Unofficial title: My First Triathlon (AKA The Day I Realized I Have Multiple Personalities)
But that title was simply too long and threw off the layout a bit. I have to tell you…I experienced every single emotion on Saturday, August 23 . I felt happy, sad, excited, nervous, anxious, mad, sad, discouraged, encouraged, positive, negative, giddy, confident, weak – just to name a few.
I had moments where I screamed to my Aunt, “OMG I CAN’T DO THIS!” And within another breath I would say, “OMG I can do this…I’m strong! I’ve trained for this!”
But honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing about my experience. It was, like always, a one of a kind journey.
How It All Began
Every time my Aunt Deb came to visit, she would bring her bike, running gear, and swim suit. She’s always been in fantastic shape, but I never realized how dedicated she was to triathlons.
After my marathon relay, my Aunt Deb said I should consider doing a triathlon. She’d been telling me about her events for years, but the swim always intimidated me.
Growing up as “big girl” – it’s safe to say that I was intimidated by the pool. Sure, I loved playing at the city pool with my sister growing up, but I was always insecure about my body and didn’t believe in my abilities. I never swam laps until this year (unless you count middle school and high school gym / swim class – which I don’t think counts…that day was definitely worse than mile run day – because you had to wear a swimsuit in front of boys).
But five half marathons, countless 5ks, and two marathon relays later – I’ve grown into a much more confident person. I’m not an elite athlete. I never will be. And I’ve come to terms with that.
But I am damn proud of the fitness goals and milestones I’ve achieved in the past few years.
“Are you ready to sign up?” my Aunt Deb messaged me one day. “Registration for the Go Girl Triathlon is open!”
Oh man. Now I had to make a decision. It’s always easier to SAY you’ll do something. It’s like planning a trip to Vegas. It sounds like a FANTASTIC idea at first. And you want to recruit everyone to go with you, but when it comes to making the decision to go…it’s a big deal!
I had some doubts, but I didn’t let my fears hold me back. I signed up that night. My Aunt Deb promised to stick by my side the entire time. In the beginning, I agreed to sign-up to the triathlon because I wanted to lose my baby weight.
But little did I know, I would do more than just lose weight.
I would turn into a strong, determined, and committed athlete.
I would turn into a triathlete.
Training went surprisingly well. I trained better and harder for this race than any other race I’ve ever “competed” in.
My Aunt gave me a training schedule / plan that was based on TIME not distance. She told me to just put my time in and everything would pay off. Because of that training program, I often did MORE than the required distance, especially with the swim. So on race day, I didn’t have to worry if my body could do the distance. I knew I was capable of those distances. But could I do them all in one day? Could I swim, bike, and run my heart out?
And I did.
T’was the Night Before the Race
“Hi Coop!!” I shouted to Cooper as I picked him up from daycare.
I was a little early, so they weren’t expecting me. But I always love surprising Coop. The look on his face when he sees me pick him up from daycare is simply priceless.
The mood was somber, though. And I could tell something was wrong.
“I have something to tell you,” my daycare lady said. “And there is just no easy way to say this…so I’m just going to come out and say it.”
I had no clue what to expect. Honestly, I thought she was going to tell me that something bad happened to Cooper.
I glanced over at Cooper, and he looked just fine. He was happy. He was climbing all over the place. And he was making his normal baby noises.
“Okay..” I said.
“We are moving, ” she said.
“Oh – that’s totally fine,” I said. “We can always just drive to your new place! Where are you moving?”
She went on to tell me her plans and said, “So today will be your four week notice.”
Wait. Notice. What? I thought you were moving…now you’re telling me you can’t see Cooper anyway.
I felt like someone punched me in the gut. Instantly, all of the emotions I felt when I first went back to work started pouring through my body again.
She had tears building up in her eyes, “It’s so hard. We’ve all been crying about it.”
I wanted to cry.
I wanted to walk away.
I wanted to ask WHY she had to tell me this news today.
The day before my race.
“Well, you have to do what’s best for your family,” I said. “And I don’t want to make you feel bad about that. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m devastated. And I honestly have no clue what we are going to do, but…”
“I’m so sorry,” she said.
I don’t remember the rest of our conversation. I just remember walking down the stairs and looking into Cooper’s innocent little eyes. I felt so much sadness.
