Kicking off the best time of year: triathlon season!
(if rehashing a race isn’t your thing, steer clear of this post!)
Going into last weekend’s race I was excited but apprehensive. On one hand I’ve started to feel like me again. It’s been pretty good. I’ve gotten back a lot of my old energy. In the last few weeks the inward feeling of being on fire has gone away. This is a significant change. I can finally snuggle into a blanket once again when I sleep (rather than laying in a pool of sweat like a certain woman of let’s just say, a particular age who might be suffering hot flashes.) I am 7 months out from chemo and finally don’t feel like I’m inside of a pressure cooker. I can only assume this means that my body has successfully rid itself of a lot more toxic chemo junk. Good riddance.
On the other hand, since healing from a broken leg I’ve only been able to run for about 7 weeks. This unfortunately means my old speed hasn’t magically reappeared yet. Where are my old running legs? I seem to have misplaced them. These feel like dead weights. Indeed, all of my training runs have been pretty brutal. Running is harder than it used to be. I’m not enjoying it. What I’m scared of is that it will never be the same. It used to be my happy place. Is that over? I used to take it for granted and it used to be simply something I did. Is it so hard now because I’m coming back from an injury, or cancer, or both? Okay okay, Rome wasn’t built in a day. But this is requiring a lot of patience.
Going into this race I have been wondering if I had perhaps bit off more than I could chew. Doing some short sprint distance triathlons over the last year is one thing, but I was starting to suspect an invasion of the body snatchers had made this crazy girl sign herself up for a longer distance. As race day approached, this Olympic distance race was becoming more of an intimidating mountain. If you’re going to be racing longer than a sprint distance, you have to legitimately train for the endurance necessary to complete it. In preparation I worked hard to build up my endurance in all 3 sports separately. I have been diligently getting up early each day to get a swim, bike, or a run in before the kids woke up. I should be feeling ready. But I still felt like I was playing a game of Russian Roulette by expecting myself to be able to handle all 3 in a row. On the same day. And quickly? That last part is optional. Could I have the stamina to still run 6 miles after biking 24 and swimming? How did I ever do this? Knowing it was going to take a leap of faith, I reminded myself to simply give it my best. I repeated to myself that after beating cancer, I had already won, no matter the outcome on the race course.
Race morning weather was looking 100% awful with 100% chance of thunderstorms. My sister Catherine from California and my baby brother Nathan from Texas (baby brother, who now towers over me!) had both traveled far to do this race with me. If it weren’t for them I might have bailed on the whole thing. I might have told myself it’s not worth getting up early, traveling to the race at the crack of dawn to set up, only to have the race director cancel for lightening in the area. With weather like this there was a good chance they had traveled all the way here for nothing.
It was going to be my baby brother’s first triathlon. I’m going to highlight some of the things about his race more than my sister’s because of it being his first and because we registered for the same distance. He was jumping right in with the Olympic distance (.9 mile swim, 24 mile bike, 6.1 mile run- he’s no chicken!) I am so proud of them for routinely fitting their training into their busy careers and family life back home, and showing up ready to take on this difficult challenge.
Scoping out Longview Lake the day before the race with my Dad and Step Mom. It was cold and windy out. This was not enticing us to get excited about the next day.
Getting rained on while setting up our transition areas. The smiles of these two warmed the whole mood of the day. I was impressed that neither complained about the horrible conditions. With cold fingers we pulled on our wetsuits, high fived each other, and waited for our start. Thankfully the rain stopped right before the start of the race. And can you believe it remained totally clear until 15 minutes after we finished?
