Finding Air

I haven’t written for a while and to tell you the truth, I haven’t missed it that much. Sometimes, when meandering through the universe, it must be good for you to just go. Go, walk. Concentrate only on the rhythm that slips in and out of your nostrils, providing life in the moment. The here. The now.

I had taken some of that here and now thinking into the preparation for my first Triathlon. While I have always been in pretty decent physical shape, the ideology of a Tri prep has pushed me into full gear and as I began to train twice a day in rotating disciplines, and the pain inched up the backs of my legs like little tiny dumbbells threatening to weigh me down, make me slower, make me stop, I traveled back to that breath. Inhale. Exhale. Don’t think. Don’t feel. Keep one arm, leg, foot moving in front of the other and just be. Be here, right here, right now.

As the fluid continuous meditation of the swim forced my air to slip in and out at routine intervals, I chanted “lap 1, lap 2, lap 3, lap 4, etc” over and over and over, and it became increasingly clear that the monks of yesteryear may have been onto something. That the repetitive nature of “doing” continually, repetitively, relaxes the mind, transfixing time, and focusing in on the package that is the mind, body, spirit continuum.

My Yoga that has taken a backseat for a few months now, was coming along with me, on my rides, my runs, my swims, and when my said level of transfixed-ness was not where it needed to be, along would come a little Yogi voice, “Breathe. I know you hurt and want to stop, but just Breathe.” And the chant would begin, followed by the Breath, and then the Body.

As the day of that first Triathlon arrived, my nerves, which I have always battled, ever aware of the ‘what if, I cannot get this done how I want it to be done?’ trickled in. My emotive self wore a look of consternation for the two hours preceding the race, as I repeatedly told myself to ‘calm down and go back to the breath. Just breathe.’ I continued to push the ‘what ifs’ out of my brain in favour for that breath.

As our wave of 125 (out of 2100) ladies waded into Lake Washington, and I tried to relax, a smile crept onto my face as I looked at all the colours, shapes and sizes amongst me. The volunteer who was prepping us with her microphone had us all laughing as she told us that the ‘theme’ of our wave was “Gorgeous” and, “Reach out to the person standing beside each of you and high five them and congratulate them for being here.” And each of us did, and we laughed some more.

As the race began, and I took my first few strokes, trying to stay on the outside, I realized that I hadn’t started my watch, so I flipped over on my back and pressed start. I stared up at the light in the hazy morning sky, breathed in that light as though it were solar energy to my soul, and flipped back over and began swimming in earnest.

The shape of the course was a Triangle; a short 150 meters to the first buoy, then about 400 meters to the next buoy and finally about 250 meters in to shore. The first leg was okay, I battled for my breath as the only thing that I could hear in my mind at this point, was my heart beat. It was pounding out of my chest. My saliva had dried up and fear had overtaken me.

It wasn’t fear of drowning for I knew that I could swim and would be fine. It was fear of not being able to meet my own expectations. This sense of doom weighed down on me like a bag of sand, and somehow, I struggled to find my breath again, telling myself over and over, “just breathe. Please, just fucking breathe.” The only way that I could do this was by propelling myself forward, which I could no longer do in front crawl, so I flipped onto my back and began backstroke like I have never swam before! Fast.

I was on the far inside of the course, and I would swim 50 fast meters at a time, flip on my belly and breast stroke, to find a lane again, then back to backstroke. It was an adaptation. It was Darwin in motion. Those that don’t adapt, die, or in my case, let goals slip away, and I was battling myself…and battling her hard. For me, those had always been the hardest battles.

With each stroke, I got closer to shore, and the panic that had taken hold of my breath, began to loosen its grip, and as my feet hit the stone steps and one of the volunteers gave me a hand up on shore, I realized that I had very little recollection of what had just happened. I had been prepared for the swim being a mind-fuck, and as my wobbly legs found their footing, my edgy breathing crept back into the forefront and found its rhythm again.

I began the slow jog across the street to T-1, glancing down at my watch when I finally got my wetsuit arm over it. I was 21 minutes in. I was okay. A few minutes slower than I had wanted to be, but still in good shape. I was a bit dizzy though, and wasn’t sure if that was from my anxiety or lack of fuel on board.

I peeled my wetsuit quickly, dried my feet, looked at my beautiful bike, ate a gel pack of high octane something or other, shoes on, gloves on, helmut on, breath in, breath out. Grabbed my bike and ran it toward the gate.

As I mounted my bike, a calm came over me that I have rarely experienced. If the swim had been the tempest in the teapot, sitting in the saddle of my bike was like putting my feet into my warm comfy slippers and sipping Grand Marnier next to the roaring fire. I felt like I was home.

