After getting through the swim, I felt a giddy bubble rising up, following the same trail as the fear bubble that came before it. I whispered, “I can do this” as I trudged up through the sand and onto the path that would take me to where my bike was lying in wait. I glanced around at the people standing on the beach, hearing several different tenors of “good job swimmer” as I passed. I didn’t see Paul and the kids, and felt a moments worth of disappointment. It would be hard for him to wrangle the kids for this, I knew that. I turned the corner, heading into a little S curve to get me into transition, and I saw them. Paul and the big kids, smiling and waving. Tears sprung to my eyes, quite like they are doing while I write this. I gave a small wave and carried on, filled up from just seeing them. As I ran around them, I heard a giant GOOD JOB MOM! I glance back and saw the Littlest sitting on a blanket, both thumbs shot into the air. I laughed, wiped my tears away, and ran through the arch.
I found my bike easily enough, as I was very near one of the corners. I grabbed my towel, flipping everything off of it in one clumsy motion. I wiped from my waist down and sat down on the pavement. I had borrowed my sons Spiderman towel, and I did my best to get the sand out from in between my toes quickly. It wasn’t pretty, and I had a hard time pulling my socks on, but it got done. My shoes went on quickly, and I stood up and finished putting my headband, helmet, and sunglasses on. The company that I work for, Young Living Essential Oils, had very graciously sent me a bike shirt, so I slid that over my tank top and zipped it up. I was ready.
I slid my bike back and off the rack, as it was held up by the tip of the seat, and took off towards the exit. I tried to run, because other people were somehow managing to run with their bikes, but after clipping my shins several times with the pedals, I let myself walk to the line taped on the ground, telling us that we can’t mount our bikes before that point. I had watched other people get on their bikes, running while they did it. I laughed to myself as I imagined myself trying that, and then took the safer option, pulling off to the side, and awkwardly getting on as is my norm.
I did it. I did the swim, and I’m on the bike.
The first mile was spent imagining how easy this portion would be. I did the most training on the bike, and had just biked double what I would have to do today the weekend before. This should be easy. I did a couple mental pats on the back, as actually trying to do that would probably end with me tumbling off of the bike. Good job, triathlete! You’re doing it!
Somewhere near the beginning, I saw a friend of mine standing on the sidewalk. She had not expected me so soon (but not because I am super fast, only because she had the race reversed in her head), and so we had quite the opposite interaction that I had anticipated, with me flying by her yelling HER name, watching her face go from confusion to recognition in the 20 seconds it took me to cross her path. It was perfect.
I quickly realized that this portion of the race was going to be a little harder than anticipated. There were subtle hills that left my legs tired without really understanding why, and because I was using a normal road bike and not one intended for actual speed, I was being passed by pretty much everyone. I took these opportunities to yell encouraging blips to them as they passed, which only felt awkward when they didn’t answer me, which didn’t happen often. I can say that it was pretty awesome to yell, GREAT JOB! KEEP GOING! to a man who was kitted out to the tens, hunched over on his bike with his alien helmet on, flying past me. As if they need my encouragement. But that’s kind of how it is… better to over-encourage, because sometimes I look like I have my stuff together when really all I need is a word of encouragement to keep the pieces glued together. So that’s what I did. I also started yelling out to all the mama’s I passed, who were there, I am assuming, to cheer on their spouses, trying to shepherd their Tiny Humans, keeping their curious wanderings off of the bike course. GOOD JOB MAMA! YOU HAVE THE HARDER JOB TODAY! Most of them would laugh and give a wave. It was glorious.
A little while into the bike I was thinking that I MUST be about halfway done… probably more than half way done, in fact. I probably only have, like, three miles left.
And then I passed the 5 mile marker. SO NOT HALFWAY DONE.
From that point, from that stupid sign with a 5 on it, it was all a mental game. I asked the officers who were standing outside their cruisers, blocking off the roads that normally spill onto what was now our race, if they could just go ahead and make the course flat next time. I found a couple who I played tag with for a few miles, each of us taking turns passing each other, me passing them going uphill, them passing me going downhill, until they took off and I didn’t see them again. I passed a biker who had just finished fixing a flat, and laughed as he told me that he went ahead and found the one pointy rock and got it off the course for the rest of us. I passed an older couple who had to be in their seventies, who were slowly but very steadily tackling a hill that was closer to the finish than I had thought at the time. I tried a few times to get my water bottle out… did you know how hard that is?? To get your water bottle out of its cage while you are going 15mph on a bike? I used to be able to coast down our street as a teenager, not holding on to the handles. I could even execute turns without touching them. It was amazing! And now I just about wipe out every time I take a hand off of the handle bars to grab my water.
At some point I saw the sweeper van (the van that follows the last biker and picks up people that need to drop out) go past me, heading towards the loop I had already done. I worried that it would catch me, and tried my best to remind myself that I am not worried about the time, only that I would finish.
As I rounded the last curve and reached the same taped line that had sent me on my way, I took a mental note of my body. Half of each of my hands was numb, which did not surprise me. My pinky toes were also gone, apparently, and my legs were tired. The muscles in between my shoulders and going up my neck were wrapped up in knots, and I would have given anything to have my chiropractor there to give me a quick snap. I was tired. The heat was taking its toll, and my whole body felt stretched and too loose.
One more part.
