Last year at this time I had blown off the second triathlon I had signed up for.
I was angry, dejected and bitter. How dare this weight loss surgery not have made me lose everything I wanted? How dare it be more successful for literally everyone around me that had it? How dare it be a year later and I am STILL fighting?
It's now two years since my gastric sleeve surgery. I am still fighting. And if you are considering weight loss surgery, you need to know that it WILL NOT do all the work for you. It will not repair your head or the scabs on your heart. You will continue to be your own worst enemy unless you embrace that fact.
However, two years later I realize that there is a difference between bitching about it and fighting for it. I remembered, painfully, that this had to be what I was going to make of it. Just me. This is me, evolving very slowly.
Often, I need a major face slap to knock my goals in line and take stock of the important things. I am fortunate to have some very strong women in my life that aren't afraid to do that for me. (I suspect they rock-paper-scissors with each other for the privilege). So when Moe sent me an email in the spring inviting me to participate in Danskin's Sprint Triathlon, I put some real thought into it. Her invitation included options – be the swimmer in a relay team, do the half sprint, do the whole tri, check out the website and decide. No pressure. This is the gentle version of the face slap, just so you know.
I clicked over to the site and pondered the choices, halting to a stop when I saw the "Athena" category, which I have pasted here for you:
You WANT to be scored against women who are above 150 lbs (pursuant to USAT Rules for Athena)
You compete on an individual basis within your “age group” BUT you will be scored against all other participants (regardless of age) who checked off ATHENA when entering
You will receive an Official Race time within the Athena category
You will be eligible for Awards (top three) within the Athena category
What. The. Hell.
150 pounds. Is fat. If you are a Danskin Triathlete. If you are me, it is your damn goal weight. It is a size 8. It is I can buy the thong and walk through the neighborhood in it. It is my nirvana.
Then and there, I clicked "Sprint Triathlon Age Group Category", dropped $100 bucks and a large amount of attitude along with it. Then I called Moe and said, "I am signed up, I am not swimming for anyone, I am not in the half sprint, I am not in the fatties race, I am in the sprint and I am going to OWN THIS BITCH.
Big slap. BIG SLAP! Did you hear it? Because I felt it.
And so it began. I bought the brightest funnest running shoes I could find. I found sites blog sites like Plus Runner – and read every entry . I stole the good goggles from my daughter. I built a playlist. I got new tires on the bike I rode 12 years ago, and thought about it, and got an awesome seat too. And then, I trained.
I trained as "That Girl". The girl you see running slowly down the street in her baggy, un-runnerish clothing. The girl in the lane that you didn't think she should be in at lap swim. (Competitive swimmers get fat – but they don't forget how to swim). The girl who rode the bike endlessly around the mile track at the park because she wasn't ready for hills. The girl that you are glad you're not while you are driving by, but you hope she succeeds because at least, she is trying.
In between trying, I tried to fit life, work, and all the crap that comes with it. I was not always successful. I sometimes chose sleep over a run. I often chose alcohol the night before a training session, because drinks with my husband or friends are things I treasure and won't give up. I read and cheered as my friend's daughter Alida did a play by play of her own friend competing in (and conquering) his first Ironman. I was inspired. I decided that while I will never be an Ironman, I could definitely be a Sprint Triathlete again.
The week before the tri was emotionally taxing. The Friday before the race involved me coming off 4 days of work, 3 missed days of training and like a miracle – a morning run that gave me a glimpse of that elusive epiphany that makes people sign up for marathons. I don't love running. I never will. But damn, it works. Since starting to run I began losing weight again, my pants are looser and I feel my abdominal muscles. How did I celebrate this? By staying up with my husband, drinking Johnny Walker Black out of his Bladerunner rocks glass and talking until 3am. Sometimes the wrong decisions are the right ones in disguise.
