Thursday, September 17, 2015

Triathalon Part Three - The Race

I couldn't sleep.  This had never happened to me before.  Over and over my mind kept asking, "How would I run this race if I couldn't get any sleep?".  Nerves were settling in hard and I knew that if I stayed up too long I might not follow through.  Four months of training and pushing myself would be all for nothing.

Fear after fear and one negative picture after another plagued my thoughts but fear of what?  I could not identify it.   

I wasn't afraid of not finishing, I was confident in my endurance that no matter the time, the race would be completed.  I wasn't afraid of the route as I had mapped it out just a couple days before so that I would have an idea of what to expect.  What then kept me from drifting off into a much needed rest?

I believe it was a mix of anticipation and adrenaline.

Because of the how far away the race was we had to get up at 4:30am.  A time that was growing rapidly closer on the digital red numbers that glared at me mockingly.

Finally around 2:30am my body and my mind were at peace.

Amazingly I awoke at 4:30am refreshed and ready to go.  I attempted to eat and drink some water but the nerves were making that hard.  Thankfully Chris was driving which allowed my body to sit and prepare.  Mentally I began to envision the race...

Swim, massive amounts of people jump into the water and fight for their place to move.  One loop around, just like at practice.  Once on sand the swim cap and goggles would come off as I traveled to the transition place.  There I would quickly dry, put socks and shoes on and jump on the bike.

Bike, hill after hill and multiple car laden roads would take me on a trek not with any type of trail destination ahead.  All small town roads some without curbs would be my path.

Run, this was a trail run and the shaded areas would be most welcomed.  I would add my runners belt on after I dismounted and eat my Gatorade chews as I ran. 

Importantly, after training without music I did decide to wear my hearing aids.  I had them tucked safely in my runner's belt for me to put in after the swim.

And then it was time.  I remember standing on the sand with my number written on my arm and my age on my leg full of nervous energy but invigorated from the excitement.  I was all alone yet surrounded by hundreds that were united by a similar goal.

We lined up in front of the water and then it began.

Swim:  I was kicked, punched and pushed in the water but nothing bad enough to stop my forward momentum.  I pressed on to get out ahead and away from the masses.  When I exited the water my family stood cheering me on with homemade signs and I waved warmly.

Transition 1:  I dropped my hearing aid.  I guess that should have been anticipated.  They are small and I was in a hurry.  I found it quickly though and was off on the bike.

Bike:  So many people passed me on the bike.  Even with my new road bike I could not keep up with their speed and leg strength.  I put up a respectable time but could tell I had a lot to learn in this area with regards to technique.

Transition 2:  Jello legs.  They were always present after dismounting the bike.  Most of the time in training I would just give up after a mile and call it good.  But today I knew that was not going to be enough.

Run:  Surprisingly I picked up my race in this area.  The jello legs faded about 1.5 miles in.  My only goal was no matter how tired I was that I would not stop running.  No, walking.  I held true to that even when I wanted to quit I would look ahead to those in front of me.  Age 50,45, 23....and think, I can keep going.

Finish line:  I could see it.  I got a surge of energy and sprinted to it.  I vaguely heard the announcer say my name and comment how I still had some fuel on the back end and was finishing strong.  A smile broke out on my face.  It was done, I had completed it and the most important part - I loved it.    

Triathlon Part Two - Endurance In The Ring


When I would talk about running a Triathlon the most popular response was, "I can't swim".  Their body language would instantly tense and the words would be spoken with their head shaking, eyes wide and a tiny hint of fear.  This consistent response confused me.  I truly never knew that so many people are not comfortable in the water.  A glance at any city pool would seem to prove the opposite but in this case my experience showed a different side.  It was such a frequent statement that part of me started to wonder if I should feel the same.  Herd mentality right?   However nothing about the water, other than sharks, scares me.  In fact, this was the part I felt suited me most. So with each fearful swimming declaration I would respond, I love to swim and shrug my shoulders. 

I began my swimming journey in our small subdivision pool.  I would squeeze in a swim wherever my schedule would allow even if it was just 15 or 20 minutes.  To be fully prepared I carried my swimsuit around in my car.

The size of our the pool was not ideal and became a bit of an issue.  It felt like I was a goldfish in a small bowl swimming circles around the edge headed somewhere but going nowhere.  In complete contrast to the bike everything about the swim was predictable.  Over 50 laps back and forth, the turns so frequent that I would feel dizzy as I was swimming.  

It was in one of those moments that my hearing finally became something I should consider on this journey.  I began to wonder if the dizziness was from more than just the size of the pool.  Each time I would exit the water my ears would ache slightly from the pressure and I would shake quite a bit of water out of them.  I hadn't even considered if I would even have my hearing aids with me during the race.

