On August 21 I completed my first triathlon! I have blogged about this goal previously, and last week it was finally realized at the Athleta Iron Girl sprint triathlon in Columbia, MD. Yay!
Full disclosure: I hate excuses. HATE. One of my biggest pet peeves. The worst excuse of all is “I’m too busy!” Because really, the people who are legitimately busy probably finished that task an hour ago, and if you’re using “busy” as an excuse it is more accurately code for “I could have done that, but I didn’t prioritize it.” So I’m gonna be honest with you and say: I didn’t prioritize my triathlon training. This was the year I started two new jobs with a loooong commute, had every weekend during the months of April, May and June booked solid, and went on an intensive vacation the week beforehand. I should have prioritized my workouts, slogged on nonetheless — but I too easily succumbed to the temptation to crash at the end of the day. And my times showed it.
The good news, however, is that with my first triathlon, I get an automatic PR! So I can only go up from here. The triathlon was much harder than I expected — but it was so much fun, I’m definitely in again.
I participated in the Columbia, MD iteration of the Iron Girl event series. It is an all-women event that includes a 1K swim in Centennial lake, a 17.5 HILLY bike course, and a 3.4 mile run. It was an awesome event and though it is a challenging course compared to many similar events nearby, I would highly recommend it for someone’s first tri as it is a very well-organized and empowering event. All the participants were incredibly encouraging and it is wonderful to see women of all ages and abilities supporting each other in meeting their goals. Not to mention, you get pretty nice swag. 🙂
I arrived at the location before dawn. There were thousands of women swarming around, setting up their transition area and getting body marked. Then, a lovely little thunderstorm erupted. Of course, I took this as an inauspicious sign and had a little freak-out moment. But the weather cleared up and the race began, better late than never.
Swimming is the event in which I feel most comfortable and I had no doubts of my ability to swim a kilometer prior to the event. However, I greatly underestimated the difficulty in adjusting to an open water swim! The swim portion winded me much more than I expected.
To begin with, the swim is in a turbid suburban lake inhabited by resident Canada geese and no doubt borders on eutrophic at least part of the year. I know that all USAT events are required to ensure safe water quality beforehand…but still. You can’t think about it too much lest you be too grossed out. This water may have acceptable fecal coliform levels, but it is by no means clean.
And I knew this. And yet, for some reason, I thought I might have more than 2 inches of visibility once I got in the water. Ha. Nope! So it was very disconcerting as I wrangled for a position amongst 50+ other people in my wave when I couldn’t see anything in front of me. Definitely swallowed a little bit of water there. So far no illness!
The hardest part was having to break my “stride” to stop for a few moments of breast stroke to see in front of me. This slowed me down considerably. But after a while, people seeded themselves and I had plenty of space to stretch out, finishing the swim in 22 minutes — not my best, but good enough for me!
I knew this would be the most challenging aspect for me coming in. I had never ridden the course before but viewing it before hand I nearly had a heart attack at the hills. I had done some hill repeat workouts, but nothing like this! There is literally no flat ground on this course!
To top it off, I am still riding my ginormous hybrid bike that is the bane of my existence on hills. Some day — maybe by next year — I will invest in a road bike. But it’s just not in the budget right now so I have to make do with what I had. All the people I had managed to pass in the swim very quickly passed me on my bike. I won’t even publish my time here, because it is nothing to brag about, but I am proud I managed to do it!
In spite of the challenge, the bike was my favorite leg of the race — it went through beautiful rolling countryside, farmland, wildflowers, forests, fields of sunflowers — it was very inspiring and invigorating. And while there was a lot of uphill — there was a lot of downhill too! Whew!!!
With my (lack of) training, I had pretty much resigned myself to walking most of the run course prior to the race. I jogged through perhaps a third of it, and much of it was very pretty as it bordered the lake. However, towards the end, I was so done with this triathlon. I was cursing every turn and planning the nasty letter I would write Columbia Triathlon Association for this HORRIBLE RUN COURSE. LOL. The worst part about running around a lake is you could see just how far you still had to go. And that extra 1/3 of a mile beyond a normal 5k was the longest 1/3 of a mile I have ever run (or “run”).
But, I mostly forgot about it once I approached the finish!
Crowd support was amazing as I approached the pink fencing and balloon arches that marked the finish line. As I crossed, a volunteer announced over the loudspeaker, “R, you are an Iron Girl!” and a finisher medal was hung around my neck. Someone handed me an ice cold towel that was perhaps the most amazing and refreshing thing I have felt in my lifetime. My family was there to watch me complete the race, and though I think a swear word was the first thing I manged to utter, it was an amazing feeling to cross that finish line and know that I had achieved my goal!
There is a saying that goes: “It’s not about crossing the finish line, but about the courage it took to stand up to the start.” If you had asked me two years ago, never in my life would I have ever imagined I’d be capable of completing a triathlon of any distance. I truly believe we are capable of so much more than we realize, and pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone can be such an empowering experience.
If you’ve thought about doing a triathlon — and even if you haven’t — I encourage you to give it a try! It’s such a great way to get into shape, work towards a goal and build your confidence!