Getting a little more JOLLY, a little more GREEN, and a little less GIANT.

16 August 2014

My First Triathlon: Triathamom (Part 2: TRI and Succeed!)

(Find Part 1 outlining the preparations for my first triathlon here.)

After a year's worth of mental and physical preparation for my first triathlon I was really surprised to find my nerves were very calm the day before and on race day. Excited, yes. Nervous, not so much. This is very unusual for me. I always expect to get zero rest the night before an event. Last night I actually got about 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Woah. Definitely unexpected. Absolutely appreciated.

My alarm went off at 5:45 am. I got up and dressed and roused the house. For breakfast I ate an English muffin with crunchy peanut butter and a slice of watermelon. This worked well for my tummy today. We drove the 20 minutes to South County Pool in Riverton while my son chattered non-stop about Legos. I finally turned to him and asked him *nicely* to be quiet. (So maybe I was a little more nervous than I thought.)

Age on the right calf

Check out my tats


We parked and I made my way over to set up in the transition area. Dee carried my bucket for me while I pushed my bike. (Note to self: bring a bigger bucket with a handle next time in case I have to pull a one-woman show). I set up my bike and helmet, shoes and socks, hung my towel on the bar, and taped my Ziploc baggie of fruit strips and capsules (anti-fatigues and endurolytes from Hammer) to my bike bar. (Note to self: buy one of those real attachments to carry things on your bike. Also, bring more water. Possibly a jug of it. One more thing: a better marker, like balloons, so I can quickly find my bike in the mass.) Then I waited in line for the port-o-potties. Dee hung out with me and it was fun having one of "my people" with me instead of being alone. We watched the sun rise while we waited. What a beautiful day!

My Port-O-Potty Pal
The best pit crew/cheerleading squad a mom could ask for!
At 7:25 am it was time to walk over to the pool for a briefing.  I sipped on a mixture of water and Beach Body Energy and Endurance while I listened and chatted with other ladies in the crowd. Soon, the event began and the Expert group of swimmers were in the water. I waded into the pool on the side worried I would need some time to acclimate, but the water was the perfect temperature so I made my way back to the deck and tried to figure out where I should be.

I can swim 300 meters in about 9 minutes which is right in between two classes. I wasn't sure if I should be bold and join the Intermediate class taking the risk of being dead last or if I should wait around for the Beginner class and let the time grate on my nerves. I decided to go for it and hope that adrenaline pushed me over that 9 minute line.
I for Intermediate

All my worrying really didn't matter in the end. There were obvious beginners in the pool along with experts. It was rather chaotic even though the race director seemed pleased and shouted something about how we were going to get all the swimmers through in record time. I wandered into the "line/crowd" where a bunch of other Intermediate ladies were.

As I got closer they called for the rest of the Advanced swimmers and a few ladies came forward. I thought I was in a pack of Intermediates but it turned out I was one of the first Intermediates to go. Oh well. I was anxious to get started and it ended up being a really excellent spot to be in. I was able to swim at my own pace without anyone passing me and me having to pass anyone. I did catch up to someone, but I held back a bit and let her pull ahead just for the sake of not having to crawl over each other.

I swam a little faster than I normally would but I really tried to keep it calm and controlled so as not to burn out too quick. I felt a little breathless through the entire 300 meters but nothing that hindered my swimming. I promised myself I could breathe later on the bike.

I did have a couple of tiny issues. At the beginning I was following a line on the pool floor which led me right into a wall. No harm done, I quickly corrected my course and continued on. Later in the swim a woman going the opposite direction, doing the backstroke, wandered into my lane and crashed into me before I saw her. It was a simple mistake and no one was hurt, but I was really glad it wasn't me who had made the mistake. My husband said from his vantage point on deck that I had it pretty good in the pool. People were swimming over each other and crashing into one another. Apparently it was pretty ugly in some places.

Back Stroke Betty and me
My husband and kids were right at the pool edge and I could hear them cheering for me as I swam past even with my ear plugs in. It was fun to flash them an "I love you" sign as I swam by and I loved that they got to be so close to the action. Plus, I wanted to show my husband those swim lessons had paid off. ;)

I chugged along making my way through the three 50 meter lanes, back and forth, under the rope, back and forth, under the rope, back and forth doing a steady freestyle stroke the entire time. While I had been waiting for my turn on deck I saw several ladies WALKING through the pool more than swimming. Walking. During the pre-race meeting they had told us we could rest and even walk a little in the pool, but that seemed so wrong to me. I came to swim. Swim I shall. I don't mean to sound judgmental. It's wonderful that any of these ladies were here and making it through the course by whatever means possible, but after seeing that, my biggest goal was to not be a walker.

