Health

Crossing the finish line: My triathlon challenge

Yesterday, I wasn't Carrie — I was number 1463. It was inked on my arm in black. Yesterday, I competed in my first ever triathlon. Put it all together: 1500 metre swim, 40 km bike ride, and 10 km run. Let's just say there were a lot of buff bodies at the race site.

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Yesterday, I wasn’t Carrie — I was number 1463. It was inked on my arm in black. 

Yesterday, I competed in my first ever triathlon. Put it all together: 1500 metre swim, 40 km bike ride, and 10 km run. Let’s just say there were a lot of buff bodies at the race site.

While my husband juggled our children’s needs (Happy Father’s Day, honey!), I racked my bike in the transition zone (see — I’m learning the lingo), set up my gear on a colourful towel, and made friends with the woman next to me: also a newbie to the sport, she was coming from a competitive swimming background (yes, I was envious). She showed me the right way to get into my wetsuit (inside-out — who knew?), and zipped me up. Briefly bonded, we made our way down to the lake for a quick dip before the race began.

(I’ll skip the part where I lined up for the bathroom. Twice.)

When the starting horn blew, I was standing somewhere near the back, totally overwhelmed — not fearful, but simply in awe. The sight took my breath away. Imagine almost 500 competitors running into a beautiful Ontario lake all at the same time, arms churning and heads bobbing. I could not believe that I was among them. And then I ran and dove and churned and bobbed, too. Despite a detour toward the wrong buoy, the swim portion went as well as I imagined it could: yes, it was a slow swim, but I stayed calm and focused, and never once lost my breath.

Oddly, the run from the water up the hill to the transition zone was the hardest of the day. I was beyond thrilled — a year ago, I couldn’t swim three metres, and I’d just finished an open-water, 1500-metre swim! But I also felt utterly exhausted. I had to keep reminding myself that there was still a lot of race left.

Fortunately, cycling turned out to be my favourite part of the race. Within a few kilometres, I’d regained my breath, and the course flew by: peaceful country roads and lots of hills. Apparently, I have a weird affinity for hills — going up them — and as the race progressed, I felt stronger and stronger, as if I could have kept cycling pretty much forever. (My pelvis might have disagreed).

I was thankful to feel strong going into the run, because it can only be described in terms that make it sound like a form of torture: painful, gruelling, a test of will-power. Hopping off the bike and dashing 10 km does not come naturally to the human body. But the “brick” training runs paid off (short runs done immediately after a bike ride), and within a couple of kilometres I realized, Hey, legs, you’re back! Let’s pick up the pace here!

Still, no amount of training can make the last few kilometres of any race easy: they’re run on mental grit alone. Somehow, my legs kept on lifting even while my body was saying, “I can’t.” “Maybe you think you can’t,” I told myself, “but you’re still doing it.” With every step I took, I thought about all of the early mornings, and I thought about my children and my husband, and I thought about the friends who trained with me, and I could have kissed the race organizers for placing the finish line at the bottom of a long downhill stretch. 

In a photo taken by friends near the finish line, both of my feet are off the ground.

Number 1463 was flying home. I did it!

(P.S. I’ll fill you in on the results, and on what comes next, in my final post on Thursday.)