Last June, almost a year ago to the day, two of my closest girlfriends and I completed the Espirit de She Sprint Triathlon. We put it on our 30 before 30 lists and figured training for the event would be a good way to get motivated to stay healthy and workout. When we first signed up, six months before race day, the whole thing seemed like this far away “thing” that we didn’t have to pay attention to just yet. But quickly the months leading to June 8, 2014 began to fly by and we realized we should probably start training.
A sprint triathlon starts with a half-mile swim, followed by a 13.3 mile bike ride, and then finishes with a 3.1 mile run. There are a ton of training programs out there. We loosely followed a training schedule we found on gotriathamom.com. (Although none of us are moms, we jokingly referred to ourselves as “Triathamoms” or, more fittingly, “Fit Friends.”) We would meet on weekends to swim laps at the public pool and some evenings, after work, we rode our bikes along the Chicago lakefront.
I’ve never been a swimmer, like not even a little bit, and the half-mile in the water terrified me. My insecurities were magnified during our group swims, when it became clear that I was the weakest link on our Fit Friends team. My friends were always so supportive though. They encouraged me to keep going. We set small goals in the pool and worked on adding laps with each swim. But still, I felt like I was floundering in the water, running out of breath quickly, and the deep end made me panic. Admittedly, I had zero form or technique. I’m sure the lifeguards were entertained, to say the least. As a remedy, I stepped up my cardio-workouts in the gym to help increase my endurance. I routinely took spin classes and did the elliptical.
As the race neared, I spent a lot of time thinking about it. I was nervous. I tried to remind myself that this should be a fun challenge, not something to stress about. One friend’s parents live close to the race location, so we spent the night before at their house. We ate some pasta (a little carbo-loading—the best part of race prep in my opinion), tried to relax and mentally prepared for the next morning.
Our alarms went off bright and early the next morning. I still had the nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. Just the thought of the day ahead kinda made me want to throw up. I just wanted to be able to keep up with my friends and cross the finish line. From the beginning, we had said we weren’t concerned with our time or quick transitions. This was just about being active together and challenging ourselves. Our goal was to just finish. Knowing this, helped take some of the pressure off the day.
Once we checked-in and got our numbers, it was time to set up our bikes and running gear for transitions. Rows upon rows of bikes and gear, organized by waves, lined a parking lot designated for transitions. Our start time was nearing, so we made our way to the water. Watching previous waves start and then finish the swim, made me even more anxious. The swim took place at Centennial Beach, which I can best describe as half lake, half pool. The water is deep and murky though so you can’t see the bottom. (My palms are sweating just thinking about it!)
When we were next to start the swim, we stood just on the edge of the water waiting for the bullhorn to sound, signaling that our race had begun. Spoiler alert: it was just as bad as I had imagined. Here was the problem: as we entered the water, the bottom gradually deepened—sort of like walking into the ocean. Our starting wave included at least 20 people, if not more. So, as I got further into the water, some people towards the back of the pack behind me, had started trying to swim, but some in front were still walking into the water. For lack of a better word, it was a cluster. And then, before I knew it, the water was DEEP and I was completely surrounded by swimmers. It was a swarm of arms and legs. I just tried to focus on not getting hit in the head. At this point, I had lost sight of my friends and I was on the outermost side of the lane, furthest from the buoys. In a true moment of panic, I seriously considered quitting. I swam to the closest edge I could get to, and clung to the side. It was not a proud moment.
The event had designated “swim angels”—experienced swimmers to help in situations like this. A younger swim angel, who I came to find out was on her high school swim team, swam over to see if I was ok. “No,” I told her. I let her know I wasn’t sure I could do this. She encouraged me to let go of the edge (even though I really just wanted to get out of the water…and go home) and told me she would do the entire swim with me.
And, that’s how I got through the swim. My swim angel kept her word and was by my side the whole time. She somehow knew exactly what to say to keep me going, “Just think of how you’re going to celebrate once this is over. What are you going to eat?” We took it lap by lap, and as I got out of the water, I gave her a huge hug. Running from the water to the bike, my legs felt like weren’t attached to my body—a little like jello. Thankfully, I met up with my friends at our bikes and we got ready to ride out together.
I think I was so relieved that the swim was over, the bike ride almost flew by. Going into the tri, biking was the part I was looking forward to the most. Some days during training we had easily done 13 miles, so I knew I could do it. Plus, my friends and I could talk to one another and keep each other going. Regardless, as we pulled back into the transition area at the end of 13.3 miles, I was tired. The swim and the bike ride were definitely catching up with me.
I’ve finished a good amount of 5K races in the past, so I knew the run was something I could handle, but at this point my legs were seriously feeling fatigued. We dropped off our bikes, hydrated quickly and then started the run. The first mile or so, I felt good. We had a nice pace going and we were focusing on finishing the last leg. There were a few times when I thought I might have to stop running. I kept visualizing small goals. Run to that lamp post. Then, run to that stop sign. Now run to that water station. We could tell we were nearing the end of the run, or at least hoped we were. We had passed a few spectators that encouraged us to keep going and reassured us we were almost done.
At around 3 miles, I was literally done. My legs were burning and I was so tired. I think my friends could sense this, and even though I’m sure they were tired too, we cheered each other on and kept going. We crossed the finish line holding hands. I think we all cried. It was a mixture of relief, exhaustion and being really proud—of them, of myself. I had been so nervous and worried about it, but I felt so good about what I had just accomplished. In that moment, I would have signed up to do another. Now, ehhh, the feeling has sort of subsided. I still think about it though—it’s something I never thought I would do. But, I did. And now, I can cross it off my list.
What are some of your fitness goals? Leave a comment and share!
See you next Friday! xx, Devon