Last Updated on September 26, 2019 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
Ten years ago this June. I had just finished my freshman year in college, and was in D.C. visiting my sister. That weekend, Holly was going to compete in her first ever triathlon in Columbia MD, and I was going to tag along. The night before the race we drove up to the expo. I remember two things about that night clear as day: the first being when Holly ran the rental car straight into wall of the parking garage while trying to park (haha, sorry sister!) and two , was the feeling that I might as well be at a Star Wars convention, because all of this stuff was so foreign to me.
I had just spent the last 9 months in school, practically pouring alcohol down my throat, playing epic games of beer pong and flip cup, and struggling to make it to class around those pesky hangovers. Exercise in general was not on my radar, never mind something so crazy as a triathlon. I looked around at all of the fancy bikes, all of these nutritional supplements, and spandex/Lycra as far as the eye could see and thought “hey, whatever floats Holly’s boat”. This was not my scene. But I was a supportive sister, and was looking forward to watching Holly race the next day.
The next day came ridiculously early. I couldn’t believe we had to be at the start before the sun even came up. To be honest, I never even felt that spark of energy, of pre race excitement in the air. And while I cheered for Holly, watched her cross the finish line with a smile on her face, I was very happy for her, but never quite “inspired” by my surroundings or these athletes. A whole year of guzzling beer and eating pizza had left me with the infamous freshman 15 and then some. At that moment, the idea of even running a 5k seemed impossible. A triathlon just didn’t seem like anything I’d ever do, never mind ever want to do.
My, my, my how the times have changed.
I really don’t remember when the tri-bug planted it’s little seed into my head. Probably sometime after I took up running in 2007. At some point in this love for endurance sports we almost all ask ourselves “what’s next”. For me, that something has always been a triathlon. I took my first step and registered for Iron Girl sprint triathlon in 2008, but was quickly sidelined with a surprise embryo on board (now 18 month old baby Kain). I tried again to work up the courage for a triathlon in 2009, but new mom of 2 kids exhaustion coupled with a very tight income sidelined the dream again.
Summer of 2009, I once again made a trek up north to watch my sister attempt another first. Ironman USA. Spending an entire week watching a town full of triathletes was inspiring enough, but sitting at that finish line at midnight, watching people who have been on the course 16+ hours did me in. I HAD to do a triathlon.
It took another 6 months to get the plan in motion, but for those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know, I finally started to get the ball rolling. I threw myself into the pool, finally dropped the money into a road bike, hired a coach, and got to work. I somewhat stuck with my training (I’ll give myself a B- on training consistancy, yeah I’m pulling the busy-mom/student excuse card) and signed myself up for the 18th annual Coastal Carolina University sprint triathlon. There would be no turning back this time.
Yesterday, the day before the race, I was a bit of a mess. I tried to stay calm, really I did, but a fly on the wall in my house could tell you otherwise. Heck, Rich and the boys, who all tip toed around my self-induced chaos could tell you other wise. There was a moment when I was convinced that my $20 walmart floor tire pump wasn’t reading the tire pressure correctly. Rich, trying to calm me down, assured me it was OK. I assured him it most certainly wasn’t, and one frantic phone call to my sister later, I found myself at the closest bike shop. I’ll take one incredibly expensive floor pump please! My stomach sunk a little when I handed over my debit card (I tossed two spare tubes in the pile as well, just in case) as I seriously second guessed what an expensive sport I’ve gotten myself into (costs more and more everyday!) The sick feeling in my stomach over spending $60 on a tire pump left instantly the second I attached it to my bike tires back at home and realized there was only 40 psi in them (should be around 120). That walmart pump could have totally ruined my day.
Turns out it was a good idea. I don’t know if half the struggle I have with swimming is because I always get in the pool after a long day at school and I’m tired or what. But this morning, one lap in the kiddie pool (the width of the regular pool) felt EFFORTLESS. My stroke felt spot on, and I couldn’t believe it. For the first time in the past few months, swimming felt natural. I couldn’t believe my luck. And what’s more, that gave me the confidence boost I needed at that very moment. Before I knew it, I had to get in line, and then it was my turn to get in the pool. When prompted , I walked across the timing mat, and ever so gracefully kind of stumbled into the pool. The setup events people kept yelling “FEET FIRST NO DIVING” so that’s what I did, and it was so awkward.
And then I swam.
I tried to think of nothing but swimming. Not the rest of the race, not think about my breathing, nothing but reach, glide, pull, repeat. I had a few taps on the toes, which were not NEARLY as scary and as intimidating as I had heard they could be, and allowed those swimmers to pass once I reached a wall. 3 tapping passers, and one that I felt coming up on my heels anyway so I let her go. Only 4 people passed me, which was a huge success in my book. As I turned at the wall for my last 25 yard length, I looked up to see Rich literally walking next to me along the pool. It gave me a boost and I just about ran over the chick in front of me who had passed me a length ago. Before I knew it, I climbed the ladder and was running to transition.
Excuse the language, but holy $@#* I survived the swim of my first triathlon!
