On Sat. Oct. 27th, 2007, I accomplished three big goals of mine that I had set out to do: 1) I competed in the Suncoast Triathlon at Ft. Desoto, FL, 2) I finished the race, and 3) I did not come in last! Actually, I did a lot better than I had imagined I would. This is my story of where this journey began:About six months ago I rode my bike down to the park in St. Petersburg where they were holding the St. Anthony's triathlon. I watched the athletes as they swam, biked, and ran the course. St. Anthony's is a very big event in the area, and it attracts athletes from all over the U.S. and the world. It is usually one of the first races of the triathlon season, as it is held in April here in FL where the weather is warmer. It is an Olympic distance triathlon (1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run ). I'm so glad I went. The athletes really inspired me. I watched them in awe as childlike thoughts went through my head like, "I want to do that!" But then reality set in. “Who are you kidding? You are a far cry from being able to compete in any athletic event, let alone a triathlon!” As I stood by the transition area cheering on the athletes as they went from the bike to the run, a nice lady next to me struck up a conversation. She told me that her husband was competing in this event. I commented on how difficult the race must be and she shared that he likes to have a goal to work toward. I told her my secret desire was to compete in the mini-tri next year.
The mini-tri is held the day before St. Anthony's for children and beginner adults. The swim is in the pool 200 yards, followed by a three-mile bike and one-mile run. I told her I had been a swimmer in my previous life. She said that she did sprint triathlons and that I should do one. She said coming from a swimming background would give me an advantage. Well, I was flattered that she would even say this to someone, let’s just say, of my stature, but I knew that a sprint triathlon (.33 mi swim, 10 mi bike, and 5k run) was way beyond my limits. I mean, even if I could finish the swim, which I probably could...I've never traveled more than seven miles on my bike (and that was when I was 10), let alone run 3.1 miles!
But then I got home and really thought about the possibility. Maybe I could finish? Even if I had to walk the run and go real slow on the bike, at least I could swim and my weight wouldn't slow me down too much in the water. I had surgery a few months back that corrected a problem that I had had since the birth of my first child. It prevented me from running or doing anything with that kind of impact. Now that problem was corrected. I could run if I wanted to, so why not? I also had been battling with depression since the birth of my third child. For a while I felt as though I was winning the war...but was I really? The weight I had gained due to eating my way through the dark times, and certainly was not making me feel too chipper. Maybe this would be a goal to try to attain that would help with the new lifestyle that I wanted to adopt?
That day I decided to give it my best effort to attain this unthinkable goal. The first step was to loose weight and begin an exercise program. Jeff (my husband) and I decided to adopt a South Beach like diet, and gave up all white bread, pasta, rice, fast food and sugary desserts. We also began working out. I went to the pool to swim when I could and we would run in the evenings. Swimming is like riding a bike—once you know how, you never forget. However, when I began to swim again, I could not swim much more than 200 yards (eight laps) without being completely winded. This (for those of you not familiar with swimming) is not very much at all. In fact, it's not even a warm up. The running was even worse.
