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Devilman Triathlon

I’ve been staring at my very first triathlon race number for months now, still trying to comprehend what exactly happened that day. I suppose it’s about time I complete my background story/race review, being as I’ve already gone on to complete my second tri!

I didn’t know how to swim when I registered. No, really. I could do the swoosh with your hands while your head’s above water across the pool on vacation thing, and doggy paddle like nobody’s business, but I’d never taken swim lessons nor had I ever been able to successfully blow bubbles out of my nose underwater. Ever. Until November 2010.

For a while I’d been thinking about switching things up, taking a coaching break from Team in Training and eventually doing a triathlon. On the morning of November 10, 2010, I took the plunge. Literally. I registered for the Devilman Sprint Triathlon, to take place in Cedarville, NJ in May 2011. The distances were .40 mile swim, 20.5 mile bike and 4 mile run.

Our first team swim training at the local YMCA was on a Monday and I wanted to vomit all day. Where will I go, what will I do, how will I do it? I pictured 30 other team members swimming laps and me at the shallow end of the pool blowing bubbles out of my nose with the 5 year olds. I’d heard of others who didn’t know how to swim going on to complete triathlons, so I left my fate in the hands of our Coaches, who ended up doing a fabulous job. (Along with some cooperation from me.)

Six months later, I arrived on race day morning, transition bag packed with everything from extra contact lenses and ear plugs to pickle juice for cramping. I had enough fuel/nutrition for an Ironman. I set up my transition area and waited around. Emotional was an understatement. If you looked at me or even talked to me, I’d snap at you or have to fight back tears. Six months of hardcore training for the unknown was so overwhelming. Let’s goooo.

The race started in waves. Elite female, then youngest age group, next older age group, next older, etc, then Athenas (women over 150 lbs). Then elite men, youngest age group, next older age group, next older age group, etc, then Clydesdales. (Over 210 lbs?) The swim was a water start, meaning we stepped down a ladder into the lake, and then treaded water for a few minutes before the gun went off. At this point I wasn’t nervous anymore. I thought, “Let’s just get this done and over with.” Six months in, I was still not a strong swimmer, but found comfort in the fact that there were kayaks and lifeguards out there in canoes and that you could stop for a breath and hold on for as long as you needed.

(And it’s true – wetsuits make you float. A past-participant on my team once told me that you literally had to TRY and drown in a wetsuit, and she was right.)

It was freezing. Like breaking-surface ice-off-the-water-early-that-morning-and-not-telling-us-first-timers-so-as-not-to-intimidate-us, freezing. Wetsuits help keep you warm, but not dry. They let water in. It was freaking freezing, and I was scared to death. The water smelled and in the few places you could touch bottom, it was scummy and slimy.

The gun went off and I started flailing, realizing I’d gone about 10 strokes without my face in the water. Hell no, when I put my face in the water, it was so shockingly cold my chest tightened and I couldn’t breathe! I’m prone to panic attacks and this did not help. What was I thinking?? By the time I realized I was doing a modified doggy paddle, I looked ahead and saw that most other girls in my wave were doing the same. It was going to be a long almost-half mile.

I finally got my face in the water and ended up overshooting the first buoy, apparently a common mistake for first-timers. I adjusted my route then stopped at a kayak to catch some breaths, calculated how far to the next kayak and began again. Stopped for about 30 seconds at the next kayak, touched bottom and stepped on something that felt like plastic. Moving. Not moving because I stepped on it, but moving like it was already moving by the time I stepped on it. That was enough to get me swimming again. Thank God for balance drills, because the rest of the way was spent on my side with one arm leading while I kicked, or side stroking, or on my back. (I later found out that there are divers under water, looking up, for safety reasons. I’m betting I landed on one.)

I’m sure you’re wondering about the waves behind me. There were probably two more female waves, then Athena, and they were all politely non-eventful as they passed the few of us who were taking our time thoroughly enjoying the swim. But a little past half-way, not a kayak in sight, I had to flip over on my back. I fixated on the clear blue sky and attempted some deep breaths, deciding I would not panic. If there were a canoe or kayak in sight, I might have told them to take me out right then. But I told people I would do this, and there was no way in hell I was going out in the first half hour. (Also, there was not a canoe or kayak in sight.)

After what felt like an hour, I relaxed and caught my breath. But as I did, I heard a sound. Still on my back, I took my focus off the sky and lifted my head to see the yellow piranhas coming at me; the elite men in their yellow swim caps. (The Yellow Piranhas, as we would later refer to them) They, of course, had their faces in the water and didn’t know that I and a few others were still there in the line of fire, bobbing up and down.

They tell you you might get kicked, punched or scratched at the start. You might get your goggles kicked off. You might not be able to breathe on the side you’re used to because of waves, so you should practice bilateral breathing. We practice mass starts in the pool. The start wasn’t my problem! Honestly, the fight wasn’t what I was afraid of, it was my own panic. A few hit me, most kept going, one stopped and asked if I was ok. I actually laughed. “Yep, I’m good!” And as I finished the swim, happy to touch bottom, I could care less about the slime or the muddy water streaks on my arms.

