Lap five. I came up, gasped for air as I touched the pool side and ripped off the goggles. J and I had been going swimming for a week now. “I can’t do this,” I finally made out the words to her between the heavy breaths, “I feel off, I am sinking like a brick.” I only had 7 more laps to go and, while I had completed them before, the reality had finally set in that I would, in fact, be swimming in open water tomorrow. . . for the first time competitively. . . like, ever. Me, the girl that dreaded the pool workouts that were a part of our training in college cross country. Me, a sprint triathlon, tomorrow. I voluntarily signed up for this? What on earth was I thinking?
I pulled myself out of the pool, drenched in doubt, dripping uncertainty, lungs filled with the heavy air of fear, heavy as lead. Maybe that’s why I was sinking. I tried to towel them off of me and paced about a bit. This had seemed like no big deal, like the perfect chance to brave the water in a short, fun event with a handful of friends. But I was standing at the foot of the triathlon mountain now, and not being far off any more, it looked its real size. . . “do i look shorter? cause I feel shorter…” I thought, if this mount had a pinkie finger it could flick me off its shoulder in a second.
I talked myself in and out of doing the tri several times through the rest of the day, I went to friends for advice, encouragement, discouragement. . . I felt insane, how was this simple thing getting to me? At the end of the day the verdict was to do it the best I could. To finish. Surprisingly, I slept that night and the next morning was full of anticipation and a perfectly crisp, cool air. We rode off to the park where the event was taking place and I sat in the car as the dawn light appeared, writing out Psalm 16 in a legal pad.
I know the Lord is always with me. . . He is right beside me”
I ripped off the page, and stuffed in my pocket. We had arrived. Time to check on the bikes and get to the transition zone. I had only been biking for two weeks on and off today and yesterday was the day I first met the bike I was going to be racing in–a one speed road bike, borrowed from a friend of a friend, borrowed like my hope that the bike course really would be mostly flat as J had said. Two out of three, I thought, two events I haven’t done before and have trained for a puny week or two. Heck. . . I don’t even know if that’s considered training. I laughed at the facts and we lined up in the sand.
It was 8:05am, and then the words rang loud: Ready, Set, GO! We ran into the water, all green-capped and splashing. “I cannot believe I am doing this” I said out-loud, toes sinking in the sandy shore at each stride and I deeper and deeper in the water. The sun filled the sky and made the water glitter. I went under and saw only the green hue of the lake water, my arms striking in and out before me, the bubbles of air escaping my nose in metronomic rhythm. And gasp, a breath, a sight of the beauty engulfing me, and then at it again. The water was soft and warm, my mind was amazingly still, and my lungs heaved thankfulness.
I had to trust my body to know what to do, and my mind focused only on finding that orange buoy that signified the turning point to go back to shore. I wasn’t thinking about swimming, I was doing it, thinking instead intermittently of the view of the sun above the mountains when I came up for air, thinking, “wow, the Lord is right beside me, this beauty astounds me,” and before I knew it I was running to the shore. . . ripping off my cap and goggles, sand sticking to my wet legs and feet. I reached my bike, changed shirts, put on shoes and helmet and rode out. I just swam 500 meters in open water! What? No time to think about that, now you bike 13.1 miles. I had forgotten this about racing, it forces you to live in the present. . . a much needed practice in my life.
The biking was unexpectedly challenging, perhaps since all my focus had been on somehow getting through the swimming. But as soon as I hit the course I knew it wouldn’t be easy on a one-speed bike, nor in a one speed Elie . I have runner muscles apparently, and they differ from those of bikers. . . I can vouch for that now. The course was a lollipop, out and back, and more than once I was tempted to cut it short but kept going, blaming the water works in my eyes on the wind.
Finally, I hopped off the bike and wobbled on to the final transition, and the 5k part began. This was my event. I had feared though, that my legs would not be in speaking terms with me by then (given the lack of training on the previous events) but somehow I managed to shave off two minutes of what has been my normal pace in the last month or so.
I had been at the tail of things all race long. I minded less than I thought I would. I know I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I’m competitive as all get out. Yet, I was satisfied doing that which I had been afraid of, I was conquering my own mind, and pushing my body further than I had in a while. In the last loop I spotted a runner in front of me, and thus began the exagerated arm pumps, and the tiny screams of muscle fibers in my calves, begging my legs to move quicker as I attempted a fast finish.
I passed the runner on the left and when I came around the bend, the rest of the racers were there at the finish line cheering us both on. The comradery shown by all the participants throughout was impressive, but this? I was floored. The first to finish stayed around more than 30 mins. after they completed the race to see the last of us finish! Seeing them there, hearing their encouragement, was like receiving a thousand hugs, like for a second we were all old friends: we had crossed the same waters, biked the same hills and run the same woods. Needless to say, I think another tri might very likely be happening in my future, and I cannot wait.
*photo credit: Gary Garbett. Check out his blog: http://passingglimpse.blogspot.com/2011/09/morning-filled-with-heroes.html