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Perseverance Over Injury: My First Triathlon

Wow! What a day! And it only took thirteen years to get here…

When I was about seven months pregnant with my first child, my husband and one of his good friends decided they would compete in the Devil's Lake Triathlon. I remember watching and cheering them on from the sidelines. It was my first experience with an event of this nature, and I became swept up in the excitement. As I was screaming encouragement through their transitions, I silently wondered if I could do what they were doing.

medal

I hatched a plan. I would compete in this same event the following year. With a specific goal and a deadline, I just knew it would be the perfect way to lose the baby weight. I would swim, bike, and run my way to fitness perfection. And all of my hard work would culminate in the perfect first triathlon where I would beat my husband’s time, of course. It was a foolproof plan.

Then, life happened. I had a newborn baby and a new third shift job to go back to. I finally knew what it meant to be thoroughly exhausted. I could barely muster the energy to shower every day let alone train. My dreams of being a triathlete slowly faded away.

The years passed by, three more kids arrived as I settled into my third shift job and my new routine. Constant fatigue was my new best friend. Over time, I was able to get back into exercise thanks to Jillian Michaels, but I was not able to revisit training for a triathlon. I had completely lost my excitement for swimming, cycling, and running.

If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you know that I eventually found my way back thanks in a large part to my girls. And last summer I decided it was finally time to do a triathlon. Unfortunately, I was not able to get off of work on the weekend of the triathlon due to a vacation freeze for a computer system upgrade (or downgrade, but that’s a story for a different time). So instead I quit my job, and I decided that I would most definitely be doing a triathlon the following year.

I knew that I wanted to do the Devil’s Lake Triathlon with my husband since that had been my plan for nearly thirteen years. I had also been invited by my sister-in-law to do the Iron Girl Triathlon in Pleasant Prairie. She had done it in previous years, and thought it would be the perfect first triathlon. I was sold, so I signed up for both.

At the first signs of nice weather in Wisconsin, I began to run and bike. And when summer arrived and the pool opened, I signed up for the Master’s Class and began to swim. At the time, swimming was probably my weakest, but through the class and lots of practice I became much more confident. I was biking three times a week, running three times a week, and swimming nearly every day. I was more than prepared.

Elbow bleeding with Audrey

With one week left to go before the Iron Girl Triathlon, I decided to go on a bike ride with my daughter. I was chatting with her about bike trail etiquette and how to pass people. I remember telling her how I like to go pretty fast after the first big downhill. We flew down that hill, and as the trail flattened out, I pedaled faster. I was racing with Audrey close behind. I noticed a woman in the right lane walking, so I got over to the left, and as I was about to pass her I shouted, “On your left!” The trail made a gentle curve to the left as I was moving back to the right.

I overshot my turn, and the front tire hit the gravel on the side of the trail. I went down HARD! My daughter stopped to see if I was okay, as did the woman walking that I had just passed. Initially I felt okay, like I had just got the wind knocked out of me. I was ready to hop back on the bike and continue on our ride. My daughter was picking chunks of dirt and grass out of my helmet (Thank God I was wearing that helmet!) as I dusted myself off. I noticed that my elbow was bleeding and I had a few bruises on my legs, but I was ready to hop back on the bike. Unfortunately, the chain had fallen off, and I wasn’t able to get it back on myself. So we walked home defeated.

Bruises on face after fall

As the day wore on, I noticed a more distinct pain in my left ribcage. I began having difficulty taking deep breaths. My hope was that I had merely bruised something, and with a little ice and rest, it would be better in a couple days.

It was not. In fact, over the course of the week it actually got worse. There were times I could feel a clicking in my chest. I was certain I had cracked something, but I absolutely did not want to go to the doctor. First of all, barring a severe injury, there is not much they can do for broken ribs. I figured I would get a prescription for narcotics and a huge bill. But second, and most important, I knew they would tell me not to compete in the triathlon.

I needed to continue, though. I had to see if I could swim, bike, and run with my current injury. I knew without a doubt that I could not be dissuaded from competing in my upcoming triathlon. I had worked so hard, trained the entire spring and summer, thought about it nearly every day. I had to continue no matter what.

During the course of that week, I tried to run. Mostly I walked, but I was okay with having to walk the run portion of the tri. I got back on my bike, in a large part to get over the mental barrier of my recent fall. I was cautious on my ride, but it was doable. In fact, it would definitely be the leg of my race that would hurt the least. And I swam.

