93. The Terror of Tri

93. The Terror of Tri

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

The Terror of Tri

Always do what you are afraid to do.
 ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The second I hit the water, I knew I had made a mistake. There were about two hundred swimmers all diving in the lake at the same time, kicking off the first leg of our triathlon. We were indiscernible in black wetsuits and gray swim caps and kicked so much water that you couldn’t see anything that wasn’t right next to you. My wetsuit sucked against my stomach, keeping me from taking any deep breaths. The little air I took in was mixed with green water. I tried to hold my breath and swim underwater but the green murkiness blinded me. I could feel people swimming over the top of my legs and I knocked into someone with every attempted stroke. Panic quickly set in. Even though I was only thirty feet out, I knew I couldn’t touch bottom, couldn’t breathe, and couldn’t see. This is how people drown.

I looked over the top of the other swimmers toward the rescue boats and saw they were too far out to save me if I went under. I considered swimming toward the boats to ask to be pulled in. All the training I had done in the last twelve weeks had not prepared me for this.

All this madness had really started three months previously. I had finally decided to train for a triathlon because I needed more motivation to stay fit. Competing in a triathlon terrified me and fear is a powerful motivator. I had been thinking about competing in a triathlon on and off for the past three years, but I thought I had talked myself out of it due to my fear of drowning or being hit by a car while biking.

It started from an innocent conversation. My roommate and I were commiserating about how our ambition level had dropped off with regard to exercise. Losing weight was no longer enough of a motivator, and I told her I needed something to work for. And then those words that I had never dared say out loud came out, “We should compete in a triathlon.” She quickly squelched the idea for her, but something about saying it out loud to someone cemented the idea into a goal for me.

I had just over three months to train for the next triathlon in my area. I bought the aptly titled The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Triathlon Training and to my excitement they outlined a twelve-week training program. Morning after morning of running, biking, or swimming when the rest of the world was still asleep both exhausted and invigorated me. My body soon needed more than nine hours of sleep a night and I ached during my more difficult weeks. During vacations, while my family rested between activities, I was running or swimming. But soon I loved feeling strong as I trimmed seconds off my best times and as difficult, almost impossible things, became easy.

So I had felt confident when I ran into the water for my first triathlon. That feeling disappeared instantly, and I was certain of two things — one, the triathlon was a huge mistake, and two, I hadn’t been nearly terrified enough.

With ten family members watching and all that money and time invested, I decided I couldn’t quit 5 minutes into the race. In a final attempt to keep going, I started backstroking. It was the only way to breathe. Once I adjusted, I was able to alternate the breaststroke and the backstroke. It was chaos in the water. Several of the other racers were also backstroking, and they would start going sideways and even backwards. One woman wrapped her arm around my neck while she was doing the breaststroke and I had to push her off me. I was grateful when my feet touched the moss-encrusted boat ramp.

I walked up the ramp. I know I should have run but I was glad to be walking. I swallowed so much water from the lake that I was about five miles into the bike ride before I stopped belching.

The bike part was blessedly uneventful. However, if I’m stupid enough to do this again, I’m getting a road bike. Everyone passed me, my only consolation was that I had beaten those same people in the swim.

During the run I made several attempts to drink water but I just spat it out. Any attempt to swallow would have resulted in vomiting. Whose idiotic idea was it to put a steep, rocky hill in the middle of a run? I had nothing left; the desire to turn around and end this was powerful. Up ahead I could see the turnaround point and I knew that no one would know if I turned early. I kept going and made myself physically touch the turnaround chair. One and a half more miles and I was done.

I crossed the finish line and didn’t throw up. The pain kept me from feeling joy for a few hours but in the days and months following, I often thought back to that moment and I didn’t regret a second. People kept asking if I was going to compete again. I told them maybe.

By the next summer, I had signed up for two more triathlons.

~Melissa Dymock

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