All the waiting, worrying and working out paid off: I am a triathlete.
The week before the Sampson County Super Sprint Triathlon in Clinton flew by, mostly because I didn’t want it to. The night before, in an effort to get to know the neighbors and forget my anxiety, Zach and I attended a small bonfire and cookout.
While everyone else sipped on mixed drinks and beers, I gulped from a Bud Light bottle that we had secretly washed out and filled with water. Let’s just say I was definitely hydrated.
As soon as we got home that night, panic grabbed me.
Every other sentence was, “I didn’t train enough,” “I’m not going,” and “What was I thinking?” over and over again, in between cursing my editor Donnie for forcing me to let the whole county know about the race. Always the motivator, Zach told me there was no backing out now.
Then I was as mad at him as I was at myself. Things were not looking good.
The next day, we had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to leave right around 5 a.m. When the three alarms we set — his watch, my phone and the alarm clock — didn’t wake Zach, I silently contemplated falling back asleep and feigning shock when we awoke at 8 a.m.
Alas, I crawled out of bed and got dressed, feeling nauseous and terrified. When we left the house it was about 30 degrees.
On the way to Clinton, Zach tried to cheer me up. “You should probably stick your head out the window so you get used to how it will be on the bike,” he said. I actually thought about it for a second, until I realized we were going 80 mph down the freeway.
When we arrived, other racers were already unloading. Trek bikes that cost more than my car rolled by, pushed by spandex-laden racers. No one seemed nervous, which only made my panic worse.
Trying to act like I belonged, I got my bike and bag out of the car. We re-attached the front tire, and I did a few laps in the parking lot. It was about 35 degrees, and it didn’t seem to be warming up much.
Next I collected my numbers — for my helmet, shirt and bike — and got marked with permanent marker on my upper arms and thighs. I was a walking No. 132.
At the transition area, I set up my bike and other items neatly in the order I would use them: towel, shorts, socks, shoes, shirt, helmet. Too bad we weren’t being judged on obsessive compulsive disorder.
At this point, there was no escape. I had to go to the pool for the start. Spectators weren’t allowed in, so Zach peered through the foggy glass, snapping photos through the open door as the opportunities presented themselves.
We started in order of our bib numbers, so I nervously chatted with other racers as we waited for 131 people to swim 250 yards. When I got in, the first couple laps were great. But soon, panic returned. With about 50 other people in the pool, water was splashing everywhere. My plan to do the backstroke — as a novice swimmer, I don’t like putting my face in the water — became a plan of survival. I swam backstroke and an abbreviated form of freestyle, gasping and wondering where in the world all my training went.
When I finished the swim, I ran out the doors into the cold weather that I no longer felt. I told Zach, “It was horrible,” as I slipped on my flip-flops and shuffled the 300 feet to the transition area. I dried off and dressed for the bike portion, whining all the way.
The bike ride was much smoother, but many high-tech bikes whizzed by me. I kept a steady pace and finished that part quicker than I expected.
Rolling into the transition area, I snapped into an elation-induced insanity. My energy was back. All I could think was, “Two out of three are done. I can do this. This is happening,” as I sprinted out of the transition area with a smile consuming my face.
As I was finishing the race, I felt like I wanted to cry. I was so happy. In 1 hour, 9 minutes and 19 seconds, I did something that seemed a dream months ago, and still out of reach the night before.
At the awards ceremony, Zach listened intently, convinced I would win something. I watched the dog next to us chase his shadow as I replayed the race in my mind. The announcement of my name broke my daydreams.
I won my age group, beating no one since I was the only female competitor ages 20 to 24. With or without the prize of a glass cup, this event had always been a competition with myself.
That was the victory I am still coveting.