Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Tri-ed: Olympic Athlete I am Not

I completed my first Olympic distance triathlon on Sunday. I won’t lie. I thought it was hard. It was really, really hard. But getting to the starting line was almost as difficult as crossing the finish line. And I wondered – as I rode along the bike course alone – should I have even attempted this?

A bit of background – an Olympic distance triathlon is approximately shy of a mile swim (I can never really tell!), about 24 miles on the bike and about 6 miles running. In my case – all were slightly over. Call me an overachiever – but I always swim way too far away from the course, I missed my turn at the bike loop and I ran off the trail in the wrong direction for about 5 minutes on the run! This is all completely and sadly true.

But even without the mistakes, I think the distances are challenging And my eight-week training program was interrupted by life: multiple trips – both me and my husband (which means challenges in sticking to a schedule); holiday get-aways; and the stuff you don’t want to miss (class plays, birthdays and baseball games). It seems there has been lots of life this summer. I might have gotten a solid three weeks of training in – and the rest was DWYC (do what you can!). There is a reason you don’t see DWYC training groups marketed all over the country – the return rate would be 0%. Participants would routinely pass out on the course in the 93+ degree Florida heat - and vow to never do this again!

So, with my DWYC training under my belt – I registered for the tri just minutes before the deadline. And then an unexpected change in plans left me in search of a sitter for Sunday morning. Did I mention I needed someone at 5 AM? I considered just passing on this race, but one of my trusty teammates would not let me even consider that! So thankful for that push – err, gentle nudge – and for the good -hearted sitter who arrived at 5 on the dot!

But still –even with everything falling into place – I found myself on the bike course wondering if I should even be among this group of fit athletes. At least I assumed they were fit – I didn’t really see many of them as they were so far ahead of me! Doubt crept in – as it can easily do - and I started to come up with good reasons why it would be okay to drop out. I hadn’t done the right training. I have too much on my plate (coincidentally – I eat too much on my plate!) I wasn’t ready for this distance. I was quickly able to come up with dozens of excuses!

And then I started thinking about why I even wanted to train for this ridiculous event – and wondered would I trash my long-term goal of completing a Half Ironman? And I came up with several really good reasons to continue. (They better be good -- because when you come in near last – no one would blame you for walking away quietly!)

• Nothing helps me deal better with life than a hard run, a good swim, a long bike ride and a goal. (okay – maybe a glass of wine, too!)

• Because teams/coaches push you to be better. I would never push myself as hard if there wasn’t a group of people around me. This is what made my lonely bike portion of the tri so weak. My teammates and fellow racers absolutely inspire me and motivate me.

• And finally – the support I get from my training group is worth every drop of sweat I have lost on the trail.

On mile 3 of the run, I was on a dirt trail in the woods. I had just passed a group of people who were loading their bikes onto their cars to go home. I still had 3 more miles to run and my legs were starting to cramp. Anthony –one of my teammates who completed his first triathlon the day before – and his wife, Emily were sitting on a log, ready to cheer me on! Everyone else on my team had passed already – but they waited for me! That alone was inspiring. But as my legs began to seriously cramp, and it seemed that I would need to walk the remainder – they both started walking with me! Then, as I was ready to run again – they ran along side me! By mile 4, Coach Jane joined us on her bike leading the way. And a half mile later, Coach Lea joined us, too.

Jane broke into a game of “Name that Tune” which quickly lead to a group sing-along of 80s TV theme songs! (And I learned that belting out a tune actually makes me run faster!) No doubt, any campers who saw us would have had a good laugh. As we were approaching the finish line – Lea encouraged me to pick up the pace – and crossed the finish line with me – while Jane, Emily, Anthony, Rebecca, (her Dad), Laura and Heather cheered me on. Now – I heard there were many spectators and music at the finish line. But the music was long gone – and so were those spectators. But thankfully – our team came equipped with our own entertainment – Jane’s sing-along and the best cheering section you could ask for!

At tonight’s swim training – Coach Lea asked if I would do another Olympic distance tri. Enthusiastically yes!!! Life won’t get easier, the commitments won’t go away and we will always have too much on our plates – but knowing the support I have from this group – someday there will be a Half Ironman race on my calendar! (Just hope our cheering section brings blankets and coffee – that will be a very very long day!)


  1. Yay Colleen!!!!!!! All that really matters is that you finished - and you were smiling! I will do a half ironman with you one day if you will be my training partner for it - deal? And what is our next Olympic - October Moss Park Womens?

  2. What an amazing inspiration you are to me!

  3. Colleen-you are so amazing! I love your honesty and courage. Can you imagine how many people just dream of doing this? And, yes, you did it and did it well! I struggle with the same thoughts,-why am I out here, I'm so slow. But, you know what i've realized? It doesn't matter how fast we are or if we win or place in our age group or not, because I'm in this for me and myself only. I'm proving something to myself, and whether there's music or cheering at the finish line or not, I know when I cross that finish line I've won the battle for the day and have a family that will love and support me regardless, just as you do! And, yes we do have awesome coaches and a great team, and as long as I'm there I will ALWAYS cheer you on, just as I know you would do for me! You ARE an awesome triathlete and I'm so inspired and proud to have you as a friend! And, by the way, I'd love to jump on with you for that big Half Ironman race one day...we'll just supply the team/coaches with lots of food, movies, and perhaps some nice beverages to keep them entertained and cheering for us while we're out having our 'fun'!!