Four of us were racing together. Moe and her two friends Candace and Amy. We picked up our race packets Saturday and reviewed the course. We swam in the lake so we could get the muck and seaweed factor straight in our head. We walked the run, which led through a cemetery next to the lake. I noted that there was a stone that said "Falk" and decided when I was in the pain I anticipated I would be in at that point, I could yell "FALK" and blame it on reading tombstones if someone had a problem with it. A half mile down I found another stone that said "Fockstoff" and filed that one, too. I drove home and hydrated all day, because that is what Will – The Ironman Rock Star told me to do when he patiently answered my emails loaded with training questions. I hydrated a little more, to cover last night's JW Black debacle. I packed my bag. And just to calm my fears – I made a decision to stuff a little speaker with my iPod duct taped to it down my bra for the run. Sometimes you just need to break the rules a little and all the time – I just plain run better when there is music. The penalty for this infraction? Not being eligible for placement awards. Yeah, now you see why I wasn't that concerned.
I spent the night at Moe's, where I dreamed about whales swimming under me while I raced. She woke me up at 4:30 with coffee (I just love that about her) and said "Let's do this". I ate my English muffin and canadian bacon and stopped at 2 cups of coffee (sorry, Will this is why you do the Ironman and I do not) and began the hydrating routine again. We took off – more awake than I have ever been at 5:30am.
I had stuffed all the anger I had built up over the last few days into the back of my head. Slowly, I tried to reprocess it and make it work to my advantage. I smiled as I read the words my son Travis sent, sad that he would miss this but happy he had a job to go to. I thought strong thoughts. I thought about the people who loved me, who were texting me early on their Sunday morning to wish me luck and I breathed all that love in. I was as ready as I was going to get.
The best part of a triathlon, in my limited experience, is the part where you stand still, and just take it all in.
Every size and shape, the bright colors, the palpable excitement; it's intoxicating. It doesn't matter if you are there to win it or there to just finish it, at this moment in time you are all the same – you are triathlon participants.
I stood there with my bike, looking over the lake, the cemetery, the flags, the buoys and the transition area. I took a deep breath and I spent a moment just loving life. The times that I thought I would never be an athlete again got pushed out of my head, and I replaced it with thoughts of being strong, persevering and conquering. My husband Bill always tells me "Be Here Now". For a change, I was.
Moe and I unloaded our things in the transition area and headed toward the lake to warm up. Since the water temp was at 82 degrees, wet suits were declared unnecessary and people wearing them were warned that they would be tolerated but not eligible for awards. Again, I was not concerned. The whole award thing aside, a wet suit in 82 degree water for me? Heat stroke.
The next best part of a triathlon? The part where you spot "Your People". Seeing Bill and Casey walking down the hill toward me was calming and exciting at the same time. The last time I did a triathlon, in 2000, Casey was (unbeknownst to me) growing in my belly. Now here she was, dancing down the hill wearing the shirt Travis wore that day 12 years ago that said "My Mom Tri's". Double entendre totally intended. With my green Danskin issued swim cap and my beautiful Casey created race shirt, I was ready to roll.
We lined up for the swim, Moe and I in the front with all intentions of heading to the right and staying out of "the Pack". I am comfortable in one thing – my swimming ability. I know how to swim in open water and have thousands of hours logged in the pool for the last 35 years. This was my happy place. I wanted this part. They counted it down, and we were off. After clearing the first buoy people start to find their spot. I stayed right to make way for stronger swimmers to pass, and as I did, I caught a hefty kick in the ribs from the person in front of me. I sucked in a huge mouthful of water and had I not been panicking about breathing, I would have laughed at the irony that the news report would read "Although a lifelong swimmer, she drowned 3 minutes into the tirathlon".
I had serious regrouping to do, which I attempted by swimming breaststroke until I could take a normal breath again. My ribs were sore but were taking a back seat to the ragged breaths I was taking. It took me a quarter mile to recover in time to find that my cheap latex swim cap was coming off. I had chosen not to wear goggles, not wanting another thing to contend with, and I would stick with that choice in the future, but I will definitely go the two cap route next time around. That way if I lose the race cap, oh well, there is another underneath. That's about the only significant race advice you're going to get from me, so file it.
