Before, During and After: My First Triathlon

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Before

In December, I was looking at the race schedule for the new year and noticed that Life Time Fitness put on an indoor triathlon at dozens of their club locations around the country, including seven in Illinois. I had already decided that my big New Year’s resolution was to try a triathlon, and when I realized that the Life Time Tri consisted of only a 10-minute pool swim (my biggest apprehension about triathlons), I thought “piece of cake” and emailed the race director to see where there were spots available.

After I was officially registered at the Old Orchard location, I instantly began to regret my decision; I was nowhere near ready for a triathlon – I had not swum in years, aside from the casual float at my friend’s pool, and I hadn’t done much bike training in the last year either. Yeah, I could easily crank out a 20-minute treadmill run, but other than that, I felt I was taking on too much.

The race was on Jan. 8, and the real freak out came the Friday beforehand; I texted my mom saying I wish I could drop out, and was even thinking of excuses to use such as “my car didn’t start.” But, I knew a negative attitude wouldn’t get me anywhere, and I already promised Life Time coverage for Chicago Athlete (read the review here), so I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods to buy myself a new one-piece and goggles.

At first, 10 minutes sounded like nothing – I could do anything for just 10 minutes, right? After I got my swimsuit, however, I decided I needed to make sure I could definitely do it, because I knew I’d be much more self-conscious getting into a pool for the first time in front of dozens of people rather than at my local park district pool. Thankfully when I got there, the lap pool was empty.

I took a few quick breaks between laps, but I surprised myself and ended up swimming 16 laps in 12 minutes! It was definitely hard, and I was pretty tired afterwards, but I did it. I was ready to try my first triathlon in two days.

During

Race mornings for me are always a struggle; I’m one of those people who get excited to try events until the night before, and as hard as I try to be a morning person, I’m not. Plus, I had a 45-minute drive to sit and think about what I was about to do. Honestly, the only thing getting me through it was the fact that I could veg on my couch the rest of the day. Whatever it takes, right?

The morning turned around for me as soon as I pulled into the parking lot – I got a front row spot, and for a morning with a huge event going on, that’s nearly unheard of. I thought that had to be a good sign.

I went inside, picked up my race bib and shirt, and went into the locker room to change. I used to be a member at the Life Time by my house during high school, and walking through the halls made me question why I stopped going there. But, then I remembered that I could no longer get the student discount on membership – well, at least I could enjoy the facilities that day.

Because I’m me, I was there much earlier than I needed to be for my 9 a.m. wave start; however, it gave me time to really organize my things for the 10-minute transition we had between the swim and the bike, and I was able to go into the pool area and watch a few waves to see how it all worked. I was relieved when I saw just how laid-back and causal it all was.

After putting on my suit and goggles, I took my swim cap and towels back to the area and met my wave coach, who instantly put me at ease when I told him it was my first time. In fact, a lot of the others in my wave were first-timers too, and I bonded with a girl who also didn’t know how to put on a swim cap. I was going to be just fine.

Not going to lie, having my numbers written on my arms made me feel pretty legitimate, and that motivated me to get in the pool and swim my hardest. Even if I’m last, I can make up for it in the run, I thought. But, I wasn’t last! I actually did 14 laps in the 10 minutes, and even though I was very winded at the end, I again was surprised by how well I did. The hardest part was over, and now I could really enjoy the event.

We had 10 minutes to dry off and change out of our suits and get to the cycle studio across the hall; even though I thought I was prepared, I was scrambling a bit because I knew I needed to leave time to adjust my bike. Remembering this was my first go at a triathlon, and transitions in general are stressful, I just focused on one thing at a time, and made it the studio with a few minutes to spare.

The bike portion was also laid back, and I decided to take it a little slower than I normally do in a spin class so I didn’t completely die during the run. The room was lit with fun colors, and a video of Ironman finishers was playing on the projector, which made me feel ridiculous for being nervous for a small indoor event. But, everyone has to start somewhere, right?

Thirty minutes flew by – I biked just over 7.5 miles, and before I knew it I was on the treadmill, picking up my pace every few minutes. My legs felt great, and I ended up sprinting for the last few minutes because I wanted to use the rest of my energy. I ran 2.17 miles in the 20 minutes, and looking back, I know I could have gone farther if I started faster. But again, it was my first time, and I didn’t die, so that’s all that matters.

After

Even though I enjoyed the event much more than I thought I would, I was definitely happy when I was done, not to mention I was starving. We took a group wave picture, and our coach told us we were free to use the club the rest of the day if we wanted; it was a nice offer, and maybe in the summer I would have gone outside to lay by the pool, but instead I took a bagel and hopped in my car.

On the drive home, I actually found myself smiling – it was still the first week of January, and I had already accomplished part of my resolutions for the year. When the results were posted on Tuesday afternoon and I wasn’t even close to being in last place, I realized that being a regular triathlete may actually be an attainable goal for me.

Now, I’m looking for smaller outdoor triathlons to try once the weather warms up, and I could not be more excited! In the meantime, I’m going to work on getting myself a real bike and utilize my park district membership to improve my swim skills – maybe one day, you’ll see me in Lake Michigan competing in the Chicago Triathlon. But for now, I’m going to stay in the pool.

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Holly's running career began in high school; after being bummed about not making the volleyball team her sophomore year, she decided to join some of her middle school friends on the cross country team. She also did track in the fall, where the 1600 m race was her niche. Since then, she has run several shorter distance races and two half marathons. Her goal for 2017 is to try a triathlon, and eventually do the Chicago Marathon. She graduated from Illinois State University in May 2016 with a degree in journalism. Working at Chicago Athlete, Holly has been able to explore photography a lot more, which is one of her main hobbies. She enjoys taking photos at endurance races, and is also passionate about nature photography and portraiture.

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