Well kids, I did it! After several months of training I successfully completed my first triathlon and it was nothing short of fitastic and awesome. Last Sunday, on July 30th, I swam a 1/2 mile in the ocean, I rode 10.8 miles on the streets of Southie and finished it off what I love best and ran 3.4. I had so much emotion going into the weekend – excitement, nervousness, uncertainty, confidence and most of all determination. Much like when I trained for the Boston Marathon in 2016, I envisioned myself countless times crossing the finish line of The Columbia Threadneedle Investments Boston Triathlon – arms up, smiling from ear to ear, feeling strong and being proud of accomplishing yet another fitness goal.
The weather was absolutely gorgeous with tons of sunshine and blue sky, the staff and volunteers were amazing and the athletes competing were even more amazing. This was hands down the first race where I have ever received so much encouragement from other athletes along the course – keep reading to find out why. But the race didn’t come without its challenges, and as my coach told me a few weeks ago when I encountered a wardrobe malfunction so to speak with my wet suit, “Expect the unexpected. Things you’re not prepared for will pop up and you just have to roll with it.” Guess what, she was right.
During my training I had several moments of doubt when it came to the swim. Going in reverse of the order of a triathlon… running (as we all know) is what I love and I’m very conditioned – therefore I wasn’t worried about this part of the race at all. Cycling is a sport I love and am strong at, but not totally comfortable with mentally. And then there is swimming… there was a definite learning curve when it came to swimming “for real” and training my body to power itself with my upper body and not my legs; there was also the mental challenge of diving into the open water. As someone who didn’t grow up swimming like this, it wasn’t easy. I showed up to my first open water swim practice with tears in my eyes – real fearful tears. I looked at the sky above me which was gray that day and the pond below me which was dark. I felt like I was 100 miles away from my comfort zone ready to jump into something I wasn’t at all comfortable with yet, but I did it anyway. Since that day I continue to remember what one of my coaches told me, “Focus more on the beauty above you and less on the darkness below you.”
The more I swam, the more I surprised myself. I adapted quickly and quickly started enjoying it. Physically I’ve always worried about my right shoulder swimming, as I’ve dislocated it more times than I can count, but somehow in the water it’s been OK. I feel strong swimming, and continue to embrace the mental challenge.
The Big Day
When it came to race time I looked at the ocean and the course in front of me thinking a 1/2 mile seemed realllllly long. I started questioning if I could do it, and if I had trained enough even though my last few practices I had swum more than the distance I needed to for the tri. I took my coaches advice, (all three of them!) and got in the water to warm up before we started. I cannot even express how important this was for me. At first I didn’t think I needed it, but the water was cold, despite what they told us. (Sorry Boston Tri, but for this girl it was pretty damn cold lol!) I felt like I couldn’t breathe the first few times I put my face in the water. I thought, “Holy shit this is different from being in a pond! I don’t know if I can do this?!” But I got all that anxiety and angst out in my warm-up, so when it came time to start I was good to go.
I began to swim and more than halfway through glanced at my watch realizing I was going to finish a lot quicker than I anticipated. I felt SO good – strong and confident. Then as I was nearing the beach again I started feeling dizzy, and when I trudged out of the water the unexpected hit me… I had vertigo like I had never experienced in my entire life. Like my coach had said, here was something that popped up that I definitely didn’t expect. I hadn’t dealt with this at all during my training and now I was faced with it in the race.
My official swim time was 23:05, but I actually finished it in under 22, it just took me almost 2 minutes to get myself over to the transition area because of the vertigo. As I stumbled to my bike I seriously wondered if I needed medical and wondered why on earth I felt the way I did. I was also shivering from being so cold – like teeth shattering, body shaking freezing. It took me over 6 minutes in my first transition. This is what I get for not wearing a wet suit in the ocean! I had to mentally talk my way through feeling the way I did. In my head I thought for a moment, “Should I just give it up?” But what I did instead was remember how hard I trained, how strong I was, how badly I wanted this and I hopped on my bike. I instead told myself I was going to be OK and pushed through.
