On Sunday 17 May 2009, I completed my first triathlon. The 9th annual Triathlon by the Sea is a sprint triathlon, consisting of a 250 yard pool swim, a 10 mile bike ride, and a 3.5 mile run. The pool at the Jewish Cultural Centre in Marblehead has 6 lanes, and starts from a depth of 3.5 feet, and dropping down to 12 feet. Since it was going to be a pool swim, all participants had to send in their lap times to the race director, you were then seeded, and this would determine your start time on race day.
On race day there would be 15 seconds separating you from the person in front and behind. You would run over the timing carpet, and on jumping into the pool, you would swim up the first lane, duck under the lane barrier, swim down lane 2 and then up again, before ducking under into the next lane, until the final length in the last lane which was to be straight down. On exiting the pool, you would have to run outside on your way to the transition area, and you would pass over another timing carpet which would lock in your swim time. Both T1 and T2 times would be included in the bike leg. The run section of the tri meant running over a timing carpet on starting and ending the race, to lock in your run time.
Sunday finally arrived with rain and thunder. I was up at 4am, had an espresso, checked my bag one final time and put on my Zoot 2-piece tri suit. Since Stuart was in Germany for work, my dear friend Kathy was coming to Marblehead with me. Pata had said that she would meet us there, since she had biking lessons later that day, and would need to leave before the end of the triathlon. Kathy and I got to Marblehead, and it was still raining heavily. After parking on the hill, we went to pick up my race number - after which I was marked with my number on my right calf and right arm.
I had forgotten about this rite, and it felt pretty cool, though admittedly I was far from the state of mind to enjoy it. I was not anxious, and had had a pretty decent night's sleep - quite unlike my state prior to a road race! I had also made a strong determination that I would enjoy the swim. If I could enjoy the swim, what was there not to enjoy about the bike and the run? All I needed to do was to finish the swim to get to the next stage - however long it took. With this in mind, I reigned in my mind, and refused to think of anything, other than the swim I was about to enjoy.
We met up with Pata and walked down to the transition area. It was still raining quite heavily, and in the end, I left all my stuff in my bag, near the bike. I only had 5 items anyway - helmet and shoes for T1 and a race belt with my number for T2. A towel and a snack wrapped in foil were the other 2 items. I took off my track bottoms, hoodie and shoes, put them in the car, and we walked off to the spectators area above the pool.
Then suddenly the swims started and people were flying through the water. I was near the bottom of the list, since my time for the 10 lengths was 10:37. I finally went down to the pool area and started chatting with everyone who was waiting around. It was great, and people were really nice. All too soon I was up. I got into the pool and started swimming. I was soon overtaken, but continued in my leisurely fashion. I needed to stay calm and finish the swim, but above all, I wanted to enjoy it. It took forever, and I was the last person out of the pool, but the sense of joy was non-pareil. I had actually finished it, and now I could enjoy the rest of the tri! It was raining even more heavily when I got outside, I dried my feet, shoved them inside the shoes, and started running down the hill with my bike. I mounted it on Atlantic Avenue, as we were not allowed to prior to a certain point.
I pushed off and cycled, trying to warm up my cold legs. The wind was howling as I neared Marblehead Neck, but that was of no import. Up the neck I went and actually passed a few people. Since we were supposed to do 3 loops, I had no idea what loop they were on. I flew down the hills, held off the brakes, and felt like a million dollars. Yes, I had the confidence in myself to relax and enjoy it - it was an amazing thing, words cannot translate those feelings but it made me want to learn more and improve my cycling technique.
Soon, I was cycling back to the JCC for the final transition. It was still raining, but at this point, I think everyone had forgotten about it. On starting the run, I could no longer feel my legs: they were so cold, but at the same time, they were burning. This was not something I had encountered in any bricks! I was 2 miles into the run before my legs got some feeling back. I know I did not run very fast, but I did not really care. I enjoyed it, and arrived back at the JCC without feeling knackered, but feeling that finally I was ready to run a 10 miler! I ran over the final timing carpet and FINISHED!!!!
It was a moment that I will always remember: nothing really prepares you for it. After my wedding day, this is the most amazing moment of my life. I had done that thing and I could not believe it. In that moment I felt that I could do anything. Nothing is an obstacle except in my mind. I had learned to ride a bike, I had successfully controlled my fear of deep water and I had fulfilled my dream of doing a triathlon. I had already signed up for a second triathlon prior to doing this one, but I signed myself and Stuart up for another - which has the same bike course in Marblehead. Both of these are open water swims of half a mile. The first is in a lake, whilst the second is in the sea. These are new challenges for me, but I am no longer afraid. That does not mean that the fear will not return, but I will get over this one day - because I have done it before.
One of the most immediate benefits was my ability to ride on a road with traffic. Admittedly not a major thoroughfare, but certainly busy enough. When Stuart suggested this ride whilst we were in Gloucester for the Memorial day weekend, I said yes immediately, without fear, and I enjoyed it too. My next swim goals are to learn to swim properly, learn another stroke besides the front crawl, learn to swim in open water and learn to tread water. My next bike goals are to cycle with my saddle at the correct height, learn to get out of the saddle, learn to drink whilst riding and relax enough to take my hands off the brakes!
I finished the triathlon in 1:45:12 (13:22; 55:55; 35:55). I placed 26/30 in my age group, and 216 in a field of 230. On with the next!