Endurance sports are so addicting. To push the body, brain and spirit and see what, as a trio, they’re capable of is so friggin awesome. If you know me, you know I’m pretty in love with challenging myself physically, but I also try to get out of my comfort zone often and test myself mentally and emotionally. This wasn’t always the case, but after working with Suzanne Fetting off and on for years, plus a lot of other growth in the last five-ish years, I have a very different perspective on trying new things that scare the crap out of me in one way or another! BUT, that doesn’t mean that this kind of stuff comes easy. I’ve come a long way in the confidence department, but I’m still human and trying brand new things makes me feel vulnerable and nervous! So here’s how the whole process went down, and if you decide to do a triathlon or any remotely related thing that’s new to you, I hope this will help you!
The Tyhee Lake Triathlon is an event I’ve heard about for ages, long before I became a runner, and I always thought of triathlon as something that other, cool, hardcore people did. Not me! Last year, my good friend Breeann participated and I was so inspired by her hard work and courage to accept such a cool challenge that I saw as extremely intimidating. In March when she suggested I come join her at it this summer, I didn’t think twice and just said yes immediately; I once knew how to swim quite well, I can ride a bike and I’ve been running consistently now for years. Then I proceded to ignore the fact that I had agreed to do a triathlon and I pushed it to the back of my mind for a couple months because it was too uncomfortable to think about. LOL.
Once spring marathoning wrapped up it dawned on me that I might want to get my ass in gear. I swam at the pool quite a few times (a challenge in itself) and was happy to learn that I still knew how, but I was VERY suprised at how extremely difficult it was from what I remembered from my childhood and adolescent swimming lessons.
I went to spin class two to three times a week for about a month and a half, borrowed a road bike from a friend, and then a couple weeks ago did a sort of practice-tri with a bunch of girls. We biked 20km out to a lake, swam approximately 800m (the opposite of fast, and with rests..but I felt I could survive the 750m distance) and then ran a 5km out-and-back before biking back home.
AWESOME. I knew I could do it! I did one more practice swim in my wetsuit* the weekend before in a different lake, and that was it. Triathlon was going down! AHHHHHH.
*The reason I bought a wetsuit (after much research) instead of borrow is because I want to do more swimming at the cabin whenever I can, and I knew for a fact I wouldn’t invest in it and only end up using it once. Don’t think you need to buy a wetsuit! It wasn’t even mandatory in Tyhee Lake because the water temperature was warm enough. If you are interested, however, I got the BlueSeventy Sprint full suit from a Canadian site, triboutique.ca
The week before the race, I started to really question myself. Sure, I can swim, bike and run well enough, but I didn’t have a clue about the logistics. Triathlon seemed way too hardcore for me. Why do we decide we aren’t good enough for something we’ve never even tried? What do I do with all the gear? What are the rules?? What do I wear under the wetsuit??? I am going to screw up and look dumb for sure. Breeann, who my sister and I were going to visit and stay with, was no longer participating in the team category like she had planned, and I thought, maybe I’ll just do a tri another day and spend the whole weekend with them. That was totally me trying to make an excuse because I was scared! I had also subconsciously hoped that my sister would bail on our weekend away so that I could use that as an excuse not to go. Didn’t happen, thankfully!
I read a bunch of articles online about what to expect in your first tri, packing checklists, and basic overviews of the transitions and felt a little more prepared but my nerves kept growing. My inner critic was taunting me. This is a bad idea. You don’t know what you’re doing. You didn’t prepare enough. The transitions are too foreign and scary. You’re a runner, stick to running. You’ll probably get a flat tire. Are you trying to be cool in your new wetsuit, poser? Now it was July 4th and the triathlon was on the 9th. I went online and registered and said I’m f*ckin doing this!
