I hated writing this post. Every single word of it. I love the weeks when I tell you how I’m rocking and rolling, PRing and feeling on top of the world. I hate the weeks when I have to be real and honest and raw, when I have to admit defeat.
When we decided to trade in our Labor Day Triathlon
for a weekend of fun and relaxation I came home and immediately signed up for this one
. I couldn’t let the summer pass by without doing at least one tri and I knew that if I actually registered it would force me to follow through with it. So despite all the chaos of the wedding I managed to squeeze in a decent amount of swims, bricks, and finally learned how to ride a road bike.
Race morning was a bit hectic – we arrived late, had a hard time finding parking, hurried to pick up our packets and set up our transition areas. I felt scattered from the start. And then I began to notice that very few people were without a wet suit, and I started getting really nervous about the swim. I knew it was my strongest leg, but I couldn’t help but imagine myself as a frozen iceberg in the middle of the pond. Despite the recent warm weather it is September in New England after all. As someone sang the national anthem I went in up to my ankles and it was exactly what I thought it would be: brrr. I told myself it would just help me swim faster.
What happened next is both a blur and yet very clear in my head. Our wave was called, the airhorn sounded, and everyone bounced into the water. I walked in up to my chest and then dove under. Almost instantly my body felt stiff, my lungs felt like they had been sucked right into my heart. I jerked my head out of the water, and tried to calm down and swim. I couldn’t catch my breath, I felt like I was weighed to the ground. Barely a minute into the swim I yelled to my buddy “I can’t do this” and turned around.
Climbing out of the water to a beach full of people staring at me was one of the most mortifying moments of my life. I was barely in the sand before my husband was there wrapping his arms around me and I of course responded in the only way I know how, by bursting into hysterical tears. My heart ached from embarrassment, from panic, and with the realization that I had just blown the entire day in seconds. I have never felt like such a failure.
My immediate instinct was to flee – leave all my gear in the transition area, ditch my buddy, and get away from that park and all those people who had just witnessed my disaster. Once my husband had calmed my hysterics he convinced me that we should stay to cheer on my friend, and then suggested I ask the race volunteers if I could jump in with her for the bike and the run. The sweet woman I shuffled up to told me that she had seen me get out of the water and that she felt terrible for me, and that I could keep my chip on and keep going.
I headed back into the transition area, dreading the disappointed look I would get from my buddy when she returned from the swim. To my surprise she asked if I was okay, and then reminded me that sometimes you have to make smart calls. Knowing that she wasn’t mad made the blow a little softer and I threw on my clothes, took my bike off the rack, and we headed out.
The combination of anger at myself and knowing that I couldn’t mess up any more made me ride faster, push harder, and run stronger. I didn’t dare complain and I knew I couldn’t stop so I gave it everything I had. I rode further and faster than ever before, and my run splits were better than any triathlon or brick I’ve ever done. It’s a shame that I didn’t finish the swim because I could have had a really decent time and walked away glowing.
Instead we crossed the finish line, and I was handed a medal that I knew didn’t belong to me. I smiled for pictures, but I was cringing on the inside. I kept my fingers crossed that no one would recognize me and yell at me for continuing on. I got home and immediately threw away the swim cap, ferociously scrubbed the sharpie tattoo on my arm. I just wanted it all to go away.
It’s been a few days and I’ve been retelling the story by cracking jokes, because it’s a lot less awkward to laugh than it is to spill warm tears. But that doesn’t mean I’m not upset, not embarrassed, not disappointed in myself. I’m scared that the memory of my panic in the water will affect me in the future, will surface again the next time I face the open water. It’s my first real black mark.
I know I’ve got to pull myself together, got to tuck away my lessons learned, got to get back out there. And I will at some point. I’m just not done sulking yet.