Monday, July 13, 2009

In which I succeed.

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.


Oh shit.


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? :-)


Emily said...

Yeah! You! Go! Girl! Friend! I knew you could do it and do it with the kind of kick ass grace and none-too-subtle humility that only comes from you! You are a rockstar! Also, you're an athlete.

Now, start training for next year ;o)

Stephanie L. Fowler said...

This is, by far, one of the best essays I've read in a while. I am so proud of you. You've inspired me to go find an event and do it. I run about 8-10 miles a week, but even still, I don't know that I'd have the guts to do what you've done. Rock on, Ashley.

tinapak said...

Yay Ashley!

Matt Moore said...

An inspiring screed and, for the record, I am not surprised in the least that you not only entered, competed and finished, but did it with finesse, strength and awesomeness.

Unoccupied Europe is cheering your name and your success this week!

Melaina25 said...

Wow! Congrats!! That is something I could never even being to fathom doing...

Noodles said...

OMG you guys! I heart you all!!

Emily -- you kick butt! And if you're in Chicago next summer, you better do it with us again!

Steph: That's an AMAZING compliment coming from you. Seriously. Humbling. And also, hell yeah you could do one! Yay for inspiration.

Tina: I couldn't have done it without you. Thank you so much for EVERYTHING! You kick ass, sunshine.

Matt: Awww, shucks. Tell unoccupied Europe I give them a big hearty high five back.

Ryan: You'd totally rock it! But perhaps you should wait until the bun is out of the oven. Which, again, SUPER CONGRATS!

MichelleB said...

Hooray! Congrats Ashley. Loved hearing about your story. You are an inspiration.

mngirltx said...

Way to go! (And, great post, too!)

Tamara said...

I'm so proud of you, girlie! You are most certainly an athlete and you are one heck of a writer too. This post brought tears to my eyes. Wow.

Currer Bell said...

I am so so so so so so so sos so so sosososososososos proud of you!

gradsch said...

Amazing story and congratulations! You rocked it! I hope we will see you back out compeating in more Triathlons soon...maybe even an Olympic distance Tri?

Congratulations again,
Gwen (a fellow triathlete and friend of a friend)

Chris Joyner said...

Nice job, Noods. I knew you could do it.
You know, if this triathlete thing doesn't work out, you should try writing.
Proud to be your big brother.

The Modern Gal said...

You know this already, but I'm so very proud and inspired by you. Can't wait to do one together ;)

Noodles said...

Seriously y'all. You know how to make a girl feel freakin' AWESOME. Hearts to EVERYONE!

Anonymous said...

Great job! Sally Edwards took notice and was very touched by your post! Sally created Heart Zones Coaching to train for this event! Next year, join your local Heart Zones Coaching Team! We have teams nationwide!

Inspire Fitness said...

Way to go on your tri accomplishment! The world is your oyster now and with heart zones training you can do anything now!

Megan said...

Noodz, reading this made my whole day. I am so proud of you, so inspired by you. I wish I had the words to say more. You DO kick ass!

Lido Vizzutti said...

Never doubted you for a minute girl. - You rock.

Jim Suhr said...

Noodles, this was freaking awesome, even inspirational for me. I'm just trying to get back into the groove of things, having run my first 5K just last weekend _ my first such race in more than a decade. A lot's changed _ namely my waistline _ since I ran track and cross country in high school. The part of you crying hit home with me _ when I did a two-day, 150-mile bike ride in 1993, I cried when I crossed the finish line because I was so proud. Now, I'm so proud of you. Nice work again, and keep it up. You rock, sister.