I rounded the buoy and headed back, ending up 12th in my age group and visibly ticked off when I hit land. My happy place had not been at all happy, but I dropped that thought and headed for transition, only to feel a slap on my butt as Moe caught up and said "tag, you're it". I knew it was the last time I would see her for a couple hours, and I was so proud of how well she swam. She listened to every bit of advice I offered and put it to use, and then she proceeded to shine. Like any good swim coach, I was busting with pride.
I had decided a long time ago to take this race and make it my own. I wanted to take extra time in transition to make sure my feet were dry, my socks were on right and I had everything I needed. Extra transition time goes against everything a true triathlete does, but it was important to me to not have to stop to adjust things. And I needed to breathe.
I ran my bike to the start and hopped on. My past experience proved that you do not take a mountain bike to a triathlon so I had done some homework and visited the local bike shop to get fitted for a decent seat and hybrid tires. Wow, what a difference that made. I actually beat my bike time from 12 years ago, even though I was passed by 50+ people who either called out "on your left" or "Go Mom Go", reading the back of my Casey designed shirt. Of course I preferred the latter.
And because it's me – I am going to go on a little tirade here. In the bike leg, if there is an ENTIRE road open and I am ALREADY on the right of it, is it really necessary to scream "ON YOUR LEFT" as you pass me? I suspect not, and I suspect this is some sort of ego boosting, if-you-were-a-guy-you-would-have-a-boner sort of inflation you need to make yourself feel good. But me? I think you kind of suck. And I think you truly suck if you were the girls that never, not once, bothered to acknowledge the hundreds of people in bright green t shirts that came out on a Sunday morning to voluntarily cheer for YOU. I really don't think you lose precious seconds by flashing a smile, and believe me, you missed the whole point if you blew past these amazing fans without a thought. By the second bike loop, the older couple in their lawn chairs outside their house pegged me as there's "the girl who always smiles". I loved those people, and I appreciate everyone who volunteers for these type of things. You rock.
The bike leg included the inevitable hills, and here was where I wished I could have an actual triathlon bike. Here is where I chatted myself up BIG TIME about how strong I was, how I was going to beat this hill and fly down, alternating with giggling because the "ON YOUR LEFT" screamers were now reduced to breathlessly panting it as they struggled by.
At the bottom of the hill you turned right, and there was a parking lot to your left. It caught my eye because my favorite coffee shop; Biggby Coffee was there. As I was going past I saw a girl in red, jumping up and down and yelling "Go Kim, Go!". On closer inspection I saw that it was Susie, a nurse I worked with who lived in Howell and got up early on her Sunday morning to cheer. For me. She came to cheer for me. How awesome is that? Awesome enough for me to say it again – if you are ever considering volunteering or cheering someone on who is involved in any sort of big race, you should do it. You have NO idea how motivating it is to see a familiar face and how it kicks you into the gear you didn't think you had left. Susie Papson, I will never forget what you did for me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I finished the bike, thankful for the brick workouts Will had suggested. Previously my Old Lady Hip had been on fire after the bike, but the brick workouts taught me to work with it and move slower while stretching it out. Amazingly, Old Lady Hip was not giving me too much trouble. Whether adrenaline or intervention of the Gods, I thank her for taking the day off. I grabbed Moe's Made in Detroit hat (I used wedding rules for the tri – something borrowed, something blue etc.) and prepared to face my nemesis, The Run.
There are people who catch the virus of running. It creeps up on them, as viruses do, and before they know it they are attacked and have the magical running virus. They embrace their new sport, sing it from the rooftops, post their times, and spread their new virus to everyone they know.
Everyone except me, who apparently has been well vaccinated. I am immune to the running virus. But I press on, hoping that one day my tolerance will be low and I will catch it, thus becoming one of the Greyhound/Gazelle/Jamaican Sprinter runners I visualize as I slog through my miles. The same ones I am watching now, coming to the finish line as I start the last leg of my tri.