Bike, my fav. I got a few “GO TEAM!”s from some random, probably past-TNT participants and a few in Livestrong tri-suits. I was passed by many men on carbon road bikes hearing “whooooshhhhhh” as they went by, yet I still passed more than a few people on my clunky, heavy hybrid. I wouldn’t be last. Yesssss.

Run, not so favorite. I have a numb foot thing I need to get checked out. I finished, and not last. 

Hubs went to retrieve my chocolate milk recovery drink from the car and I went to the porta-potty to change out of my gross tri shorts. I closed the door and sobbed for at least five minutes straight. Disappointment over what I hoped would be a better swim, and the release of pressure of six months worth of training while downplaying the hugeness of it all. I just completed a triathlon. I was the girl in high school who came up with excuses why I couldn’t run the mile in gym class. I raised money to cure blood cancers and I should’ve been more present, and should’ve enjoyed it more, but it was over now. I will NEVER do this again.

Lessons learned:

  • Triathlons are big time! Don’t down-play it. It’s a huge accomplishment!
  • Train for performance, and weight-loss/fitness will follow. Bonus!
  • Get open-water swim trainings in. There’s no line to follow at the bottom of a muddy, smelly, slimy lake. Trust me, and all the articles you read. Really. I didn’t.
  • You don’t need to set up your transition area like you’re going on a 7 day vaca.
  • Relax during the swim. Remember and use what you learned in training. Your chances of surviving are pretty damn good. Especially in a wetsuit.
  • My bike was nice, flat, through fields and farm-land (and no flat tires to change, though I was fully prepared.) Wave at the kids on their front lawns cheering for you. One day they might write about how you inspired them after they win their first Ironman.
  • If you’re prepared to change a flat you won’t have anything to worry about on the ride during a sprint, unless it’s raining and slippery.
  • Practice clipping and unclipping from your pedals. I didn’t learn any lessons at the tri, but fell right out of the parking lot on my first training ride.
  • Non-triathlete spectators and supporters won’t get it. That’s ok.

Prerace – Organized, well-run, comfortable.
Swim – Plenty of support. Gross lake. Could’ve been one more kayak between 2nd and finish, but that’s the wuss in me talking. I made it anyway.
Bike – Visually appealing, flat, saw bike support on the side of the road, though thoroughly prepared to change my own flat.
Run – Sufficient (and enthusiastic) fluid stations.
Finish – Announcer. Didn’t hyperventilate – score!

Stay tuned for a less emotional triathlon #2.


Thank You

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John “The Penguin” Bingham, a longtime friend of TNT, motivates us at our pre-race Inspiration dinners and sticks around on race-day long after the middle-of-the-packers have finished to proudly high-five the final  crossers at our finish lines. I first heard John speak at my second half-marathon in Anchorage approximately ten years ago. I’ve read his books, look forward to laughing at his humorous Inspiration Dinner speeches and some of my friends make fun of me for trying to get pictures with him at events.

Until recently, I admittedly knew more about John than I did about his wife, Coach Jenny Hadfield. Last year Coach Jenny spoke at one of our Inspiration Dinners. She spoke to a room of hundreds, and while she probably only knew small percentage of the room personally, she had a cool calm confidence in us all that I’m sure helped many across the finish line the next day.

I started to read up on Jenny, “endurance athlete, writer, motivator, adventreprenuer…” and thought “I wanna be like Jenny when I grow up.”

One morning after starting up the @Mile_Stones twitter account, I followed Coach Jenny. Approximately 10 minutes later (I think it may have been 9, but who’s counting?) Coach Jenny tweeted about Mile Stones, and we’ve received lots and lots of love ever since. She ordered some coasters, and also some as prizes to award on the Caribbean Marathon Cruise. She also featured Mile Stones in an article, Coach Jenny’s 11 Running Must-haves For Spring. We were included in the May/June issue of Women’s Running Magazine as one of Coach Jenny’s “Favorite Things” and we were also honored to be part of her segment that aired on ABC News in Chicago (on my birthday) here: ABC News – Chicago Coach’s Top Picks For Running Gear.

Thank you Coach Jenny for sharing Mile Stones with your friends and fans. As a result, I’ve gotten to “meet” so many fabulous people with their own race numbers, stories, words of encouragement and even great training advice! To quote one of my Ironman customers after sharing congrats and a small piece of my own sprint triathlon experience, “They say you live through your first tri, and live for the ones that follow.” I’m registering for my next in a few days.

I do what I do because I believe in the people behind the bibs. None of you are just that number pinned to your singlet, bike shirt or tri suit. The commitment and dedication put into achieving amazing things is overwhelming and inspires me to be better. As an endurance athlete myself, I get that those hours you wore it were some of life’s most challenging yet rewarding. Every bib that arrives is handled as though it were my own, and I’m honored and grateful for the opportunity to help permanently preserve your race-day memories.

