MONDAY MOTIVATION: “Learn and play new sports”… and do the things you’re afraid of – from Coach Rach!
Hi, CFCC. This is Mama B, Coach Rach, long time member of 6am madness.
As most of you know, I completed The Steelman Triathlon yesterday, August 11th, at Lake Nockamixon in Pennsylvania. I wanted to write a blog post about my experience this summer training for my first triathlon (the sprint distance of 860 yard swim, 12.4 mile bike, 5k run.) My hope is that someone will find it inspiring to try something new, face your fears, and jump in with both feet.
Let’s start back in 2008. I was in an “exercise rut.” I’d run a couple of marathons, a couple of half marathons, and was sick and tired of my gym routine. I bought a road bike on a whim, convinced that I’d finally try a triathlon (or at least a road race.) After riding it a few times, I found CrossFit. If you’re reading this, I bet you can guess what happened after that. I did CrossFit. Only CrossFit. Nothing but CrossFit. Haha. My bike gathered dust in the storage room. In the spring of 2010, I got pregnant, and continued to do CrossFit. I remained inspired by triathletes, but never felt ready to venture out of the gym and into the water.
Fast forward to late spring of 2013. I had been coaching at CFCC for 1 year, my son was 2.5 years old, and I had certainly experienced plenty of the “CrossFit ups and downs” that come with being a CrossFitter for over 4 years. In April, I found out that we were expecting our second child. YAY! Sadly, at the end of May, we lost the baby at 8.5 weeks. Once I pulled myself up by the boot straps (which took a few weeks,) I decided that NOW is finally the time to try something new. Challenge myself to something new. Get out of the gym. “Learn and play new sports.” What was I waiting for?
I started talking to my fellow CrossFitter/Triathlete friends: Lindsay Brase, Amanda Strouse (IRONMAN FINISHER X 3!) and Jessica Weather (Stormy.) Lindsay mentioned the Steelman Triathlon as a good one to start with, so I signed up that same day. And then, I had to face the reality that I actually was going to do this. Remember, my bike was still covered in 5 years worth of dust, and I didn’t own a one piece bathing suit, goggles, a wetsuit, a swim cap, etc. etc. etc., and I had no idea where I was going to swim.
Amanda told me about open water swims on Saturday mornings from 6:30-9:30am at Lake Ockanickon in Medford, NJ. She agreed to meet me there for my first open water swim on June 15th. I wish I could show you the text conversations we had prior to this day. Here were some of the things I was worried about:
-What time to get there
-What kind of bathing suit
-What kind of goggles (I borrowed hers for the first swim)
-What kind of swim cap (I borrowed hers for the first swim)
-Did I need a wetsuit (I borrowed hers for the first swim; she had to get me in and out of it!)
-How do I get this swim cap on my head (it’s harder than it looks until you’re used to it!)
-How far should/could I swim?
-Is the water cold?
-I’ve never swam in a lake
-I’ve never been in a body of water for anything other than just “hanging out”
-What the hell did I get myself into?
In Amanda’s wetsuit, etc. :)
I think there were probably a million more worries, but these are the ones that come to mind. The lake is set up 2 lifeguards in kayas, and 4 or 5 buoys out to 200m; so a full out and back is 400m. Amanda swam/tread water RIGHT next to me as I slowly swam 1 buoy at a time, stopping to tread water at each buoy, catch my breath, and talk myself out of panic. When we got to 200m, I had to rest with my hand on the kayak (while chatting with the lifeguard about CrossFit of course,) then slowly make my way back to shore 1 buoy at a time; again stopping to tread water and breast stroke halfway between buoys at certain points. Wow this was hard. I had no idea how I was going to get to 860 yards in less than 2 months, when I could barely swim 50 without being out of breath. It’s funny, we get so used to pushing to the limits in CrossFit, and we become SO AWARE of how our bodies work under different stressors. But when you change the venue, all bets are off…or so I thought.
Below, Stormy on the left, Rach on the right.