I found someone who I trusted.
Someone who felt like family.
Someone who I knew loved my son and treated him so well.
And now, she’s gone.
And I have to find another “stranger” watch my son.
Cooper grabbed my face, almost as if he saw the tears coming and wanted to cheer me up.
I kissed his forehead and put him into the car.
I was pretty emotional the rest of the night. All I could think about was Cooper.
We ate a pasta dinner and I went to bed early. It was a failed attempt at sleeping because I spent much of the evening messaging friends about any daycare leads. And then I just softly cried myself to sleep while I prayed for a more peaceful and calm mind in the morning.
The Big Morning
My alarm clock went off at 5:30 a.m. My “natural” alarm clock AKA Cooper had been “going off” all night. He had a rough evening, but thankfully Justin got up with him every single time so that I could get my rest. I finally pulled myself out of bed around 6 a.m.
I didn’t have time to think about the daycare situation.
Instead, I stumbled my way downstairs to grab a bottle, let Bandit out, and grab my clothes for the race.
My Aunt Deb was already dressed and wide awake.
“Good morning!” she greeted me and I could just feel the positivity and energy in her voice.
I needed that!
I went upstairs to kiss my boys goodbye then I grabbed my bag and breakfast smoothie.
During the drive, Aunt Deb shared some tips that she learned along the way. We also discussed reminders and rules of the race.
It was silent and then I got a terrifying thought in my head.
“What happens if you have to poop?” I asked, very seriously.
I just sat there and imagined myself butt naked in a porter potty. I mean, how else and where could you possibly poo (if needed?)
“You don’t,” My Aunt Deb said back. “You hold it. You don’t poop.”
When pulled into the park (the race was at Eagle Creek Park in Indy), and I saw so many women.
Women of all ages, shapes, and sizes.
I felt inspired that so many women were coming together for this race. I could see many women that looked like seasoned pros. I could tell this wasn’t their first race. But then I saw many other women like me.
We got the bikes out of the car and walked them to the transition area. We ended up walking with a fun group of ladies -we shared stories about previous races. But more importantly, we just built each other up and spread positivity. I could tell very early on that this would be a very uplifting, inspiring, motivating, and supporting group of women.
All Marked Up
We pushed our bike for what felt like a mile. How is that for a warm up?
As I headed into the transition area to hang up my bike, a line started forming so everyone could get “marked up.” I’ve been waiting for that moment. The moment you proudly get your numbers “tattooed” on your arm.
Aunt Deb and I managed to get a picture together before the race – see above!!
The Newbie Rack
Aunt Deb and I were on separate racks (based on our bib number). I walked up to my rack and noticed a lot of younger women with me. There is a chance I was the oldest of the bunch, but we were ALL newbies! The nerves were infectious!
“Hi!” I greeted the girl next to me. “My name is Ashley!”
She introduced herself to me and we shook hands, but I forgot her name. I ended up seeing her many times and we encouraged each other often.
“What are you best at?” I asked her. “The swim, bike, or run?”
“Definitely the run,” she said. “What about you?”
“Ummmmmm – none!” I said, jokingly.
We walked up to the swim start area together until she saw her family. She wished me luck and ran up to hug her dad.
I kept looking around for my family, but couldn’t find them. I was hoping I could run up for a hug and kisses before jumping into the water, but I didn’t see them and I had to move forward.
That’s when the nerves really sank in…
The Next Michael Phelps
In this tri, each swimmer entered the water two seconds apart. I liked this method because it prevents everyone rushing into the water at once. We decided to join the “middle of the pack” for our line up. Music was playing, women were jumping up and down and shaking (with nerves), and the guy in front of us started counting off the women and told us when to run into the water.
He started dancing to the music, so I obviously did a little booty shake and said something awkward. Because that’s what I do best.
“Ok GO!” he said.
I ran into the water and dove under water.
I came up for air and started into my freestyle stroke.
The nerves got me.
A wave splashed me.
Water went down my throat.
OMG I AM CHOKING!
I AM GOING TO DROWN!
I swallowed a ton of water and pulled myself upward.
I tried to catch my breathe.
Someone swam into me.
My goggles started filling with water and getting cloudy.
(Lesson learned: purchase good goggles – they are worth it)!!!
