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Beginner’s Luck: The Biggest Reward

"Beginner's Luck" columnist Meredith Atwood writes about the ups and downs of her first half-Ironman.

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“Beginner’s Luck” columnist Meredith Atwood writes about the ups and downs of her first half-Ironman.

In 2011, I attempted my first half Ironman race in Miami. On race morning, I was a mess.

“What have you gotten us into?” my husband, who I had dragged into this sport without really asking him, asked me.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said.

After a while, it was go time for my first ever 70.3. I followed a person waving a sign that said “Female 30-34” and had a silver swim cap attached to it. That was me.

The starting gun went off and once my face hit the water, I was calm. I felt in control. I felt so strong. Then I realized this was the longest, saltiest swim in the history of the world. I had never seen so many buoys in my life. Yellow, red, orange: hundreds of them. (Okay, maybe 10). But little by little, I swam and moved forward, and I was done.

I walked my jelly legs up the stairs, and went through the fresh water rinse off.

As I “ran” to transition, I felt like the crowd of people was judging me.

I might as well have been naked. I felt huge, fat, unathletic, and seriously out of place. What was I thinking doing this whole triathlon thing?

In that moment, I knew that had a decision to make.

Was I going to spend the rest of the race looking down? Thinking I didn’t belong? No. I wasn’t going to do it. I held my salty head up, and I decided it would be my day to shine. I had worked so hard for it, and I was going to enjoy it.

This bike leg was ridiculous. Headwinds, side winds, rain, bumpy pavement, traffic, railroad crossings.

But really, the bike was mostly this:
“On your left” “On your left” “On your left”
“On your left” “On your left” “On your left”
“On your left” “On your left” “On your left”

But even in the middle of feeling like I was standing still, I kept remembering my gratitude and how hard I worked. The bike was hard, no lie, but there was joy in the experience. (And pain in the crotch, beyond anything since childbirth.)

I was never so excited to see a sign in my life: “Bike In.”

Time for a half-marathon. I could do that, right? Riiiight? I ran out of transition, feeling pretty good. Run and done, run and done, I repeated to myself.

I started off pacing about a 12 minute/mile, which according to my training and all sources, would have been reasonable. Strategically, I was thinking, I could finish with about a 12:30 pace. At the Mile 1 sign, I almost cursed out loud. One? One?! 12.1 to go?

My legs stopped working shortly thereafter. They were moving forward, but they weren’t really. It was fake running, as I like to call it. By mile 2, I knew I was in for a 70.3 special treat.

One of my race highlights, however, came at mile 7, when I visited a porta-potty. I opened the door, and there was a giant poop on the seat. A real, live steamy poo. On the seat. ON. THE. SEAT. I was tired. I closed my eyes and I hovered over it. I thought, this is it. I am in this to finish. Because otherwise… I can’t justify this moment, hovering over poo. Over strange poo. I am going to finish.

Really, I don’t remember much about the run after mile 9, but before I knew it, I was running down the chute.  People clapped, surprised faces, encouragement, laughter, smiles and “go girl.” I heard it all heading down the finish.  At one point, I put my hand on my heart and I said, “Thank you, God. Thank you.”

And I meant it.

I finished number 340 out of 367 women, got my medal and my reward of soreness for days.

However, the biggest reward ever came from my daughter when we walked in the door. Stella, age three at the time, said, “Oh, mommy! You run? You ride your tricycle? You swim?”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that yes, her mommy might as well have been riding a tricycle. But it didn’t matter. I was a finisher, and in my daughter’s eyes, that was pretty cool.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. You can download a free copy of the book here. She is the host of the new iTunes podcast, “The Same 24 Hours,” a show which interviews interesting people who make the best of the 24 hours in each day. Meredith lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children, and writes about all things at MeredithAtwood.com