My First Triathlon, by Veronica Rusnak, Age 46

Well, I couldn't decide which blog to document this all in, so I'm splitting it up. Part one of The Triathlon experience is at my non-weightloss blog because it seemed to belong there.

But here's Part II. In the other blog, I documented everything up to the point where I put on the swim cap and got in line for my heat. So here i am.

Overall, I'll tell ya, I really liked the vibe of the Danskin Triathlon. It was upbeat and feminist enough, but not to the point of making me want to vomit. They didn't get in your face about it. It was a woman's athletic competition, but at the same time, it was like we were all helping each other out. And germane to this blog, it was a place where I don't think any woman of any size felt "wrong." Like my friend Jen had told me, we wouldn't (and weren't) the only large women there, all decked out in skin-tight tri suits. I actually wore a black sports bra and boy shorts for the swim, which I was getting psyched up for, standing knee deep in water I didn't expect to be this warm at 7:20 in the morning. And another thing that contributed to this vibe is that we were always referred to as "athletes." As in "only athletes are allowed in the Transition Area" or "This table of food is for Athletes Only." Not "women racers." Not "participants." Athletes. And we were treated as such, and I think that in turn trasnformed many of us (who never used the term to describe ourselves before) into such.

Sally Edwards wades over by us. She's the national spokesperson, and its at this point I learn that she's turning 60 this month. She looks great, a bit weathered seemingly more by having done hundreds of triathlons rather than sheer age. She's a cheerleader for us. Each heat gets an inspirational "word" that we are advised to chant to ourselves. Our heat's word is "phenomenal." (Jen told me that her word for her first tri was "Beautiful" or something like that -- "It wasn't a word having to do with performance, it was an esthetic word like that.") Nonethless, I'm glad my heat's word is truly a word that describes a performance, rather than "beautiful" or "Stunning." Our heat's caps are green. (I wanted purple, but, oh well.)

So I spit in my goggles (to keep them from fogging) put them on, the countdown goes, and we're off. I put the hammer down to start, and probably started off too strong, because it was a pace I couldn't keep up for more than 50 yards, and I'm slowing down already, and have to succumb to doing to breaststroke to get my wind back, while women who took it normal are passing me. Still, the majority of women I'd talked to were just afraid of the swim overall, so I know I'm going to be at least average (which I turned out to be). I find my stride doing a good freestyle crawl, I'm hearing Sally's "I am a phenomenal swimmer" chant in my head, and I'm going. Every wich way. Its a windy, choppy morning, and I'm doing what I learned I tend to do -- I'm veering to the left. About halfway through, I picked a few other green caps to follow, and of course, they're veering left as well. So I decide to try to overcompensate. I probably zig zagged across the entire course. A few green caps are passing me, but I'm also catching up to the yellow caps of the heat before us, and nobody from the heat behind us is catching up to me, thank God. I see the end and realize I truly did overcompensate -- I'm totally to the right of the finish pad and BLAM -- I knock my knee into a canoe that's at the right. Somebody warns me about rocks I'm about to step on, and my knee is killing me, and I have to climb up this sandy hill with my throbbing knee but I manage.

So into Transition, where I remember I'm blind as a bat without my glasses, and I'd neglected to count how many racks over my bike is in. (I'd counted on being able to see the signs!). So its like I'm in a parking lot and can't find my car. I find it, finallly, and congratulate myself for thinking of putting a bottle of water for the purpose of squirting sand off my feet, which I did. Note to self -- my favorite baggy bike shorts are too big, but they were still hard to get on a wet body. Opt for true tri bottoms next year. On with the bike shoes, helmet and road shirt, and off to the Bike Start.

