Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I am a triathlete

Those words haven’t really sunk in yet.

4:30am rolled around faster than I would’ve liked this morning, especially after having trouble falling asleep- what with dwelling on all the thoughts of potential disasters that could happen during the race. I was packed and prepared, but when I woke up, there was a little knot in my stomach I didn’t have when I went to sleep. I got dressed, and looked at myself in the full-length mirror…dressed in my swimsuit and tri shorts (which I believe are only flattering on people who have less than 5% body fat). I turned sideways, and what’s left of my tummy was there for all the world to see. I turned forward and my thighs were bisected by the tight band of elastic from the shorts, giving the appearance of each thigh having 2 parts…a top and a bottom. The knot in my stomach got a little bigger thinking about many of my coworkers and friends seeing me like this. It was too late now. I’d worked really hard, and I still have weight to lose….but this was my outfit, and I was going to have to suck it up. So I did, but that knot decided to make his home right in the pit of my gut.

all set up.  make note of the huge pink bag
We arrived at the race with our bags and bikes and found a spot to get ourselves ready. I kept my travel outfit on; hiding what I believed was the disaster underneath. I found my friends who were competing too, and we chatted. The wait was long, and it gave my mind all kinds of time to think about all those pitfalls I’d dreamed up the night before. "What if I have a flat on my bike…I can’t change the flat….I will have trained for nothing! What if I have to go to the bathroom during the race? It’ll take forever…oh please, colon, just be my friend and do your job before the race begins! I have to wear the swim cap they gave us, which is latex….I’m allergic to latex. What if my head reacts while I’m in the pool?" What did all my thoughts get me? Just a bigger knot.

Time to line up, which meant it was time to get rid of that traveling outfit. Ugh. Here we go….all my friends getting to see all the parts of me I can’t stand. Thankfully they were kind enough to not say anything.

almost through with the swim
Waiting for my turn to swim was an exercise in balancing nerves with anticipation. In the end, the nerves won. The knot in my stomach was so big, I felt like I wanted to throw up. Someone told me that was the adrenaline. I think it was insecurity. And then, I was in the water. I was officially competing in the first athletic event of my life. The first lap and a half was the worst. I still felt like throwing up, while at the same time trying to push forward with everything I had. All the training in the swim? It didn’t matter. I lost all sense of form. All the strokes I’d practiced….I forgot them all as I focused on who was passing me, who I needed to pass, when the end was coming, and if I’d see Jason when I turned around. And then, I was done. It went by faster than I’d thought. And hey…no itchy head from the latex. I swam the entire time, which was my goal. Accomplishment #1 done.
Transitioning to the bike took a few minutes, and I caught my breath. My tank top went on, finally ending the humiliation of the swimsuit shenanigans. And we were off for 12.4 miles of biking, the first half of which, unfortunately, was into the wind. I supposed that was better than the last half. My quads were screaming for the first 2 miles. I’d never practiced the swim-to-bike, so I wasn’t prepared for how tired my legs would be. Suck it up, Janette, and keep peddling! Spectators screamed out encouragements, the most common of which was “you’re almost there!” The spectators were a bunch of liars. They were screaming this at mile 3. But I appreciated the encouragement, even if it was clouding the truth.

And then we were back. I only coasted 3 times when I lifted my tookus off the seat to relax it a little. Otherwise, my legs never stopped pedaling. Accomplishment #2 done. I dismounted the bike and thought for sure I’d left my leg muscles somewhere out on Socorro Road. In all my training, they’d never felt this heavy. Park the bike…oh wait….someone took my parking space. Guess they must’ve thought that giant pink vinyl bag next to the space was theirs. I still have a little resentment for racer #237 for this. Grab some energy gummies and a few big gulps of Gatorade, and then it was off for the run. 3.1 miles.

starting the jog and still annoyed at racer #237
For the first half mile, I could think of nothing but how on earth I could possibly keep my legs moving forward when they felt like they wanted to melt off my bones. Goal #3 was to finish the run in under 40 minutes, always keep my pace somewhere below 12:59 minute miles, and run the entire way…no walking! But at about the half mile mark, my leg muscles caught up with the rest of me, and I realized…I was tired. I was breathing harder than I ever had during training. Every time my left foot fell, I was either inhaling or exhaling. For the next 2 and a half miles I chanted with every left footfall: “I. Can. Do. All. Things. Through. Christ. Who. Gives. Me. Strength.”

“Head down. (I can) Don’t look up. (do all) Keep moving forward. (things through) Keep breathing! (Christ who) Don’t land on your heels. (gives me) Oh I’m tired! (strength)” For those 3 miles, this was the internal monologue on repeat in my head. I heard the lying spectators telling us we were half-way or at 2 miles (which was actually another half mile away…thanks for the false hope, buddy). I was aware of the little girl who threw the water in my face, who I’m sure thought I found it refreshing. Good thing for her my ability to speak was lost back in the transition area (where I believe I also left my sense of humor).

just about to the end!
And we were coming upon the end. I could see the finish line. Amy told me to give it all I had, which I was trying to do, but it felt like I wasn’t going anywhere. I looked at my GPS watch. It said I was doing a 9:54 minute mile at that point. I heard one of our friends shout something, and then it was so close…the end of the race. Somewhere deep inside, I found a little more to give. Maybe that knot in the pit of my stomach finally gave birth to the adrenaline the others had promised, and I sprinted. I don’t think I’ve ever run that fast in my life, ever. It wasn’t for long or for far, but it was literally all I had, and then we crossed. I doubled over to catch my breath, breathing like an asthmatic… in a field of ragweed… surrounded by thousands of kittens. A race volunteer tried to offer me water. I had no time for that as my lungs constricted tighter and tighter in defiance to my little “sprinting tomfoolery” there at the end. Amy hugged me. Friends were giving their congratulations. And then I saw Jason, coming towards me with icy cold diet Mt. Dew, just like I had requested. I hugged him as I gasped for air. More than anyone, I wanted him to be proud of me. And I had accomplished goal #3

1 hour. 47 minutes. 52 seconds. That was my time. I wanted to finish in under 2 hours….Goal #4 accomplished. It’s just a little surreal. I looked around, and still, after losing almost 150 pounds by nothing more than the shear determination of my own will….I was still one of the biggest women there…and my insecurity was trying to steal the joy of my victory. But, 150 pounds ago, I could barely walk. I mean it. I remember going on a walk those many pounds ago and getting winded walking up a hill that seems elementary to me now. A little over a year ago, I almost died when blood clots settled in my lungs, killing a portion of both of them. Today, the biggest ruckus my lungs could raise is that they were irritated that I sprinted. The former “Fat-Janette” lived a lifestyle worthy of an early grave. But today, crossing that finish line, I knew the only thing that’s gone to the grave is the battery of poor habits and emotional coping that once had me held hostage to a life of misery and trapped in my own body. To me, that last sprint to the finish represented me fleeing, forever, an old life content in my weakness. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

So, did my thighs still look like they had 4 sections when I crossed the finish line? Yep. Did the underside of my arms still jiggle? Uh-huh. Did I still have an obvious tummy under those spandex shorts? Very much so. Was I still one of the biggest competitors there? Yes. Did a different person cross the finish line than the one who entered the pool? She did. Will I live tied to my insecurities and the possible judgment of others anymore? No. And do you know why?

Because today, I am a triathlete.