I decided to just close my eyes and swim. I heard my Aunt yell, “Ashley, are you OK?”
But I ignored her (not on purpose) and headed back into my swimming. Only this time I jumped in breaststroke.
I started to get into a solid rhythm and I felt confident.
I swam into people.
Peopleswam into me.
I didn’t even bother saying sorry – I just kept swimming.
Just like Dory on Little Nemo.
Once I turned the final corner and we started heading back to the shore line, I gave it my all. I swam harder than ever before. I just wanted to be DONE.
A line started forming outside of the water as we climbed out of the water one by one. People were standing around and cheering us on.
I kept looking for Justin, but didn’t see him anymore.
Even though I was out of breathe, I started running toward the transition area.
“You did great!” Aunt Deb said. “The hardest part is done!”
But the hardest part hadn’t even started yet.
And little did I know, the swim would actually be my BEST and EASIEST part of the race. I ended up finishing the swim in a little over 14 minutes – and during training I was swimming this distance in about 20 minutes!
How about that for a plot twist?
Did I Just Get a Penalty?
When I got out of the water, I started running toward the transition area. I found myself looking for familiar faces. Justin. Cooper. My mom. But I didn’t see anyone.
I got to my bike rack and slightly dried myself off. I put on my socks, shoes, and looked around to soak in the moment. Just then, someone from my rack came running up.
“That was incredible!” she said. “You did awesome!”
Did I really do awesome? Was she just being nice? Did she take a shot of some espresso after the swim?
“Thanks!” I said back. “You did great too! That went much better than I expected.”
I was thankful for her smile and positive energy – it was certainly contagious.
“Good luck.” she shouted as she took off with her bike (much quicker than I was).
I finished getting ready and pulled my bike off the rack. You aren’t supposed to ride your bike in the transition area. You’re only allowed to push it. Or run with it if you’re really diehard (and coordinated). Because the nerves got the best of me, I hopped on my bike for a second! It was habit, really! Just then, one of the judges saw me.
“Hey!” he said. “Don’t do that!”
As he spoke those words, I was already correcting myself and hopping off the bike.
I thought I saw him write down my number. Are you kidding me? Did I just get a penalty for this? I didn’t even pedal – I just straddled the bike.
I found Aunt Deb and we started to push our bikes to the start area.
Stranger to the Rescue
Once we pushed our bikes across the start line, I hoped on the bike. I was still out of breathe and couldn’t believe how worn out I was from the swim. We pedaled up a hill and as I was trying to adjust my gears and avoid a panic attack from my inability to breathe, my chain fell off my bike! I felt paralyzed. I didn’t have the energy, strength, or extra breathe to yell for my Aunt Deb. I honestly felt like a little kid again. My pedal would come off my bike ALL the time as a kid. What’s this curse about?
A man across the street saw me struggling. I looked at him with the most helpless look and said, “I don’t know what to do!”
I don’t really remember any formal exchange of words, but he came over to me and helped me with my bike. He was the one who actually got the gear back on my back, which is probably a penalty as well (but no one saw it).
My Aunt Deb had figured out that I was behind by this point and she waited for me to catch him.
My panic attack was on FULL force at this point. I felt horrible. I felt stressed. I felt unprepared.
I thanked the man for helping me with my bike and tried my best to compose myself as I biked up a hill. This was just one of MANY, many hills on the course.
Seeing My Family for the First Time
Not even a minute after my bike problem, I saw Justin! And then my mom. And then my sweet baby Cooper!
“HI GUYS!” I shouted at them.
My sister and step dad were also there with them, but I didn’t see them at the time. I am pretty sure I zoned in on Cooper’s sweet face and smile – and that served as my motivation to fight up the next hill.
The time I Wanted to Puke for 5 Miles Straight
The first five miles on the bike ride were pure hell. I’m not going to sugar coat it. The drama queen in me literally felt like I was going to pass out. My stomach was nausea from the intense workout (and little food in my belly). The sun was beating down on me and the hills are kicking my ass.
“Are you OK?” My Aunt Deb asked me.
“No- I’m not,” I said. “I feel like I’m going to puke! Why did I sign up for this? Why are there so many hills?”
I wanted to stop. I really did.
But I didn’t stop. I kept moving. I kept biking. I kept asking myself WHY in the world I thought it was a good idea to sign up for a triathlon 11 months after having a baby.