I couldn't make more than a quarter mile without stopping. My weight at the time was not helping in this department, not to mention the embarrassment of pulling on a bathing suit or running outfit and trying to blend in with all the fit athletes working out at the pool or on the jogging trail. Not so great for my self esteem, but I told myself, "self, (sorry- corny joke Jeff and I always say), you could be at home on the couch eating bon bons, and you're not, so be proud that at least you are out there trying." I also need to mention the unwavering support I had from my husband, Jeff. He did the hardest thing of all—he coached me. Anyone who is married will know that this is not an easy prospect (to coach your wife, that is).I knew I needed Jeff's help. So I told myself that I would not take out my anger, self pity, exhaustion, aches, pains, moods, etc. on him. I would let him coach me as I would let a trainer that I hired, except he would be a lot cheaper. In fact his coaching was free but by no means was it easy. He treated me like any other athlete on the field. We worked out a lot. In the beginning I just did what I could, but each week I would increase either time or distance. I think going out to Colorado this summer was a huge help. Boy, if you can run a mile at 9,000 ft, you can run three at sea level. When I came back from my month in CO, I was like superwoman, able to swim 500 yards without getting winded, able to run three miles in a single workout. This newfound endurance sure gave me a lot of confidence. After about two weeks at sea level you lose your newfound capacity for oxygen, but you still have the confidence which is something I desperately needed. I think this was the week I OFFICIALLY entered the Suncoast Triathlon. Now I was bound to complete this race. I had entered and sent in my money, so there-I was going to do it. When visiting my mom in CT this summer, I told her how important it was to me that I continue to work out. She watched the children for me each night as I ran around the block two or three times. When we went to New Jersey to visit Jeff's mom and dad, Jeff and I ran each day at the local soccer park, and on off days we borrowed his parents’ vintage 1970's 10 speed bikes and road around the South Jersey farmland. We also were able to go swimming twice at Jeff's dad's sportsman club that has a big swimming lake. This was very valuable to me, as I had mostly only swum in pools and the race would be in open water. No matter where we were we continued to work out. My coach said, "Just think of it as something you must do each day for 30 minutes, just do it and get it over with and you can move on with your day." And I did. As the day of the race neared I began to read online everything I could about triathlons. I needed to learn how to transition, and the rules of the race. There is so much valuable information on www.beginnertriathlete.com. Many of my questions were answered here. Even YouTube had short videos of someone doing a transition that I could watch and learn from. Thank goodness for the web!
I still had one problem: I didn't have a bike and the race was nearing. I was contemplating using Jeff's mountain bike, when my coach made the decision that I, too, should have the best gear for my sport. I went down to the local bike shop and found a beautiful all-carbon road bike. I don't know much about bikes, but after riding several in the shop, I found one the one I loved. It was a leftover from last year's models, but the price was right and it was a good fit. The shop spent at least two hours fitting the bike to me and I rode on their trainer as they adjusted the seat, handlebars, brakes, and my cleats. I was really beginning to feel like an athlete! I have to say I love my bike so much. When I go by it I actually pet it, that's how much I love it. I know it's weird, but I tell you, once you ride a bike that you are actually fitted to, you'll understand how great it feels.
My next big dilemma was what I going to wear for the race. You see, when you transition from the swim to the bike to the run, you don't want to spend too much time changing. I think for men and "stick women" (no offense), it's not a problem, but women like me need to think of things such as support—if you know what I mean. I began trying on different outfits in the bike shop. On one particular day I had Aspen, my youngest child, with me in the dressing room. She looked at me with an earnest face as I was about to disrobe and squeeze into some spandex-type unitard thing, and said in a very serious voice, "Mama, don't worry, I won't laugh." The thing about four-year olds is they tell it to you like it is, and I love her so for trying to make me feel better about myself in her own way that day!
I decided that I would race in my tight black (makes you look skinnier) bathing suit that actually supports me on top when I run. It's a size too small, but it holds everything in place when I run, so I thought it would work. When I got out of the water I would add my black bike shorts and a white sleeveless running shirt that I bought at Sports Authority. I had cycling shoes that attach to my bike and running shoes with bungee cord shoe laces in so I could pull them on. I also had a bike helmet, sunglasses, watch, and hat. That should do it.
Practice transition in your yardThe weekend before the race I told my coach that we needed to practice transitions. So Jeff set me up in the backyard. This was such valuable practice and I'm so glad I did it, but if the neighbors were watching they must have thought we were crazy. Jeff had my bike on a stand in the driveway and next to it I carefully placed a towel with both pairs of shoes on it with socks rolled up on top, a bucket of water to wash off my feet from the sand, my helmet on the bike handlebars with my sunglasses and scrunchie in it, and my running cap, bike shorts, and sleeveless shirt over the bar of the bike. I filled my bathing cap with water, dumped it over my head to get wet, put on the cap and goggles, and proceeded to the sandbox.
