Warning: this may be a long one. Perhaps you should get a nice snack and drink and settle in.
So, about two weeks ago I got an email letting me know that there was going to be a tri workshop put on at the location of my tri next month, hosted by the tri club in charge. I instantly knew I wanted to go. A chance to swim the lake and, most importantly, scope out the bike and run courses? I was there.
I’ve bounced back and forth between feeling more nervous about the bike part and the run part and I was hoping seeing and actually doing the courses would help me figure out where to spend the bulk of my training time (swimming is no biggie, I’ll just keep doing it twice a week for now). I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but I will say that I for sure know which part of the race is going to require all my attention between now and Sept. 20th.
Last week was intense and very, very time consuming at work, so I barely saw Mr. Monkey or baby monkey, so we decided they’d make the 2.5 hour drive to the workshop with me. As we drove, I felt pretty calm, mostly curious, and a bit nervous as we got closer and closer. A bit of foreshadowing here: I was nervous but at no point did it occur to me that I wouldn’t be able to do it. It should have.
When we arrived at the beach, I instantly felt my stomach clench. Everyone there (maybe 15-20 people?) looked fit and young and like they knew what they were doing. I was clearly the most out of shape person there. Thankfully everyone was friendly and welcoming and didn’t even seem to mind that I had many, many questions.
The workshop was set up that they first talked about nutrition during the race, then showed transitions, and then talked a bit about rules and basics for each section of the race. I sat on the grass with the sun warming my face and started getting more and more excited about the race. I can do this, I thought, this will be fun.
When it was finally time to get moving, we began with the swim. The water was cold and cloudy but nothing worse than the lake in town that I’ve swum in. We swam as a group and I was in the middle for most of it. Not first, not last, but fine with where I was. It was exactly what I expected, which is a comforting feeling.
We dried off and started to get ready for the bike section. This is where things started getting bad in a hurry. I heard people talking about “the damn first hill” and “technical course” and “thigh burning”. As the leaders started explaining the route to us, I started to get nervous. To get out of the transition area, you have to ride up a really, really, really steep hill. Like vastly steeper than anything I’ve ever ridden on.
Two things to note here:
1. This is my second ride on a road bike- ever.
2. I don’t like going downhill
The bike captain of the tri team cautioned us “at the bottom of the hill there is loose gravel, so be careful”
Um, what the hell? Loose gravel at the base of a really steep hill? Hard to see how that could go wrong.
So, anyways, I put my helmet on, popped in a Clif block, and set off. I knew I would be at the back of the pack, no question, but I didn’t think I’d run into problems in the first minute of the ride.
I was pulling out of the parking lot, at the base of soul crushing hill #1, when my shoelace got caught in my chain. I hadn’t even gotten my feet in the cages yet so I could stop quickly to pull it out and re-tie my shoe. As I was getting going a young woman named K. came up on her bike. She’s the bike captain of the time and incredibly kind. She stopped, gave me a few tips on shifting (I was totally in the wrong gear to be starting a hill) and we started up the hill. Or she did anyways.
I could not do it. I just didn’t have the leg strength. I had to get off my bike and walk it up the damn hill. K tried to encourage me by telling me that every year they have people in the race who walk up the first hill. I still felt like shit- embarrassed and nervous.
I made it to the top of the hill, got back on my bike and started going downhill. Fast. I heard a distant whimpering noise. Turns out it was me saying “I can’t do this, I can’t do this”. K rode along side of me “You can, just butterfly the brakes, you’ll be fine”. I clamped the brakes and made it down the hill. Had I been wearing a heart rate monitor, it would have exploded, my heart was thumping so hard from fear.
After the first hill, there was a brief straight away across a dam and then soul crushing hill #2. I looked at my Garmin. I was going 2.4 mph up this hill. I made it up and down but I was panting from the effort. K told me to spin it out on the next level section and to drink some water. I didn’t. I couldn’t make myself let go of my handles to get the water bottle.
We had a merciful 3/4 of a mile of flats before soul crushing hill #3. I made it up and down that hill but I could feel myself starting to really freak out. Another hill was coming and physically I think I could have done it, but mentally I was f*cked at that point. I was scared of falling, scared of having to walk my bike again, and really bottom line scared that I’m not going to be able to do this section of the tri.
I pulled over and cried. K and another rider stopped and tried to reassure me that everyone has a mental breakdown at some point in their training. I kind of believe them, but mostly I feel like a fool for thinking I could do this.
K and the other rider turned around with me and we headed back to the beach. Total miles=5, total time= 48 minutes. Yeah, that whole “maybe I’ll do it in 1 hour and 10 minutes” nonsense of three posts ago? Not going to happen.
I was the last to arrive at the beach. When I rode up to Mr. Monkey he took one look at my face and said “What’s wrong? What happened out there?”. Later he told me I looked so pissed he thought someone had done something mean or stupid to me on the course.
I started crying again and whispering to Mr. Monkey that I didn’t think I was going to be able to do the race. A few other racers came over to me and were trying to be encouraging but all I could think was that they had no idea how hard it was for me, what a reach this all is.
The rest of the workshop was comparatively okay, even though the run course also has some nasty hills, and I learned the following things:
1. The race I’m signed up for is considered the hardest sprint tri in Iowa. Awesome. I did not know this when I signed up. The race I almost signed up for, the week before, is said to have a considerably easier course. Sigh.
2. I have not been doing nearly enough cycling. I have 21 days to work if I want to make it up those hills.
3. Tri people are nice, especially if you are crying.
4. Seeing the course before the race is super helpful. If I had to face those hills for the first time on race day … it would be a bad, bad feeling.
So, at this point I really don’t know if I can finish the bike section. The good news is that now I really don’t care about being last. I’ll be happy to be last, as long as I finish.
The bad news is that my confidence is really shaken and I dreamt of hills and falling last night. Not good.
I’m tired and sore tonight and am taking an unscheduled night off. I need to mentally re-group and figure out a training program that is going to give me the time on the bike I need.
I hate feeling scared.