Saturday, June 16, 2012
Today I raced my first ever Olympic distance triathlon. Some good advice (thank you D) led me to approach the event with a handful of goals rather than one make-it-or-break-it definition of success. My Gold-medal goal was to finish in under 3 hours 15 minutes; Silver, to complete the whole thing feeling strong throughout, no matter what the time; and Bronze, to finish in under 3 hours 30 minutes, even if I crossed the line delirious and staggering. Book-ending these goals were two outliers: first, my secret Platinum goal - to finish in under 3 hours. And on the other end of the spectrum, the simple hope that I didn't crash my bike, get a flat tire, or cramp up on the run.
In order to finish in under three hours I believed I would need to complete the mile-long swim in under 30 minutes (it took me 32) and the hilly 26-mile bike course with an average speed close to 20 miles per hour (I didn't quite make 18.) By the end of the bike leg, I was tired and discouraged, afraid I wouldn't have enough energy for the run. I consoled myself with the fact that I'd survived without a flat, without a crash. As I shucked my helmet and bike shoes and slipped into my running shoes, I noted that Jim was right there cheering me on regardless, happy and exuberant no matter what the clock had to say about it. Which reminded me that I am enough, that when it comes right down to it, achievement isn't the point, that it is amazing that I am doing this at all, that I am one of the lucky ones with a body, at age 42, able to do this at all. Who cares what my time is?
For the first time all morning, I was racing with a smile on my face.
The six-mile run was comprised of two out-and-back repeats, descending and then climbing the same long hill. Since even when fresh I generally don't run more than 11-minute miles on my own, I figured it would take me an hour and fifteen minutes to complete the run.
But I was wrong.
Cheering on friends as we passed each other along the way, I somehow managed the run in less than an hour, finishing the race – to my shock and delight – with a time of 2:57.16.
Icing on the cake. It absolutely made my day.
On top of that, I discovered soon after, I had registered as an "Athena." Since I weigh a bit more than 160 pounds I qualify for this special class of athlete, (the male equivalent is "Clydesdale" with a weight minimum of 200). Of all the Athenas, I came in second-fastest. So in addition to my personal Platinum, I also got my name announced, a round of applause, and an actual hunk of metal to call my own!
And then, best of all, I met Karen Newman, a breast cancer survivor and world-class triathlete whom I had just learned about last week. Just a few days ago I was watching her interviewed on national television for her triathlon success during chemotherapy. She is the first woman I've ever met in the flesh who, like me, did triathlons during cancer treatment, who, like me, goes out into the wide world without a fake breast to disguise her mastectomy, who, like me, is active and athletic and also has lymphedema. We compared arms, we compared chests, we compared stories, and when I walked away from that conversation, I felt like I'd had a moment of respite from a certain loneliness and vigilance about the reactions and judgments of others.
To oversimplify the point, when you are the only one you know meeting a particular set of challenges in a certain unusual way, it's not easy.
Meeting someone else walking the same path? It helps.
And it made my day all over again.