Friday afternoon my sister and I hit the road to Telkwa (tied for favourite place on planet Earth, with Mudge Island) and the whole time I babbled about how nervous I was because I’d never done a triathlon before. We stopped in Terrace and my new best friend at the bike shop showed me how to change a flat tire and sold me a little kit for under my bike seat. All I had to do was ask. Back on the road! More freaking out about getting a flat. My sister is a good counsellor! The bottom line, of course, was basically shut up and go have fun.
On Saturday morning I went for the most gorgeous and peaceful 20km dirtroad run and it boosted my confidence and left me feeling a little better about the situation.
Yes, I know a long training run doesn’t usually precede an endurance event, but I registered for this with goals of doing my best, learning and getting out of my comfort zone, not to go out and try to win it.
My sister picked me up as I reached the pavement at Highway 16, and we headed to the Bulkley Valley Farmers’ Market where we ran into a friend from Rupert who I knew was going to be there. She told me that two other girls from home had decided to come and do the triathlon at the last minute! I now had accumulated FIVE friends there. This made me feel really excited and slightly less nervous! Oh, but of course a sly comment from the inner critic, You are probably the only one who’s never done this before. (Untrue.)
You, reading this, might be thinking, wow this chick is sure being dramatic! If you’re the type of person who was born with amazing self-confidence and doesn’t bat an eye at the thought of trying something brand new, that’s awesome, but I know I’m not the only person who feels highly susceptible to things like failure, embarassment, being flustered or looking like a total ass when attempting something for the first time. So yeah. Onwards!
Sunday morning came and I went through my basic checklist.
- sandals and warm clothes for before/after
- my longer 5” tight running/biking shorts & crop top (for under wetsuit)
- wetsuit, goggles, cap, towel
- runners, socks (I refused to use the clip-in biking shoes this time around..)
- bike, helmet, water bottle, spare tube & kit, sunglasses
- Spibelt to store a couple gels and a cliff bar
- hat for my run
We left early and got to the provincial campsite around 7:30. The welcome email that I received sometime overnight told me I could check in and sign a waiver at 7:45, and that bike check began at 8 o’clock. I didn’t know what the hell bike check was and allowed that to make me feel awkward, but then once I was there and checked in (leaving with a badass Jiffy marker’d 51 on each arm and lower leg, hehe) I realized bike check was just a line up to have a bike guy give your ride a once-over and send you over to put it on a rack anywhere you wanted. I looked around to find out what to do next (who knew) and saw that some people had already organized their gear right beneath their bikes, so I set up my towel, runners, socks and running hat on the ground and put my sunglasses and fuel belt inside my helmet.
Once that was taken care of, I felt one hundred times better. Now all I had to do was swim, bike and run, and not rush in between, because I knew that would screw me up. Each time I went to the washroom I met someone who was also doing their first ever triathlon! I wasn’t alone! I took my time and got into my wetsuit, braided my hair, put my goggles around my neck and took my cap with me to the grassy beach area to jump around a little and warm up.
My sis took my sandals and that was all that needed to happen before start time!
The swim began and right away my heart and breath went berserk. I breast stroked for a bit and did little stretches of front crawl, but it was very slow going. I felt pannicked like I was going to get seriously left behind (not that that would even matter!) but I just tried to relax. In a worst case scenario, there were people in little rowboats as well as SUPs who were there to help and even offer a rest! I didn’t require that though. No kicks in the head, no choking on water, I just kept at it. By the first buoy (250m) I felt very happy that I was 1/3 done. Not going to lie, most of the swim was a struggle for me, but by the 3/3 250m stretch I felt a lot better and everytime I commited to my front crawl for as long as I could manage, I noticed that I caught up to other swimmers and even passed a couple! Woohoo! I swam until my hands brushed the bottom and felt so happy and proud that I completed step one!
The path from the shore to the transition area was a very short but steep hill and running more than a few steps didn’t seem to be happening so I focused on unzipping my suit and pulling my arms out as I made my way up the hill to the bikes, also taking off my cap and goggles.
