Monday, June 6, 2011

I completed a triathlon

Never Done: I completed a (sprint) triathlon

Back in March when I signed up for the
Flat as a Pancake Triathlon, it sounded like a piece of cake, ehem, so to speak. 1/4 mile swim? No problem! 12 mile bike ride on a flat course? I can do that. 5K run? At the time I wasn't already running 5K, but it was within sight. The whole thing seemed completely within my reach. Since then I've trained hard , and my muscles have gotten stronger, and I've learned about triathlon culture and nutrition and gear, and yet somehow the prospect of doing the event got more and more daunting. I guess sometimes ignorance is bliss.

But let me take a step back. I've been training now for 12 weeks, and I have 10 weeks left before the big New York Triathlon. I'm turning down dates with friends so I can get to bed early so I can get up early to go out and ride or run. And while I'm out there training, I'm not really enjoying myself because I have whatever I have (exercise induced asthma?) that's making it so hard for me to breathe right. I don't mean to complain -- this is something I am choosing to do -- but I do want to be honest in my evaluation of what I've chosen. I think that at this point, if I were just doing this as a solo pursuit, I would probably stop. But I'm not really doing it for me. I am doing it as a part of Team in Training (that link is my personal fundraising page) as a fundraiser for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and so I'm motivated by something outside of my own enjoyment. Many of you know that my mom died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and also right now the 4-year-old grandson of one of my family's closest friends is going through intense treatment for Burkitt's lymphoma. I think about him and his family a lot while I'm out there on the road, and as off as it might sound (I don't usually go for out-of-context comparisons) I think that he can endure the treatments he's going through, then I can ride harder and longer around the park. But the part that's harder for me to come to terms with is that my friends and family are taking a hit -- a hit they didn't choose. I've not been as available as usual for the past 3 months, and it's not going to be getting better til after August 7, at which point I intend to hibernate on a remote island with a steady supply of fresh juices and leg massages. (I don't actually intend to do that. I intend to fantasize about doing that.)

Speaking of leg massages, as you know, I got one in preparation for the Pancake triathlon, and except for left calf cramping on the final stretch of the run, my legs held out fine. The end of the story is that I did the whole race, and I was neither the slowest person in the triathlon nor in my age group. (Not that it would have mattered if I had been...) My muscles felt toned and strong, and I had all the right equipment, and I felt that I knew how to perform in all three sports. But my breath left me again. It is the strangest thing, because it's not about over-exertion because it starts as soon as I start to exercise. It doesn't wait for me to going hard; it just preemptively keeps me from going hard.

The water temperature was 60 degrees in Raritan Bay, so that probably sent my lungs into protective mode pretty quickly. I wasn't wearing a wetsuit, but I had made an excellent decision in deciding to buy a neoprine rash guard (tight long sleeved shirt made out of insulated floaty stuff) that spared me all the wetsuit freak-out I experienced in the water a week ago. The water didn't feel all that cold to me, and I certainly wasn't exerting myself too hard in 10 minutes of swimming really quite slowly, but I just had a really hard time getting enough air. I mean, is this anxiety instead of exercise-induced asthma? A lung doctor had me run up and down his stairway 6 times last week, and then listened to my lungs and heard a tell-tale wheeze, so he thinks it's the latter. But could it also be the former? Or does EIA feel like anxiety? I did my best to push these thoughts from my mind as I swam 1/4 mile in the ocean, and ran to the transition area to put on my biking gear and go.

Everything about the day was a surprise to me; I did better at biking, which I consider to be my weak sport, than I did at anything else. I rode steadily, I was able to push a little, I was able to focus on spinning my legs faster than usual (you're supposed to spin them as fast as you want to run, so it will feel somewhat normal to get off a bike and start running) and I wasn't too winded. Also, I was in the last wave of athletes to enter the water (women over 40) so that meant that by the time I got to the final lap of biking, I was one of the final people on the road -- so I had plenty of space around me, and plenty of time to notice the place where it smelled lovely like a claredendron tree, and the old man smoking a cigar near the baseball field, to wave at all the cops guarding the closed-off streets. (Since I was frequently the only cyclist going around the lap turn, the photographer got lots of action shots of me that I imagine will be up on their website soon.)

Finally I got off the bike and I got on my own two legs, and that's where my breath just completely failed me, right from the start. I took, literally, a dozen easy steps and I was breathing like I had already run a hard mile. So ducked into the port-o-potty to pee, thinking the minute would help my breath get more steady, and it calmed right down, but as soon as I started to run again, it was the same story. So I ran a really slow 5K -- 36 minutes, which included several stops to bring my breathing down so I could start running again. I was able to push for the last 50 yards, avoiding tripping over a little dog -- and its leash that was stretched across the track to the finish line, with Josh and Kelley and Aleza cheering me on at the end, gulping for breath as I finished. And then as quickly as my breathing had become labored, it came back to normal within a couple minutes of finishing. And then we ate pancakes. (The course is flat as a pancake and then they serve pancakes.)

For those of you who like hard statistical data, here's my results page.

The swimming pace just seems random to me -- I can swim 1/4 mile in a pool in 8 minutes at a moderate pace, but that's just totally different from swimming in cold choppy water with other people swimming up on top of you. I usually ride the hilly 3.6 mile loop around Prospect Park in 15 minutes, so I thought it made some sense that I rode the flat 4 miles loops in something close to that. And I can run 4 hilly miles in 36 minutes, so I should be able to run a flat 5K in closer to 30 minutes -- but I have no idea what would be normal for me after swimming and biking.

It's hard not to get into a game of comparisons -- comparing my performance against my own performance under different circumstances, and against other people in my age group, or even out of my age group. I raced with two friends who are 30. When I got home, I compared my times to theirs (my swim was a minute faster than one and 10 seconds slower than the other; my bike was 2 minutes faster than one and 4 minutes slower than the other; my run was 12 minutes slower than one and 4 minutes slower than the other.) But what does this mean? Maybe I've trained longer or have a faster bike or learned how to swim younger or shouldn't have stopped to pee during the run. Maybe they got less sleep than I did, or entered the race with completely different goals than I did. And yet, I am still fighting off a little bit of gloating (which I think is problematic ethically) that I am 18 years older than them, and performed as well or better than them in most areas. I also think it's ethically problematic when I console myself that my friend did such a great run by reminding myself that she's 18 years younger. Because I think that negates all the hard work she puts into getting in that kind of shape. Just because she's 30 doesn't guarantee that she can run 5K in 28 minutes.

I started out this post writing about enjoyment, and I've come to comparison, and I don't think it's a coincidence. Because really, what kills enjoyment more than comparison? This isn't as fun as I hoped it was going to be. She's not as good in this movie as she was in her last movie. I used to look great in that dress. I thought (puff, puff, puff) this running (puff puff puff) was going to be easier (puff) than this (puff puff.) Ass opposed to perhaps (not that this is a comparison) staying in the present, and noticing that I am still running, and the ocean is beautiful, and an hour ago I was in it, and now I am running alongside it, and people are cheering for me, and I am having a hard time breathing but it's OK if I need to stop and catch my breath, and I'm learning a lot about my abilities and limitations, and that's a cute dog but it shouldn't be in the middle of the course -- better not trip over its leash. Oh wow, I did it! I finished a sprint triathlon in an hour and forty two minutes.


  1. So proud of you Jenny! Once again, I thank you for sharing.

  2. I am so excited for you and proud of you! Just blown away! MAZEL TOV!