You see, up until that point my training had been for an imaginary goal.  I had not signed up for a Triathlon or even researched how the race worked, I just simply started to train.  Faith sometimes is funny like that.  I just did what I felt I was being called to do and the plans were nowhere in sight.

When I found my Triathlon I quickly realized some of my assumptions were wrong.

The first being that headphones in a Triathlon are not permitted.  OK, all of my bike and running training had been done listening to music or words on my earbuds.  When I read that in the Triathlon rules I was almost going to give up.  Silly huh?  I am dizzy after a swim and I press on.  I find out I can't wear headphones and I think, oh OK this isn't for me.

I am sure by now everyone understands just how important music is in my life.  One of the things I like most about exercise is the rhythm of the music as I move.  As a former dancer, music and working out go hand in hand.

When I read that the reason behind it was for cycling safety I started to wonder if I should be wearing my hearing aids in order to hear passing cars before they approach.  During that week I began riding and running without music with my hearing aids in.  I also went and purchased ear plugs for the water which made a large difference in the dizziness.  The size of the pool it seemed was not to blame.

Since I knew this race would not be in a beautiful pool but rather, a murky lake with no sides on which to rest when needed.   A friend suggested that I should start practicing in a lake during a special time set aside for triathlon runners.  Luckily several of our local lakes offered those options and so I set out one evening on an adventure.  The whole family came with and my hubby and kids played on the playground while I gave this lake thing a try.

This my friends was a pretty funny sight.

I showed up in my one piece "granny suit" as Chris calls it.  I wore my bright green kid goggles that are scratched an in need of repair along with my very obviously bought in a store swim cap.

To say I look like a novice would be being kind.  I appeared to be quite aptly, a fish out of water.

Summing up the area I saw 90% triathlon suits and multiple people in training groups.  The other 10% were men in well rather small swim suits.  Embarrassingly I had to ask the life guard what I was supposed to do.  She pointed to the far buoy on the right hand corner of the lake and then the equally as far buoy on the left side of the lake.  That, she said, was my path.

I waded in the water nervously keeping my eyes fixed ahead.  Then, when I could stand it no longer, I looked back to the playground where my family was.  I longed for their protection and security. Words of affirmation would have been richly welcomed.  

This was shaping up to be a very humbling affair.

It has to be done.  It has to be done.  I told myself over and over.

Just go for it my subconscious breathed.  And so, I did.

Diving in I began to swim without much site or planning.  Every so often I would stop and doggy paddle in order to make sure I was on the right path.   This wasn't about timing for me this was about practice and pushing boundaries.

Much like the bike path I enjoyed the swim way more than I expected. Yes, I was swimming towards a goal but the sand between my toes was only one of the perks.  Much deeper even then the lake was my repeated need to do things never done before.

As I exited the water I felt strong and good.  This was right.  It all felt so right.  I liked that.

I would practice the swim only three more times in the lake before race day.  Each time I felt more comfortable in the water and my time improved.  I no longer needed to glance back to my family before I waded in.  I would attack the water with force and determination.  Diving through it all, keeping my eyes fixed on the first buoy and then the next.  One punch at a time building my endurance physically and mentally.

*During this time, after I finally committed to a race,  I purchased a road bike, triathlon suit and runners belt.  I did not get the top of the line in any of it but all of those items were needed and I felt that practicing with them would be helpful. 


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Triathlon Part One - I Needed A Fight

I am not sure what the "natural" response to dealing with a situation that is beyond your control should be, but for me it was to find something that could be managed.  You see in the face of my hearing loss I had allowed small, seemingly insignificant doubts and fears to control my actions. 

Being forced to acknowledge my limitations hurt my independence and began to drive a need in me to prove that I could rise above and become more than what I was at that very moment.   In essence, I needed a fight.

What?  I recently blogged about passive peace right?  Ha! Exactly.  But the truth is the truth and I could feel that old familiar feeling welling up inside threatening to erupt if ignored.

I instinctively knew that my opponent had to be something that would really challenge me physically.  It also had to be a pass or fail so I would have no choice but to commit 100%.  An "all in" or "take up the cause" mentality was what I craved. 

The adversary I chose was a Triathlon. 

This is that story, condensed and aptly divided into three sections.

I hate to say that I just woke up one day and decided I would run a triathlon but that is exactly how it happened.  I was sitting in Caitlyn's room nursing her in the wee hours of the morning and relishing the complete peacefulness of the house.  I was calm and happy.

Then, discontent.  

What happened to that sweet serenity?  How is it that moments are stolen by dissatisfaction and self doubt?