I had originally thought I’d be passing people on my bike, but that wasn’t the case at all. I literally rode the first 25 minutes with my teeth shattering feeling dizzy. I can’t make this up people LOL! I kept telling myself, “Just don’t crash and don’t fall over, just keep riding and you’ll eventually warm up and snap out of it!” And you know what? I did! While everyone else was passing me and yelling out, “GREAT JOB! KEEP IT UP!” I came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to finish the bike as fast as I anticipated and allowed all the kind words of encouragement to help push me through each pedal stroke. I truly couldn’t believe how supportive all the other athletes were. Almost every single athlete who passed me had something motivating to yell out. It was amazing, and probably more appreciated than any of them even realized.
By my second loop on the bike I was starting to feel normal again and finished the 10.8 miles in 52:14. While it wasn’t fast, I was proud of myself for pushing through the physical and mental challenge, and by the end of it I felt ready and exited to do what I do best, RUN!
My last transition was under 3 minutes, faster than my first, and my average pace for the run was 8:25 which is 5 seconds faster per mile than what my goal pace was for my first triathlon. Here’s where I literally passed everyone I saw, even with walking through every aid stop to grab regular water or Gatorade (I had Skratch Labs in my hydration belt), and to quickly chat with friend and fellow race ambassador Chrissy Carroll who was doing the Olympic distance, and in the photo below. This is also where I was able to return all those words of encouragement, yelling out to people that they were doing great and looking strong. But even as I passed people they were yelling back out to me, “Wow! Looking strong!” and “Go get ’em tiger!” I’m telling you all, the athletes in this race were the icing on the cake of something already awesome – they were all amazing. You cannot put a price tag on kind, genuine and supportive people. There’s something I’ve learned about racing, and that’s when it comes down to it, most people want everyone out there to do just as well and finish just as strong as themselves.
I crossed the finish line feeling incredibly strong and with a serious sense of accomplishment. I did it! I finished the race, I pushed through an unexpected challenge and I did it with strength and determination. Physically I felt amazing (and hungry!) and I had totally recovered from the vertigo – thank goodness!
But no big goal is accomplished without a little help from others. Without my three coaches at Athletic Pursuits I never would have been ready or prepared for that swim. Their skills, drills, advice, encouragement and sometimes tough love during my training took me from non-swimmer to swimmer in less than two months. These ladies are the best!
I also had two fitness blogging friends who helped me along the way too, Chrissy Carroll from Snacking in Sneakers who referred me as a race ambassador and Dani Holmes-Kirk from Weight Off My Shoulders. Both of these women did the Olympic distance, were very supportive and both were texting me the night before giving me advice and encouragement. They’re two of the most genuine fitness blogging friends I’ve met, so if you haven’t checked them out, go do that! 🙂
And of course, no race of mine is truly complete without my husband and daughter cheering for me on the sidelines. While I didn’t see them when I finished the swim, I did see them a couple of times on the bike and run and my husband captured some fantastic pictures of me. My absolute favorite is one he got of my daughter giving me a flower she picked as I ran past them. And she didn’t just give me flowers, she was giving them out to several people. It was the sweetest, and I love knowing that she was someone else’s inspiration to cross that finish line.
Here’s the thing, while I know this post is long :), I think it’s important for anyone reading this to understand where I came from, my journey in becoming a triathlete and the challenges I faced in getting here. Nothing worth having or achieving comes easy. Even the elites, the best of the best, face challenges. They, like everyone else have setbacks, disappoints and fears. But it’s pushing through the challenges that leads us all to victory, accomplishing something great and finishing stronger than we were before.
I loved everything about the Boston Triathlon – from the training, to the challenges and fears to the race itself. Everyone out there was nice – staff and athletes, it was incredibly well organized and the support on the course was spot on. I truly couldn’t have asked for a better first triathlon.
I can now officially say that I’m a marathoner and a triathlete, and how lucky am I, a born and raised Bostonian, to have had my first marathon and first triathlon in Boston. I cannot wait to come back next year stronger and faster than ever, but in the meantime, you bet your a$$ that I’ve already signed up for another one in September! Yup, I’m officially a triathlete and I’m officially hooked! Until next year, thank you again from the bottom of my heart Boston Tri, you may have been my first, and you surely won’t be my last, but I have a feeling you’re a one of a kind tri ♥