I hop on and start flying. I'm flying past all these other women and I'm wondering, "Wait, am I breaking some sort of etiquette? Am I not supposed to put the hammer down until we get out onto the open streets?" Another woman zooms by and I realize "No. I'm just a strong cyclist." And unlike a lot of the people here, I'm on racing wheels and my tires are new racing slicks, and that makes a monster difference right there. I shift up and I'm off. At first I'm wondering if I'm pushing it too hard, but again, I realize, this is my leg. The bike is my strong suit. I've alrady trained and proven i can hammer the bike and still make the run, so I go. I'm calling out "Passing on your left" so many times I'm starting to feel like a broken record. I keep wondering if I'm going to peter out and these people are going to pass me later, snickering. And then there's the ones who don't move to allow a pass. Duh.

About four other women who are clearly bikers are in a pack with me, and by mile 4 we've formed this little mini-peloton. We alternate passing each other (2 of them are better hill climbers than me, where me and this other woman were better at straightaways than them) but it's like we've found our own little impromptu team. We take turns being the one to holler "Passing on your left --- there's 2/3/4 of us!" and frankly, it's a rush. It's the first time in this race that despite all the talk of "athletes" that I really start to think of myself as such. I'm a bicyclist. And while I'm pounding it up a hill, passing still more women (and cheering them on, telling them hang in there, because I remember those days of grinding up a hill against the wind at the beginning of training), I'm feeling like yeah, maybe I will someday compete in a bicycle race.

It's a ferocious headwind on the homestretch back. I feel like I'm in the Tour de France, hearing all the strangers cheering for me and my fellow cyclists, reading all the chalk graffiti aimed at particular racers along the route, hearing those cowbells going off as we pass, being waved at by local residents, families with "Go Mom!" signs, the local cops both watching us (because it's not like there was a whole lot of traffic to worry about in rural Kenosha, WI at 8 am on a Sunday morning). Finally, I'm still passing people on the stretch to the Bike Finish, I slam on the brakes, dismount, and take it down a notch, running my bike back to the rack, and sucking down my third dose of Clif Orange Cream carbo gel. I get the bike shoes off, adjust my ankle brace, slam on the running shoes, replace my helmet with a headband, squirt water on my head and go.

It's at the Run Start that I'm conscious of the timing chip at my ankle, going beep as I step on the mat and head out to the running course. Damn, that sun is hot at 9 am. It's already something like 85 degrees out. My feet are already hot. I start my chrono timer, because in training I found that it takes me about 10 minutes off the bike and into a run to find my stride.

It's been 10 minutes, and I'm just barely finding my stride, but darn it, my goal was to RUN this whole run, not walk a single step of it. There's plenty of women passing me, just as I passed people on the bike, but at least I'm still running. God, it's hot. It's freaking hot. And finally, after 12 minutes, I hit my stride. I've got a good rhythmic breathing going and I see a sign and what's this? It's only been a mile? Heck, I could swear we were halfway done! OK, keep pushing. We go past a beach house and I see one woman attempt to use the bathroom there and it's locked and I say out loud, "I'm so sure they've locked that!" to laughs around me, and doing so reassured me that I must be at a good level of effort because I can have a conversation, so I'm not overworking. Isn't that the rule of thumb (at least it is in aerobics classes.)? Anyway, there I am. We get to the part where you have to run out and double back, and there's a woman with a garden hose spraying us down, there's people handing out water, and those Jelly Belly Sport beans, which are suddenly the most delicious things in the world, but I'm too spent and concentrating on running to be able to open the package. Another woman sees me and says "Hang in there, do you want some of these beans?" She hands me a few, and they're delicious. Like Quench Gum, they are, they zing in my mouth and give me the jump I need. And there's the water people again, on the doubleback, handing me a cup of water to wash it down. And there's teh sign: 2 miles. One to go.

And a ferocious one it is. A slight uphill, and we're also against the wind. That's when I start chanting that phoenominal word again, a word I can barely spell by now, but trying to spell it is taking my mind off the fact that I'm ready to drop. No, I've come this far, I'm running this whole thing if it kills me. And I see the finish line. A man in the crowd catches my eye and can somehow see, thorough my sunglasses, that I need an encouraging word and he says, specifically, "Hey, Number 799, you're almost there, keep going, you can do it!" and I do. There's the finish line. It's about a football field away. I'm Fucking Brett Favre and there's nobody in my way and I'm going for a touchdown on the first play of the game. My legs feel alternatively like rubber and steel and I'm pushing it and I hear the announcer saying names before me and I step on the first mat that clearly gives my name to the announcer who pronounces it correctly and I hit the second mat and I whip off my headband and start swinging it around and there's my name "here's Veronica Rusnak, great job!" and I hit the third timing mat under the finish line.