My next swim at the lake was with Stormy. I didn’t have a wetsuit this time, but at least I knew how to get my swim cap on (sort of.) For those of you that don’t know, Stormy is an AMAZING swimmer. She has years of experience swimming some ridiculously long distances. I was so lucky to have her with me. Again, we stood in the water for about 10 minutes before I gathered the courage to go in. My first swim was so hard. And I was SO SCARED. Legitimately, honestly, scared. I wasn’t scared of the lake, or the depth of the water, or the people swimming near me. I was scared that I truly could not swim the distance. I didn’t like the feeling of being out of breath in the water; feeling like I had no control over how I felt during the swim; and I didn’t want to go out again and feel that way.
Buuuuut, I had to go. I couldn’t waste these opportunities to swim in the lake, since I didn’t have a pool to practice in. So, out we went. It was basically just as bad. We went one buoy at a time. The only improvement was that I didn’t have to stop and rest at the kayak. I left the lake still worried.
In the meantime, I had to get my bike out of its cemetery status. I brought it in for a tune up, and went out for my first ride on an early Sunday morning. More fear. I hadn’t ever gotten used to riding with clipless pedals, and I literally could not remember how to work the gear shifters on my bike. I had to pull over about 1.5 miles into my ride to get off and inspect the shifters, because I had somehow shifted into the easiest gears, was literally spinning my wheels, and could not figure out how to change it. Thankfully, it only took a couple of minutes to figure it out, and I went on my way; heart racing the whole time, because MY FEET WERE STUCK IN THE PEDALS AND WHAT IF I FALL?!?!?!
I won’t spend much more time talking about the bike, because I quickly realized that I LOVE being on my bike. It’s relaxing…a time to recharge mentally…and feel the breeze even in the mid day heat.
Back to the swim. Time was flying, and I had only done 400m as of mid July. I took an open water swim clinic at the Lake, which talked about how to overcome the anxiety of swimming in open water, how to sight during the swim, how to swim in a group, etc. It was helpful, but I was still freaking out. I went to every Saturday morning open water swim that I could; even arriving at the lake at 6:30am to get a swim in before heading straight to work by 8am.
I bit the bullet and paid for a one day guest pass to the JCC pool in Cherry Hill. My goal was to swim 600m without stopping, and even though I was in a pool, I was STILL SCARED, because what if I couldn’t do it? Amanda gave me the tip of using the alphabet to count laps…and I just had to make it to “L.” This was a pivotal moment in my training. In the calm of the pool, I learned that I am in control of how the swim feels, just like i’m in control of how any CrossFit workout feels. I tried a few different ways of breathing, stroke rates, etc; and I found that if I was slow, controlled, and calm, I never got out of breath. I swam the whole alphabet…1300m!!!! Finally, I had hopes that I could do this.
My final swim at the lake was by myself. I knew I had done 1300m in the pool. This was my last chance to get in the water before the race. My goal was to swim 800m. I knew I could do it if I just stayed calm. I did it. Out and back. Twice. With no rest. SUCCESS!
I had put in the miles on my bike, I had practiced a few “bricks” (transition from bike to run…picture how your legs feel after getting off the rower and going for a run.) I was ready…and finally excited for this damn race, which had been giving me nightmares for the whole summer!
The last 2 weeks leading up to race day were spent agonizing over logistics. I’d never even been to a triathlon, so I was overwhelmed by all of the details. Amanda did her best to keep me calm. She even met me at the lake one day to show me how to set up my transition.
Finally, race weekend arrived. Stormy and I had worked out the details of how/when/where to leave Philly, pick up my mom from 30th street station, and head up to the lake (she was going to be doing the Olympic Distance Triathlon as I did my Sprint Distance.) We had an interesting time getting the bike rack on my car (Thanks to Khanh for the rack, and to Lindsay and Tim for helping us!)
We went up Saturday afternoon to pick up our race packet and listen to the Athlete Talk, which was excellent for a first timer like me. We got our bikes checked out by the bike mechanic; luckily, because apparently my tires were bordering on flat (30psi, and they’re supposed to be at 100psi!) Who knew that you’re supposed to check your tires every time you go out on a ride, as they lose pressure every single day whether or not you ride? NOW I KNOW! We scoped out the transition area, the swim course, and the start of the run course…and then went for dinner and to our hotel, where we spent about 45 minutes agonizing over the final decisions.
