My husband’s alarm goes off at 4:50am. The day I have been thinking about for almost a decade is finally here. I woke up with a sense of calm compared to the fear and anxiety that had crippled me and my training for the last few weeks. The night before I had gone to packet pickup and “Multi-Sport 101” to help ease the butterflies. My parents were there when we got back home and I ate my favorite pre-race meal with them – plain ole cheese pizza. I had prepped everything so that all I had to do was grab breakfast and my bag and fly out the door. Today was the day that I would finally become a triathlete.
My journey to multi-sport started in college. It started with running, and back then I loved to swim and would swim as often as I could at school. I figured if I could run and swim, I could definitely bike, so I started thinking about a triathlon. School got busy and life happened, and the tri never came. Once I graduated I no longer had access to a pool and I stopped swimming. Fast forward a few years… I met this amazing person who just happened to be my supervisor, Maggie. She had just started running seriously and was already qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Then she got into multi-sport and could not stop telling me about how awesome it was. She challenged me two years ago on New Year’s to do my first triathlon. I wanted to do it… I just wasn’t sure I could.
2016 was an incredible year for me. I met some amazing people, joined some running groups, and celebrated a lot of personal bests. I ran my first half marathon AND ran my first marathon. Just about a month after my first marathon 3 Disciplines racing company announced their schedule for the year with a Black Friday discount on races. I looked and saw that the local triathlon I had been considering for years – Sanford & Sun – was going to be on my birthday in 2017. My 30th birthday. Without hesitation, I signed up. Okay, maybe I hesitated a little bit. And debated “Should I do the super sprint or the sprint?” Then I heard Maggie in my head saying “Don’t bitch it!” and chose the sprint.
I signed up for a gym membership at the YMCA so that I would have access to a pool in December 2016 with every intention of starting to swim ASAP. I put it off… and put it off… and put it off… until finally Maggie said she’d join me as a guest and start swimming with me in May 2017. The first time in the pool was not pretty. It was scary, even. I thought… oh boy. How in the world am I going to do this? I can’t even swim 50 yards, let alone 500 meters. Am I in over my head with this? Training continued, and on some days I felt totally prepared. Other days I was numb and terrified. Like I said, the weeks leading up to the triathlon my anxiety practically had me paralyzed. I knew I could do the bike and the run, but the swim was scaring the bajeezus out of me.
Back to July 29, 2017. The morning went smoothly since I had prepared everything the night before. We got on the road and just as we were pulling into the park my husband realized he had forgotten his camera at home. He debated going back to get it but I knew he’d be cutting it close, and I wanted him to be there to see every step of my journey. He had been my biggest support in preparing for this race – my most faithful believer. He got frustrated when I got scared because he knew what I was capable of. I needed my rock to be there from start to finish. I called Matt and Paula, because they were planning to stop at my house to meet Brandon to carpool to the race, and asked them to please get his camera so that he could stay with me. The next 45 minutes were stressful… figuring out where to park, looking for where I needed to go to get my chip and body marking, finding where I would be racking my bike in the transition area. I saw my friend Maggie and her boyfriend Chris and felt this wave of relief. I brought my bike to the transition area and Maggie looked it over, showed me how to rack it, and helped me lay out my stuff so that I would have as smooth as a transition as I could. I didn’t feel rushed, or hurried. I felt calm… and also terrified… as we made our way to the beach.
Maggie and her friend Lisa that I met that morning were doing the Olympic distance, so they would start long before I did. I knew that as I waited for my start after they took off I would be getting even more butterflies. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw two of my friends – Anna and Brandy – and another wave of calm and comfort swept over me. I couldn’t believe they had come all the way from Lansing to be there at the race start! After the pre-race meeting, I saw another friend, Misty, who also traveled a considerable distance JUST to see my race. She had made me a sign and I couldn’t believe that I was lucky enough to have such awesome friends there to support me. I hung out with them, my parents, and my husband until it was time to line up for the swim. When they called the sprint women to the swim start, my nerves were getting the best of me. I watched the women around me who were keeping their bodies loose and warm, stretching and dancing around. I followed suit and focused on my breathing… remembering what the race director Kenny had said to us the night before… “When that horn goes off, if this is your first race… even if it’s not… take a deep breath and count to 10.” The countdown was on… 90 seconds til start… 1 minute til start… 30 seconds til start… 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, – have a great race ladies, communicate on that bike course! – 1, AIRHORN!