Time to move, time for tunes. Digging around in the front of my bra I turned on my speaker and hit play. I am not stupid, I know this will never fly at future races and will never do it again, but today my music was a security blanket that I desperately needed. I fell into step, fell into breath and headed toward the cemetery with Amy Lee's strong beautiful voice drifting up from my boobs.
I had three goals when I started the race that day. Number one was to finish. Number two was to smile the whole time and enjoy every moment. Number three was the most important to me. It was: never, ever to walk during the run. For me, it would not have seemed like I truly accomplished the tri if I walked the run. I respect that you have to do what you have to do, but this was my promise to myself, the part that made it real and the challenge I put up for the athlete that still resides in my heart.
As I anticipated, Moe lapped me on my first pass through the cemetery. She warned me of a big hill that was at the end of the first loop and as she went by said "YOU. DO. NOT. WALK. THAT. HILL. Big long powerful strides up the hill. You Can DO THIS". And away she went, like a real gazelle. Long legs flying and looking like the runner she has been since I met her in high school. How totally appropriate that this was when the "FALK" headstone came into view. It needed to be done. So with the Beastie Boys playing from my boobs and the thought of the big hill ahead, I acknowledged the late Mr. Falk at the top of my lungs. And I felt pretty damn good about it. Sometimes you just need a good falk to make yourself feel better.
Running, running, running over dirt, wood chips, gravel. I kept running. I ran up the big hill and down the big hill and smiled for the man who was wildly cheering for me as I entered the second and final loop. I read tombstones and ran for young people who didn't get the chance to run enough in their life. I ran for the people in pictures who smiled at me from their marble headstones. I just ran, and it felt really, really good.
As I approached the road leading to the big hill, I was alone. A lot of people had passed me, and I wasn't really sad, just reflective about where I had been, and where I was now. I knew in my heart I could finish this, even if it was going to be alone, and well after the people I came here with. I looked up and saw a figure running the wrong way down the path, I wondered who would run the wrong way with everyone there to direct you. And I stopped wondering when I saw that it was Moe.
She had finished. She had taken off her medal and her timing chip and she had come back to run. With me. She came to help me get over that hill, a reality and a metaphor at the same time. She came to be my friend.
Up the hill I went for the last time that day. Up the hill as she reminded me all the things that hill represented. To the top of the hill as she reminded me that my husband and daughter were waiting for me. Down the hill as I cried for the first time that day. Down the path as we headed for the finish line together.
I am crying as I type this. There are so many things in life that are uncertain, unhappy, emotionally and mentally draining. But when you know you have people in your corner that will never give up on you; how can you stop trying? As I ran toward the finish I promised myself to never stop trying.
Our daughters came into view. Casey and Natalie, three months apart in age, polar opposites in looks, quite alike in whimsy. Jumping and screaming and waving a sign that as I got closer read "Go Mom Go!" with the appropriate 11 year old girl hearts, music notes and smiley faces plastered all over it. People on the hill at the finish clapping, cheering, pointing me to the end. The end, it was right in front of me. I just had to run a little more. I was tired, and like every single time I got tired that day, something happened to keep me going. That something was this: The Danskin People let our daughters and my friend help me bring it on home.
So I did.
I got my medal, looked for my husband and let the tears come. Just for a little bit, because those tears weren't sad ones. I let Bill's words into my head and stored them for future moments when I would need them to lift me up. I posed for the pictures and found my stuff and declined the invitation to go out to breakfast because at that point, I just wanted to go home and eat bacon there. Bill made me the best omelette I have ever had after a shower where I discovered the reason I did not run like a gazelle. A fat leech, stuck to my ankle, full of the amazing running ability that he had spent all morning sucking out of me.
That's the story I'm going with, anyway.
This is the end of my triathlon story. But it's also another chapter of my journey to being a healthier, happier Kim. And it very well may be the beginning of the book that's titled "You Too Can Get Your Shit Together at 47". I am off to start training again. I have a 10K to run on Thanksgiving, because I need justification to stuff my face all day. Wish me luck.
Last year at this time I had blown off the second triathlon I had signed up for.