“Let’s get something straight: I don’t do lakes and I do NOT do goose poop”.
This is the phrase I repeatedly uttered to my running girlfriends every time they mentioned the possiblity of me joining them in a triathlon. The notion of voluntarily getting into a murky lake to swim with fish, geese and water moccasins was just plain ridiculous in my book. I mean, have you SEEN what a lake looks like? As far as I was concerned, they could have their swim, bike, runs with the Loch Ness Monster and I’d be more than content to meet them at the finish line, smelling fresh as a daisy and not of pond scum.
The topic of triathlons would come up every so often but I eschewed the idea in favor of my comfort zone of half marathons and marathons. “Running is easy. All you need is a pair of shoes!”, I’d say. I just had to lace up and run away from home. No pond scum, no water moccasins. Just me and the open road. And so I continued on this path, firm in my decision to never enter a triathlon and smug in the knowledge that my friends were crazy.
Until I entered one last summer.
For reasons still unbeknownst to me, late one night, I found myself staring at the Bald Bear Triathlon website with my finger hovering over the “Submit” button. Maybe it was the 100th time one of the gals had said, “Come. On. You know you want to….” that made me change my stance on goose poop. Maybe it was the third glass of wine that night that made me think that a 15 mile bike ride didn’t seem so bad. Perhaps it was that little voice in my head that said, “Come. On. Geese are cute”. Whatever it was, I clicked submit and subsequently got to enjoy the looks on everyone’s faces when I told them I’d entered. “But you don’t do lakes” was often the reply. My response? “I guess I do now!”.
Now, when you sign up for a triathlon, you are kind of expected to participate. As in, you kind of have to show up a little prepared to keep up with your fellow triathletes. I had the running part down. I run marathons, for God’s sakes. How hard could it possibly be to train for the swim and the bike? I mean, I rode a bike for my whole childhood and I swam every summer at the YMCA. I had this, right?
Here’s the thing: riding a bike up and down your block when you are 8 and being an expert cannonballer does NOT a triathlete make. Yep. I was in a bit of a pickle. But, I had paid my entrance fee and it was nonrefundable. I was doing a triathlon. Gulp.
True to form, I refused to back down and admit that maybe I didn’t have what it took to swim with the fishes. I took myself down to our local pool, got in and just started swimming. Or, more specifically, started doing a version of pseudo drowning/doggie paddling that I’m sure the life guards appreciated watching immensely. I did that for a few visits until my dear friend and fellow team mate, Jean, met me at the pool to give me some pointers. Translation: laugh her ass off and try not to pee her Speedo in the pool. Fortunately, I was not totally beyond help and she managed to get me on the right track. Or, at the very least, to a place where she laughed less when I swam.
Fast forward through epic training rides, a pretty much constant case of swimmer’s ear and gaining a newfound respect for Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps, the big day arrived. I hadn’t slept well the night before the triathlon because visions of vicious water moccasins eating me alive danced in my head (I have since been told that water mocs are pretty rare here….but I still have a healthy fear). And, when my running gals picked me up that morning and chucked a stuffed snake at me when I opened the door, the tone of the day was set. I was all set to swim in goose poop. Water moccasins be damned.
I’d like to say the swim went off without a hitch but I’d be lying. And, I’d be remiss if I did not at least mention that the photographer got a now infamous photo of me getting into the water for the first time (FYI: lake beds are squishy and gross and I’m told my face was worth a thousand words). I was not prepared for the hundreds of swimmers taking off at once and the chaos that ensues when the gun goes off. Did I mention lakes are murky and gross?
About 30 seconds into the swim, I had a panic attack in water I couldn’t stand in and it resulted in me flagging down a rescue canoe. As I hung off the side of the canoe, I was hovering between hysterical laughter and tears, all the while staring at the sky and praying that a water moccasin hadn’t set it’s sights on my feet. The canoe operator kindly told me that I could swim to the shore and stand up to get my bearings. I told him, not so kindly, that 1) there was plant life at the shore that I was not interested in touching and 2) if I was going to waste the energy to swim to the shore, I may as well get my panicked ass to the finish. He couldn’t argue with that logic, really.
Somehow, after leaning my head back at the sky one more time, I just let go of the canoe and swam. It wasn’t pretty and Michael Phelps would have dropped dead if he saw my technique. But I let go. And I swam past buoy after buoy until I made it to the end of that godforsaken swim. And, in a scene from Revenge of the Swamp Thing, I dragged my sorry self out of the lake, covered in plant life but unharmed by vermin. I must have said, “I did it!!” to 10 strangers on my way to my bike transition area. I’m fairly certain that, in conjunction with plant life dangling off of me, I looked deranged.
I managed to survive the 15 miles of “rolling” hills of Macungie, PA (akin to Mt. Everest, for those not familiar with the area) and somehow convinced my spaghetti legs to continue moving through the 2 mile run. A guy cheered me on as I was finishing my run on my literal last legs. From his car. As he was leaving the triathlon. That he’d completed about an hour before. But, no matter. They still called me “Triathlete” that day, too.
In addition to Bald Bear, I completed another triathlon last summer and am signed up for two more this summer. While my swimming has improved, the addition of clipless pedals to my bike has more than made up for what used to be my comedy routine in the pool. I have fallen off my bike more in the last six months than I did in my first 10 years on this planet and my knees often look like a first grader’s: covered in bandaids (clearly, whoever said “It’s just like riding a bike” has never used clipless pedals). For now, I’m just gonna keep on TRI-ng and for the record: I don’t do MUD. Yet……