The swim was a traditional beach start, and Sanford Lake is not a super deep lake. In fact it took us about 50+ meters before the water was deep enough to start swimming. I tried to stay towards the back of the pack, but not the very back, as I knew this was my weakest sport but I did not want to be too far behind. I started to swim and knew I needed to put my face in the water, but when I tried to and saw nothing but murky darkness, I panicked. I knew my swim was going to suck and I didn’t need it to suck more by having an anxiety attack in the middle of the lake. Not far into the swim I heard a woman behind me yelling for the race support to help someone else that was waving for assistance. I was having a hard time sighting – I kept swimming towards the second buoy instead of the first. I wasn’t alone. I heard whistles blowing and saw that a woman had gotten completely off course and was heading toward the second buoy. Swimming with so many people was comforting yet scary at the same time. I hated feeling people’s arms hitting my feet, or them splashing water in my face as they passed me. When I reached the first buoy, I was so close to it that I could actually feel the ropes tying it down, which made me panic a little because I didn’t want to get caught. I doggy paddled a little bit to get around the buoy and told myself – okay, only 300m to go, you can do this! I mostly swam front crawl, but slowed down and did a side stroke a few times. I told myself… just get this over with. Just keep swimming. Don’t stop, don’t give up, this is the worst part and once it’s over, it’s all gravy baby. I hit the last buoy and made the turn to head back to the finisher chute. Only 200m to go, I told myself. I sighted the 100m buoy used for the super sprint participants and told myself once I go there, it would be easy, no problem. Then the sprint men started catching up to me. I couldn’t stay to the right like I wanted to because they were passing me on the right. More hands touching my feet, more waves splashing in my face. Oh, and don’t get me started on how there were NO WEEDS until that last 100 meters and then it felt like I was just swimming through nothing BUT weeds. At that point, I couldn’t care about the gross feeling of pulling weeds through my fingers and hitting them with my feet. I had to finish. I focused on the women and men in front of me and when I could put my feet down and walk the rest of the way to the beach. I hit that point and started to walk, feeling completely disoriented, exhausted, and not sure how I was going to bike 20km and then run 5km! As I neared the finish chute I heard my husband’s whistle and Anna’s “weeeew weeeew!” I threw up my signature “rock on” hands and trudged through the water up onto the beach. I had such tunnel vision that I didn’t see my friends and family on the side of the chute cheering me on. As I ran up the beach, I saw Brandon and heard him say, “The worst part is over!” and then I saw Matt but didn’t even recognize him at first. He held his hand out to high five me and said “You got this, you got this!” and I gave him a high five that felt like a power-up in Mario.
As I ran to the transition area, I still kept thinking… “I’m so tired. How am I going to do this? How am I going to finish this?” I was shaking as I grabbed my helmet, remembering that the race director had told us to put the helmet on first before anything else. I dried off my feet and grabbed my socks that Maggie had rolled out perfectly so they were super easy to slide on. I shoved my still somewhat wet feet into my shoes, grabbed my water bottle, and took my bike out of transition. I somehow managed to give a smile with my tongue out as I walked my bike to the mounting line. I thought to myself, “Please let me get on this bike without looking like a total fool…” Somehow I got on that thing and away I went.
The bike was fairly uneventful, and went much better than I had expected. In training my miles had been around 4:45-5:00 minutes per mile. My first mile down was just over 4 minutes per mile. I thought there was no way I would maintain that, but I did. Only a few miles during the race were much slower than that, when I got caught behind someone. Again in my head I heard the race director telling us about drafting and blocking, and that most blocking calls were on women trying to pass. I heard him telling us to ease back a little, take a rest, and then push past if we still felt like we could pass. I did that three times on the bike, once right before the finish, pushing strong to the next transition. I heard Ken yell “Alright! Megan!” as I approached the transition area again on my bike and saw him over to my right. I felt like I was back home, no longer feeling isolated and alone, and knew that all I had left was the run – my favorite sport.