When the coach said "go" I would run once around the sandbox with my cap, goggles and swimsuit on, dripping wet to simulate the sand I would have to deal with on the beach, run up to the driveway, dunk my feet in the water bucket while simultaneously taking off my cap goggles and donning my shirt and bike shorts over my suit. Then I would put on my socks like you would a pair of pre-rolled panty hose, pull on my bike shoes, put my scrunchie in my hair, put on my sun glasses, don my bike helmet, pull my pony-tail through the back of the helmet, tighten, clip the strap, take my bike off the stand, and run to the front of the house with my bike where I could mount when I reached the road. I did this about five times, each time with my coach pretending to be a jerky athlete who kept bumping into me and got in my way as I ran out of the sandbox to simulate, well, jerky athletes. So as you can see, if the neighbors were watching, I bet they had a field day with that one! (Again I said, "self, you could be on the couch eating bon bons, so don't worry what others are thinking...")
Now I was ready, I had trained all I was going to train. Some days I would even do back to back or brick training. I would bike 10 or so miles and jump off my bike and run 2 miles or I would swim 2000 yards in the pool and jump on my bike and bike 10 miles. I felt confident that I was ready for this race. I had shed 30 pounds and I actually began to shift my focus from just finishing to wanting to do well. I've always enjoyed competing and now I was beginning to get that competitive edge back. Although I would have liked to have been at an even lower weight for the race, my weight goals are long term so I feel like I still have time to complete them. I needed to be happy with what I had accomplished in the past six months and many times I would look back in awe at the sedentary, overweight non-athletic state I was in when I began this journey. Doing this would always calm my nerves. I had come a long way.
The night before
The night before the race I packed my two bags: my very, very important bag with everything I need for the transition area, and my very important bag, with everything else (towels, sunscreen, etc.)—nonessential items, but nice to have. I set my alarm for 5:00 am. The race started at 7:30! I actually slept pretty well, and when I woke up I felt good. I woke the children and began to get them ready - this was a nice distraction to the butterflies in my stomach. I had a half a wheat bagel smeared with peanut butter and a bottle of Powerade. I reminded myself of my coach’s mantra: "Everyone has butterflies, but only true athletes make theirs fly in formation." This was my new motto, and no, it's not original—it's in one of the songs on my playlist that I listen to when I work out. But I liked it, so I adopted it. As we drove to the race it was completely black outside. Aspen wanted to know why we were going in the "middle of the night." We played the music loud to get pumped up for the race. I remember the song, "Bleed it Out" by Linkin Park was on the radio, and I was glad because it is a song that will really get you fired up. You couldn’t listen to iPods during the race, as they were illegal. I was accustomed to listening to music when I run to keep me motivated to keep going, so I really disliked this rule. However, this song ended up playing over and over in my head during the race and it helped keep me moving.Transition setup
After we arrived I took my very, very important bag and my bike and headed over to the transition area to get body marked. Next, I got my timing chip, which I attached around my ankle with a piece of Velcro. Then I had to go alone to my bike rack to setup my things. Only the athletes were allowed in the transition area. Luckily, my assigned bike rack was near the end of the row and Jeff and the kids met me just on the other side of the fence. I set up my area as I did the previous weekend in the driveway. Jeff went back to the car and got my bucket, which we had filled with water at home. As I placed my bucket on the end of my towel, I looked around and noticed that everyone else had small Tupperware containers with about an inch or so of water in them. I had a five gallon bucket, at least half full. I joked nervously to the serious looking triathlete lady next to me that I would be taking a bath in my bucket during the transitions. She didn’t laugh. Next our family headed to the beach where the race would start. As we were walking down the beach, I was happy to see the water was very calm. There were buoys marking the course, which was parallel to the shore, and many kayakers in the water to make sure no one drowned. I began to stretch as the sun started to rise. Jeff walked away to check things out, and just then Aspen completely freaked out because she had what I call a sticker(one of those prickly round things from a plant that sticks to your clothes) attached to her sock. She thought it was a bug and that bugs were attacking her, and she was screaming and crying. I actually welcomed the distraction; however, no