9 minutes, 19 seconds later I pulled myself on deck and jogged over to the transition area. When I volunteered last year it was eye-opening to watch people get out of the pool and make their way to transition. You could tell the swim had taken many by surprise and absolutely wiped them out. That's scary considering how much was left to do. I was very grateful for all that swim practice when I was able to quickly get out of the pool and move over to T1 still feeling pretty fresh. Running from the pool to the bikes was a remarkable feeling. I felt like an athlete.

Drying off and getting ready to bike

Just sitting here on my bucket

I love YOU, Elle!

And we're off!

Once I found my bike I dried off, threw on my shirt and shorts, and sat on my bucket (Thanks to Teresa for that helpful hint!) to get my socks and shoes on. I grabbed my bike and ran out the gate. T1 time was 2:52. They had to remind me to put on my helmet (Too many things to remember!) and I was off. I let myself catch up on breathing from the pool, drank some water, and settled into biking.

The course was HILLY! Lots of ups. Lots of downs. But since it was an out and back ride it was even. I'm not exactly sure how long the bike portion was. The Triathamom website says it's a 12 mile course, but the map on the same website says it's an 11 mile course. I didn't want to carry my phone with me (Note to self: Carry your phone on your bike and run. It won't be a problem.) so I don't know how long the course truly was. I was passed several times (mostly by road bikes) but I also passed some people too. The ladies on the course were super about cheering each other on. There was a great sense of comradeship throughout the entire event.

There were several walkers again on the bike course. Many would hop off their bike and walk up the hills. I was very surprised by this and maybe it's perfectly normal and maybe even a smart race tactic but again I vowed to not be a "walker".

My worst fear on the biking portion was that I would get a flat tire. I STILL don't know how to change a flat tire which is very irresponsible of me but I just haven't taken the opportunity to learn. (Lazy much?) I saw at least four ladies on the side of the road with flat tires. I felt so bad for them. I could only imagine how frustrating that would have been. I saw one of these ladies on the run later and she was in tears. I could tell it had been a particularly trying experience.

At one point a woman passed me. Right after her gears must have locked up because she started to crash, but she was clipped in to her pedals and couldn't get out so she crashed with her bike. I stopped and pulled her bike off of her and held it for her until she could stand and grab it herself. Then I took off. It felt wrong to just leave people in compromising situations, but I don't know what help I could have been. They had officials on the course helping with flat tires so no one was stranded too long. Still, every time I saw someone else struggling I said a little prayer that everything would continue to go smoothly for me which it did.

Eventually the bike portion was over with a time of 51:04. Getting off the bike was hilarious. My legs were funky. I thought I had practiced for this but I had obviously been pushing faster than normal today. I bet the guy at the gate had some good laughs today watching people get off their bikes and trying to run. I pushed my bike back to my spot, guzzled some water, ditched the helmet, and walked quickly to the running portion. I had already fueled with 2 fruit strips, 2 AFs, and 2 endurolytes halfway through the bike course. I sipped water throughout too. (Note to self: find a better way to transport these things. It was kind of dangerous trying to deal with a Ziploc baggie and masking tape while cruising on a bike.) T2 time: 0:55. I looked for my family but didn't see them. I figured I'd see them at the finish line. Later discovered they were out to breakfast. (Note to self: create good feelings with husband on race day by packing a breakfast or snacks for everyone.)

Shortly after walking out the transition gate I was able to start running. I have been having a lot of problems with plantar fasciitis in my left foot the last several months. There has been a great deal of pain and stiffness in both feet and I've cut way back on my running miles, therefore losing some fitness ground. It's been very frustrating to see my abilities diminish and feel like I don't even recognize my own body anymore. Today there was no pain, but the run was not "easy". I breathed hard through most of it. That could be thanks to a lingering cough and the heat of the day too, but I still struggle with feeling like the run shouldn't have been a problem at all. I was first and foremost a runner after all.

The first half mile or so was almost completely downhill. The hill from hell. With switchbacks and everything. It wasn't so bad going down, but since this was another out and back course...what goes down must come up. Oh the dread. After running down the hill I found myself walking way more than I had ever planned. Now I am the walker. Oh well. It is what it is. I alternated between running and walking throughout the entire course until I got back to the hill which I walked up with zero shame. It was then a short, flat (Hallelujah!) run to the finish line. My family was waiting near the finish line and my oldest two jumped in and ran to the end with me. (Loved that!) Even with all that walking I had a 33:38 5K run which is pretty good for me.

Finally the finish line! It was awesome and accomplished and glorious and beautiful with my children by my side! I had a huge smile on my face, one that had permanently been stuck on there since jumping out of the pool. And then the announcer announced my name and my "story"...

