A year ago today I was lying in my tent, listening to the rising wind and trying desperately not to think about anything. Trying not to think about the wind-whipped waves. Trying not to think about racing the next day. Trying not think about not finishing. Trying not think about falling at the first hurdle in a very long race.Tomorrow is the start of the Rumpus in Bumpass, the team’s first triathlon for the season. It begins with the International distance tomorrow and then a sprint the next day. For many on our team it will be their first ever triathlon, as it was for me. Conditions don’t look that great (wind, rain), but then they weren’t that great last year, either. But it really didn’t make a difference. Because when it is your first tri, you are in a completely different place. The weather is barely even on your mind because your thoughts are so preoccupied with yourself. Will I freak out in the water? Will I have an embarrassing crash at the dismount line? Will I cramp up on the run? And a thousand other possible disaster scenarios.
But above all: will I finish?
I went into the event last year with years of experience in multisport events, a couple of them much longer and much more demanding than an international distance triathlon. But I’d never done a tri. For me, doing it was a necessary first step on the long road to the Ironman. Or at least that is how I dealt with the anxiety at the time, pushing it to the back of my mind with the attempt to render it all as no big deal. Yet, despite all those other races, the years of running and cycling, when I successfully completed the International distance at Rumpus, I felt like someone had just let me ride the big boy’s bike.
I can tell you stories about the Blackwater Traverse death march in near 100 degree heat, the Virginia duathlon raced entirely in a sleet storm; in fact I’ve bored many of my team mates with those stories already. However, as unjust as it may be, duathlon just isn’t the same currency of achievement as is triathlon.
So for all my friends and team mates attempting their first tri tomorrow or the next day, here’s to an awesome day. Don’t overthink it, just be in the moment. You will never have another first triathlon so just enjoy the experience. There will be designated mile splits to attain, the perfectly rhythmic swim to experience, a bike ride where you feel like you’re riding with the power of a fallen angel. . .but none of that has to happen tomorrow. Coach Ed is standing on your should every step of the way saying “Get me a Miller Lite, would ya?” Oh yeah, and he’s also saying “Trust in your training.”
Whatever happens, focus on that finish line, smile like you’ve earned it (because you have) and be prepared for everything to change. Before, you weren’t. Now you are.