amount of coaxing would convince her it was not a bug. She ended up being preoccupied with this all day. I noticed that some people were in the water, and I decided to get wet. As soon as I was in the water, I felt at home. All of my fears subsided. I swam out to the buoys and back. The water felt great, my stroke felt strong, and I knew this was where I would do the best. I got out of the water and realized I forgot to tell Jeff to bring my very important bag with my towel. That was okay, since we'd be starting soon. We sang The Star Spangled Banner as the sun was rising, and before we knew it, the first wave was off. Next went the 30-35 wave. I was next, the purple cap wave (35-39).I went up to the swim start and didn’t know where to stand. There were about 40 people in this wave. I decided to go in the middle of the group. They counted us down and next thing I knew I was running in the water. There were people in front and behind. On the beginner website they said to hang in the back if you are a beginner because the swim start can be crazy. I think they said it was like being in a washing machine, people knocking into you, swimming over you, kicking you, etc. But this was the only part of the race where I knew what I was doing. The water is where I have most of my confidence and I wasn't going to hang back and then have to make up time! So I got right in there! I swam around and over a couple people. If they were in my way I glided by closely trying not to touch them too much. One guy growled at me, but I figured we all looked alike in our purple caps and goggles so he couldn’t ID me after this race! I fought my way to open water and began to do what I know best. My swimming fell into its natural rhythm just like in the pool. I had trained myself how to sight (look ahead for buoys) in the pool as well, which I was so happy I did—spotting the buoys and keeping my breathing consistent was easy. I have to admit that never once did I think about sharks eating me. I had thought this would be on my mind the whole time, but it didn't even cross my mind. All I thought was "long and strong, keep your stroke long and strong." About halfway though I had to make my way around a couple of other swimmers that were off course and not cooperating with the way I wanted to swim. I think I lost some time circumventing them, but then I met up with a guy swimming at my pace and we swam side by side to the last buoy, made the turn and swam to shore. I swam until my hand hit the sand on the bottom, even though the guy next to me was already walking. I know my swim is faster than my run in waist-high water. As I exited the water I saw my loving family on the side cheering me on, and my coach yelling something that I'll never forget, and I never expected, "You're the first woman out of the water!" Could I actually be the first female in my age group out? Wow! This gave me an unexpected burst of energy. I jogged up the beach over the walkover while taking off my goggles and cap as I had practiced it. As I was doing this the serious triathlete lady (STL) who didn't laugh at my bucket joke passed me on the walkover. I jogged behind her, took a cup of water from a volunteer and rinsed out my mouth. At the transition I said to STL "nice swim," and she mumbled something inaudible. I was thinking, "Ha, I beat you in the swim, STL, not bad for a newbie!"STL had a transition of about a minute, while mine took longer. Most of the serious triathletes didn't add or change clothing as I was doing. They also pre-attached their biking shoes to their pedals, something I was not advanced enough to do yet. All-in-all my transition went as expected, and just as I had practiced it. Jeff and the kids had made it to the other side of the fence by my slot, and he was verbally helping me by saying things like, "Fix your pants, they are twisted, take a drink, good job." I could not look at them or answer, as I was making sure I remembered everything, but I was so glad they were there. I had no idea how he was able to get the kids and himself up from the beach in time to be there for me. I put a Shot Block in my mouth, took a swig of Propel, took my bike off the stand, and ran with it to the mounting area. I was still not able to do the mounting on the fly thing, so I did the old fashioned lift your leg over and then click your cleats in, and I was off. Again as I rounded the first corner Jeff and the kids stood there cheering, "GO MOMMY!" How did they get over there so fast? They are awesome.During the bike leg of the race it began to rain. I was happy I had on my sunglasses to block the rain from going in my eyes. As I rode I was passed by many, many people. However, I knew I was riding to the best of my ability. I knew this because I have this handy computer mounted to my handlebars that tells me my speed and cadence. This thing is so helpful. Going out on the course the wind was against me and my speed was steady at 14 or 15 mph. I did keep my cadence (pedals per minute) between 85 and 105 just as the guy at the bike shop said I should. This helps tremendously with shifting.