Making the Milestone – Brenda

This is the first post in a series called “Making the Milestone”. I asked my friend Brenda if she would be my first featured coaster client and share why she chose to send me this particular bib for her set of coasters. She is truly an inspiration to me and is one of my heroes. I’m so proud of everything she’s accomplished and I hope to follow at least some of the way in her footsteps. And strokes and tire rotations.

#79. A number I will never forget.

After my daughter was born in 2008, I wanted to get into shape…not even BACK into shape because I was never really there to begin with. I knew running could change my body but I didn’t know where to start.

I found a group at my gym called “Women On the Run” and signed up for their program that was basically a Couch Potato to 5K plan for 10 weeks during the fall. In the beginning you run for one minute then walk for one minute. As you progress, you walk less and run more. The finale of course is running a 3.1 mile event without walking or stopping.

The Great Swamp Devil Run in November 2008 was that big moment for me. The tear up at the end because I thought I just ran so far without stopping kinda thing. And I did it in a respectable 33:43. Since then, I have run numerous events including a half marathon and fell in love with triathlons along the way (swim, bike & run). My current goal is to complete the IronMan 70.3 Pocono Mountains (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) in October.

When I heard about Mile Stones through Facebook, I quickly became a fan of the page. I was the lucky winner of a drawing for a set of coasters and was asked to send in a race bib. As I flipped through my stash of numbers I realized how far I’ve come from that cold race day in 2008 and knew exactly which one to choose.

I proudly display my coasters and bought some other great Mile Stone items as gifts for family members who are entering their first event in a few weeks. As I told my future half marathoner mom, it’s never too late to have a #79 of your own.

– Brenda

Thank you Brenda and good luck to your mom!!

Do, or do not…

If you’ve been following, you know my “thing” is mostly half-marathons. It’s a long, yet civilized distance. Geminis don’t have the best attention spans, so 13.1 scratches the itch but doesn’t rip the skin off. I’ve walked them and run-walked them. I’ve gone from taking 4 hours and 20 minutes to finish to 3 hours flat. I’ve pounded the pavement for 10 years, mostly on weekends, one foot in front of the other, getting from start to finish. You start, you finish. In between, there’s a whole thought process that takes place, but that’s for another post. One foot in front of the other, over and over and over.

Similar to most of the other crazy thoughts that enter my brain, one morning I had a new idea and went with it. A triathlon! I would do a triathlon. One, because I knew Team in Training would ensure that I was properly trained, and two, because, well, why the hell not? I don’t mind being a source of entertainment for my friends and family, and if I was successful, maybe I could inspire someone else to take the plunge. Literally.

I told four people that day and only one thought I was nuts, and it was only because I was still fund-raising for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon, and would have to fund-raise for this also. I filled in my registration forms, faxed them in and wondered how long it would take me to learn how to swim.

That’s right, I didn’t know how to swim 10 weeks ago. I could do the tread water thing for a few minutes at the hotel pool and doggy paddle across, but stroke? Hell no. Four tenths of a mile?? Hahahahaha – noway.

I was sick the entire day leading up to our first team training session. Like sick, couldn’t eat breakfast or lunch sick. I envisioned the rest of the team swimming laps and me at the shallow end of the pool blowing bubbles out of my nose with the 5 year-olds. Where do you go, what do you do, will I bring everything I need, are the showers stalls, or wide open like in the movies, what if I don’t know what to do, all these thoughts making. me. sick.

I went and thankfully, didn’t throw up. I also didn’t make a fool out of myself, although I couldn’t make it to the end of the pool without inhaling water up my nose and down my throat, and stopping to put my feet down once I could touch the bottom. I got to the end of the pool, (25 yards) and my breathing sounded as though I had just outrun a train. I learned that I needed to get earplugs and that if I ate before swim training, the food would feel like it was stuck high in my throat.

I’m proud to say that about 10 weeks later, I can swim! My arms go into the water a little too flat, apparently, but I can swim! I got the “roll” down, great body position, I can breathe out of my nose under water, and I actually have a rhythm. If a little wave hits me from the other lane and I inhale water, I recover without stopping. I can get about two lengths, or 50 yards without stopping for a breather on the wall, and it’s only for a few seconds. I have 3 more months to get better at swimming four tenths of a mile. I’m not so worried about the 20 mile bike or the 4 mile run (or walk). I just NEED to get through the swim.

A few months ago I was looking for a motivational quote above the windows in my little home gym and my trainer recommended this:

It is the most perfect quote ever, not just because it fit in the space perfectly, but because the husband is a Star Wars fan so he agreed to let me put it up.

“Do or do not, there is no try.” Well there’s a tri, but no “try.”

As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized I really only have two acceptable choices. I can do, or I can do not. If you set your sights on just trying, you have an out. You go into something having already set up your out. If you say you’ll try to eat better but you end up stuffing yourself with brownies, it’s easy to say, “Oh, but I did try.” Pointless. If you know me, you know that I say to most things, “either do it or don’t.” Black or white, yes or no. Do a triathlon, or don’t. I’m doing it.

I’m not trying, I’m tri-ing. If you’ve been thinking about it, just do it. Tri it.

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