Last weekend I completed my first triathlon. I’m still a bit surprised myself, because I honestly didn’t know if I could do it, but I’m so glad I did. I first started thinking about it last summer; it’s taken a while, but I did it!
I wanted to improve my health and fitness, but I needed a compelling goal, something that would stretch my mind as well as my body. I know I’m not alone in finding it hard to “just go to the gym more often.” A triathlon fit the bill perfectly. It sounded grand and aspirational, yet, if I aimed for a shorter-distance sprint triathlon, quite possibly doable.
It is Partly About the Bike
I haven’t owned a bike since I was 8 years old. I like the idea of bikes, but biking in the city (where I live) was way outside my comfort zone. So I did some research, bought a bike and helmet, and joined the local bike share program. Biking has opened a new dimension for me. I’ve gotten in the habit of biking to local meetings, and taking weekend rides around the monuments in Washington DC, a priceless opportunity to drink in the beautiful scenery in the quiet of the early morning.
Sink or Swim
The most intimidating part of this endeavor for me has been the swim component. I can doggy paddle quite well, but the crawl is not my thing. I don’t like water in my eyes, ears, or nose, and the idea of putting my head in the water where I can’t breathe still seems off. But I stuck with it. I found my local pool, experimented with earplugs and goggles, and enrolled in a few basic lessons. I also joined the DC Tri Club’s new triathlete program; the further I went in pursuing my triathlon goal, the more I realized how much I didn’t know, like what kinds of gear you need, and how to handle transitions between sports.
Overcoming Excuses and Fear
Getting to the race itself and much of the training was, more than anything, about overcoming my own excuses. There were so many reasons to say no, to stay safe and comfortable at home, to pay attention instead to the many other parts of my life that require limitless time and energy, from my family to my work. And besides, in recent months I’d been sick, my kids had been sick, I’d traveled, I’d even had to stop training to recover from a surgery—I definitely hadn’t executed a perfect training plan.
Even so, I strapped my bike to my car, packed up my rubbery rental wetsuit, and drove out to Lake Anna in Virginia to see the course the day before the race. Though most of the course was beautiful and bucolic, the lake made me even more nervous than I had been. 750 meters is a really long distance, especially in murky open water with crowds of people kicking and pushing over each other. I tried not to think about the fact that people do actually drown in triathlons.
The next morning I hauled out my gear, zipped on my wetsuit and told myself two things:
- I could take as long as I needed or even swim for shore if I absolutely had to, as long as I gave it my best try.
- I was just going to do it because I had decided I would. Period.
So I did it. It was tough and tiring, but the physical part wasn’t nearly as hard as the mental part. In retrospect I feel good about exercising my body and, more importantly, exercising that mental muscle that lets you set a goal and go for it—especially when it doesn’t feel safe.