The sun wasn’t even awake yet. Butterflies were hectically swirling in my tummy. The stress could not be suppressed. I nervously befriended a woman who lost track of how many triathlons she’d done. She was in line for the two port-a-potties behind me.
My first lesson for the Turtle Bay Turkey Triathlon: don’t eat half a Papa John’s pizza the night before or else you’ll hold up the line even longer.
As I walked away from the transition area, barefoot over pebbles, with a herd of over 100 plus fit athletes from all walks of life, heading towards the ocean with my cap and goggles in hand, I couldn’t help but wonder: “what the heck am I doing here?!”
Why the hell did I pay $170 to do this? How is this my reality on the Saturday after Thanksgiving?
I couldn't chicken out. My friend had already driven me there, and we played Noah Kahan’s whole new album on the way over. Carter Anne, my partner in crime, was horrified by the ocean and even she was doing this race next to me. I looked down at the intense-looking tri-suit that I impulsively paid $50 for as a placebo of fastness versus a practice suit. I looked the part as a triathlete, but I felt like an imposter.
I was in too deep to back out.
I watched the “youths” take off — flailing their arms and splashing their legs like energetic sea dragons.
Then the men took off. Man oh man, I was glad not to be in that heat. Most of them looked like they got paid to work out daily in the military.
The women were up next. I visualized myself back in my seven-year-old self before swim meets, where Coach Michalik prepped me to jump in the pool. I started doing some deep breathing exercises to help blow out the butterflies: six seconds in. Hold for four. Exhale for eight.
Ankle deep in the bay, I befriended another woman for advice. She’d done one before. Her tip: “just have fun.”
Huzzah! That was my original intention. I set it the day I signed up, but I forgot about it until that very moment. Fear is a pro at hijacking my brain, making me forget things like that.
Before the event started I was tempted to go to the edge of the line where there were fewer people, but I knew I’d risk getting swept up by the current if I strayed away from the group. Best to stay in the middle of the gang, and alongside Carter Anne. She thought we’d be less likely to be eaten by a shark that way, too.
The MC man with the megaphone started counting down. We had 30 seconds. I nervously was defogging my goggles. I strapped them tight on my head. Then we had 10 seconds. Ready. Set. Go!
The horn went off and I swan dove into the water. White splashes everywhere. Screw the “every 5 strokes and breathe” technique I had practiced over the past two months. I was practically doing a Tarzan drill — freestyle with my head above water — to pass some slow pokes. Before I knew it, I was already rounding the yellow mark and making my way back to the beach. No way. I was just getting warmed up, and starting to have fun! I started pulling my arms even harder with each stroke, and bending my knees to kick in even smaller faster strides. As I swam into shore, I noticed there were only a few women ahead of me. Swimming is fun! And I can do this!
I emerged from the water and jogged over to the transition area. In the blink of an eye, I whipped off my cap, put on my helmet, slipped dry socks over my soggy feet, velcroed my shoes on and took off with my road bike (borrowed from my friend Scott).
During triathlons, participants are not allowed to start biking until meeting the road terrain. The transition felt longer than I imagined. I was so full of adrenaline that I didn’t even consider that I didn’t know how to run while pulling a bike next to me, and nearly rolled my ankle on a stone. I passed two guys. I hadn’t felt this competitive since the Turkey Trot I (drunkenly) ran with my siblings two Thanksgivings ago.
Finally, after what seemed like an infinity of awkwardly jogging in clunky shoes, bike in tow, I got to the road and mounted it. Only 20 kilometers to go. I couldn’t get my shoes clipped into the pedals until a third of the way into the ride. But I didn’t care. I was thriving. While on the shoulder of the road, cars were passing me, but there weren’t any pot holes. It was actually buttery smooth terrain. I threw up a shaka to the police officers, who made me feel safer and less likely to get hit by a car (like I had three weeks prior). I was “making wind”. I felt like I was zooming by like that 1985 inspiring movie “The American Flyers”. I averaged about 16 miles per hour while practicing, but my watch said I was going 20 now. I wasn’t backing down. It felt fun to go fast — and I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt like I was in a video game, passing fellow players one by one.
Once at the halfway point, I needed to do a U-turn. I nearly wiped out, since I didn’t lean appropriately and my shoes were tightly clipped in. But I didn’t wipe out, despite going off the road, and was so grateful. I smiled and waved at Carter Anne as I biked by her on the way back. She survived the swim. Heck ya!
As the biking portion came to a close, I saw number three in front of me, taking a water break while coasting on her bike. Maybe she was preparing for the run? I didn’t want to slow down. I didn’t want it to end. Again, I was just warming up. I was racing against my Garmin watch, seeing how fast I could go. I clocked in at 23 miles per hour.
I dismounted my bike and started jogging with it into the transition area. I changed into my Brooks running shoes, the best shoe IMO, and was off like a mad hatter. I usually suck at pacing while running. But I was already two-thirds done, so I didn’t care.
Whatever gas I had left in the tank, I was going to give it all — I was gunning it full throttle. I pranced my way past the horse stables into the woods and winded back around near the ocean. A part of the terrain was sand. I didn’t train for that! No wonder my cadence ended up being its highest yet, at 163 strides per minute at the end. When I had a half mile left and saw my watch was at 25 minutes, I started moving my feet even faster. I wanted to see if I could get a PR (personal record) and break a 34-minute 5K. I could feel my spleen squeeze in the right side of my gut as it squirted out whatever reserves it had left.
When I crossed the finish line, I couldn’t believe how fast it all flew by. It’s incredible what our bodies are capable of. The endorphins were overflowing. I was high on life. Accomplishment. That’s how I felt. I gobbled up a banana as soon as I could get my hands on one. Now I know why races like this exist.
‘Tis the season of gratitude and I feel like the wealthiest gal in the world given how healthy I am. The best is yet to come. And I cannot wait to do my next one!
So how the heck did I get here in the first place?
It started with a resolution I wrote down in 2020. I later added it to my bucket list, after doing a “fake” triathlon for fun.
I loved it and wanted to try it out competitively.
Three years ago I added becoming a triathlete to my bucket list. And now I did the damn thing. And it was one helluva fun time! I cannot wait to do my next one.
I am a triathlete!