Ever since I was a teenager, when I used to run and bike to school with my dad, and swim laps in the pool in between classes, I always thought it would be really cool to run a triathlon someday. But it just never happened… until today!
My friends Lindsey and Emily talked me into it. I met Lindsey when she adopted one of our foster kittens who we’d been spreading the word about on Facebook. I was in vet school at the time, and struggling to maintain any kind of consistent exercise regimen.
I came to find out that Lindsey is an avid cyclist, who inspired me to take up cycling again myself! Soon, I had done several bike rides with her and her friends. And this year, she told me about this wonderful triathlon she and her friends were training for. They had done it last year, and since I was biking and running anyway, I should do it!
Well, over the summer, I ended up doing a lot of cross training anyway. I’ve been recovering from a tibial stress fracture sustained during the Revel Rockies marathon. I knew I was injured going into that race, and choosing to race made it even worse. I’m used to bouncing back after a marathon and getting back into my normal routine a couple weeks later… but this time, when I tried to run, my legs physically would not let me do it. It wasn’t just the normal running pain that you can push through. When I tried to run, my muscles and bones literally failed me, and all I could manage was a slow, awkward shuffle that didn’t even resemble running. It was a very humbling experience after all the fast PR’s that I’d set earlier in the year.
Before this experience, I remember hearing fellow runners talk about their injuries and how depressed they were over them, and I thought to myself, “It’s really not that bad! Our bodies heal. Just a few weeks of rest, and you’ll be back stronger than ever.” But it’s not that simple. When you sustain an injury like this that keeps you from doing what you love, you really go through a grieving process. I looked up the 5 stages of grief, and I went through all of them:
- Denial that I was injured. “This is just normal muscle tightness and soreness… I’m sure it will go away during the taper!”
- Anger that I couldn’t do what knew I should be capable of doing. “This training cycle was going so well. I nailed every workout leading up to this injury. I should have been able to get this BQ, and everything has fallen apart.”
- Bargaining. “Maybe if I keep my running really light for the last couple of weeks leading up to the marathon, I can still push through and have a good race.”
- Depression as I realized that this activity that brings me so much joy, that I’d put so much work into over the past few years, had been abruptly taken away from me, and there was nothing I could do about it.
- Acceptance. “Wait… there IS something I can do about it. I can’t run right now, but what CAN I do? It doesn’t hurt to walk… or bike… or swim… maybe I can give yoga a try…”
And so the summer went by. “You can’t run for at least 6 weeks,” is what my doctor told me. It felt like much longer than that. But the time went by, and I did what I could on the bike and in the pool.
Finally the 6 weeks was up, and I began using a walk/run plan recommended by my coach to gradually start easing back into running again. It was very humbling. My speed and endurance that I’d spent so long building up were greatly decreased. I didn’t just “bounce back” like I assumed would happen with my injured running friends who were once telling me about their woes. Nope, despite the cross training, getting back into running has been hard work. 2-mile runs left me with muscle soreness as if I’d never been a runner before. At the time of this writing, my longest run since the injury has been 5 miles, a distance I once breezed through on my easy days of running, but that I’ve now had to slowly build back up to. There is nothing easy about being injured, or about the slow process of building back up to where you were even after your injury is healed and you’re cleared to run.
Around the time I was starting to run again, I received a message from Emily reminding me about this triathlon, and asking if I was planning to do it. Well… I mean, I HAD been doing some swimming and biking over the summer. And the running part was only a 5k. I wasn’t kidding myself that I would be able to do it fast, but surely I could at least complete it. And it might be a fun way to celebrate my recovery and make something positive out of all the non-running activities I’d been doing over the summer to keep from going crazy.
So I signed up. And last night, after Joshua got off work, he and I made the trek up to Bentonville. I love going to races with him. It means so much having him there cheering me on, and it’s always fun having a little date night at the local restaurants and hotels!
This was definitely the least prepared I’ve ever felt for a race. Yes, I’d done a little biking and swimming… but I had certainly not done any formal training for a triathlon. And what were all these numbers in my bag?! I was used to having one bib pinned to my tank top… where was I supposed to put all these stickers? And I had to go find someone to write numbers on my body too? And where was I supposed to put my bike and all the stuff I would need for transitions? How do I put on this swim cap? Where was the start line even…? I hope I didn’t look as overwhelmed and discombobulated as I felt with so many seasoned triathletes around me. I was very relieved to see a familiar face – Cassie, who also rides with Lindsey and Emily. She helped me figure out what all those numbers in my race packet were for, and patiently answered a bunch of other silly questions that I had.
