Thursday, November 6, 2008

What doesn't kill me makes me stronger

I finally have time to recount my first triathlon experience last September. It all started with motivation from getting an early Christmas present from my parents and grandparents, a fancy shmancy Bob running stroller. Three wheels, full suspension and an attitude that screams, "yeah, I'm bad ass".

It is the Cadillac of all running strollers, gliding under my fingertips as a cruise with minimum resistance. Once I had the equipment, I needed a destination. The week prior I had been talking to my friends in Japan about Stroller Strides, a mom and child workout franchise located in almost every major city. We have such a great stroller class in Japan we are all worried what we will do when we return to the states. I looked them up online and found that there was a class at Lake Chabot just minutes from my parents. I met up with the group and did a two mile course along one side of the lake and back. It was a good workout but Lisa's class is no comparison to Mariah's boot camp. After the class, the girls were all talking about Jennifer Lopez's triathlon time. 2:23:28 for an 800m swim, 14K bike and 4 mile run...not too shabby. I asked why they were all so interested and they told me they had been training since March for the See Jane Tri on September 27th..that was in four days. The instructor Lisa mentioned that she was unable to go and her registration was non-refundable so if I wanted her spot, it was mine. Without thinking (literally) I said sure! Not knowing distance, location or any other details I just locked myself into what would become a life changing experience.

Wake up call, Saturday morning, 5:30am. Jack was sound asleep after being up almost all night and I had about thirty minutes to get something in my stomach and get out the door. My mom was up too, her and my grandmother have always been my best cheerleaders. My dad lent me his road bike that he completed at least two Ironman triathlons in, my mom lent me a hat for the run that was signed by Paula Newby-Fraser (24 time Ironman Championship) and the rest of my bag was filled with mismatched gear to get the job done.

The race was held at Shadow Cliffs in Pleasanton. It was once a quarry now transformed into an 80 acre lake, 266-acres of park and 4 flume water slides. Once we got there, the butterflies set in. It was definitely a moment of "what am I doing!" I knew that my boot camp workouts were keeping me in shape but I had not been in the water since the adventure race in July. The premise of the swim was freaking me out. My mom was super excited and was rooting me on every step of the way, thank God for her. I checked in, got my time chip and then headed to the staging area to set up my bike.

Right around 7 they started calling all competitors to the beach for a pre-race warmup. I headed down in my pink swimsuit(mom's) and my green swim cap(dad's). I was a little bummed that my heart rate monitor was on the fritz. It was registering my heart rate between 40 and 280...not good if real. I like the reward of knowing how many calories I burned and how well my cardio recovery is doing. After the pre-race warmup the race began with the over 50 and under 18. Age groups piled on to the beach and it looked like I had 15-20 minutes before they were getting to my 30-34 age group. I tried to find my mom and Jack and I tracked them down tout de suite. I was mortified walking around in a hot pink bathing suit and green swimcap. I may have lost 70 pounds by then but I still feel like a whale. Especially compared to all of the pro-jane triathletes running around in their power tri-suits. Once I found them Jack took one look at me and got boob on the brain. He has this way of telling me he's hungry these days. He sticks his hand inside my shirt and says "this?" It's the cutest voice and hard to refuse. I threw a blanket over my shoulder and let Jack top off his tank.

Finally it was my time to get in the water, the start was imminent. I waded in a few feet to learn that the man-made lake was coated with black goo on the bottom. With each step I sunk in deeper and deeper. It smelled horrible and my irrational fear of murky water wasn't coming in handy. Before I could really start to worry, the starting horn blared. We were off. For the first 100 meters I felt great. Long, strong strokes, breathing under control, not getting kicked and not kicking anyone else. I thought "only three more times, I can do this!" Then, wham! One swift kick to the face and my momentum was gone. I sucked in a bunch of nasty lake water gasping for breath, once the behemoth cleared out from in front of me, I tried to get my rhythm back, but no luck. This is where I wished I had spent some more time in the pool. For the next 300 meters I coasted along getting passed on the left, and the right, and the left, and the got old really quick until I was probably one of five in the tail end of my age category. One woman felt the need to zig-zag in front of me kicking me as she passed each time. Dumb ass must have added 100 meters onto her swim with the way she was all over the course. I had a total Grey's Anatomy moment after the third or fourth time. I sat up in the water and said "seriously!" (For non-Grey's Anatomy watchers, they say it all the time). Once I got close enough to the shore to sink back into the black, murky goo I started to get my second wind. It took me 11:54.7 to swim the 40 meters...tragic but I had a pretty good transition to bike in only 3 minutes.