Getting my feet out of the ankle holes wasn’t as easy but I got the thing off and partially dried my feet, put my socks and shoes on and attached my Spibelt around my waist. I’m glad I put the belt and my sunglasses inside the helmet or I would have forgotten them, I know it! As I was getting organized I realized some of my friends were around me doing the same things. Woo! Sunglasses on, helmet fastened, bike off the cross bar it was hanging on, and then I was wheeling my bike to the very clearly marked mount-line to hop on and start part two! Weeeeooo!
Once I was riding I started to really calm down. Biking seems much more second-nature to me than open water swimming, so I just enjoyed going fast on Karen’s super cool road bike that I borrowed and worked as hard as I could on each uphill, downhill and flat. I noticed that I was very much in the moment which isn’t always the case for me in a race setting. This made me really happy and I continued along as fast as I could with my quads feeling sore from my run the previous day but a huge smile on my face. I am not an experienced cyclist by any means and I’ve never been in a bike race, so I learned a lot on this one ride alone! The course was rolling hills and I loved figuring out the best gear to be in and what level of effort to throw down! Love learning shit! The turn-around point was definitely where I would have had a mishap if one were going to happen, but I went slow around the sign and then got right back at it for the 10km back to the lake. Ripping down the hill back into the transition area in the campsite was fun except the speed bumps really forced me to slow down. Didn’t want to launch off any jumps baahaha.
I reached the mount/dismount line and wheeled my bike back to it’s spot and hung it up, took off my helmet (which apparently is the one thing newbs forget to do and start running with it still on) and threw on my hat. It was time to run 5km! Running! My thing!!!
Lead. Legs. Holy. Shit. HAHAHA I have never felt my body like that before. It felt like I had no feet! My energy level and breathing felt normal, but my legs were like Gumby. I kept going, observing this interesting quality of my body that I’d never experienced before, and it got easier. A muscle in my right lower leg that I still haven’t identified was SO tight it was just about crossing the line between discomfort and pain, but I was careful as I ran. Even thought it was only 5km, it was SO challenging and the two water stations (and cowbell) were very much appreciated. Aside from one moment near the turnaround where my leg was really bothering me, this run was so amazing! I didn’t have a clue what kind of pace I was running since I started my watch on “other” at the start of the swim and left it alone for the duration of the race, and it was on a screen that wasn’t making sense. I absolutely loved that my only job was to do my best. I wasn’t comparing this run’s pace to any other run.
Finishing the race was amazing!! The support at this race is really awesome, and the number of spectators was impressive for a northern BC endurance event! I felt strong til the end, and when I crossed the finish I felt so accomplished. This was the most fun thing ever! Like, I love marathons and all running events a lot, but this was a whole nother level of cool. I wish I could put into words the feelings that come over a person at a time like this. Pride, excitement, a little disorientation, sometimes a bit of overwhelm and teary eyes. INCREDIBLE!!! Immediately in love and wanting to do another in the future!
Imagine I had’ve given in to feelings of insecurity, uncertainty and fear of the unknown. Imagine I bailed on the tri just because my original partner in crime wasn’t able to take part and I didn’t want to be “alone.” Or if my sister for some reason wasn’t able to go away that weekend and I decided I wasn’t going to go either. Or if I were still a piss-tank and a weekend away only involved getting drunk. NO. I don’t want to imagine because that was one of my favourite days of my whole life! Not only did I get to take part in what I now consider one of the coolest events I’ve ever taken part in, I got to do it with five amazing friends and I made a couple new friends, too! I thought it was going to be terrifying, but like most things, it’s was only scary until I got there!
I will re-visit this experience the next time I’m psyching myself about something just because it’s unfamiliar to me. I will remember that my body is extremely capable, even though I remind myself almost daily of this, but hey that’s just the way it goes for some of us.
Do not let fear stop you from having the best day or best experience. Remember that people like to help, so ask questions and give yourself a break. Observe others. Remember that you will rarely be the only person doing something for the first time. And lastly, remember that extremely cheesy but true quote that I don’t really want to include here but I’m going to anyway..