The race start was VERY different than the usual anthem and “ready, set, go!” that I’m used to at running races. We started with the swim segment which was in a pool. We lined up according to our expected paces. (I had no clue what my expected pace was, so I stayed close to my friends.) Each athlete got in the pool one at a time, with 10 seconds between them.. We were supposed to swim to the end of the pool, go under the rope separating the lanes, and swim back in the next lane, repeating this zig-zag pattern all the way across the pool. We stood in line a long time waiting for our turn, and I was starting to shiver in the chilly morning. Finally it was my turn, and I jumped into the pool.
I’ve always enjoyed swimming laps, finding it relaxing to fall into a rhythm, breathing easily on every third stroke. But today was different. I don’t know if it was adrenaline or what. But I felt like I was hyperventilating, and trying to breathe on every third stroke just wasn’t working for my oxygen needs. I started to panic and swallow water. I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs. A few times, I had to roll over on my back and just breathe, regathering myself before I flipped back over to try again. I expected to be slow, but I never expected this. I am not a person who is prone to panic attacks, and this caught me completely off guard. Even Joshua told me afterwards that he was worried about me, watching me resort to a backstroke when he knows that I am usually a strong swimmer.
I was very relieved when the swim was finally over and I could get started on the bike ride. This was something I’d done before in a race setting… something I was comfortable with. It was hard getting my wet feet into my shoes. But I finally wiggled them on, jogged my bike out of the transition area, and hopped on.
The bike ride consisted of 4 laps around a loop course that added up to a little over 15 miles. I enjoyed it. There was a big hill or two, but after the first time around the loop, I knew when to expect them. The temperature was perfect for riding and the breeze quickly dried me off.
Then it was back to transition. Cassie and I came in at the same time. She was off running before me, as I had issues getting my wet feet into my running shoes. I knew running right off the bike would be hard, but I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed in my performance. I had run a 7:10/mi average pace at the Glo Run 5k in April, and today I couldn’t even get under an 8:00/mi pace. Yes, I’d been injured and hadn’t done any speed work in a long time… yes, I just got off a bike… yes, a pace in the low 8:00’s is still pretty good for me. But it was still humbling realizing that this was my limit today. Oh well… I signed up for this triathlon with a plan to have fun and go with the flow, so I would do just that. I relaxed a little and enjoyed the pretty course through a park.
When I got to the finish line, Joshua was there cheering for me. He’d always been waiting for me at the transition area too. It was so wonderful seeing him and feeling his support during every stage of this race. Cassie was already there, too. She had flown through the last 5k, getting first place in the master’s category! Lindsey and Emily were right behind us, and we enjoyed celebrating together afterwards with yummy post-race food. (My favorite were the Yasso bars… frozen greek yogurt that tastes just like ice cream!)
Were there things I could have done better in this race? Yes. I could have made the commitment to sign up earlier, and design a training plan specifically to prepare me for this race instead of doing a bike ride here and a swim there whenever I felt like it. I could definitely have focused on better nutrition in the days leading up to the race… I overindulged substantially on Thursday at the party my coworkers threw me for my last day of work at that clinic. In the pool, I feel like I would have done much better if I’d eased into my stroke instead of trying to go fast from the beginning. I’ll have to experiment with that.
But overall, it was a great first triathlon. Any day that you finish a race is a good one. And it’s especially wonderful when you have friends there to cheer on and visit with. I even saw Ben, who I ran with in the Joplin Marathon over a year ago. (Ironically, that was his first marathon… just as this was my first triathlon!)
So I’m not going to dwell on the things that went wrong. Today, I’m choosing to focus on all the things I have to celebrate. This amazing body that God has blessed me with, capable of so much more than I give it credit for. The healing and recovery He is providing, allowing me to build slowly back up to where I was. The valuable lessons I’ve learned through this process of injury and recovery. He works through everything that happens in our lives, and today I’m thankful for His gift of letting me complete this race. I can’t wait to see what’s next!