Last winter I invited my brother-in-law, Chris, to invite me to do a triathalon with him. Obligingly, he complied. I am not sure who put doing a triathalon on my bucket list—I guess it was me. I put it there after I invited Chris to invite me to do it. I put it there so that I could cross it off when I completed it. Having done it, I would never need to do a triathalon again. Saturday I participated in the Spudman Triathalon, an event featuring a mile swim in the Snake River, a 25 mile bike ride around the Burley, ID area, and a 6.2 mile run along a Burley canal bank.
Having heard that wetsuits are a must but being reluctant to part with the $50 it would cost to rent a suit, I asked Chris “How many of the participants last year did not wear wetsuits?” “About 2….out of 2000,” was his response. Swayed by the wisdom of the masses, I decided to rent a wetsuit.
Earlier in the week I tried on the wetsuit before renting it and decided that triathlons should really be called quad-athons with the fourth event being the putting on of the wetsuit. Holy cow! I burned up 10 minutes and 2,000 calories just trying to get the thing on. It was a real ordeal that left me drenched in sweat. The salesman said it should be tight and it was.
Too tight. Saturday I started swimming in the fourth flight (red swim cap, 7:40 a.m.) of the day. When I entered the river and tried to swim away from the bank I found that I could not breathe. My chest simply did not have room to expand. I could not draw a deep breath and was forced to swim with my face out of the water in order to get enough air. Soon even swimming with my face up wasn’t supplying my oxygen needs.
Before the race I’d prayed that I’d be guided to make wise decisions. My prayer was answered multiple times throughout the day, the first being my decision to get rid of my wetsuit top. [The wetsuit was a two piece contraption, consisting of bib pants and a pull over top.] About 50 m into the race, I floundered over to the dock where kind race officials pulled me gasping from the water and helped me remove the restricting top.
I got back into the water immediately. Though it was several minutes before my breathing returned to normal exercise patterns the difference was instantly apparent. I could breathe again! What difference breathing makes!!
Once breathing became something I did, instead of something I struggled to do, the swim became very pleasant. The water—about 70 degrees F—was nice. The river—The Snake—was wide and gently flowing. I couldn’t really feel the current but its effect was very apparent as my mile swim time was about half normal. The swim was over before I expected it to be; soon I was in the bike transition area.
As a first-time-triathalete-with-no-plans-to-do-another-one, I didn’t purchase the fancy gear that many people utilize and so I had to wait for an open porta-pottie to make the change from my swim suit to shorts and a t-shirt. Soon enough I was on my trusty bike, a mountain/road bike hybrid. I was on only one of three bikes I saw with knobby tires. Hundreds (and hundreds) of bikers on road bikes with razor thin tires passed us (me and my bike), sometimes solo, often in packs of 10-20….and I was totally okay with that.
The 25 mile bike ride was beautiful. Wide, blue skies above, country roads beneath, cows and crops on both sides; it was a country girl’s dream come true. We—me and my bike—rode past corn and grain fields, a leafy crop I learned later was sugar beets, and many dairies. (Oh the dairy air!!) I spent a good portion of my ride thinking about Lance and what a blessing he is in my life. I’ve been able to do a lot of really cool things because he is there for me. He encourages me to have adventures and completely supports me, both physically and emotionally, while I have them. He has my back and what a blessing that is!
My back was good but my butt got a little sore at the end. I was really pleased to read the sign that said there were only 5 miles left but the ride never crossed the line from a mostly-enjoyable task to a largely-difficult one.
Immediately after the bike transition area, the course ascended up a 150 m hill whose steepness equaled that of football stadium steps. I have a long standing policy to NEVER walk uphill—I always take hills at a jog, even if it is a super slow jog—but as I started to run up the hill my legs, which hadn’t previously indicated to me that they were fatigued, made it very clear that they’d just pedaled me 25 miles, that they needed a break, and that if I insisted on making them power up the hill, they’d make my life really miserable later on in the run. I wisely decided that the hill was still part of the transition zone, that the run did not start until the top of the hill, and that I would walk to the end of the transition zone (i.e. up the hill) which I did …and it was good.
Then I ran 6.2 miles (about) and it was good…if you can call a 13 minute mile pace good (which I can!). I was slow, slow, SLOW but, like the tortoise, steady. I had 2 glasses of water at each of the three water stops, one I put down my throat and one I poured over my head…and it was good. The course followed a farm canal for a couple miles…and it was good. My country girl heart was full.
My heart was also tired as were my legs and most everything else associated with me. About mile 3 I got a second wind of sorts and felt confident; “I can do this thing”. (Translation: I can finish without experiencing too much pain.) About mile 4 I was not so sure. I really, really wanted to walk. I did not hurt anywhere specific and I had no good reason to walk but I really, really, REALLY wanted to.
At registration, race officials used a permanent marker to write every competitor’s number on his/her left arm and calf. They also penned every competitor’s age on his/her right calf. What a blessing! As people (hundreds of them) passed me (on the bike ride and during the run) I looked at their right calves and thought “Yep, she’s younger than me…so is she….he is too”. It was a great source of distraction and validation. By gum, I’m a 50 year old woman doing her first triathlon and I’m just happy to be out here on the course doing it—creating a story—grabbing life with both hands and living it. Whaaaa-whooo!
So…about mile 4 I was not feeling a lot of “whaaa-whooo”. I was feeling a lot of fatigue and I just wanted to walk. Two things kept me going:
1) I wanted to be done. Just be done. If I walked it would be longer before I was done and I really, really just wanted to be done.
2) Experience, in races and in life, has taught me that one step at a time takes me where I want to go. If I could just keep taking one step at a time, I would make it to mile 5; it was inevitable. And, getting to the place where there was just one mile left, I also knew from experience, was magic. The last mile is do-able. At mile 4, I did not have to run 2 more miles, I just had to make it to mile 5 and momentum would carry me in.
I made it to mile 5 and momentum did bring me home. I don’t remember much of mile 5 but I do remember it was easier than the two that preceded it. We country folk call it “smelling the barn”.
The final stretch took me down a grassy slope, around a corner, and onto a broad, green fairway, lined by orange webbing and cheering onlookers. Oh what a feeling!!! Money cannot buy the joy/ecstasy/elation that one feels at such a moment. It must be earned.
It was a forever moment for me; the images of a beautiful blue sky, a clear bright sunshine, and of Lance snapping photos, the sound of hundreds of genuine strangers cheering, the sight of the finish line within sprinting distance, and the absolutely, undeniable knowledge that I’d done it will stay with me forever.
“Crossing the finish line is Teresa Hislop, of Roy, UT, 50 years young!” the race announcer said. I found myself again struggling to breathe, not because of restrictive clothing, not because of fatigue or exhaustion or for any other physical reason. Emotion constricted my chest and sobs threatened to block my airway. What an incredible experience! What a great and glorious experience!!!
When is the next one?