As I said before, my time spent on a bike was very limited, and when I bought this one I told the guy to explain shifting to me like you would explain it to a six-year old. Even so we had to go through it several times. When I got to the first turnaround I thought, “Wow, that was long,” but then the wind was with me and my speed went up to 19 or 20 mph with no problem. This was the fastest I had ridden when training, so I knew I was doing well by maintaining this speed. As I said before, many people passed me—you see, the wind was also in their favor. I felt like I was flying at 20 mph, and they would pass me on their super maxed out $5000 bikes like I was standing still. But the nice thing about it was that in addition to yelling, "Passing on your left" which is a courtesy, many would give words of encouragement as they passed as well. They would say things like "Good job," "You’re doing great," etc. I remember getting to the second turn and thinking, “Jeez, this is a long bike ride.” My bottom was getting sore, but I continued on toward the finish. I actually passed a few people from the wave in front of me. Most were on bikes not made for racing, like mountain bikes or beach cruisers. I also would give them a "good job" as I passed. As we came up to the turn before the finish the race guy yelled, "Be careful it is slippery on the curve." I did slow down. I didn't want to mess up now that I was at the end. Again I saw Jeff and the kids as I glided by to the dismount area. People were yelling out and pointing where to dismount. I remembered to unclick my cleat beforehand, thank goodness, and I dismounted safely. I jogged my bike into the transition area and looked for my station. I had no idea where it was. Even though I had found it after the swim no problem, this time we entered from the other side and I got confused. Luckily Jeff and the kids magically appeared on the other side of the fence and called me over to my slot. At the transition area STL was nowhere to be found, but I herd Jeff call out to Anand, our neighbor who was doing the race as well. We finished up the bike at the same time. I racked my bike, took off my helmet, put on my running cap, took off my bike cleats and slid my feet into my running shoes. My socks were soaking wet by now as were my shoes, but there was nothing I could do about this. I attached my race belt, which had my number on it and yelled to Jeff, where does the run start? He pointed me in the right direction, and I was off.Running is my nemesis. I am not good at it, as hard as I try to be. I'm sure it has something to do with my weight and I'm hoping as I lose more I will improve, but only time will tell. To top it off, the first half of the run was on the sand. I was not at all expecting or prepared for this. Running in sand is 100 times harder to me than running on a hard surface. For a while the sand was soft, and then it turned into a trail and then it fed into the beach. People began passing me here as well. My legs didn't feel like bricks, they felt like concrete blocks. I knew this feeling would subside after about a mile or so but it sure was tough in the beginning of the run. One lady said to me as she passed, "Hey, we are the same age! I don't like running on sand." I responded, "Hate the sand." That's really all I could get out. I'd have to save the small talk for later. When you are marked with your race number in the morning they also put your age on the back of your calf. This is how the lady knew my age. From then on I looked at everyone's calf and age as they passed me. When someone in their late forties or early fifties went by I would say in my head more words of advice from my coach, "Race your own race." But it was depressing. When I got to the turn around at mile 1.5, I ignored the water station, which turned out to be a mistake because a quarter mile later I had a massive cramp in my side. I massaged it and kept on running. Stopping was not an option, so I pushed through the pain. It went away and another one slightly to the left replaced it. The funny thing is never in all my training did I have cramps from running. I'm thinking I must have been dehydrated. Almost done
As I ran the last mile and a half I kept thinking to myself that I was almost done, even though the finish line was nowhere in sight. I kept looking at the next palm tree, thinking ”Okay, just make it to that tree...now to that tree.” Everyone who passed said, "You’re almost there" One guy said, "Good pace." Yeah, right! But it was a nice sentiment. My feet were numb for the last half mile...were my bungee laces too tight? The trail curved in an 's' shape at the finish. As I rounded the first curve I could hear the announcer and the crowd. My wonderful family stood at the final curve cheering me on. I rounded this and gave it my all, a sprint to the finish. Someone said, "You go girl" and then the announcer over the speaker: "Here comes Marcey Tabar, a first timer from St. Petersburg crossing the finish line". That was music to my ears!So that's my story: from couch to Sprint Triathlon in 6 months. If you asked me that day if I would do another race the answer would have been probably not. But now after I've had time to recover, I am already thinking of ways I could improve my bike and run for the next one. Like I said in the beginning, "You can't win or lose if you don't get in the race."Oh yea, so how did I do? Here are my times and ranks:My overall time for the entire race was 1:30:35. I ranked 20th out of 27 in the first timer category. The breakdown of the time was as follows:Swim: 10:30 Trans 1: 3:55 Bike: 38:26 Trans 2: 1:49 Run: 35:57I came in first in my age group in the swim and second in the first timer group. I came in 21st out of 27 in the first timer group in the bike.I came in 23rd out of 27 in the first timer group in the run.