The start of the bike is a straight shot uphill and I was on a road bike for the first time since 1986. I am so used to my cushy mountain bike with wide tires and straight handle bar. This was not a mountain bike, no sir-ee...I walk my bike to the start, mount and go. Women were crashing all around me trying to change gears while straining uphill. Silly women. I knew I would be better off just trudging through it than trying to get into a comfortable gear. It wasn't easy but when I got to the top is was clear sailing from there. The 10K bike was promoted as a loop route that was mostly flat, mostly being the keyword. The first 6K was great, I was coasting along at an average speed of 20 miles per hour passing as many women that had passed me in the swim. Then out of no where a wicked little hill peaked around the corner. I was deep in the aero bars and could not find the coordination to shift into a higher gear so again, there I was, trudging uphill. Thank the genetic gods for my enormous quads and hamstrings, they came through for me both times. A pro-jane in the 45-49 age group (our ages were in black marker in the backs of our calves) passed me on the hill and said "great job! that wasn't easy!", exactly the pat on the back I needed for the last 4K. The bike route curved around the park and back to the entrance where the starting uphill was now a finishing downhill. I was feeling great and smiled for the professional photographer snapping away at the transition. This leg took me 34:39.5, not too shabby for my first race. The transition to the run went a little quicker, this one was only two minutes.

Jack cheering mommy on...

As I departed the transition area I saw my mom and Jack cheering me on. I got a little choked up with all of the excitement. I knew there was still 3 miles in front of me but I have been running at least three miles three times a week all summer. I may not be fast but I am consistent. I coasted at my lightening 12 minute mile pace, enjoying the feeling of accomplishment after the swim and bike and taking in the nice scenery around the lake. Every so often there were quotes by famous women posted on trees. My favorite one is now on my signature line in my email, "You must do the thing you think you cannot do."-Eleanor Roosevelt. Childbirth came to mind. There were many moments during labor and delivery where I thought "no way, I cannot do this". God bless Keith and the midwife for constantly reminding me how strong and able I actually was. 3 miles?!? Cake compared to 36 hours of labor. I just kept coasting. The tail end of the run course is a dirt downhill leading to the lakeside where the finish line was. Another runner came p beside me and she was saying, "I can do this, this is nothing, f*&k the dirt, f*&k the dirt", I yelled "tawanda!" and kicked up my heels for a strong finish. As I was rounding the corner, finish line in sight, there's mom. She leaps onto the course in front of me gives me a high five and I couldn't help but get all choked up.

I crossed the finish line in 1:29:04.5, much better than the two hours I expected it to take me. Overall I finished 562 out of 777, 70th percentile but who cares? I finished a triathlon with no training and four days notice. In my book I rock, big time. I did a 5K Run for the cure in October in 32 minutes pushing Jack around the imperial palace and tomorrow we are doing a 5K to show our support for smoking cessation. On the 14th is the toys for tots 5K and my goal is to be under 30 minutes. One of these days I'll get another chance to race without pushing Jack, but for now he's a great training aid and he likes to go fast.


  1. You my sweet are an inspiration to all of us women!The fact that you have made such an effort to put your self out there is quite impressive. Keep up the good work. You have created a lovely life for you and your boys. Enjoy it. You deserve all the great and exciting things you are experiencing!
    Love you,

  2. Oh Jenn! What a great race report! I had to laugh out loud a few times at the funny comments in your story. I am so very, very proud of you for taking on what others would this is "impossible"...and with only four days notice! I really am not that surprised because you do whatever you set your mind to do and your body follows! Lots of love from Mom and Dad.

  3. Now I really feel guilty for not being there to cheer you on. Your report reminded me of all the soccor games and track meets where I watched you giving your all......Winning is competing and you have always done that.
    Love, Gram

  4. That's my girl! I felt like I was re-living the early years of my triathlon experiences through your eyes. There's nothing quite like the feeling of pulling off the "impossible". I'm very proud of you! Not just for finishing, but even more for having the gumption to take it on in the first place.