Seaweed, Hills, and Tenacity
by Amanda L.
When I’m talking to my friends, I sometimes forget that they aren’t fellow triathletes, which is why I was frequently asked about my presumed “Olympic career” each time I gushed on and on about my first Olympic-distance tri.
I was nervous, there’s no denying that. Having taken a three-week trip to Tanzania and returning less than four weeks before the big day, I knew I had a big challenge ahead of me. I don’t know what I would have done without Coach Joe, who said very confidently, “I know you can do it, I’m not worried about you,” when I expressed my reservations. His words became my mantra as I tackled my training regime and powered through the swim-bike-run on race day.
When my dad dropped me off at Bangs Lake in Wauconda at 4:30AM, I was calm, cool, and collected. I brought my bike into transition, found my place, and set up my gear…. And then I ran out of things to think about. With the Naperville Triathlon going on that same day, I didn’t have the comfort of fellow ET racers or our legendary Cheer Crew to keep me out of my own head, and I all of a sudden became very anxious. Then, as if it were a miracle, Coach Sue showed up out of nowhere with a huge smile and wished me luck on my race… All was good again and I was ready to rock ’n’ roll!
Although the swim is my strongest event, this swim was daunting. Bangs Lake and I are old friends, as my family had a boat on the lake during my childhood, and it was that very lake that caused my fear of seaweed! Knowing that I not only had to glide my way through a jungle of seaweed monsters but swim a mile in between was a little unsettling, but as soon as I hit the water and found my rhythm it was like none of it even mattered. I just kept swimming until I hit the buoy, and then I kept swimming until I hit the shore… 30 minutes later and I hadn’t thought about seaweed once!
After a quick T1, I started the bike course. About five minutes into the bike, I rounded a corner and BOOM! hills were everywhere! However, after spending a day on the Ironman Wisconsin course in Madison during Experience Triathlon’s Summer Camp a couple of weeks before, I knew that the hills were my friend and powered through in true ET style. Before I knew it, I was in and out of T2 and starting the run.
It was during the run course when I truly realized that triathlons aren’t about the swim, the bike, and the run as solitary events or even as part of a bigger whole. Triathlons, for me at least, are about the smaller battles within each event. The swim has the anxious start, where it’s easy to get sucked into the competitive drive and become overwhelmed. Towards the end of the swim when I feel my shoulders start to ache, I have that fleeting thought that maybe it’s OK to slow down a bit, but I don’t. Each hill on the bike course presents its own challenge, as does maintaining my own pace as faster people pass me with a cheerful, “Keep it up!” There’s bound to be wind in your face at some point, too, which is almost worse than a hill.
And then there’s the run. I got off my bike and I was feeling good, and all of a sudden it was like my legs were bricks, my calves were burning, and I really started to wonder why I signed up for this. And then like an oasis in the desert, I got my legs back. Each aid station was a marker that I was a mile and a half closer to the finish line. At one point, I started feeling like I’d been running for ages when I finally heard it: the applause. I knew I must be close, so I pushed it a little more.
It’s surprising how much life is left in your legs when you know the finish line is near. As I turned the final bend, I could see the finish line and my wonderful parents cheering me on, and I quite literally exploded with a speed and power I didn’t even know was there, but it was pulling me closer and closer until I crossed the final mat… I had finished my first Olympic-distance triathlon!
As hard and long as the journey is, THAT is why I always finish with a smile!