Perhaps you all have been in my place before.  Maybe you understand more than I know the power of that distorted looking glass as it stares back at you not only revealing but accentuating all of your most embarrassing flaws. 
I began to think about my baby weight with great frustration.  About 9 months in was always the hardest time for me after having my babies.  It just seemed like for all a mom's effort and care that she takes carrying and birthing a baby it should only be fair that we are reciprocated on the back end of that journey by losing weight easily.
Truth be told, I was mainly frustrated that I did not have time to workout and that even if I did there was so much guilt attached to it that it was not enjoyable. 

Cartoon bubbles of 5K options began circling my head but I dismissed them as too easy.  I believed I knew that training for such a short distance was not necessary for me as long as I didn't care about my race completion time.  I honestly didn't even think about marathon or half marathon because while I enjoy running, something about those distances just didn't appeal to me.

I remember thinking that I loved to swim and then the idea was just there.

No, I had never biked before.
No, I didn't even own a road bike, helmet, water bottle, etc.
No, I didn't own goggles or a triathlon suit.
No, I didn't belong to a gym, community center or fitness group of any kind.

I only had me, a mountain bike and the very small pool at our subdivision.  What I was armed with was my S5 phone that had the new S-Health application and more determination than I had felt in a very long time.

I began my mental journey on Instagram with the user handle tritokeepup  This allowed me to hashtag items that would then connect me with other triathletes in training.  Watching their journey helped motivate me on mine. 

I started the physical part that very next Monday.  I used what I had, a mountain bike.  Slowly at first with one mile, two, five and then ten.  It became rapidly apparent that biking suited me as I looked forward to it and was excited by it.  I would also pass cyclists in my car and feel happiness for them and for my next upcoming ride.   Something about feeling the wind on my face during a sweltering day invigorated me. 

My most favorite route was a regular 12 mile course that took me down car driven roads to a bike trail.

It is important here to focus on the word TRAIL.

You see, this became the focus of my ride - the destination, the inspiration.  I would anticipate and look forward to the trail from the second I pedaled out of my driveway.  In fact, the entire distance to the entrance filled me with an unexplained excitement and joy.   Right before the entrance appeared I would cross a busy four lane road, hit an expected bump where the sidewalk was just slightly too high and cross a bridge overlooking a train.

Then there it would be.  Instantly I would be covered by the overhanging shaded greenery of the trees creating a sun dusted path full of twists and turns.   Along the trail nature would reach out in all its glory, the trail bending and weaving with the earth.  

Deep in the fabric of the ride there were two hills that always beat me yet I still loved the path.  Even knowing they were coming did not ever dampen my joy.   

Two hills always beat me yet I still loved the path.  There was a lesson hidden here, I am sure of it...and then there it was:  Things like my hearing will always beat me, I am unable to correct it or change it yet I still love my path, my life.   

Now, back to those hills, they were steep my friends and I am afraid of heights. But this journey wasn't about being held back.  No, this was about being pushed forward again and again into an unknown outcome with an unexplained peace. 

And so, going up I would pedal hard and fast getting as far as I could before having to dismount and walk.  Going down in parallel to the incline I would walk slowly down beside my bike until I reached a comfortable distance in which I feel safe riding down.  Importantly, with each bike ride that spot rose and my comfort level increased. 

I never did make it to the top of either one hill but every time I rode, I was beating something.  My previous ride, expectations, responsibilities, fears and much more.  I found that I was growing not only in physical strength but also in character, just by taking a few minutes to take care of me.

Not really a popular subject with mothers...taking care of themselves.  In fact, that thought holds such a negative connotation by so many that women are often unfairly judged and held to an unhealthy standard.  This was the other reason that running a triathlon came to mind when I was thinking about losing weight and taking time for myself.  Because if I was going to take time away from my family it had to have value in order for me to avoid that guilt.        

After about a month of consistent biking I added a short run afterwards.  But, lacking mental endurance I never really made it more than a mile with my jello legs.  And so, biking 12 and running 1 (or less) miles became my regular workout.

I was surprised that even with that large dose of exercise I did not lose any weight.  I was even more surprised to realize that this journey had nothing to do with that motivation at all.  It was a drive born out of the peace and acceptance of my hearing loss.  

That even if I never beat those hills I would not give up the fight.  

One of my favorite songs from Tenth Avenue North comes to mind:

You are more than the choices that you've made, 
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes, 
You are more than the problems you create, 
You've been remade. 

'Cause this is not about what you've done, 
But what's been done for you. 
This is not about where you've been, 
But where your brokenness brings you to 

My brokenness brought me to that place in Caitlyn's room.  The spot where I woke up and decided that win or lose I needed a fight.