Beginner’s Luck: My First Triathlon

"Beginner's Luck" author Meredith Atwood shares the story of her first triathlon.

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“You can do a triathlon,” this guy named Gerry Halphen said to me. I looked at him with crazy eyes. It was 2010, and I was huge and even more clumsy than I am today. Gerry was the Spinning instructor who would later become my triathlon coach; I had been hiding on the back row of his class for over a year. Something about what he said, even though it was insane to me, stuck and resonated and would not leave my head. With those words, Gerry gave me a sort of permission to step out and try something as hard as triathlon. Because I also didn’t want to waste any opportunities, I signed up for my first triathlon a mere few weeks later. (Note: the swim was in a pool, so that made it a tad better).

My first triathlon was a reverse triathlon—so the order was run, bike and then swim in the pool. I woke up at the crack of dawn and did all the things you do before a race. Then it was go time—the race announcer gave us the rules and a summary of the course.  He warned us about the bike course being “quite challenging.” Oh my.

Before I knew it, the race started, and I was jogging at a snail’s pace, but breathing hard. At mile one, I looked behind me and there were only about 15 people back. Which meant about 200 were in front of me. And at that moment, I tripped on a root and nearly lost my footing. I finished the run with my 5K time around 38 minutes.

Photo provided by Meredith Atwood
Photo provided by Meredith Atwood

Out on the bike, the massive hill that welcomed me was brutal. I was sucking wind hard enough that people in front of me would hear me coming and look behind glaring, perhaps thinking a train was on their heels. Choo choo, I’m suffocating here, people.  Choo choo, better watch out. My bike and I were suffering in the granny gear, and squeaking like rusty wheels, but I was not getting off that bike. I was travelling at the speedy pace of 6 mph on the hill.  I saw a small, yellow snake slither along parallel with me, and thought, I have got to pick up the pace.

The bike was over, and I felt exhausted but thrilled. Then I saw one of the race volunteers waving his arms and screaming, “Dismount your bike! Dismount here! Dismount here!” I panicked. I clipped out my right foot and my left foot was stuck. And down she went. I hit the pavement.

The crowd kind of went “gasp!” and then “ooooooh!” and then when I stood up, they let out a big “ahhhhh” of relief, and clapped.  The same volunteer who scared me, had rushed over and tried to pick me up under my armpits when I fell. He was about 120 pounds, and I kept telling him “No no no no, I’ve got it,” and I wanted to scream, If you try and pick me up, I am SO going to unintentionally bring you down with me… so that was awkward.

But finally, I was on my feet. I felt like a clown, especially at the sports photographer who managed to continue taking pictures of me. But all was okay. (Actual injuries = 0, Pride injuries = 1).

I still had a swim to do. I unbuckled and unlatched everything and ran to the pool. This volunteer was screaming “No diving! No diving!” Yeah, I got that under control. The swim took place in the pool, alternating lanes, and before I knew it, a 13-year-old boy helped wrench me out of the pool, and I was finished. And elated!

I recognized the things I was not on that day:  fast, coordinated, smooth looking. But I also knew the things that I was: calm, focused and a triathlete—even a baby one. And I knew I would never be the same.

We want to hear YOUR first triathlon story! Tweet us at @Triathletemag and @Swimbikemom.

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