I reached down for my water bottle. I grabbed it, slammed back a drink, and then BANG! I dropped my water bottle on the road. I imagined a fellow (and innocent) biker behind me crashing because my water bottle tripped their bike.
“OH NO!” I shouted (that’s the PG version of what I actually said- you’re welcome, mom).
My Aunt Deb was behind me and thankfully she avoided a collusion with my water bottle.
“Don’t worry, Ash!” My Aunt Deb yelled. “I got it- you keep going!”
To be honest, I really wanted to stop. I wanted to say, “No really, I’ll stop. And then I’ll go into the gas station down the road – cry in the bathroom because my legs are on fire and I can’t breathe.”
But instead, I yelled back: THANK YOU!
The hills kept coming. And coming. And coming. The moment I thought we were getting a break and hitting flat land – BANG – there was another hill. At times, I wanted to cry. At other times, I felt like I was flying and unstoppable.
There was one hill in particular that I simply couldn’t handle. I truly don’t even think I was moving. Part of the problem is my lack of training and knowledge with hills and biking. So I wasn’t changing gears at the right time. So, by the time I reached said “Hill of Death” – I truly felt like I was going to fall off my bike. I saw another woman ahead of me pushing her bike up the hill.
I tried to bike up the hill as much as possible, but then I joined her. I hopped up m bike and started a light jog and heavy walk up the hill. Part of me felt like a failure. And the other part of me felt like a genius.
Before I could let any self-doubt creep in, I had 3 women bike me and encourage me.
“You’re doing great!” one of them yelled.
“Don’t give up!” another yelled.
“You can do it!” a third person shouted.
I wanted to cry happy tears – it was so encouraging and inspiring to see so many women cheering each other on! I hopped on my bike and felt like a million bucks by the time I hit the five mile mark.
I have to tell you – going down that hill of death was the most magical and amazing moment on the race. I really felt like Lance Armstrong – minus the illegal drug use. I was flying down that hill – I don’t think I’ve ever moved that fast on a bike. Ever.
“This is amazing!”I shouted to my Aunt Deb.
As I was going down the hill, I looked to the left and saw people struggling bike up the hill. I returned the favor and started encouraging other women.
“You’re doing great!”
“You look so strong!”
“Keep fighting – downhill is SO much better!”
I just wanted to encourage and cheer people on. I was on cloud nine!
When we reached the final transition area, I was beat. That bike ride, which I thought would be the easiest part of the race, was actually the hardest! I felt discouraged and disappointed in my performance. But I was thankful that I finished.
My calves were truly burning and I wasn’t sure how in the world I could possibly run three miles. I tried to stay positive and stretch while my Aunt Deb got ready for the run, but I was feeling really defeated.
We walked to the start line and found my family.
I don’t remember talking to them – I just remember seeing Cooper’s smiling face. And I gave someone a hug. Maybe my mom. Looking back, I feel so horrible that I didn’t give Justin a hug. He was recording me and cheering me on – but I was blinded by Cooper’s smile. We joke about it now, but babe – I really am sorry I neglected you!! I know you’re my biggest fan. I’ll be sure to give you a hug and extra high five during my next triathlon. Deal?
Anyway, I digress.
We started off walking. I attempted to run a few times, but felt really tight and tense. My legs honestly felt like packed smoked sausage links – or a croissant roll package – ready to burst at ANY given second.
We decided to run for one minute and walk for 2 (or 3) minutes. Our pace was slow, but we were moving. And laughing. We wasted no time joking about the many personalities I had throughout the race. And the many, many emotions I had felt as well.
We managed to laugh, encourage other women to finish strong, and Aunt Deb even smacked my booty when a giant horse fly was attacking me (because obviously that would happen).
Crossing the Finish Line
“How much longer do you think we have left?” I asked Aunt Deb.
“Well, it’s just around that corner and then it’s all down hill. Maybe .20 miles?” Aunt Deb said.
“Do you think we should run?” I said. “I want to finish strong. Let’s just go for it.”
We started jogging slowly toward the finish line.
I had high hopes of doing some creative across the finish line – perhaps even a cart wheel. But my legs felt like jello. And there’s a chance I would break my back trying to do a cart wheel. So I decided to just run for my life.