Transition was just as crazy as I expected it to be. Last minute I had thought to bring my arm warmers, and I was glad I did, because it was overcast and barely 60 degrees. And while later I was very thankful I had them, slipping on arm warmers on wet arms is ridiculous. Ladies, remember growing up, wearing one piece bathing suits in the summer and having to take it off and put it back on to go to the bathroom? I hate it. the suit sticks, things get twisted, it’s just a mess. Now picture that on my arms, and you’ve got the idea. Next came Garmin, socks, bike shoes, helmet, glasses. Nope, ditch the glasses, the sun isn’t even out (yet). I had a bit of a struggle pulling my bike off the rack (my darn bag got caught under the wheel) and before I knew it, I was off. Seems like I was one of the last to leave transition, though I knew there were still a few behind me.
I crossed the timing mat, then ran a few feet a head and pulled over to the side. Holly had given me a great piece of advice…that in sprint triathlons a lot of first timers fall off the bike right here, because they rush/panic trying to get on and get clipped in. I’m glad this was in the back of my head, because it did take me a minute to get clipped in. Had I not had the forewarning to not panic, I probably would have fallen.
It took me less than a half a mile to feel comfortable on the bike. My goal for the day was to survive the swim, hold my own on the bike, and pass as many people as I could on the run. I never imagined I’d pass as many people as I did on the bike. Granted, probably half of them were on mountain/hybrid bikes, but a good chunk of them were also on road bikes. I am NOT a cyclist (yet) so this really made me feel awesome.
The bike consisted of two loops around the campus and the surrounding neighborhood, for a total of 11 miles. There were a lot of 90 degree turns and a few speed bumps, but also many good stretches where I could get into the big gears (that’s what they are called, right? haha I’m such a newb) and really crank out some power. It felt good.
The last 200 yards or so I put my bike into the easiest gear and spun, just as instructed by so many people. Needless to say, it didn’t stop the jello legs. I galloped into transition and Rich was waiting right there for me. I put on my sneakers, popped a few sport beans, and was on my way. I wanted to sit there in transition for a little while longer, but told myself to get moving.
The first half mile was everything everyone warns you about. It was the most awkward sensation I’ve ever felt while running. I literally felt like I was running at a 15:00 min/mile pace, like I was in slow motion. I glanced down at my Garmin-7:02/ mile. Holy cow, you’ve got to be kidding me. It felt like it took everything I had just to propel my body forward. I slowed myself down a bit, and fortunately this feeling passed quickly. I sank into a good 8:20-ish/mile pace and just went with it.
I am pretty sure if this was a Disney movie I’d have birds flying around me and baby deer galloping along side of me, I was that stoked. I smiled for most of the way and just ran at what felt comfortable, yet still somewhat speedy. This was not a day for a 5k pr, this was a day for a good solid first triathlon finish. My breathing was somewhat labored, but all of this training is slowly paying off. Because just as much as my physical strength is improving, so is my mental strength. I’m learning to push through those feelings of tiredness and know to what point I can hold my own. It feels good. I passed runners one by one and cheered for those passing in the opposite direction who looked in need of a “you go girl” or “great job man!” I ran with a big smile on my face, despite the fact that I could feel the band holding the timing chip to my ankle slowly eating away at my skin. Oh yeah, body glide…oops.
Before I knew it, there was the finish line. In the blink of an eye, my first triathlon was done.
This is my “wow I’m kinda tired, but I can’t believe I did it” excited crazy face, haha
The fruits of my labor payed off in the form of a 2nd place age group award. Yeah, it was a small field, but with at least more than 3 in my age group, it made me feel pretty awesome. My final time was 1:14:23. I had secretly hoped to come in under 1:15, but didn’t share my hopes with anyone, because I honestly thought somewhere closer to 1:30 would be more realistic. I was ecstatic.
At the end of the day, I’m left with a pint glass, a cut up ankle, some permanent marker I still need to scrub off in the shower, and a huge sense of accomplishment. This was the first step to a much bigger dream I have. This was a hurdle that at one point seemed 100 feet tall. And I did it. I’m pretty much on triathlon -cloud-9 right now. And yes, in case it isn’t blatantly obvious by now, I am absolutely hooked. There will be plenty more triathlons in my future, no doubt about it!
Thanks for all of the support you’ve all given me, especially my family, CM running moms, and Coach Jeff for not giving up on me every time I skipped a workout (oops!). Thanks for all of the comments, the encouragement, and the advice. It all really has taken me so far. And thanks to you if you have read this far in probably what is my longest blog post ever, haha.
I’ll share the splits, transition times, and final numbers as soon as they are posted. One thing I did NOT do well today was remember I was wearing a garmin. I do know I was 59th place overall, out of close to 100 competitors (edit, only 79 finishers). Not too shabby, considering most of them had bikes I couldn’t even fathom affording. Not saying expensive bikes make you a good triathlete, just suggesting they might have a bit more experience than I, haha.
****EDIT to add **** final times:
300 yard swim 7:32
11 mile bike 35:46 (18.5 mph)
5k run 26:49 (8:38/mile pace)
And to any of you who have dreams to do something, whether it be a triathlon, a 100 mile ultra or even your first 5k, DO IT. Set your dreams in motion. We are all capable of anything we put our minds to, and I promise you will surprise yourself.
Happy running everyone!
your newest multi sport mama friend!
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.