You can teach an old triathlete new tricks.

I like to credit/blame others for talking me into things. And I’m really easy to convince, so it doesn't take much. This time I credit/blame none other than 303Triathlon’s Chief Editor, Dana Willett for making me do a triathlon. My first triathlon in four years since I gave them up, declaring aloud, (with my hands in the air like a cowboy who just wrestled a steer) “DONE! I am DONE WITH TRIATHLONS!!!” (I actually had to check. I thought it was seven years. Nope. Only four.)

How did this happen, you ask? Let me tell you a lil’ story.
Back in May, I co-represented my half of 303(Cycling) at Wheatridge Cyclery’s “Women’s Night Out.” About two glasses of wine and three hours in, Dana and I started to discuss the merits of being “Multi-faceted as a cyclist.” Mainly in relation her possibly doing an Xterra this summer.

Me: “You COMPLETELY should do an Xterra. You could learn to mountain bike. It would round you out quite nicely.”
Dana: “Really?”
Me: “Yes! It’s a nice facet of cycling that should not be missed.”
Dana: “Well...if I learn how to mountain bike and do the Xterra, would you sign up for a triathlon?”
Me: “Absolutely!!!” [Editor’s note: I’ll admit that I thought nothing would come of this discussion. Nothing.]

But Dana is an accomplished multi-Iron-Man finisher (is that how you say it?). She’s really...committed to say the least. Within two weeks she bought a mountain bike, signed up for lessons and rode down some stairs at Valmont while I tried to remember who I lent my wetsuit out to. (sigh) She even came down to Golden and rode North Table Mountain with me on a COMBA women’s ride. That’s when I knew it was on. I could not let her suffer through those 12 loosey-goosey-gravely switch-backs in vain. I was going to do a triathlon. With a smile on my face.

So I reached out to the only tri friends I have (aside from our 303Tri crew): race promoter Lance Paniguitti of Without Limits Productions and Kebby Holden (Coeur Sports). They suggested I “tri” the TriBella’s Sprint and graciously gave me an entry to do so. Thus began my rigid training schedule (which I called “two-thirdsies”). As in, all I had to do was do ⅔ of a triathlon in any shape or form, 5/7 days of the week. A quick morning run and later ride my bike to the grocery store? Counted. Marco Polo with my kids in the pool and running through our neighborhood sprinklers on the way home? Counted.

Two days before the race I was feeling pretteeeeeeey good. I laid out my wetsuit (didn’t try it on), transferred some lace locks from 4 year old tennis shoes to new ones and then…nearly hyperventilated on the way to pick up my race bag.

I pulled up to Tribella’s downtown, cut the engine, rolled down the windows and just sat there. As I watched really fit women walk in and out of the door, suddenly I realized that I didn't even have a race belt anymore. I gave it away. And I started calculating all the glasses of wine I’d had this summer and deduced that I CLEARLY wasn’t really “prepared.” And suddenly alllllll the feelings of fear and competition came back. This race was here and I feared that I would yet again fall short. How I secretly feel I always have, always do and always will.

You see, I stepped away from Triathlons for several reasons:

  • I was starting to obsess about my results, my competition, my splits, my food, my water, my ribs, my hips, my face, my clothes, my weight, my everything.
  • I hated running. I really did. I dreaded every step.
  • While avoiding running, I replaced every run workout with a bike workout. I loved it.
  • And most importantly, I dreaded (still do) competing with my peers.

The good news is that I stacked my weekend with several events. Saturday would be the Tribella’s Tri (and working on a basement remodel). Sunday would be the Golden Gran Fondo and Monday would be a dodge-ball tournament against a team of Pro-cycling women (don't ask). This actually helped. I felt I could only really take one event at a time. I could not obsess.

Okay, enough of my mental ramblings. Here is the actual race report:
I caught a ride with a friend of friend (Iron-woman Jen Schaffner--who took first in her age group and 4th overall). She is a bad-ass. Someone that (in my former days as a triathlete) I would have completely feared. But on Saturday we were just two moms going to do something fun. She...just happened to have fun much, much faster than mere mortals, but that’s beside the point.

I racked my bike like a drunk who also happens to be coming out of a long bout of amnesia. I looked back and forth at the entrance/exit and contemplating what was worse: running farther in my wetsuit and risking getting lost or running farther in my road shoes on pavement. In the end I picked something in the middle with a “meh” shrug of my shoulders. Figured it didn’t matter. My transitions used to be a perfected science. Today I had brought long 303 socks just for kicks.

