Thursday, May 5, 2011

I tried to be a triathlete

Tyra, Liz, Greg and Jim, very early Sunday morning

Cooper rocked his triathlon Saturday. I was less successful Sunday, but I tried! And it was great to be surrounded by Liz, Uncle Jim, Uncle Greg, Jeff and Melanie plus lots of family members cheering us on.

From today's Briefing:

Journey is the reward, the destination can wait

I am not a natural athlete. But I am a natural goal-setter.
Last fall, I set an unnatural goal for me: to compete in and finish a triathlon.
One of my best friends, Liz, and I started training after our kids were back in school. For months we logged three to four hours a week, swimming, biking, walking and running.
We emphasized to each other and anyone who asked that our goal was to finish. Our overall time didn’t matter. (I used the same strategy for a half-marathon in 2008.)
Sunday was the big day.
We arrived at the site at 6 a.m., which gave us ample time to set up our transition stations and feel comfortable with procedures.
When I pulled my borrowed road bike out of the minivan, I noticed that the left pedal had fallen off. It was an easy fix: Shove the pedal back on and find someone with a tool to tighten the bolt.
More than 300 competitors lined up in the natatorium to begin the swim. Not long after athletes started jumping in, the sky unleashed a dramatic storm.
Officials paused the race.
When the sideways rain slowed to a sprinkle, the race was back on, and soon I was swimming six laps in a pool that churned with the rhythmic violence of an industrial-strength washing machine.
I moved quickly from the pool to the bike racks, pulled on socks, shoes, jacket and helmet. I jogged my bike to the starting line and tried to mount.
That’s when I discovered that the pedal had been placed in the wrong position. It was not parallel with the right pedal. There was no way I could ride.
Race volunteers shrugged their shoulders. Nothing could be done.
But I knew that someone, somewhere had the tool to loosen the bolt so the pedal could be placed correctly. I insisted that they call for help.
About 15 minutes later, assistance arrived. I wanted to hug the guy, but that would have wasted more time.
I pedaled away. I was a few miles into the bike race, on a deserted gravel road, when I heard a pop.
I pulled over, hopped off the bike and pushed on the back tire. It easily gave in. The inner tube was flat.
I stood on the side of the road, shivering in the wind, losing feeling in my toes. Everyone riding by would ask, “You OK?” and I’d answer, “Flat.”
A few promised to send someone back to help.
Liz caught up with me and refused, despite my insistence, to keep going. Another rider stopped and tried to fix the flat but lacked all the necessary tools.
Eventually, official help arrived. He fixed the flat and checked the bolt on the left pedal.
There was no time for thank-you hugs.
Liz and I were back on the course. We were the very last two. A police car slowly trailed behind. Race officials picked up orange cones.
The wind was fierce and cold. There were moments when we were riding up hills into that wind, our legs pumping, our heart rates high — and yet it was as if we weren’t moving at all.
When I felt discouraged, Liz would offer cheerful motivation. I did the same for her. We had miles to go — on bike, then on feet.
With shortened breath, we worried about our families back at the transition area, who were surely concerned about where we were.
Just as we reached our wildly cheering fans, we heard the news: We wouldn’t be allowed to run. Lightning forced the end of the race.
I completed the 13-mile ride and accepted lots of welcome hugs, but I couldn’t shake defeat and disappointment. All that training, all that focus on one goal, and I am just a two-thirds triathlete.
I’m working on accepting the journey, not the destination, as the reward.
Faulty equipment and fickle weather blocked me from my goal. But I have no doubt I could have finished if allowed, even if I had to walk all 3.6 miles of the run.
Because I’m not a natural athlete, I need a goal to push me forward. Nothing but a promise to myself to finish a triathlon would have forced me to train so diligently, which in turn made me healthier and afforded me more time with a dear friend.
And I’m looking for a new race after discovering a loophole in my original goal: I set no expiration date.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at
When you compete in a tri, there's no hiding your age. They write it huge in permanent marker on the back of your leg.

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