In the transition area I saw Ken and my parents. I threw my helmet down and grabbed my headband. Ken kept encouraging me and I told him that my feet were cramping up. My mom told me to pace myself. Looking at the video of this transition it didn’t look like I was moving all that fast! I pinned my number on, gave them a rock on, and headed off to the run. I realized as I hit the run out chute that I hadn’t grabbed my water bottle, so I grabbed some water from one of the volunteers. I took a few sips but it wasn’t feeling great, so I threw the cup down and kept on running.
My legs felt like lead and I felt like I was running slower than I ever had before, but I really didn’t care at that point. The run started on grass and gravel, not my favorite type of running surface. About a half mile in on the trail, I heard Maggie behind me say “Only 2.5 more miles and you’re a triathlete!” I smiled so big – maybe not on the outside, but definitely on the inside! As I kept on going through the 5k, I thought of my friend Paula. We had just a couple of weeks ago run our first sub 30 5k together. I knew that I wasn’t going to pull off something like that today but I thought of how hard we pushed each other and told myself not to stop. Keep running. Even if it is slow. Don’t walk. I heard the words of Maggie in my head the first time I ever ran an entire 5k race without walking. I asked her how in the world I could do it, and she said “Just don’t stop!” So I kept thinking that as I slowly jogged this 5k after already putting my body through a 500m swim and a 20k bike. It was hot, but luckily most of the run was shaded, just like the race description had said. It was mostly flat with just one little hill at about 1 mile in. So many on the race course were disoriented. The woman in front of me turned and asked me if we missed the turnaround. I said no, it’s up ahead. And then I saw it. There was the turnaround. Just before I hit it, I heard a “Great job, keep it up!” and saw Jeff, a member of ATP that had introduced himself to me at a group run earlier in the year and offered tons of encouragement in my training. It was fitting that I would see him just before that last turn around, the home stretch, the final countdown!
Although my pace did not show it, I felt like I was pushing myself harder as I finished the run. I saw a woman stop on the other side of me and she shouted to me, “Are you in the sprint? Did I miss the turnaround?” I told her “Keep going, you’re almost there, it’s just ahead, you didn’t miss it!” I kept up with the woman in front of me who had asked the same thing earlier, and I think she was the same woman that I had passed on the bike route. That’s the fun thing about triathlons – you just never know where you’re going to end up and it’s kind of a thrill not knowing where you’re at compared to anyone else! We reached the part of the race that went to trails and grass, and I started to hear the music playing. I thought to myself, “This is it. I’m almost there.” I saw the 6 mile marker and knew I had less than 1/4 of a mile to go. The music was getting louder. I started to hear familiar cheering and then saw familiar faces of my friends and family. When I saw everyone and heard everyone, I pushed it as hard as I could! I felt like I was flying through that finishing chute! I crossed the timing mats and FINALLY… I was a triathlete.
After the awkwardness of getting my timing chip off and getting out of the chute, I found all of my friends and gave hugs to all of them. I was all smiles and happy, unlike after my marathon where I was so emotional that I went from laughing to crying to laughing again. This time I was just so incredibly happy. Happy that it was over, happy that my friends and family were all there, happy that I was finally a triathlete after all of these years. Not long after my finish I heard them announce that Maggie was getting close to the end and would be first overall female in the Olympic distance for the second year in a row. I shouted for Ken and we ran down to watch her finish. I cheered and yelled so loudly for her that I got lightheaded!! After she finished and I found her, she told her friends that it was my first triathlon, that I had finished, and that, oh yeah, it’s her 30th birthday! For my birthday she had gotten me into the “Purple Area” after the race where we got compression sleeves for our legs, a mister fan, and some yummy post-race treats and drinks. We relaxed there for a while, and her boyfriend Chris asked me details about my first race. I felt like I was on top of the world.
So the question that most people ask you after you finish a first race like this – first marathon, first triathlon – is “Would you do it again?” Right now, my answer is no way Jose. That swim was enough to never want to do it again. But in reality I’m already thinking about things that I could have done differently that would have helped me do even better. In the end, I did as well as I could have ever wanted to. My swim was worse than I thought it would be, but my bike was way better. My run was exactly what I expected. I finished in under 2 hours, which was my goal all along. My friends and family have all reminded me that although several people inspired me and kept me going through this race, that in the end the person who did it was me. It was my training, my perseverance and my mental drive that got me through that race. The support was irreplaceable and pushed me to do better than I imagined, but at the end of the day… Megan was the triathlete.