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Dispatch: Project Penny (Challenge Penticton), Chapter Three

No one is as shocked as our three editors that “Project Penny” race day is almost here–on Sunday they’ll tackle Challenge Penticton.

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No one is as shocked as our three editors that “Project Penny” race day is almost here–on Sunday they’ll tackle the Challenge Family’s debut North American race, Challenge Penticton. As the three friends and SOAS Racing teammates make their final preparations for an all-out endurance adventure, they share their battles with nerves and life-balance, as well as their confidence and excitement for the big day.

Name: Julia Polloreno
Title: Editor-in-Chief
Age: 35

Race week. Funny how stringing together two seemingly innocuous words has the Pavlovian power to create a fleeting yet fierce knot in the center of my gut. The work is done, and now I just have to trust that I’ve done enough, and that everything I need to have a successful race lies within this head and heart.

I’ve had some distractions this week, which has helped shove the race nerves into the back of my mind. They’re still there—masquerading as irritability and moodiness—just not so forthright. Instead I’m more anxious about my son’s first week of Kindergarten, a seminal moment that’s come with a fair share of tears (he’s cried too). This morning I watched him amble toward his classroom, backpack as big as his five-year-old frame, choking back tears. It sucked. I’ve been telling him that it’s time to be brave, to be excited for the adventure instead of afraid. I guess you could say it’s our theme this week.

Being a mom with a big triathlon goal has been, on the whole, an awesome and gratifying experience. I’m proud of the journey, the discipline I’ve mustered these past months, the balancing act (cliché, but true!) of it all. But I’d be lying if I said I never felt selfish or guilty about the time it’s required me to spend away from my two kids. “It’s temporary,” I’ve been telling myself before each long ride and run. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by people who have been super supportive of my goal, namely my husband, Lance, who is flying to Penticton for literally 24 hours just to be there for me on race day. And my twin sister, Jennifer, who listens to me whine about my #triathleteproblems and offers the generous perspective of “your kids will think you’re a bad ass when they understand what you’ve accomplished.” I couldn’t have come this far without them in my corner.

As I was compiling some beginner triathlete tips for a project at work earlier this week, one of the pieces of advice was to always remember why you’re doing triathlon in the first place—to have fun. It was a healthy reminder of impeccable timing. The work is done; it’s time to get this swim-bike-run party started.

It’s been seven years since my first and only Ironman, and in that attempt I treated it more as a cautious experiment than a race. I’m curious to see how I’ll do this time, with the years of SBR memories committed to my legs, and the confidence of experience. My Challenge Penticton (aka Project Penny) cohort Jené shared an encouraging note she received earlier this week, and it contained this quote from Emily Dickinson:

“We never know how good we are until we are called to rise.”

I love this notion so much, I printed it out and pinned it to the wall of my workspace. It reminds me that race day is just a big opportunity to rise to a challenge that will give me a new insight into myself.

So, my new purpose is two-fold: to just enjoy the experience (I heart you, Holly and Jené, for already making this all so worthwhile), and seize the opportunity to be good, however that’s defined by my body and mind come Sunday.

Also, a parting thank you is due to Stephanie Swanson of SOAS Racing, who surprised us with custom Project Penny gear in addition to designing our kick ass kits. Team SOAS will do you proud, Steph!

RELATED – Dispatch: Project Penny (Challenge Penticton), Chapter One

Name: Jené Shaw
Title: Senior Editor
Age: 29

Cue Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” It’s race week!

My friend Mike sent me a text message the other day that summed up my own mentality pretty accurately: “Part of me is like, shit, I have an Ironman, I need to focus. But then the other part of me is like, ah, whatever—chill out.”

Yes. Chill. Out. Obviously nervousness creeps in here and there—it will be in full force come Sunday morning when I just keep thinking, “why do you do this why do you do this”—but my plan is to procrastinate dealing with those feelings until the absolute last moment.

One of the things I need to chill out about is my bike’s endless mechanical issues. I’ve dropped hundreds upon hundreds of dollars on it in the last month, and I’ve made more trips to the shop than I can count on two hands. My mechanic and I are now on text message terms because we have to communicate so frequently. Does your bike have a name? You can call mine “Shitty Shitty Bang Bang.” My hope is that all the kinks are worked out and it will magically work perfectly on Sunday.

I’ve received a couple of reassuring emails this week. My friend Erin: “You’re going to get tons of sleep this week and be so refreshed you won’t even feel the first 134 miles.”

And yesterday I got the sweetest note from Shelley Harper, a stud swimmer-turned-triathlete who I recently wrote about for the magazine. She wanted to pass on a quote her college swim coach gave her before NCAAs her senior year. I loved it and sent it to Julia, who printed it out for her cube (she also references this in her blog, but so what, you have to read it twice.)

