100. Competing Voices

100. Competing Voices

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

Competing Voices

One advantage of talking to yourself is that you know at least somebody’s listening.
 ~Franklin P. Jones

I have a voice in my head. No, I’m not crazy, but I do have this voice that worries about things like missing Visa bills and whether or not I should let my five-year-old anywhere near the rock wall at school. When I exercise the voice tends to whine. Your ankle hurts. Other people aren’t breathing this hard. You have no coordination whatsoever. Things like that. However, one afternoon as I was chit-chatting with another mom and she began telling me about the triathlon she’d just completed, something unusual happened.

The voice in my head said, Oh yeah, you’re going to kick ass.

Now, this was new. My voice was normally much more Woody Allen than Sylvester Stallone. It did not make presumptions about my physical abilities. I ran a little, mostly on a treadmill at the gym, but even on my best days I was a slow and reluctant runner. A Vespa in highway traffic. Really I’m not really a runner at all.

Nevertheless, that winter my friend and I signed up for the Danskin Women’s Triathlon New York Metro race, which was a half-mile swim, an 11-mile bike ride, and a 5K run. We had until September to prepare.

I can swim but have never been a particularly strong swimmer, so I decided that an intermediate swim class would be a good place to start. That first week a single lap of crawl stroke left me breathless and exhausted. My instructor started me on some drills.

You have six months, my voice said. No worries. On the other hand, face in the pool, the worrier in me was in full force. Mostly, she whined. This sucks. You are a terrible swimmer. You can only breathe on one side and you’re completely wrecked after two laps. This is very, very bad.

When spring arrived, I started running a 2.8 mile loop through the local neighborhoods around the gym. I was slow, but I could run the whole thing without stopping. In May I ran a 5K race.

See? I thought. You can do this. No problem.

However, I was dodging the bike situation. My husband had a hybrid bike, but I was afraid to actually ride it any distance because I was positive that flat tires, thrown chains, and various other mechanical misfortunes would leave me stranded on the side of the road somewhere.

My stepfather, however, decided I needed a bike of my own. He found me a road bike on eBay.

“Now you have to perform,” he said.

Uh oh.

My first ride on the new bike was not particularly successful. I could not figure out how to change the gears. It was in a very low gear and I rode all around the neighborhood spinning like mad, trying to figure out how to make the gears go higher. There didn’t seem to be anything to adjust. Maybe it’s broken, I thought. Maybe there’s a missing part. Then I thought, maybe you’re a forty-year-old woman who can’t figure out how to shift a freaking bicycle.

As I headed for home, pedals spinning wildly, I felt my imminent humiliation. I gave it one last effort, tinkering with anything and everything, and realized there were little tabs hidden under the brakes. Everything shifted to the side, making the gears go higher and lower.

Oh thank God.

I swam, biked and ran as often as I could, building up to 20-mile bike rides and 5-mile runs. Swimming was still my weakest area, but I was able to comfortably swim forty laps in the pool. Ideally I knew I needed to practice in open water, but the circumstances for that never quite came together.

Not to worry, you’ve come a long way. You can only do so much.

Triathlon day arrived. I was nervous, obviously. You’re not going to be able to swim that far, you will never manage to change a tire if you get a fl at, and your knees don’t really feel up to this were some of my most frequent concerns. However, I was also excited about finally making it to the big day. You did great. You’re ready.

By the time I was waiting for my swim wave I was so nervous I was jumping in place.

“Cold?” my friend asked.

“No, I’ve got my panic to keep me warm,” I joked, except I wasn’t joking. I was truly starting to freak out.

There were so many bodies and colored caps on the beach in front of me I couldn’t see the water. I waited for the announcer to call my wave. I was the 13th wave, in yellow caps. Unluckiest number and the color of cowards. Fabulous. When my wave was called, I waded into the water.


As soon as I put my face in the water it was obvious that I was in trouble. It was like I was in a blender. OH MY GOD! Everything was in motion, churning brown and white and body parts. I started doing the crawl but when I turned my head to breathe I got smacked in the face by the choppy water. I couldn’t see anything. I managed a few strokes but my heart was racing and I was already out of breath. I struggled for any forward motion. The buoys that had looked fairly reasonable from the beach looked very, very far away. My goggles were fogging. Everything was going wrong.

I started treading water and noticed that the other yellow caps were starting to pull away. All of a sudden the voice in my head changed. If you let your wave get away you’re done! DO NOT LOSE YOUR WAVE! Like the flipping of a switch my focus changed from being about swim strokes and murky, choppy water, to being about the wave. I had to keep up. I crawled, breaststroked, sidestroked, doggie paddled, and just plain grappled my way along, determined to keep the yellow caps around me. One by one the buoys passed. Soon, I could see the finish.

Putting my feet back in the sand was pure euphoria. Far from being exhausted by my manic effort, I had never felt lighter than I did as I ran up the beach, officially ending my swim.

The bike and the run went well. On the bike, my mind remained calm and focused on logistics. Drink water. Have a GU. Don’t overdo it. I had a good, fast ride.

The run was a little rough at first with my wobbly bike legs but I saw my family cheering me on and reminded myself, this is the easy part. It’s as simple as one foot in front of the other. I found a comfortable pace and the miles passed. As I crossed the finish line, I don’t think I have ever felt so strong, so proud in my whole life.

At the end, my mind was empty. If it is possible for a brain to simply smile, that’s what mine did. I had done it, and done it well, finishing in 1:21:44, better than the hour and a half I had been hoping for.

I can’t wait to do it again!

~Christina Kapp

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