3 happy siblings:
Nathan made it within his time goal by a long shot and placed 19th in his age group, finishing in 2 hours and 50 minutes. You can bet he will be doing more triathlons after finding such fabulous success in this one. In fact he has already picked out his next race. I am so incredibly proud of him. My sister earned a podium spot with a 3rd place in her division in the duathlon. The duathlon course was a 1.5 mile run, 12 mile bike, and 3.1 mile run. She rocked it by finishing in 1hour 25 minutes. She was ahead of the first place overall female finisher for the beginning of the first 1.5 mile run. My sis has some speed! And then she wore my son’s bike helmet that has a mohawk on the top. Yes, she brought the awesome sauce.
The sweetest moment:
Wrapped up in this finish line hug is the shared knowledge that cancer tried but did not succeed in breaking us. I wouldn’t have crossed this finish line today or the proverbial finish line of cancer without this guy. Our marriage has grown stronger in the midst of cancer. I give God all the glory. Also this race happened on Mother’s Day so Tom took on the task of bringing the kids along (spectating these races requires great flexibility, adapting to road closures for the bikers, and thus involves a lot of walking.) He lovingly rallied the troops to cheer on their mamma. What a great hubby and daddy! Tom, seriously, you are the best ever.
So there you have it. I would call this race a giant success. A victory with more meaning than just the race itself. It solidifies my courage to keep striving for greatness. God kept me here despite a life threatening disease so I’m assuming He must have more plans for me. Jeremiah 29:11- “For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
Just for fun, my Mom made this video about the race:
Now bear with me as I walk through the day because otherwise I can easily forget how exactly I executed everything on race day. There are just so many moving parts to this sport and it is so super challenging that I still find myself learning new things. This recap is more for my records.
Breakfast of oatmeal and coffee 3 hours before the start of the race and one energy gel minutes before entering the water.
Wetsuit required for these waters today. Nathan’s swim group entered a few minutes before mine. I remember staining my eyes to spot him among the pack of jocks and thinking, “Wow, he looks like he belongs here.” He looked statuesque in his triathlon gear standing on the beach. His training has been chiseling him down to become quite fit.
Before starting the race we did not feel like getting into the water to participate in the designated warm up swim because the lake was freezing. Even the announcer joked that if you wanted to get in early for the warm-up swim you must be nuts. The race director decided as last minute as race morning to shorten the swim because of such cold temperatures. We would now only be swimming 600 meters. When the gun went off, it was “go time,” I kicked and thrashed with all my might to stay at the front of the pack. Despite the shorter distance, I quickly realized my mistake.
I wasn’t warmed up.
First rule of triathlon is you do not talk about triathlon. Well that ship has sailed. Second rule of triathlon is you do not go all out without warming up first. I’m breaking all the rules. Of course you don’t start sprinting like that without warming up first. I regretted not easing into it, thinking, “Woah. What in the world? I can’t do these races anymore. This isn’t for me. Who do I think I am anyway? Why am I in this freezing cold lake right now? Why are my arms feeling like dead weights? Why do I feel so gassed? This race was a mistake.” Doubts and insecurities clouded my mind. I had to drastically slow down to let my heart rate settle, loosing my place at the front. “Oh well,” I said to myself, “This is what I expected. I was already preparing myself for a huge ego hit in today’s race. I just need to remember to be happy with a finish of any kind. That is my new reality.” So there you have it. My defeated mindset. But I just kept swimming. Forward progress is better than nothing. I finally started speeding up when I passed the last buoy marking the final turn towards the beach. By then I knew my total swim was going to be slow by my old standards. I ended up finishing in 13 minutes, 11 seconds. Knowing my regular swim ability, I expected to do it in under 11 minutes. Or at least under 12. Oh well. Nathan finished in an amazing 11:26, especially great for his first open water swim!
Feeling disorientated from the cold water, hobbling through the bike area on frozen bare feet, I couldn’t find the right rack. I went down the wrong aisle a few times. I spotted my Mom and sister-in-law Virginia standing next to the baricade and I quickly confirmed with them that Nathan had already made it through the swim, out of his wetsuit, and was happily off on his bike. That was a relief to know.