Swimming was the portion I was most nervous about. I had gained so much confidence over the course of the summer, and now I felt like I was starting from the beginning. I went to my last few Master’s Classes because I needed to see if I could figure out a way to make the ½-mile swim achievable. It was extremely painful at times, but I worked it out to a point that I could live with.

My plan was to take a couple days rest prior to the tri and not take any pain meds. That way when I took ibuprofen before the swim, my body would respond to it better. I would take each leg of the race slowly, with my main goal just being to finish.

As race day drew closer, my anxiety level increased. I wasn’t sleeping, I felt nauseous, I was having nightmares about swimming. I packed my bags with my heart in my stomach and headed to Pleasant Prairie with my sister-in-law. We needed to rack our bikes and pick up our registration packets the day before the race.

At registration, I got my first look at the course, namely the lake. I did not like the look of that swim. It is far more overwhelming in person. Swimming a ½-mile worth of laps in a pool is nothing compared to seeing that entire ½-mile stretched out across open water.

Even without an injury to worry about, my nerves would have been fried. This was my first tri, and I didn’t know what to expect. The injury, however, quadrupled my angst. I probably drove my fellow competitors a bit mad.

I probably slept a total of one hour before the race. My adrenaline was surging and my heart was racing. I woke up in a bit of pain so I started to stretch immediately. I knew it would get a bit better as I moved around a little.

transition area

I had a banana, a coffee, and two ibuprofen for breakfast, any more than that probably would have come right back up. I was that nervous. We headed for the race site. As I set up my transition area, I started to feel a little bit better. I took two more ibuprofen and headed towards the start line.

Amazingly, as I waited for my wave’s turn to go, I began to calm. I continued to stretch my muscles, and I could feel the pain meds beginning to take effect. I would stay to the back of my wave and take the swim slowly. If I could only concentrate on counting my strokes and my breaths, I could attain that almost meditative state that would carry me across the water. I knew that once I completed the swim, the rest would be achievable. I may not have the best time, but I would damn well finish.

post race

I walked into the water, it was warmer than I anticipated. I inched forward and could feel the point where it dropped off, now was the time. I dove in and began to swim. Then, something incredible happened, I realized I could do this. I had trained all summer for this, I was ready. The pain in my ribcage was there, but it was bearable. I veered off course a couple times because swimming straight in open water is not easy, but I did not get tired.

When I was about 200m from the finish, I got excited. I was doing it, I didn’t drown, I could probably swim a few hundred meters more if needed. I saw the first signs of seaweed in my goggles which meant I could touch ground again. I walked out of the water, and screamed, “Fuck, yeah!” I didn’t care who was around, I was damn proud of myself!

exiting swim headed to transition

I made my way to the first transition. I quickly dried off and got changed into my biking gear. I drank some water and grabbed a protein bar. This transition took a bit longer, but once again, my goal was to finish not to win. I walked my bike to the point where I could hop on, and I got on.

Cycling Leg Of Race

The bike ride was physically the easy part. There were no huge hills, it was mostly flat. My biggest challenge on the ride was my own uneasiness since my fall. There were some stretches of road that were in desperate need of repaving, and I was apprehensive to say the least. I tried to go faster when the road was smooth, but was mostly cautious. I maintained a 15mph pace, not awesome but decent.

The second transition was faster than the first. I changed into my running clothes, and removed my helmet. As I was exiting the transition area, I realized I felt pretty good, so I started running.

I was running, this was already much more than I anticipated. Going into race day, I figured I would have to walk the entire run portion. Running was the part that hurt the most since it was the most jarring to my ribs. But I felt okay, my ribs were beginning to hurt a little but it was bearable. The hardest part was taking deep breaths. As I was beginning to tire, my breathing became labored so I walked some.

Running

In the end my walking to running ratio was about 50/50. It was so much better than I had hoped. When I could finally see the finish line in the distance, my heart surged. I had done it! I ran the last quarter mile, and I crossed that finish line with my arms raised above my head in triumph. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I knew without a doubt that all the work and pain was worth it.

The Finish Line

I know I’ve droned on for long enough, but I can’t end this post without mention of the wonderful race put on by Iron Girl. The women competing spanned all ages, races, and fitness levels. The oldest woman competing was 80 years old! I was passed on the course a couple times by 70-year-olds. There was such a tremendous energy and feeling of camaraderie among the participants. Every time I felt tired, there was a woman there to cheer me along with a high five or a kind word. It was a magnificent reminder of how we should treat each other every day of our lives.

I will definitely come back next year!

Excited to be done! Times for each leg shown

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