“We never know how good we are, until we are called to rise.” –Emily Dickinson

Shelley said it taught her to be open to the possibility that she could surprise herself and be better than she could have ever imagined. As much as I shy away from getting too #cheeseball, I know that accurately sums up why I started doing triathlons in the first place—to surprise myself. Considering I couldn’t swim with my face in the water four years ago and “ran” my first marathon in over five hours, I’ve come a long way (my high school friends will gladly tell you stories of my unathleticism). I love crossing finish lines because they’re just like a big ‘ole pat on the back, courtesy of moi.

Gearing up for Sunday, I’m feeling mostly excited. Little do my teammates know, but the real key to race success comes in the form of a pair of unattractive tapered-ankle blue sweatpants I once bought for $5 at a store called Big D in New York City. “Big Blue” make an appearance at every race, and I’ll be sporting them along with my custom SOAS flip-flops (that HAVE MY NAME ON THEM) on race morning as I try not to freak out.

Holly and Julia, get ready: You have some big, sweaty finish line hugs coming your way.

RELATED – Dispatch: Project Penny (Challenge Penticton), Chapter Two

Name: Holly Bennett
Title: Editor-at-Large
Age: 45

I purposefully waited to write my pre-race piece until the flight to Penticton–once I’d closed out the training chapter at home in Boulder. Now I’m up in the air and on my way north, ready to relax into the race week vibe and discover whatever story Sunday brings.

And what a chapter it’s been getting to this point, filled with both the toughest and best training I’ve ever accomplished. When coach Dibens showed me a particular two-week block in my program–the final biggest build before tapering–my muscles almost spoke to me: Holy shit. But my mind felt giddy with anticipation. I figured if I could get through it–and get through it well–I’d be so pleased with myself I’d hardly care what happens on race day.

Not only did I get through it, I enjoyed it–in fact, I went so far as to geek out on my training. Yes, that was me obsessing over my heart monitor and GPS data and leaving novel-length notes in Training Peaks following every session–me, the girl that usually just swims and rides and runs. Over the entire Project Penny prep period, I got into triathlon training in ways I never really have–and in ways I honestly wouldn’t want to sustain year-round, but that provided me a perfect short-term project that I’ve utterly loved. That’s not to say the rest of life has been entirely smooth these past 12 weeks–both professionally and personally I’ve faced my share of stress–but in the interest of keeping my you-know-what together to tackle the top-notch training I adopted what I dubbed a “quack mentality:” letting anything negative roll off my back like water off a duck. My hope is to kick into quack mode as needed on race day, diffusing the inevitable tough moments with similar tenacity.

Now really is the time to go full-on Zen. While I’ve let my inner tri-geek loose during training, race week for me is about stripping back to the bare essentials. It’s time to put away the heart monitor and GPS and hone in on the tools that will truly power my race: my body, mind and heart. And while I do have various goals regarding time on the clock (any triathlete that says they don’t is fibbing, as far as I’m concerned), and while I do oddly enjoy the mental work/distraction of making Rainman-esque pace calculations mid-ride and run, the bigger goal I’m after is to put out an effort that is the absolute best I can do–leaving no stone of strength and spirit unturned and finishing the day fully spent. I want to be in every hot, sweaty, salt-caked moment and seize them with gusto. Ideally, I’d love to vomit at the line.

Tapering is both a blessing and a curse. I’ve been inspired in the past week to tweet a few things that feel #taperrific (when running nine miles feels like nuthin’) and #notsotaperrific” (that shift from feeling phat to feeling fat). I’m trying my best to enjoy the much needed rest, but truth be told I’m jonesing for race day. I’m yearning for a kickass endurance test–which I guess is a good sign, as I’ll surely have one on Sunday. That’s not to say I’m all confidence and zero nerves–the butterflies are amassing in bulk in my belly. But I can’t get enough of that fluttery feeling. The more the merrier I say–because I certainly plan to harness all those wee yet powerful wings as I take flight.

Like my teammate Julia, I feel compelled to make a couple shout-outs in advance of the big day. I’m fully on board with the school of thought that getting to the start line is often the toughest part of any iron-distance race, and thus my thanks to these folks are already overflowing:

My long-distance beau Chris, who will travel to Penticton to serve as race week Sherpa extraordinaire and my number one support. My family and my extended family of friends from around the globe–I feel their hugs from afar as poignantly as if they were all on hand in Penticton. My sweet pup Viggo­, who still seems to love me despite receiving less attention than usual in the past few weeks. My friend and coach Julie Dibens, who has guided me through this awesome exercise with a perfect blend of help, humor and hardassedness. Steph Swanson, the woman at the helm of SOAS Racing whose generosity and cleverly-crafted gear keeps us girls looking fashion-forward, even when the going gets fierce. And finally Jené and Julia, who I proudly claim as teammates and colleagues but more importantly as friends (unlike Jené I trend heavily toward cheese). Here’s to a BFF-bonding experience–an adventure that no matter how it pans out for each of us individually will surely result in one hell of a lump sum post-race celebration and a memory to forever cherish (more #cheeseball).

Let’s do this thing!

RELATED – Dispatch: The Baker’s Dozen In Deutschland

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