There's a lot about this blog that I try to keep anonymous. My name. My job. What I look like. But tonight, I'm breaking the rule because:
That's me. And you know what? I just finished a freakin' triathlon. In 2:12:41. Yup. Me.
Me who thought trying to do this would be a way to prove something to myself, to the world. Me who had moments of inspiration. Me who freaked out and worried I wouldn't be strong enough. That I wasn't prepared enough. That I wasn't athletic enough. Or fit enough. Or skinny enough. Or determined enough.
But you know what? I WAS enough. I was tough enough for a half-mile open water swim. And for a 12 mile bike ride with hills, and for a 5k. And it was, quite simply, AWESOME.
I wasn't fast. And I certainly wasn't first. But amazingly, I also wasn't last. And during the whole thing, I was inordinately proud.
Of course, I almost cried twice. Not because I was so tired or exhausted. In fact, truth be told, I feel like I could have pushed myself harder, had my goals been something other than to a) not die; and b) to finish.
I almost cried at the start of my heat when Sally Edwards, a world-record holder in triathlons, waded into the water with us as we stared (OK, squinted) across the lake toward the finish line. And she gave us a pep talk. She said that today was a day that was about was sisterhood, and pushing yourself and being strong.
"When you see a girl struggling, you're going to help her. When you see that she's tired, you going to give her some energy. If someone passes you, you're going to say 'You go, girlfriend!'," she screamed. "Because you are a strong woman!"
And I almost cried again when I crossed the finish line. When I got high fives from the crowd of spectators and from the women who'd finished ahead of me. And when the announcer called my name over the speaker as I was coming into the gate. And when I got to claim my medal for finishing.
Writing it now, I'm still getting teary-eyed.
It all started before the sun rose, when we pulled into the parking lot at 5:30 a.m. It was cold. And I was terrified. We tied a balloon to the bike rack and got our stuff set up. We'd even made sure to leave the chalk messages on the ground to help us find our way.
We walked to the beach to eat breakfast and watch the elite women start just before 7 a.m. At 8:08 a.m., I was the one standing on the beach with my heat of 100-or-so girls, listening to the crowd count down to our start.
Oh my God.
I stuck toward the back of pack, hoping to avoid the thrashing and kicking. And got into an easy pace doing breast stroke. I actually surprised myself when I realized how far I'd gone, and how I wasn't even tired. I wasn't gasping for air. And I hadn't needed to stop, or even turn on my back to catch my breath and calm down. A swimmer named Jessica was on my shoulder and we actually chatted a bit during the swim. (Yes. I'm the ONLY person who would have a conversation with a stranger in the middle of a half mile swim across a big-ass lake.)
Sure, people passed me. OK, a lot of people passed me. But I passed a lot of people too.
From there, it was into the transition area to get ready for the bike. I was in the 19th heat to go out so by the time I got to the holding area, some women were done the bike ride (The super speedy elite athletes were done the whole race) but everyone was cheering and shouting. I cheered and shouted back as I rinsed the sand off my feet, put on my socks and shoes, t-shirt and helmet and then headed out.
The thing about biking in Wisconsin is that there's hills. Sure, they call them "gently rolling hills." But when your usual bike route takes you along the pancake-flat terrain of the Lake Shore Drive Bike Path, there's something disconcerting when you start to climb your first hill and your hamstrings begin to wince. And then there's something even more troubling when you climb your second _ and bigger _ hill and the wincing becomes a sort of dull scream. And then, when you get past that and see a sign that says "Mile 2" you're pretty inclined to shout out loud to no one in particular: "Are you fucking kidding me?" And then you will look at the writing on the bottom of the mile marker sign: "You're riding for all the women who can't." And then, you know what? You suck it up and keep pedaling.
All of which was exactly what I did. When women passed me, I shouted to them "rock on, lady!" When I passed women who looked like they were struggling, or who looked like they too were frequent Lane Bryant shoppers, I turned to them and said: "Hey! You know what? We kick ass!"
Suddenly, 12 miles just flew by. (For the record, I would have thrown in a high five but I'm not so much the balance and I didn't want to tempt fate.)
Then it was into the final transition area. I ditched the helmet. Threw on a ball cap, and headed back out for the 5K. Most people who do triathlons seem to be scared of the swim. Running is the easy part. Hardy har har. Easy that is, unless you're me. Because in case you missed it, running is HARD. Especially when you have lots of bits on you that are jiggly and wobbly. And quite frankly, I prefer not to bounce when I exercise.
But the run was OK. I jogged a bit. And walked. A lot. At some point, a group of women who'd already finished went back out on the 5k course, complete with a big boom box that blared the Dixie Chicks song "Ready to Run" and clapped and waved and cheered the women who were still going. I wanted to hug them. But I had another mile and a half to go.
I saw teenagers and senior citizens toughing it out. There were church groups. And moms and daughters. And cancer survivors. And elite athletes. There were waif-thin girls and hefty, hefty women. Also in the line up: an 87-year-old who finished in 2:08. (For those who are paying attention, that's four minutes faster than me.) And a 59-year-old woman finished after learning to ride a bike in May.
I was proud of each and every one of us.
Looking back I think the thing that stuck with me was when I listened to the announcer over the PA system at the start of the day. He was talking about the field of athletes that were competing. And there it was: Athletes.
The sun was rising on a perfect summer morning and warmed me up as I sat on the grass. The music was blaring. And it was like a moment of Zen when it hit me.
I was one of them.
There are a lot of adjectives I'd use to describe myself (sassy, smart, stubborn, sarcastic and even some that don't begin with the letter "s".) But athletic is not one of them. I'm not an athlete. I'm just a girl who wishes her pants fit better and her life wasn't so chaotic and her neuroses weren't so terrifying and her confidence wasn't so shoddy and her life was just a little bit more put together.
But on Sunday, I was an athlete. And it was indescribably cool.
P.S. Check out our medals. Sweet bling, huh? :-)