closes, I somehow won’t have enough time to set up my area. Not surprisingly, I find it’s plenty of time, as all I have is a towel, my running shoes and sock, my helmet and a hat and a pair of sunglasses. I lay them out quickly, and as I sat staring at it, wondering why my pile looked like a kindergartener’s attempt at adulthood (probably the spiderman towel), I glanced at my bike and my stomach dropped. I forgot to grab my water bottle on the way out, and it was promising to be warm enough where water on the 15 mile bike ride would be essential. Paul and the kids were coming, but not before transition closed. I walked out to the vendors and found one (for only TEN DOLLARS). As I tucked it into my bike, I realized that I also forgot to tape my knee before I left, and since the KT tape was pretty essential to my knee staying in place while I ran, I quickly shot Paul a text to bring it and then left my phone with the rest of my belongings. I left transition, sporting a huge 33 on the back of my calf, so women my age could know I was their competition. That was the reason that was given to me, and it still makes me chuckle thinking about. WATCH OUT, SUPER FIT ACTUAL ATHLETES.
I headed straight for the beach, thinking it would be fun to see the first waves go, and because I was barefoot, the sand seemed like a great idea. I was focusing on not running into the Very Fit People that were zipping about, so I was pretty close to the water before I actually looked up.
This was the first time I had seen the buoys in the water.
And they were about three times farther away than I had expected them to be.
My stomach immediately knotted, sending a bubble up, into and through my esophagus, where it gathered momentum and despair, until it popped out of my mouth in an audible “I can’t do this.”
I said it to no one, but only because no one was standing near me. “I can’t do this,“ I mumbled again.
A funny thing happens when you voice a fear. It becomes a tangible thing. Normally, we don’t let our fears come out as audible things. We trap them inside, causing them to roll around in our heads for what can be AGES, getting bigger and picking up speed.
So it was a blessing that this fear caught me off guard. I did not expect this particular strain of fear to arrive, as I was solely focused on it just being HARD. But actually believing that I would not be physically able to complete the race surprised me. And so I had no time to trap it inside.
I stood there, my feet sunk in the sand, literally and metaphorically, staring at the buoys, and at my Fear, sliding in and around them, waving at me from across the lake, cupping its hands and yelling YOU WILL NEVER MAKE IT HERE. YOU HAVEN’T TRAINED ENOUGH. YOU ARE NOT STRONG ENOUGH. YOU ARE GOING TO FAIL.
I let it yell for probably 20 minutes, all the while doing my best to see this fear as a physical REAL thing. I started slowly at first, quietly, just in my head. I will finish. I can do this. After that felt ok, I tried it in a whisper, “I will finish. I can do this.” That made me tear up, so I went back to just in my head for a while.
I will finish.
I can do this.
I had no phone to call my allies, my People who would surely bolster my resolve and remind me of my own strength. I knew that I had to be the one to talk this fear down.
I will finish.
I can do this.
It took about an hour, but I was eventually able to say it out loud. And the more I said it, the more I believed it. I let the words that people spoke to me in the last few days slide back into my memory.
I trained for this.
Slow and steady.
One step at a time.
I closed my eyes and said a quick prayer that I would be able to find a friend that I had been training with amongst the ever growing crowd. Not two minutes later, I spotted her walking towards me, and tears immediately sprung to my eyes.
We hugged and spent the rest of the morning watching the first few waves make their splash into the water, and then fly onto their bikes, running barefoot out of transition, hopping onto their bikes and into their shoes in one quick motion.
About 30 minutes before the race, I spotted Paul and the kids, and while I taped my knee, I let the fact that they were THERE wash over me. I could do this.
Finally, it was time. I saw my wave number get raised up into the air, signaling it was time to line up. I was part of a group of first-timers, all of us competing in our first triathlon. I was definitely on the… fluffier side of most of these Otherwise-Athletes, and tried not to focus on the fact that I was one of two that did not have a wetsuit. The rest of the group started doing that thing where you hang back because you don’t really want to be first but you also have to shuffle forward because the line is moving up, so I volunteered to be the first of our group to take off, not really out of bravery, but more out of LET’S JUST BANDAID THIS mentality.
I held my fist up to the man who was letting us in, two by two, our Noah to our flood, and glanced back at the kids, who were excitedly yelling for me behind the fence.
He dropped his fist, and into the water I went.
to be continued…
Find part 2 HERE!