It was 85 degrees that morning, and I couldn't bring myself to jump into the cool Lake Erie waters.
The gun marking the start of the race had already fired, and all the other25- to 30-year-olds were swimming. Instead of leaping in and making up for lost time, I stood there, frozen. An entire winter of physical training had led me to a single jarring conclusion: What I really could have used was a little mental preparation.
Of course, I had whole-heartedly volunteered for this challenge six months prior. My triathlon-veteran husband and his "atta-girl" attitude had helped seal the deal. But really it was all my own doing. The alpha girl in me loved the idea of setting and attaining a fitness goal.
This is how gung-ho I was: I hired a triathlon coach. I logged hours on my bike and even more in the pool. During my long training sessions at the gym I kept my spirits high by picturing myself running down other athletes and leaving them in my dust (or wake, depending upon what leg of the fantasy race I was on at the time).
But faced with the reality -- churning water, white-capped and clogged with swimmers -- made my usually steel-lined stomach drop. I contemplated skipping the race altogether. I could just wait two hours and show up at the finish line looking worn out.
But I was too invested to simply drop out. I’d skipped too many happy hours in favor of early-morning training sessions. How could I give up now? And then I dove in.
Surely it was only a few seconds from the time my feet left the pier and my head bobbed to the water’s surface, but it felt like hours. I heaved to and fro, trying to catch my breath, waterlogged. I fell back on muscle memory-- my reward for a half year of instruction-- and slowly started swimming my half mile. Breathe, stroke. Breathe, stroke.
I emerged from the lake last, sprinted tithe transition area, found my bike and peddled nervously onto the 16-mileMemorial Shore way course. In triathlon, age groups and genders start the race at different intervals, so you end up biking next to both 60-year-old grandmothers and 25-year-old testosterone junkies. With so many bodies closely packed together riding at high speeds, I was freaking out. By the time I reached the5K run, I was exhausted, but gaining confidence. I felt so much respect for my fellow athletes. I’d learned how much courage it takes just to begin a triathlon, let alone finish one. I was so overcome with emotion that I started cheering and high-filing everyone: racers, spectators, innocent children, and a garbage man.
I crossed the finish line in two hours and eight minutes (more like six months, two hours and eight minutes). I’d finished before dozens of other people. So I waited at the end. There were still plenty of folks racing, and they needed to be cheered on, too.