The big, bad triathlon I’ve been training for for the past 12 weeks is upon me. Tomorrow I pick up the race packet. Friday I rest. Saturday I race.
Training has been both rewarding and disarming. I have done things physically and mentally that I never imagined myself doing. I have discovered that it IS possible to get my not-morning-person self out of bed at 5 a.m. on a Saturday; it IS possible for me to bike more than 15 miles in one fell swoop or run more than 4 miles at a time; and it IS possible for me to mostly get over my fear of being in open water.
I have invested more than just time and effort, too. I’ve put a lot of money into upgrading my gear. I’m pretty sure I’ve visited every bike store in town at some point during this training, and I’ve already worn out the bathing suit I bought at the beginning of the summer.
So am I ready? Well, there’s not a simple answer to that.
I know I will finish this race. I had a breakthrough during one brick training session in which we rode a very hilly course 15 miles, hopped off our bikes to participate in a 5k race, got back on our bikes to ride 15 miles back to our cars and then jumped in the Clinch River to swim a few laps around the buoys. At about mile 10 of the second bike ride, I realized I was doing it. I was physically pushing myself beyond anything I’d ever done, and while I was tired and hurting, I had no desire to stop until our coach declared the workout over. I wanted to finish it, and I did. I know the race itself will be the same.
And yet, I’m more scared than I’ve been in a long, long time. I can’t fully put my finger on it. Part of it is not wanting to have a horrible showing — no crashes or injuries. Part of it is the knowledge that I missed our final two brick workouts, including the one in which my teammates previewed the course. Part of it is knowing I’ve struggled to push myself through my running workouts lately. Part of it is just the knowledge that at some point during that race — very likely many points — it’s going to suck and be hard. And I would rather it not suck and be hard.
But the race sucking and being hard is the point, isn’t it? I bought a copy of Triathlete magazine this weekend to read all of the articles on mental endurance while I taper this week. One after one, I read articles written by pro triathletes who talked about their struggles: their distaste for training at times, the mental walls they hit in the middle of races, the injuries they struggle with. One of the triathletes suggested that when you hit that wall in the middle of the race, that point where you feel like you cannot take another step, you acknowledge the pain, welcome it and justify it’s existence, knowing it will go away in a couple of minutes (and probably come back later, in which case, rinse/lather/repeat). You remind yourself that you’re doing something that’s hard enough that it scares a lot of people off and to push yourself through it is truly an accomplishment.
That thought alone emphasizes the biggest lesson in all of this training for me, and that is “hard” and “impossible” are always moving targets. There was once a time that the thought of doing even a sprint triathlon race seemed ludicrous and unattainable. Then I pushed myself to do my first one. Three years later, I signed up for the exact same race on a whim because it seemed easier than any of the workouts my coach had in store, and I shaved 5 minutes off my time without really trying my best. Am I the badass triathlete that I set out to be when I signed up for this longer race? No, but I’m at least 5 minutes closer and properly training for those sprint races just doesn’t seem so hard anymore.
So while I can’t clearly say I’m ready for the race, I can at least say I’m glad I chose to train for it for it. I’m glad I’ve reached what I thought were my limits only to find that they weren’t. I’m glad to have found an activity that I can embrace and make my thing.
At the very least, I can say I’m damn ready to cross the finish line.