triathlon, meet (cocky) rookie. (cocky) rookie, bow down
Recently, I experienced some… disgruntlement living the (basic) life: career (blah), body image (eh), writer’s block (sucks), adult decisions (really suck), oh, and don’t let me forget FedLoan, 'cause they sure won’t.
There’s only so much Mindfulness I can practice in a day and I’ve done enough soul-searching to know I simply had to find an (extra) way to channel my angst.
I needed something that pushed me past my limits, outside of myself, and challenged me on every level. I started with running because, well, I’m awful.
Like, Phoebe terrible. See: Friends. Season 6, Episode 7. (You’re Welcome).
Although I was becoming a little less terrible, running just wasn't enough (ok, Lots of angst). While mulling over my dilemma, I realized it was only March and I’d (conveniently) already forgotten my New Year, New You goals: OVERCOMING MY THREE BIGGEST FEARS.
No. 2: Open Water. Triathlon, meet (Cocky) Rookie. Cocky Rookie, BOW DOWN.
I committed to the Grandman Triathlon, a (Sprint) Tri hosted by Publix® in the lovely town of Fairhope, Alabama. It’s a beautiful course that challenges its brave contenders to a 1/3 mile open water swim, 18 mile bike ride, and 5k run to the finish. Perfect.
Training Day 1: Go on 20+mile bike ride with some very veteran (very serious) Triathletes on a not-so-gently used bike bought with my only $200 to spare.
Only completed 13 miles because I was basically dying, bleeding and my bike was not in the best shape. Yep, definitely the bike’s fault.
Training Day 2: Spent half the day on ice, the other half pissed for being so naïve. I dug out my New Year plan to remind myself why I embarked on this little quest in the first place. Maybe it was the pain electrifying my quads, maybe it was delirium from the ugly cry I just had, maybe I was fed-up with feeling mediocre (at best) in every facet of life, I’m still not sure, but I decided to do this crazy thing if it was the last thing I ever did!
Because I had my ego handed to me by a backroad Stop sign, I knew there was A LOT to learn, and I had no idea where to start. So, I called in the troops. It was rally time.
I enlisted the help of every friend, mentor and coach I knew. I read books, magazines and blogs, and watched every YouTube tutorial possible. I made a training schedule and went to werk. (Heyyyy @Rhianna)
The first 4 weeks, I was convinced it was the dumbest idea I’d ever had. I was red-eye tired all the time, working out a new kink every day, and I looked like I got the ish beat out of me because no one told me clipping-in on a bike is like playing pee-wee soccer sans shin guards.
Please understand, I know hard work. I grew up on a farm, I’ve never had less than two jobs at a time, and I’ve virtually been on my own since I was 17. But this was intense. What was I thinking?? This will be the Last decision I make on a stupid YOLO high.
My Swim Survival Training began about 6 weeks out from Race Day. Days 1 through 8, I (seriously) questioned my sanity. I could barely make it from one end of the pool to the other without blubbering in pure terror every time a “wave” slapped me in the face.
After a few weeks of (public) pool water consumption, I had the Freestyle down. Well, down enough not to drown.
One Week Out: First Open Water Practice.
I only thought I knew panic before.
That crowded, stank swimming pool looked like St. Barts compared to the murky, creature-filled abyss I was stepping into. I did my best to hide how terrified I was, but my Be Cool capped-off the second an unidentified sea creature jumped into my face. My training buddy’s back probably still hurts from carrying me around that day. What doesn't kill ya makes ya stronger, right Rachel?! ;)
Breathe… Breathe… Brea- Don’t talk to me Stranger! I'm in my Zen Zone over here. Seriously, stop talking. Can’t you see I’m FREAKING OUT!
#721 You’re Up! 3, 2, 1, Go! Without skipping a beat, I leaped out and as far away from Chatty Kathy as I could. A few strokes in and Rachel was by my side. The water was (extra) choppy, but I paced my breath and kept my thoughts barred against the fear that was banging on my mind’s door. That worked for oh, about 50 yards.
One nasty wave and kick in the ribs and I came unglued. My breath amped to rabbit-speed, fear blew out the door in my mind and took with it all my technical training.
Rachel was only a few feet away, but it didn’t matter. I was wild-eyed with panic. I looked around and saw others struggling too; it didn’t make me feel better.
