A Fabulous Freshman Year

A Fabulous Freshman Year

by Sarah F.

The morning was dark, chilly and foggy, the race site virtually empty when the shuttle bus dropped me off, save for a few race volunteers who must have been awarded the very early shift.  I had my body-marking done and headed into the sea of racked bikes.  When I’d racked my own bicycle the day before, there were only 3 others on my rack and a slight bit of breathing space around my bike.  Not the case now… bikes were jammed so closely that it took some finagling to lay out my gear. Not a problem; I’d make do.

The race didn’t start for another 2.5 hours, and my wave wasn’t set to go off for another 3 hours.  Keeping my brain off the intensifying nerves wasn’t going to be easy.  I was doing this race alone, so there was no one to pass the time with.  Coach Suzy had given me an internal goal list to focus on, along with a few things to do ahead of time (pre-race warm-up swim, getting suited up in my wetsuit ahead of that, some stretching, etc), but time seemed to drag before I could actually start those things.

Eventually fellow racers started to fill the space around me, and I could sense the nerves and excitement the other women around me were experiencing.  Some women were sitting, some were stretching, a couple were doing light jogs around the parking lot, some were engaged in easy conversation with other athletes.  I just observed and tried to soak in the mood of the morning.  Finally it was time to mold my wetsuit over me and zip the nerves into my core.  The 15-minute walk over to the beach start was a chance to gather my thoughts and start my blood flowing.  The ground felt cool beneath my bare feet, but invigorating at the same time.

Danskin officials were allowing women to swim alongside the course for warm-ups, so I took advantage of it, using the time to follow Suzy’s advice of a pre-race swim.  The swim leg always makes me nervous, so this was about the best thing I could have done to help my nerves at that point.  The water felt phenomenal… crisp, cool, clear.  I swam a few hundred yards, then it was time to clear the water for race start.

The nerves that hit my belly, my heart, my throat, my lungs, ahead of time were almost indescribable.  The trick I’m hoping to work on is learning to use those nerves to my advantage versus letting them suffocate me.  Coach Joe’s talked to me about the freshman jitters, and given me hope that they’ll dissipate somewhat as my experiences increase.  Deep breathing is about the only thing that carried me through those last moments, and then it just became a matter of waiting for my wave to line up.

When we finally entered the water, I started feeling calm.  I was so glad that Coach Suzy wanted me to do a warm-up swim—it made it so much more comfortable walking onto the sandy floor of the lake, moving out to the start line.  When the start gun blasted, the water felt good, familiar.  My face turned into the water, and I started swimming with a feeling of control.  The recent things I had learned from Coach Sue in Masters Swim class played through my mind, as if watching it on television.  My form and technique became my primary focus, and the breathing followed naturally.  Eventually I reached the other side, and actually saw tiny beautiful fish around my hands as I grasped the sand to pull my body up to standing.

T1 was scary to me ahead of time—would I be able to get out of my wetsuit quickly?  Would I be able to unrack my bike without any problems, since these particular racks gave very little clearance space underneath?  How would the flying mount go?  I’d practiced several times at home, but never actually done one in a race.  The “demon” thoughts were thankfully pushed aside as I tried to keep everything in order, in my mind.  Soon it was time to try my flying mount—success!  (With some definite room for improvement!)

Then it was time to settle in for my favorite leg of the sport—cycling.  I love the feeling of the wind rushing against my face and the adrenaline rush that comes with the focus needed to plan my cycling strategies in advance.  My brain works as hard as my legs when I’m cycling: passing other cyclists is thought out well ahead of time; gauging my necessary gear-shifting ahead of the inclines & hills is done before I actually get there; looking for cracks, rocks & other potential road hazards all keep me in the moment, and serve a dual-purpose of helping me cycle “through the pain.”  Before I know it, the cycling leg is nearing the end, and I hear Coach Suzy telling me in my mind to only think of T2 at this point (no sooner.)  So I mentally shifted to picturing myself going through the flying dismount and into transition.  The flying dismount went smoothly, and I heard the wonderful sounds of Coach Suzy & Coach Joe cheering me on as I ran to my racking space.

T2 didn’t frighten me as much ahead of time as T1 did.  Racking the bike became an issue I’d rather not have had to contend with, though, as the low racking bars once again made this maneuver a little challenging!  I did the only thing I could do, though—simply worked through it.  It’s funny how the adrenaline that flows throughout my body in a race seems to shift and change as I enter the running part of the race… it becomes almost a relief-induced adrenaline.  Somehow knowing that I didn’t have any gear to contend with now (i.e. wetsuit, goggles, bike, helmet, etc), and that it was only me and my running shoes, gave me a wonderful sense of lightness.

Running is the leg of the sport that affords me the opportunity to feel a connection with others involved in the race: running alongside another athlete for a few moments, making eye-contact with one or two spectators along the way who seem to telepathically send energy to my tiring & fatiguing body, hearing and feeling the sounds of clapping & encouragement along the way.  These all become frozen moments that elevate the experience of the race beyond mere words.  I ran on the conservative-side during this tri, afraid of cramping up or not having enough to sprint at the end, yet in that moment I felt it was all I could do.  The end of the run came up sooner than I anticipated and my sprinting finish wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, but we live, we experience, and we learn.

To be able to train on a daily basis is something I see as a physical gift.  On a very ethereal level, I feel simply blessed to have opportunities to race.  But to experience these moments with others is the piece that makes it real.  This was, and is, my one regret from this race—that I did not do this one with others.  But that is the beauty of this sport: there are always more races to train for, to compete in, and to experience.  There are so many more races to learn from, and the journey becomes as exciting as the destinations themselves.

Coach Joe and Coach Sue, thank you to you both for all your help with my swimming!  This has been my scariest piece of triathlon, and I couldn’t have entered that lake as calmly as I did without all of your wonderful swim coaching!    Coach Suzy, as always you are my triathlon rock!  Thank you for your unwavering guidance, and for keeping me grounded and helping me stay on course.  You teach from your heart and lead by example, and there’s not much more a coached athlete can ask for!

Enjoy all the Danksin Tri pictures at ET Photo.

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