-Which shirt should I wear? (I had bought a tri shirt but thought I hated it…ended up wearing it and loving it)
-Should I wear the wetsuit? (This decision haunted me until the very last minute — didn’t wear it)
-How do you attach this number to the bike?
-Which shoes should I wear for the bike/run?
-What should we eat in the morning?
-Should I pack clothes to change into in my transition bag?
Below, the transition set at 5:05am.
We left the hotel at around 4am. The park was 45 min away, and we wanted to be able to park in the lot at the race start, which filled up by 5:15 according to the race director. This meant that my alarm was set for 3:15. I fell asleep at 9:45, woke up at 12:45, was up until 1:45 (watched an episode of Breaking Amish, Los Angeles — pretty cool show, actually!) and was up for the day at3:00. I was quickly learning that triathlons are a whole new level of crazy.
Thankfully, our efforts paid off, and we got a great parking spot. I saw people walking around with head lamps on…smart move because it’s PITCH DARK, and we had to set up our transition area! We were all set by 5:05 and had almost 2 hours to kill before the race started. The most beautiful sunrise over the lake felt like such a gift for our tired eyes. The 2 hour wait time gave me plenty of time to second guess every single decision I had made, as I watched seasoned athletes set up all kinds of AMAZING gear with obvious previous experience and precision. The nerves just kept building.
Finally, it was time to go. Stormy started her swim in the second wave; I was wave 10, so I was able to cheer for her as she ran to the transition area after finishing her ridiculously fast swim. I stood with my fellow athletes near the water for about 40 minutes freezing our asses off until it was finally my turn to get in. I couldn’t hear when they called for the “sprint distance swim warm up,” so I missed that, and had no idea how warm/cold the water would feel. To my absolute delight, the water felt so warm. What a pleasant way to start.
My goal was to swim MY swim. Slow. Controlled. No anxiety. No panic. No matter what happened. And that is EXACTLY what I did. I was bumped. I bumped into people. The wave behind me (and some of the wave behind that) caught up to me. And I just kept swimming MY swim. I felt so calm. I could actually feel myself enjoying the swim, the beauty of the lake, and the warm water. I knew I could do it, and I did. Getting out of that water was one of the most gratifying experiences I have ever had.
I ran to my transition area and took my time getting ready for the bike. Sat down, made sure my feet were nice and dry, got my helmet, gloves, and sunglasses on, and walked out to the “mount your bike” area. The bike course was HARD. It started with a one mile climb just to get out of the park and onto the main road. This hill was no joke. My quads were on fire, I was out of breath and immediately wondering how the hell I was going to finish this ride. The bike was supposed to be the easy part! I had done twice the distance in my training! Well, hills will definitely change things. The whole course was hills. At some point, I was feeling annoyed with myself that I was finding this difficult. At that moment, I successfully decided that this was supposed to be a fun, new accomplishment; and that any moment I spent thinking anything other than that was a complete waste. Another huge mental PR. :)
I was relieved to make it through the hilly bike course and get back on my feet for the run. The course was shaded and paved with plenty of smiling volunteers and supporters along the way. I used my mental strategies for our 400m and 800m runs to keep moving quickly through the last 1.5 miles.
Finally, I had found the finish line. I didn’t care what my time was. I didn’t care that there were many Olympic Distance athletes that had finished before me despite doing twice the distance. I finished. I overcame fear, overwhelm, and anxiety, and FINALLY completed my first triathlon.
I can guarantee you there will be a second one.
Rach on the left, and Stormy on the right – BEFORE and AFTER!
I (Erin) thought you all might also enjoy this tidbit from Stormy:
“My swim and run felt awesome, really felt the CrossFit influence, especially on the run and on the transition from bike to run (which was SO not a big deal that it was almost funny). Bike course was super hilly and really tough, but we both made it through. Thank you again for all the support and encouragement; it seriously means SO much!!! This community is perhaps the most amazing thing that I have ever been a part of. :)”
We’re so proud of you both! And, to the rest of you that made this possible for both Rach and Stormy – thank you for being great TEAMMATES.