My lungs burned. I could not control my breath. Every time I tried, I’d get slapped in the face by a (real) wave. I asked the kayak-team if they would line up every 25 yards, so I could swim from one to the next and (hopefully) finish. (Too) calmly, Safety Kayak #3 said of course they would do that, but I could “get out anytime I wanted,” “the water's rough today,” and I “didn’t have to finish.”
Rachel and I exchanged one of those millisecond glances that says 1,000 words. My shoulders squared. “Thanks, but NO. Every 25, Let’s Go.” There was absolutely no way I was going to quit. That tough talk helped me make it through another 100 yards or so, but suddenly, I. LOST. IT.
Quitting was more than tempting. I had taken in all the seawater I could handle. I was gasping painfully sharp breaths, my body was on fire, and flashbacks to my (infamous) near-death drowning performance during Summer Camp of '93 were stuck on repeat in my head.
I flipped into a back stroke; the only training tip that stuck I guess. Fist Buuuump Stacy.
I could see my friends' (disappointed) supportive faces saying, “It’s ok, there’s always next year.” Ugh.
I’d come so far. I’d sweated, cried, bled, and ran myself ragged for months. More than that, I’d lived nearly my whole life terrified of water and I’d had enough of that bully named Fear. Not finishing was Not an option.
I closed my eyes and yell-prayed. Come ON! There’s so much more I’m out here for than just fear of open water, You know that! Just help me get through this part! Don’t Let Me Quit!
I couldn’t hear anything except my own raging heartbeat. I couldn’t see Rachel and I was still a longggg way from the shoreline. In an instant, the Bible verse that chirped on my phone the night before flashed back. “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.” Admittedly, I’d laughed a little when it popped up. Yeh, like I can “Be Still” during a Triathlon. Good one Big Guy.
But, when I opened my eyes, I knew. Right over me (and I mean, directly over my head), a tiny bird was steadily coasting (through some pretty intense wind), not wavering in the slightest, in a (very) straight line. Taking my cue, I backstroked my way through the chop, never taking my eyes off my little flying hero. Ironically, I’ve never been so still in my life.
After 45 minutes of backstroking, kayak-hopping and bird-watching, Rachel and I touched dry land. Oh the joy in that first step! In my mind, the race was already won! And, thanks to my friend and “Coach of the Year,” Marshall, we knocked out the bike ride in the same amount of time. In the end, I was only running on the @NFRealMusic playing in my head and Jesus.
But, I survived.
For three long months, there was (so much) pain, blood, sweat, tears, (super) early alarms, bruises, windburn, “almost there’s,” one-more-reps, and how the hell did I get here’s.
And it was SO worth it. I made new (incredible) life-long friends, reunited with old ones and, most importantly, I learned to believe in myself again.
I won't deny that I'm a tad traumatized by my swim experience. But, the joy I feel for finishing far exceeds any lingering angst.
While I’m not 100% rid of the fear bully, now I know I can fight back, and that’s a feeling I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Watch Out Kona, I'm comin' for ya!!
Should you embark on a Tri-training quest of your own, I’ve put together a (somewhat) unconventional list of things I learned through my training blunders and I hope it fares you well. I will warn you, after taking the first plunge, Tri-training is addictive.
A (COCKY) ROOKIE’s TOP TEN TRI-TRAINING TIPS:
(Say that 5 Times Fast)
1. Skills, then Swag. What makes Triathletes look so awesome, is not just the bomb gear, it’s the skills they worked hard on to make it look so easy. Real talk - No one cares what you’re riding on if you don’t know how to ride it.
2. Snot Rockets are Real. And Dangerous.
3. Chapstick is a multi-purpose miracle worker. Don’t leave home without it.
4. Don’t take Tri-training advice from people who’ve never completed a Triathlon. I don’t care if they can lift a car over their heads and Cha-Cha at the same time – it’s not the same thing.
5. Helmets. Are. Cool.
6. Embrace your Rookie-ness. Seriously. No one is going to judge you for falling off your bike, because everyone (whether they admit it or not) has eaten asphalt at some point along the way. But, if they do, See No. 2.
7. You are your Own competition. It’s virtually an individual sport, so don’t get your gel pads stuck down-under when a chick (or someone perceivably not “on your level”) passes you. Chances are, he or she is not even in your Division/Age Group and you’ll be wasting precious energy all for the silly sake of your ego.
8. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL RACE WEEK TO PRACTICE IN OPEN WATER. Just Trust Me.
9. Breathe. In ALL things. At ALL times.
10. If all else fails, just SURVIVE.