Once I saw the finish line, I took off running faster than I’ve ever ran before.
I felt like I was flying.
I was zoned in.
And I left Aunt Deb hanging behind.
I couldn’t help myself, though. I just wanted to be done.
I just wanted to finish.
I just wanted my medal.
I heard Aunt Deb yelling, “YOU GO GIRL!”
And then I heard my family cheering and yelling for me. But I didn’t look at them.
I just looked straight ahead at that finish line.
I had my eye on the prize.
Tears filled my eyes as I approached that line.
The line symbolized so much for me.
This was truly the hardest I’ve EVER trained for any race. I completely jumped outside of my comfort zone with swimming and biking.
That finish line was proof that my body is capable of doing incredible things. Of being pushed to new limits.
That finish line is proof that even “big girls” can swim hard. Bike hard. Run (read: walk) hard.
I left all my self-doubts, worries, and challenges in the dust as I bushed my ass to cross that finish line.
I’ve never felt so accomplished after a race.
I turned around and looked for Aunt Deb, who wasn’t far behind me.
Justin came running up to me with the video camera and my only response was: “I did itttttt! (insert heaving breathing) I have to pee so bad!”
How’s that for a victory speech?
I wasted no time walking over to the Chic-fil-a tent and grabbed my chicken sandwich.
That was, hands down, the best chicken sandwich of my life.
My first triathlon was an incredible, emotional, and challenging experience. I truly couldn’t have finished this race without my amazing inspiration: My Aunt Deb!
Aunt Deb- I hope this blog post brought back many, many funny memories from our great day together on the course. You’ve inspired me to reach for all my fitness goals. You were so positive and encouraging – even when I felt like a helpless toddler who lost their way and desperately needed a snack. You made this experience MORE THAN I could have ever imagined. And I can’t wait to do another race with you again soon!
Justin – My sweet, loving husband. Thank you for letting me focus on my health and fitness. You were so supportive and flexible during my training season. You never made me feel guilty for going for my long bike rides, Friday night swims, and short runs around the neighborhood. You cooked me healthy meals and inspired me to never give up. I can’t thank you enough for the stability and support you provide for me – not just for this race – but for everything that we do together. You complete me (and yes, I said that like “Dr. Evil”).
Cooper – One day you’ll read this blog and you’ll probably come to the realization that 1) I’m obsessed with you 2) I am constantly struggle with my weight / fitness and 3) I love a big challenge. But please know that you are a huge influence on my health and fitness. I dream of being a healthy and fit mother. I want to inspire you to make healthy decision and live an active lifestyle. I want you to throw yourself into incredibly uncomfortable situations and have the confidence to know you’ll succeed. You can do anything if you have a positive attitude and put your heart into your training / education/ whatever you’re trying to accomplish. And I’ll always be your biggest cheerleader directly alongside your father!
Mom, Sarah, and Kevin – Thank you SO much for taking the time out of your day to drive up and watch my race. I am so thankful I had you there to watch the race. I can still hear your voices yelling my name as I cross that finish line. I’m so excited that I’ve inspired you both (Mom and Sarah) to consider doing a tri one day too! I’ll do my best to be an incredible mentor and training partner. I’ve learned from the best!
TO MY ENTIRE FAMILY + CLOSE FRIENDS – who called me and sent me messages before the race — thank you so much! I read and re-read your messages over and over again. I know my Dad, Beth, Rodger, and Lisa, and my grandparents would have all loved to make it to the race – but travel and vacations got in the way (which is totally fine). That’s why Justin was there to take video. Over the holidays, we can watch the “never before seen” footage of me applying deodorant and making ridiculous faces during the transition area.
TO ALL OF YOU ….who are reading this blog post, sent me messages before the race, and left sweet comments on my race photos – THANK YOU!
I honestly feel so incredibly lucky to have such positive people in my life. You’ve all helped me find the courage and strength to finish this race. You have no clue how much I appreciate each and every single one of you.
So, how did I do?
Well, I finished in under 2 hours – which was my personal goal! It’s not amazing, by any standard. The woman who WON the race finished in 59 minutes. That’s pretty much how long it took me to finish the bike portion:
But now I have a time to beat.
And a new PR to achieve.
I’m looking forward to my next triathlon. Who wants to join me?