Saturday, September 1, 2012

Chicago Tri Race Recap- Elisabeth's Story

I’m internationally known and locally respected for (over)planning and (over)preparing when something big is coming up and I’m feeling anxious about it. In the weeks leading up to the triathlon, I was definitely in hyperdrive to the point where it was getting embarrassing. Let’s just say I had a detailed knowledge of the inventory of every major triathlon shop on the internet and a 150-point checklist. I’m exaggerating.  No I’m not. All that planning did settle me down. I was perfectly ready. Nothing bad could possibly happen.
But of course, I actually do know that all that planning just gives me the illusion of control. Things happen anyway. Race morning -- starting the second my alarm went off at 3:00 am -- I had some pretty bad GI issues. Six hours later when my wave finally jumped into the water, I was so dehydrated from it all that I had cramps for the next 2 hours, 56 minutes and 13 seconds. At T2, even my hands were cramping and so useless that I felt like I was trying to get my running shoes on with one of those plastic toy robot claws. All problems brought on by nerves.
The weird thing was, on race morning I didn’t think I was that nervous. After all, items #147-#150 on the checklist were to stay calm, put my faith in my training, do my absolute best, and have fun.  But there was no denying it, I was scared.

What was I truly THAT worried about? Was it the swimming? It’s true I’m still pretty new at it. But I had trained hard for it. I could finally breathe to the left almost comfortably, had dutifully practiced Angela’s Tarzan swimming and alligator eyes, and had swum in water so choppy that it warranted a freaking small-craft advisory. I hope I qualify as a small craft.

I don’t know, but I think the nerves were about something bigger. I think that it just hit me on some level how right people are when they say triathlon is a metaphor for life. It’s occasionally brutal and messy and painful, and the mere thought that I might not be strong enough to handle it and that I might actually crumble into a sorry pile of road bike wreckage at the edge of the Lake Shore Drive of Life, is just plain stomach- turning.

As it turned out, over the course of those nearly three hours, I never did crumble. I did handle it, the cramps and the pain, and other things, too. At one point during the swim, someone grabbed onto my ankle and wouldn’t let go. I thrashed my cramping foot to try to get them off, but then eventually had to start kicking them with the other cramping foot. They were pissed at me for something I’d accidentally done, or I guess it’s possible they were panicking and needed a tow for a minute - unlikely, but you never know. Whatever it was, I took care of it. I didn’t let it mess with my head. I just swam on and focused on the steady beep of the tempo trainer set to 33 stroke cycles/minute tucked snugly inside my cap.

So when I made it to the finish line and someone handed me that huge-ass finisher’s medal and I somehow lassoed it around my neck with my last bit of strength, it actually meant that I had made it through some hard things in life and that I would have the grit to face brutal stuff in the future just the same. Sometimes it hurts a lot; it’s unfair; people can be mean; people may try to hold me back. But I can handle it. It’s a comforting relief to know I’ll be okay.

But then it became more than just mere relief. Drunk on endorphins, it turned into some truly sappy joy. I realized I have a bestie who will pace me and encourage me on the run after she’d already done her own race. I have a husband who can bust out apropos rap lyrics on demand (about the medal, “watch out for the medallion, my diamonds are reckless, it feels like a midget is hanging from my necklace.”). I’ve got two sons who even when soaking wet and bored, will still insist they want to come watch me again next year. And finally, I have a coach who cares about me more than I even imagined. I didn’t just survive, that was a full-on WIN.


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