Aaaand here's Evelyn Perkins! Back in 2011 she began a weight loss journey blah blah blah LOSING 100 POUNDS!!!

*Crowd starts cheering wildly*

I had forgotten that waaaay back in 2013 when I had registered for the race that the form asked for your "story". Back in Fall 2013 my story was this: I was at my lowest weight yet, right in the midst of training for and running three consecutive full marathons, eating perfectly, and at the peak of physical fitness and self control. Shortly after that I got so fed up with having to be minutely obsessed with calories and daily two+ hour workouts to maintain my weight loss that I decided to "take a break" over Christmas. A "break" somehow turned into months of unmonitored eating and not totally absent workouts, but certainly not the hours and hours I had been doing before. 50 pounds have poured back on since then. I have been trying so hard to find the right balance between a healthy body AND a healthy mind. Lately I have taken on the mantra "My body is an instrument, not an ornament." I've tried to find happiness in being plus size again but a healthy, capable plus size. Sometimes I can do it. And then there are times like this.

It totally deflated me. The shame. The remorse. The memories of what was and what was lost. The dishonesty of the moment. Ugly tears bubbled right up to the surface. One second I had been a triathlete. The next I was a sham. A woman came up to me. "Are you the one who lost all the weight?! Amazing! Just amazing! I was crying too!" (Well lady, we're not crying for the same reason.)

That was a little gray cloud that momentarily blocked the glorious sunshine of the moment. I tried to let it roll on by and just revel in what I had just accomplished, whether I had lost 100 pounds or 50 pounds. I hugged my family, grabbed some water, a bagel and some fruit, and headed out of the finishers' area. My kids were intent on getting some cotton candy. They had been eagerly anticipating it for days. Cotton candy! Oh and Mom's doing something too. We barely made it as the woman handed out her last four cotton candy cones. Whew!

The people who make me a TriathaMOM
We headed home with me riding high from the adrenaline and excitement of the event. I felt amazing for a few hours after and then the exhaustion hit. I'm a little tired and feel slightly achy all over, but pretty good otherwise.

I've been waiting for this day like Christmas morning and too soon it's all over. It really has to be one of the most ENJOYABLE events I have ever done. I had a literal smile on my face almost the entire time. It was challenging enough to be "hard", but it was absolutely doable. I love switching up the activity instead of pounding my joints beyond tolerance with miles and miles of solely running. The transitioning makes you feel like a rock star or a ninja. Oh, you think I only swim? Well, guess what... I'm riding a bike. Now look at me. I'm...running! A-HA! 

I had predicted my finishing time to be 2:15 (9 minutes swimming, 1:15 biking, and 40 minutes running with time for transitions). I guess I underestimated myself because I finished with a 1:33:59 time!

Swim- 9:19
T1- 2:52
Bike- 51:04
T2- 0:55
Run- 33:38

I finished 175th out of 313 participants. 64th out of 107 in my age group (30-34). While I could have cared less about time I am very pleased with my performance. I gave it my all and walked away with no regrets. (Well, maybe except for that stupid announcement thing.) I completed it (probably my only true goal of the day) and had a ton of fun doing it. I LOVE TRIATHLONS! I am perfectly ready to commit to an Olympic distance. (Spudman 2015 anyone??)

One thing marked off the Bucket List. Another one added.

The Triathamom experience is awesome! I would highly suggest this event to ANYONE! Well, anyone that's a woman I suppose. YOU CAN DO THIS!! Seriously. You can be brave and take swimming lessons and watch biking YouTube videos and work your way through the Couch to 5K program. Yes, you can!!

A little side note: I'm going to sound tacky here but I'm rather disappointed in the Triathamom "finishers' medal". This is supposed to be a necklace but even the charm is so scrawny and simple it reminds me those red spreading sticks in the Kraft cheese and cracker packs. I know I had a free entry but anyone who paid for this event paid something like $75 or more. You would think there would have been money left over for better medals. (Or at least more cotton candy.) That's coming from a girl who loves her race bling. I can't believe I'm going to admit this but it's probably half the reason I participate in events. The bigger and shinier the medal, the better.

Other than that minor detail...Triathamom=AWESOME!

P.S. My superhero friend Jen came shining through for me. Last night she texted me asking for my overall mileage today. She wrote my number on her arm and ran my distance today. I love the heart she brings to running and felt her speedy spirit today. Thank you Jen!

My First Triathlon: Triathamom (Part 1: Preparations)

Over a year ago my brother said to my sister and me, "Why don't we all do a triathlon?"