I wriggled into my wetsuit (still FIT!!! Can I get a FIST PUMP?) and meandered down to the beach. After a quick warm-up (where I calculated that it had been 48 mos since I’d been swimming in open water for a competition) I awkwardly crawled out like a mudskipper fish and took my place on the beach. Lance Paniguitti ran us through race logistics in a very positive, clear manner. There were many good tips (and a pesky rule about not drafting, wha??!?) and I really tried to pay attention. But my heart was racing and I couldn’t stop thinking of how different Lance looked in board shorts rather than cold-weather gear like I was used to seeing him at the cyclo-cross races I’m more familiar with.

Soon it was time for my wave to enter. Then I heard Lance say over the mic, “Annnnd a big welcome back to Katie Macarelli from 303Cycling/303Triathlon. It’s been several years since she’s done a triathlon and we’re happy to have her back!” (I did another fist pump). The woman next to me in the water said, “OH, YEAH! You’re that cyclist who is doing a triathlon again. I’ve heard about you.” “Hahahahaha, yep. Should be really f…”(BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP). And I was off like a Barbie Mermaid.

A few things about swimming that I’d forgotten:

  • It’s really hard even though my swimming background brought me to triathlons in the first place.
  • There are waves in a reservoir.
  • People touch your feet and that is creepy.
  • There are clearly slimy monsters waiting to eat you. That is also creepy.

So I swam like one of those old wind-up bath-tub toys as fast as I could and got the hell out of there. Mud-skippered up the beach and then started counting Feedback Sports racks. I was really rocking it, feeling quite good about myself. Chuckling, in fact. Thinking, “This isn't so bad. Pretty easy, really.” And then I tried to get that wetsuit off, which took...a WHILE. AND I brought 303 socks, remember? Cyclo-cross length. So...that took a while too. Then I half dropped my bike as I was leaving the transition area while trying to turn on my Garmin simultaneously. Dumb, dumb, DUMB...but I was seriously having so much fun, fun, FUN.

I hit the bike leg with a lil’ kick in my step yelling, “I’m a CYCLIST. I LOVE CYCLING!” And those 10 miles went by in the blink of an eye. I was even enjoying what I call the “Tha-thumps” of Cherry Creek Res. (the cracks in the pavement about every 7 yards). It was just like cyclo-cross. And soon I was rolling back into the transition area watching all the family and friends of my fellow competitors smile and cheer for me even though they had NO idea who I was. [Editior’s note: My favorite spectator was the guy who had the sign reading “I don’t do triathlons...I do triathletes!” I got a good cackle out of that one.]

But (ahem!) it was time to focus. I was coming up on my biggest fear: the run. I am a horrible runner. Find the word “horrible” in the thesaurus (or on for you young’ens) and substitute it into this sentence: “Katie is a _________ runner”. Fits quite nicely. I put on my CO themed hat, my quasi-new running shoes and I hit the pavement, dreading the worst.

But somewhere between the signs and kids cheering for their moms and volunteers pointing me the right way and the music drifting through the reservoir, I realized something. I still LOVE THIS. OH, SWEET MOTHER. I still LOVE TRIATHLONS!!! It was with this knowledge that I picked it up a notch. I was practically DONE!! I wasn’t dreading being taken down on the run by any racing nemeses who were (as I always felt) stronger, faster, fitter, prettier, more dedicated, etc. I KNEW NO ONE!! That was quite liberating. As I said earlier, there is a big difference between doing a race for a good friend versus fearing defeat from a great enemy. There I was just shuffling my heart out across a really bouncy bridge with a big-ass smile on my face, loving life because I COULD and I wanted to for Dana and for me.

And that’s the lesson I learned from this weekend. The old triathlete-me would have gone straight to the results and been disappointed NO MATTER WHAT. I would have obsessed about every minor/major detail; berating myself in the mirror or in front of the computer later as I’d check splits, mileage, results, etc. But thankfully that’s the old triathlete-me.

Four years later, as “that cyclist,” I was just plain happy to have done it. I looked at my results far less than I looked at the elated women around me at the finish. I congratulated my new fast friend, Jen and rejoiced during the awards that weren't for me. I clapped through tears as the last finisher came through the gates with her son jogging next to her. We all did it simply because we COULD--for ourselves and our loved ones. And to be disappointed in that result would be a crying shame.

To Dana, Lance and Kebby: thanks for the inspiration and the opportunity to get back out there. Dana, I can’t wait to hear about your race. You will be amazing. That’s a result I can be sure of.

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