And there she is, Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the First and her court, straight from the Renaissance Faire, to give me my medal. As I mouthed off to her at last year's Ren Faire, I curtsey deeply as I recieve my medal, and people hand me water and and and.... I'm done! I did it! I ran the whole run! I swam the whole swim, and I hammered the bike. I did it! I am phonemonal, even if I can't spell it to save my life.

I walk around the general area, and I spot the Crocs Vendor display. They're offering a foot ice bath for athletes, I sign a waiver, and take advantage of that. It's just the thing for me and my plantar fasciatis, and as I'm swishing around my toes in the baggies and the ice, I think aloud, "I will never ever diss this company's butt ugly wonderful shoes again. God bless the maraketing genius at Crocs who came up with this brilliant idea to associate their name with foot comfort."

Jen and Peggy's heats are just getting going, so I've got at least an hour and half before they're done. I finally end up doing what turned out to be brilliant -- I catch the shuttle bus back to Dairyland Greyhound Park to get my car, and since I'm on an early run, I get a great parking place at the outlet mall and catch the shuttle back to the race. (This was brillian, instead of waiting for Jen and Peggy, to do it now, because by the time Jen and Peggy are done, the line for the shuttle bus is about as long as the run itself!) It's on the shuttle bus back that it hits me. I did it. I've always wanted to do this, and I did it. And being fat didn't stop me from doing it. If I waited until I'd lost weight, I might have never gotten around to it.

I'm still looking for Jen and Peggy, and I still hear the amazing announcer, who has been upbeat and wonderful since 6 am, still calling off the names of each woman who passes the line, with the same enthusiasm he did for me, as he did for the first person who crosses the line, as the last person. I reunite with Jen and Peggy and we gush and take pictures, and we ride our bikes to the mall and we're done.

We do lunch, and it off to home sweet home. My mind is a daze. I'm making conversation, but I'm outside my body as I do it.

So I get home, and get my times, which are posted on the other blog (and also with this picture, if you click on it.). I have goals now. I have to do better transitions. I could probably shave a minute or two off the swim by practicing more in open water so I don't zig zag. Next year I'll have a stronger ankle, but I do need to improve the run. But frankly, hammering on the bike didn't affect my run. My run time/pace was pretty much what it is when it's NOT preceded by another sport, so if I felt at all like I might have held back on the bike (which I really didn't), there's no reason to do so. Specifically, I'm in the 88% percentile of cyclists. My goal next year is to hit that top 10%. The bike is my thing, always has been, and this race validated that. I've never really been a runner, (and this race certainly validated that), but I still ran the whole thing. But despite my rookie status, and despite my fat, I learned something.

I'm an athlete.


Thora said…
Holy cow. You rock! Congrats on this huge accomplishment :)
PastaQueen said…
That's so awesome! I felt so excited reading this entry. I'm so happy for you!
Pen said…
Congratulations! I was a first timer & did it too! I still smile when I think of what we did last Sunday!
Emily said…
SUPER JOB! Wonderful!!!

Just FYI -- There is an open water race @ that same lake the weekend before that you could try for practice. Lucy and her friend did it this year, along with my friend, Pam. For kids to do it they have to be on a USA Swimming Club, but adults don't have to be.
angelfish24 said…
Way to go on your Danskin race! Wow. I was excited to see your entry on the angry fat girlz site as I will do the Danskin (1st time) in August here in Seattle. I haven't mastered running yet but I look forward to the swim and bike. As long as I finish I will be happy!
Nicole said…
You actually almost made me tear up reading this! Very inspirational, thank you! (And great job!)

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