I awkwardly slid off of my bike and slowly made my way to my rack. I did not even try to run this time. I saw how many bikes were already back on the racks, and I tried not to worry about it. I’m not racing, I reminded myself. I’m not racing.
I found my spot and attempted to get my bike lifted back up. I tried for a few minutes, each time not even lifting my bike up a half inch. Between the crowded rack and my numb arms, it was quite literally impossible for me to lift my bike that much. I ended up having to ask another racer to help me, and she very sweetly lifted up the back wheel so we could slide the seat over the bar. I felt silly, and a little…. disappointed that I couldn’t heave it up on my own. It was becoming very apparent that somewhere down in the depths was a girl who very much wanted to be able to actually compete. As I switched my helmet for a hat, dropped my sunglasses, clipped on my number and took another swig of water, I had a moment with that girl. I clasped her hands, told her that we would finish, and then we would keep going. We would keep training, and she would keep getting stronger. That we would get better every time. And that even though she very well could finish last, that she was a BADASS for doing this. That she was so brave for attempting something that was scary, and that any movement at all is better than being stagnant.
I walked from my bike to the exit, and when I heard my time chip beep as I passed whatever system they use to keep track of us, I started off at a slow clip, trotting towards the lake and into the last part of the race.
Pretty much immediately after starting my run, both my tank top and my bike shirt slid up and rested at the top of my shorts, making that super awkward bump… you know the one… where your belly pooch is being held tight by spandex, but it cuts off right over your belly button…. It’s always nice when you can keep that baby covered, but my tank top was also spandex, and my bike shirt was also slippery, and there was just no getting over it. My spandex covered pooch would fly free from there on out. I had no cares to give to looking pretty at this point.
I had been worried about the run for some time. My knee was the part of my body that consistently reminded me that I was old, and I had been battling it for a few months. It would get better, I would go for a run and feel GREAT until I would stop a stoplight. It would immediately seize up, leaving me limping home frustrated. I was worried that it would do this early on in the run, leaving me limping the whole three miles around the lake. I could do it, and I WOULD do it, but I didn’t want it to end that way.
There is something great about the run portion of a triathlon. It’s the last leg, and so you can just put yourself into the mindset of burnout mode, which you really have to try to avoid in the first two legs. The finish line is so close, and it makes you giddy. But for me, the ultimate Non-Finisher, it becomes a mental struggle to keep running. I would run for about a half mile, and then burn out and just start walking. I tried to walk fast, but I was getting plagued with side stitches, due to the amount of water I was drinking. This has always happened, even when I was a proficient runner. If I stopped to get water at the aid stations, I would inevitably get painful stitches in my side.
I made it half way in, to this torturous bit where they dipped us up a road and then back down, only to carry on around the lake. There was no shade, and having to cut out of the loop like that was SO HARD. They handed me a weird GOO thing, which tasted like that grape medicine we used to drink as kids. It made my mouth sticky and somehow made me more thirsty. I downed another glass of water and started running again.
About a mile away from the finish line, I came across that same friend from the bike, this time fully prepared for my arrival. I ran off the trail and squeezed her hard, so happy to see someone I knew. Despite having three kids with her, she took off with me, running along in her flip flops.
I can’t even say what that did for me. Way more than the nasty grape goo.
She circled back to her kids while I kept going, at a slow clip but much more steady. I was trying not to think of my knee, worried that just thinking about it would make it FREAK OUT… but it wasn’t bothering me yet.
There were a few more times that I slowed to a walk, my feet still partially numb from the bike, my body tired. But then I rounded the corner. And there it was.
The finish line.
I took off after it, not caring about my lungs, not caring about my feet, not caring about my knee. There it was. This big, stupid metal gate that literally meant nothing outside of this day. But right now, right here, it meant everything.
As I came through the last chute, I caught sight of my husband, my kids, my dear friend who somehow managed to beat me to the finish line, her kids. I blew them kisses and then literally danced across the finish line. I vaguely heard the announcer say my name. But by that time, my chest was heaving, not because I was out of breath, but because my mind and my body were realizing what just happened. I did it. I did it.
I DID IT.
Tears slid down my cheeks.
Someone handed me a water. Another person handed me a banana. A wet towel was wrapped around my neck, a medal was put over my head. One thing after another, but I didn’t process any of it. My mind was racing, cataloging the entire day, making sure I didn’t forget any detail. This was a Big Thing. This was a Heavy Thing. And I wanted every piece of it to come home with me.
I wound my way through the huge crowds, as most of the racers had finished before me, and I found my People. It was done.
I would love to say that the rest of the day was magical, that everything else went according to plan, that we skipped off in fields of lavender together. But of course, this is a true story. So it went something more like this:
Within fifteen minutes, the kids were fighting. We ducked out early, only to listen to my son complain that HE was tired and that he couldn’t walk the quarter mile to the car. I ended up crashing on the bed (I’m just gonna lay down for ten minutes!) for three hours, and then we had an awkwardly early dinner that didn’t settle well because my body was still riled up.
Real life has no time for retrospection.
But as I lay in bed that night, my body feeling wrung out, the kids finally in bed after giving a good fight about it, my husband snoring next to me, exhausted from rallying the kids for 4 hours that morning… I stared up at our ceiling, smiling. I did it. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t fast.
But I did it.