Huh??? Triathlon? No way. Sure I run. But I don't bike. I don't swim. Well, at least not very well on either account. Plus who has the resources for that kind of training? Money. Time. A pool. Not me. It was a quick and easy "No way" from me. There was no pressure because he quickly backed out too.

But dang him. He planted a seed. Why DON'T we do a triathlon? I turned to my favorite athletic sounding board, my Facebook runners' group. Many of them were triathletes AND moms AND trusted friends. They would be the best sources for sound advice.

One of them (Megan) said, "Hey, if you're serious about getting into the tri world there's this great event called Triathamom that's actually going on next week and they're looking for volunteers. You can see what triathlons are all about without the pressure to do one. Plus, if you volunteer you get a free entry next year!" Or something like that.

Volunteering at Triathamom 2013
 I jumped at the opportunity and soon found myself standing--very early on a Saturday morning--in an orange vest directing crowd traffic and guiding (and cheering on) triathamoms as they emerged from the pool and ran to the first transition area. It was incredible to see so many women of every size, shape, ability, and age doing something so monumental. Absolutely inspiring! After seeing the variety in the athletes I knew this was something I could do.

My friend Katie participated in Triathamom 2013 and 2014. She is awesome!
I continued to run and started adding in biking as the weather improved with the arrival of Spring and Summer. Out of necessity most of my bike rides were accompanied by various arrangements of my children. Three year old Cee was along for almost every ride, happily riding in the bike trailer. Five year old Elle always wanted to try riding her own bike but was so slow and would often tire after a few miles. When she was done I would just pile her bike on top of the trailer and have her sit next to Cee and continue on my way. Pulling 100 plus pounds of kid, bike, and stroller is the very definition of "resistance training". Sometimes the older two kids would join us and it has been really fun seeing my kids getting faster and faster on their bikes. Enough that we can actually go at a pretty decent training pace for me.

Swimming was the most terrifying aspect of a triathlon for me. I could "swim" but was putting out a lot of energy without getting much in return. Back in April I scheduled swim lessons with one of the gals from my running group. Sara teaches swim lessons at one of the local rec centers. Most of her students are little kids but she gladly took me on. This was one of the best moves I could have made in preparing for the triathlon!

I was so nervous for that first lesson. There were several other lessons going on at the same time but everyone in the pool was under 5 years old. Sara took me to the deep end and asked me to show her what I thought a "freestyle stroke" was. I immediately started breast stroking and realized half way down the lane I wasn't even doing the right thing. So I switched over to what I thought was freestyle. She was so great at correcting my terrible technique and teaching me how to streamline my body, breath efficiently, and lengthen my strokes.  I'm so grateful for her patience and non-judgement.

After only two lessons I felt ready to practice what I had learned and perfect my technique. I have spent the last several months going to the rec center pool at least twice a week to swim laps. This was terrifying at first. I have always been afraid of the gym and just felt like I didn't belong. I figured if I was brave enough to get swim lessons as an adult I could be brave enough to finally get a real gym membership. It was really hard dropping Cee and Elle off at the gym daycare. I've never left them in the care of strangers like that and when Cee decided she didn't like day care and started freaking out every time I would drop her off it only made it harder. She finally likes it now. I still feel a little out of place but I'm getting so much more comfortable at being in the gym IN A SWIMSUIT no less. And I am such a better swimmer now! A lady even stopped me in the lane the other week and asked how long I had been swimming. When I told her a couple of months she was very surprised and complimented me on my form. Totally made my day!

After I got better at swimming and biking, I began to throw a few brick workouts in to prepare for transitioning between activities. I would bike 10 or so miles and immediately run a mile or so after. I had heard that moving right from biking to running is a weird transition and it's absolutely true. Your legs can feel very "stumpy" after pedaling for so long. A couple of days I set up mini-tri practices for myself. I would bike up to the gym, swim, bike back home, and then run a couple of times around the block. Or I would drive up to the gym and start with swimming, then bike, then run. After a few of those I felt pretty confident that I was ready for a full-fledged triathlon.

I didn't have a lot of money to spend on new equipment so I just planned to use my mountain bike for the biking portion. I was nervous about running in my swim suit so I practiced a couple of times in some spandex shorts and a sports bra. It worked so I skipped out on buying an official tri suit or shorts. For the biking and running stretches I just stuck with my good old running shoes. Between my frugality and my volunteering for a free spot the year before this race cost me nothing.

Did that mean it meant nothing? No way. I have been so excited to do this for over a year. This was a new exciting challenge and an opportunity to try new things and to be brave as well as to expand my fitness and experience. After a year of mental and physical preparation I couldn't help but get a little emotional at packet pickup on Friday when they stamped my numbers on my arms and my age on my leg. This was getting real.

Part 2: Race day details.