First things first. Why did I decide to do a triathlon? Good question! I’m glad you asked. Several times along the journey to race day, I asked myself this question too. After I completed my first [and only] marathon [so far], I knew I didn’t want to train for another one anytime soon but I also wanted to do something that challenged me physically like the triathlon and training for the triathlon did. I’d recently [read 3 years ago] learned to ride a bike, I had been taking swim lessons on and off for 2 years, I had the running down pat, obviously, so a triathlon seemed perfectly logical! Also, I’m turning 30 this year so the goal became: Complete a triathlon before age 30.
Never mind that I had only ridden my bike once in the entirety of 2018- a 33.5 mile bike ride from Kalamazoo to South Haven on the Kal- Haven trail, which took me about 4 hours. Also, never mind that I hadn’t really been running consistently since the marathon in October 2018. And the biggest piece – I still hadn’t learned how to swim! I shall make another post about how I actually learned to swim but that was the real challenge here, let’s be honest. Worst case, I could walk in the run part, I could walk my bike in the bike part, but for the swim, I had to swim. In a lake. A deep lake.
I chose the Shermanator Triathlon mostly because it was sort of close to where I live and 2 of my friends had done it the year before, and survived. They were crazy enough to invite me to do it with them last year but I wasn’t crazy enough to accept. The invitation planted a seed though, because it was the first race I thought of when I finally quit playing and made up my mind to do one.
The most interesting part of my training is that the training program got canceled. Yes! My strategy of joining a group of like minded people to figure out how to do this thing and get to practice along the same routes and the same lake the race would be in got canceled. So immediately I panicked and started looking for help all over. One of my friends who did it last year agreed to do the race again so she could support me. She also gave me the training plan she used last year- which I struggled to follow, by the way. We also managed to get in a few training sessions together- usually doing 2 of the 3 sports back to back.
I joined a triathlon small group at a church I go to occasionally and got to train with them a bit. We met on Sunday evenings and I joined them whenever I was in town. However, after the first time I almost drowned in the lake we practiced in [ok, I am being extra dramatic. I didn’t almost drown but there was a very prolonged moment of panic and I had to get ‘towed’ back to shore], I decided not to practice swimming there any more. This made things tougher because I really needed some lake/open swim practice time. Needless to say, I was getting rather nervous. This was a month to race day.
Luckily, the race organizers opened the lake the race would be in to race registrants for a practice swim a week before the race. My friend went with me. We also went with our personal swim buoys. I was terrified, but I got in the lake. And we swam and swam and swam. It felt like it would never end. I was super thirsty, I couldn’t see anything really, but I kept going. And I finished what I assume to be at least 500 yards. If that practice taught me anything, it was to expect to get super tired and thirsty. And that my arms would ache. And I would be exhausted.
I decided to do the other 2 things so I went home, ate a banana and rode my bike 10 miles. I ate another banana and then ran [read hobbled] 3.1 miles. And I didn’t die. This was encouraging.
Race morning, I was giddy. This was either going to be the day I completed a triathlon or the day I ‘almost drowned’ in Sherman Lake. I was confident it would never get as far as drowning because my friend would be beside me the whole time and there would be a lot of lifeguards. But ‘almost drowning’ is still terrifying.
We got there at about 6.45 am- race started at 7.45 am. We got our bibs, then went to get our bib numbers written on our forearms and our ages by the end of 2019 written on our right calf. We got our freebie shirt, when walked our bikes to the transition area. There is probably a strategy to where to place your bike but since I didn’t plan on winning the race, I put my bike wherever.
The swim came first- 500 yards, then bike- 10 miles, then run 5k. I made sure that for my first triathlon, I chose the shortest distances available to me – a sprint. As I stood in the shallow part of the lake waiting for the gun to go off, I just kept thinking “holy shxt, I am actually about to do this!”. I prayed for the swim to be over quickly because then the risk of dying reduced significantly after that.
So I swam, and swam, and swam. It was very much like the week before. I rested only once and the buoy came in handy at that time. And since I suck majorly at sighting, my friend was my GPS- tapping me gently on whatever side she needed to so that I could bear left or right accordingly. Eventually we finished! We must have been the last to come out because as soon as we did, the crowd erupted in loud cheers, and [probably] sighs of relief!
We hurried to the transition area to wear clothes and get our bikes. As soon as I got on the bike to pedal, my chain fell off. I was like “great, so what happens now?”. I have never had my chain fall off my bike so I had no idea how to fix it. Luckily someone ran up to my bike and did the needful, and off we went. The course was hilly. My bike is a mountain bike. A slow one. But I kept pushing. Before we got halfway, we were the last bikers. We had the SAG vehicle tailing us. A bit embarrassing, but what can you do? We ended up finishing the bike second to last due to the last person having a slightly flat tire [or fatigue or both].
We dropped off the bikes, again to more loud cheers, and as we were about to head to the run, my friend yells “don’t forget to take off your helmet!” and I burst out laughing. Wouldn’t that be hilarious? Taking off on the run with a helmet on. By this time, needless to say, I was tired. But I was happy. It was almost over. I was this close to completing a triathlon!
The run course was hilly and it was hot and I was tired and hungry. Basically, these are my excuses to justify the fact that I walked several times during the run. But we still passed some people, surprisingly. So it felt good not to come in absolute last, but hey I would have been grateful for that. I had to finish- I didn’t want to have to do this again. I was so happy to be almost done that I couldn’t wipe my silly grin off my face as we neared that finish line. You would have thought I was about to win, the way I was smiling compared to most people gritting their teeth and getting through it.
On several occasions, one of the race organizers yelled at my friend and I “If you’re smiling, you are not working hard enough”. Maybe that was true, but more importantly though, I was achieving a goal, conquering a challenge. I was winning and that brought joy to me and it was so much joy, it spilled all over my face!
We crossed the finish line and there were no loud cheers this time, just quiet[er] ones. We weren’t last, after all, and most people were gone by then. Even the photographers, apparently, because in the race photos, I don’t see any from the run and beyond of my friend and I.
My goals for this triathlon, in some sort of order were:
- Complete triathlon
- Don’t ‘almost drown’ on the swim
- Beat my bike pace record
- Finish under 2 hours
- Don’t be the absolute last to finish
And I met them all. Praise be to God on high!!! All in all, August 3rd 2019 came and went. I completed a triathlon and lived to tell the tale!
The lessons here: Challenge yourself, trust God, seek help from others, never give up, YOU can do it!
Now for the obvious question you all have after reading this- when is the next one? Well, stay tuned ;).