It feels even better to have it be the Red Hills Triathlon, reported to be the toughest sprint in Florida.
I want to do it again. In fact, all weekend I wanted to go do it again. After having gone through the course once, I had ideas for what I would have done differently and how I could improve, and it was just so much fun that I want another turn! Luckily, doing a triathlon is not a once in a lifetime opportunity so I will definitely be doing it again.The morning was perfect: clear, sunny skies; temperatures in the 60s; and just gorgeous. My husband and I pulled in about 6:00 am in time for me to get marked with my number, set up my transition station and bike, and realize that I had only packed one sock. Excellent. But running without socks isn't necessarily a deal breaker...and seeing that it was only three miles I shook it off. My husband offered his socks, but vanity overpowered me; his were crew socks. I mean, I do have my dignity. I would look like a total dork! Luckily, the sock gods smiled on me, and my Boy Scout of a husband ran to the car and returned with running socks from his own gym bag; my hero! And they were Thorlos, to boot. Score! Thanks, babe!
Properly socked, we decided to head down to the lake to stretch and watch the sunrise. As I listened to other athletes discuss their apprehensions, and thanked God that I wasn't the only one who was clueless, I peered out into the lake and spied several yellow bouys relatively close to the shore. The swimming leg didn't look bad at all! My confidence rallied; I could definitely do that with no problem.
Then the sun came up, and I saw the actual bouys. The big orange ones really, really, really, far away. Like, eons away. Memories of my first lake swim came to me, but I pushed them away. I had done it before, and I could do it again. No prob. But I kinda wished I had vodka in my water bottle instead of Gatorade.
Before I knew it, I was in my wet suit and standing in the frigid water with the rest of my wave, women aged 39 and younger and wearing bright green swim caps. We were the third group to go, after the young whippersnapper men took off, an idea I am grateful for because some of those guys looked like they could drown me with one stroke. I turned and smiled and waved at my camera-toting husband. Ready or not, I was about to start my first triathlon.
We splashed into the water, and it was begun! The swim was slow; I didn't want to put my face in the water and risk losing my breath like I had the week before, so I sacrificed time in favor of sanity. I side-stroked and back-stroked for .33 mile, and as I rounded the second bouy and came into the last leg of the swim, I felt good. Challenged, but good. I had stayed calm and was surprised it was over so fast. As I came out of the water and began to run up to the transition area, I checked my stopwatch. 18 minutes, about what I had expected. Good.
Transitioning to the bike was a lesson in preparedness. For one, I had neglected to untie my shoes, so valuable time was lost doing that. I also had chosen clothing that was difficult to put on while wet, so another lesson was learned there. But, I had time to shove half a banana in my mouth and gulp some Gatorade before I wheeled my bike onto the course.
I think I was the only person on a mountain bike. But, it got the job done. In fact, as I cycled along the gorgeous canopied hills of one of the more challenging portions, I was so caught up in the beauty of the morning that I had to frequently remind myself that I was in a race. I love to cycle, and it was a nice surprise to be able to chat a little with the other athletes as we biked along. One woman had written "birthday girl" on her number. A girl I passed a couple of times had actually been issued race number 1. Another first-timer and I leap-frogged each other for most of the bike until she surpassed me on the portion where a road bike was a much better advantage than the thick tires of my mountain bike. But all in all, the cycling portion was a breeze, a lot of fun, and really energizing.
By the time I came in from the biking leg, the rest of my family had arrived and cheered me into the transtition station, where the DJ had started playing, "Running on Empty." I smiled; it was a nice little bit of irony, and I hoped it wasn't prophetic. It wasn't: as I parked my bike and got ready to run, I was relieved to find that unlike during all of my brick workouts, my legs felt completely fine. They weren't numb and useless like I had expected. But, that didn't keep the 5k run from being a challenge. I was tired and felt like I was running through glue. In fact, I began to question whether the run was going to be the leg that got me. When swimming or biking, you can't just stop and take it easy. But when running, it's always an option to walk. I didn't want to take that option. I ran 95% of it, walking a few steps a couple of times when my left leg started to cramp up. Coming up the last hill and rounding the corner into the downhill stretch to the finish line, I was surprised at how easy my first triathlon had been. I could totally do it again. I was ready to go!
The finish line was a blur of euphoria, relief, and a little annoying bit of regret. When I hit the button on my stopwatch as I crossed the finish line, I realized how close I had been, at 2:05:41, to finishing in less than two hours. Although my goal had been 2:30, a time I beat by almost 25 minutes, those extra 5:41 haunted me. I knew if I had pushed a little harder on the bike I could have done it. Well, its good to have a goal.
Reality came rushing back pretty quick. My little man was antsy, and we wanted to get home so he could take a nap before we headed off to a birthday party later that afternoon (he didn't). But throughout the day, as I caught glimpses of my race number, safety pins still attached and abandoned on the kitchen table; the wet suit hanging up to dry in the bathroom; or the registration form for an October triathlon stuck to the fridge, I paused. My first triathlon was past-tense. That was pretty cool.
Thanks to everyone who cheered me on and sent such excellent vibes to me that morning! They worked, and you made it so much fun! You helped me become a triathlete.
A triathlete who has five minutes and 41 seconds to turn into ancient history.