Finally finding my bike, I hurriedly struggled to get my own wet suit off. This seemed more difficult than usual. My whole transition took 3 minutes and 11 seconds. I generally try to keep my transitions under 2 minutes. Oh well again.
“Time to make up for lost time.” I have been training on the bike consistently pretty much the entire time throughout my treatments so this was the part of the race where I planned to really push myself. It was really cold having the wind hit me after being in the water but I kept reminding myself to bike faster to warm up. My fingers were numb and I wished I had gloves on. But once again I told myself to just hurry up to get it done faster. My hands were so cold it was difficult to open my next energy gel about 40 minutes into the ride. Everytime I would coast down a hill I would get cold again. This made me ride harder to stay warm.
I was able to see my brother on the bike course several times. You know how I spotted him? By the huge smile on his face. With his full gear of bike helmet and black bike kit, he blended in with all the other racers but his bright smile shined from far away. There are several turnarounds on the course so we had plenty of opportunities to see each other and yell out encouragements. He looked strong. We were very close to each other for the entire bike race. This means if we lived in the same city we could train together because we ride such similar paces. That would be incredible.
I was able to average 19.7 mph for the 24 miles. I was really happy about that and started to feel like even if I ended up having to walk during the upcoming run portion I would still be proud of my race overall. My bike time was 1 hour 15 minutes. Last year, same course, I did it in 1 hour 11 minutes. Aware of this tiny difference despite cancer, I was elated.
Gaining confidence from my bike performance and starting to remember some of my old tricks I quickly executed a flying dismount. This is when I take my feet out of my shoes while still moving on the bike, then swing my right leg over as I slow my roll, and finish by running my bike to it’s rack with bare feet. This allows me to run faster than in bike shoes. Every second counts. I toss my booking great down, slip my feet into running shoes, Don my hat, and clasp my race belt with bib number in hand, putting it on around my waist as I begin running. Out of there in 2 minutes 8 seconds.
Here’s where it could go horribly wrong or amazingly well. I just didn’t know what to expect from my unseasoned legs after biking hard. Recently I’ve been feeling like a little old lady whenever I run. Slow and lethargic. Asking my legs to have any speed in them has been a struggle. I could use a session with a sports phycologist to cope with my present mental mental state in this area. I remember being faster but it has been taken away from me and it’s hard to not become bitter.
So for this part of the race I played it safe by finding a comfortable pace. I think that was the right approach for my first race back. I don’t know if I even had a choice in the matter. Recently all I’ve been capable of doing is running a steady pace. Whenever I try and push myself hard during a run, my body responds by telling me, “No thank you not today. I’ve done enough hard time as of late.” I think my body isn’t ready for any new pain. Especially any brought on willingly.
Took in another gel with 2 miles left on the run. I felt really strong the whole time and just wanted to stay at that level. Reminded myself several times to run tall and push off on my toes with every step.
My final run time was 50:00 which is an 8:02 pace per mile. I was so surprised by this pace. Apparently the race adrenaline gave me wings because recently I’ve been finding myself running at an 8:30-8:45 pace. Last year I did this same course in 46 minutes. After the year I’ve had, only adding 4 minutes -I’ll take it!
Nathan finished in 2:50 and 19th place in his division! We’re all celebrating!
Total time for me of 2:23. Broke the top 10 with a 9th overall female finish. 1st place division spot. Last year I was 5th overall female and would’ve won money if I had chosen to enter myself into the elite category. But that’s ok. Only choosing to look back in order to gain momentum for moving forward. There will be many more years for me if I choose to go that route. For now, I’m content. I always learn a lot about my current self through racing. This one highlights to me the ever valuable lesson of being able to find the joy in today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? And today for me right now means giving myself a break because often times good things are coming, I just need to have patience. And in the meantime, following the example set by my upbeat siblings to share a bright smile with others because it always makes everything better. And to simply count my blessings. And that will keep me plenty busy. Because there are many.