Most people that I had spoken with regarding the transitions, had advised me to start slow on the bike, and to find my legs, spinning easy for a kilometer or so, but I quickly worked the derailers up to the biggest sprocket and was cooking along the lake’s edge with high speed abandon. A smile crept across my face, and I was quite sure that I would burst from the power that I felt in my legs.

I stared at my speedometer off and on, finding comfort in the tiny numbers that displayed as each inch of asphalt which passed beneath me. I had wanted to average at 30 kms per hour (which would be pushing it for me) and as I watched the numbers hit 28, 29, 33, I found even more energy. I passed people all along the course, like they were standing still, and I whooped and wooted at them, “keep it up girls, you are doing great!”

As I made my way up the on-ramp to I-90, it was a bit of quick, steep climb and again, I managed to keep speed. It just felt so, so good. Cruising across the bridge that spans Lake Washington to Mercer Island, I was struck by the sheer beauty of the day. The boats, the houses on the waters, all the different shapes and sizes that were participating in this Tri….and I continued to woot!

At the 10 K mark, we made a quick U Turn and proceeded back along our same route. There was a slight incline on the bridge as we approached the tunnel and up in the distance, just making her way into the tunnel was my Tri buddy. She had encouraged me to run this race with her and we had trained together a bit and commiserated over our ‘training plan’ (which I didn’t really have).

She had started 8 minutes ahead of me but was not using a road bike, and I had thought that I would catch her at some point on the bike. There she was, in her hot pink Tri shirt, just heading into the tunnel. I approached her from the left, and I said, “Perfect, we get to WOOT together in the Tunnel.” She laughed, relieved to see me, now knowing that I had made it out of the swim!

With that, we both in unison, “Wooooohoooooo” at the top of our lungs, enjoying the great echo of the tunnel, and enjoying a bit of a ‘moment’ truly shared with each other. I kept pedaling by, saying, “Keep it going girlfren, kick it up, you are doing GREAT.” Yes, another snifter of Grand Marnier please!

On the other side of the tunnel, the head wind was pretty strong, but the decline helped, as I continued to push my gears to the limit. If the runner’s high is alive and well, the cyclist’s high has to be over the top, and I was enjoying every twang of leg pain that jumped out of my body as I continued to push myself to a limit that was very foreign.

Coming into T-2, I jumped off my bike and quickly wobbled my legs toward my gear, taking short quick steps. I was surprised at how shaky my legs were. Off with my bike shoes, and into my new Mizunos. Hat on, running toward the run entrance, listening to Lady Gaga cranked, “Born this Way”, totally smiling as I hit the start of the 5 km run.

I started slow, just feeling my legs, shaking them out. Not being a very experienced runner, I am never sure how to pace myself, so as we came into the first water station at the 2 km mark, I walked through it, one cup down my throat and one cup over my head, under my hat. I was hot. As I started to jog again, my mind screamed at me to stop, but again I simply quieted it, and fell into my breath, focusing only on the inhale and the exhale of each, quietly chanting my mantra, “one step, two step, three step”.

I looked at my watch, I was 14 minutes in and still had over half of the run to go, I had to pick up my pace if I was to reach my goal of 30 minutes. I started jogging faster. Every muscle and every piece of my lung fibers screamed at me to stop and walk for a bit, “one step, two step, three”, I chanted harder. I smiled at everyone I passed going in the opposite direction, and said, “Awesome job, girls, keep it up.” This inspired me on more.

I finally came to a volunteer who said, “You are doing great. You look strong. Only 2 kms more.” I looked at my watch, I was 21 minutes in, anxiety began to creep in. The voices tried to take hold, “Just walk for a bit, it is okay.” I pushed them aside, “Breathe. Breathe. Quicken the pace. Push. Push. One step, two step, three.”

We came to the final hill, and it was daunting. I closed my eyes, tipped my head down, and continued to move forward, passing a lot of walkers, pushing through pain at this point. Up to the top of the hill and a small flat stretch before the downhill portion. “Downhill”, I thought, “shake it out, let gravity help” and I picked up the pace some more. I could now see the turn into the Finish Line and I reached down again and found another gear and kicked it. The pain was excruciating now and the will to continue at this pace was weak, yet somehow, I just chanted, over and over. I could see the Finish Line and it was evident that I had started my kick too soon. Breathe.

I ran onto the final timing mat and was done. Nausea coursed my body. Breathe. Breathe. Smile, girl. You did it!

My first Sprint Triathlon – 1:36:47. The Bike and the run were personal bests for me, and the swim, well there is room for improvement! I will look forward to waging that battle again! Just not tomorrow.

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