Seems to crazy to say – the impossible became a reality as I crossed that finish line with a smile beaming across my face. I did it. I REALLY did it. I finished my first triathlon. Granted, it was only a sprint triathlon – but to me, it was THE TRIATHLON!
This was such an amazing experience – I want to record it so that one day when I’m competing in an Ironman I can look back and say “Wow, look how far I’ve come.” I want to record it to help out those first time triathletes who are scouring the internet for tips, like I did. I want to record it so I will remember that I’ve accomplished the impossible with hard work and support of those around me. So… here’s how it went:
The Distance: .5 Mile Swim, 14.1 Mile Bike, 3.11 Mile Run
The Race: TriFreaks Kirkland Triathlon
The Day Before: Nerves set in as I made my way to the gym for a 20 minute bike and 20 minute run warm up. As I laid on my yoga mat stretching out after my quick warmup, I began questioning whether I was REALLY prepared for the race. A quick goofy video to “The Final Count Down” and some encouragement from my husband assured me that I really was prepared. I was prepared to finish. That was the goal I set out for, and that would be the goal I would accomplish.
Theme song and all! Stomach is churning with nervousness and excitement for tomorrow’s sprint triathlon! #liztriathlons
Check In: I checked in at Everyday Athlete in Kirkland. The place was buzzing with triathletes picking up their pack. Number 88 – an even number… lucky? I’ll take it. Picked up my bright green race shirt that already said “finisher” across it. Either a) I’ve got to actually come through and finish or b) I just call it good – I mean after all I do have a shirt that says “finisher” on it.
Prepping My Gear: I had done a ton of research about how to pack my race day bag and what needed to go in it. I gathered everything I needed together into 2 piles – one for the start, and the other for transitions. I loaded everything into the car the night before.
- Swim Cap
- Spandex Shorts
Transition (all packed into a 5 gallon bucket)
- Water Bottle (2)
- Running Shoes
- Bike Shirt
- Energy Gels
- Race belt and number
Bedtime: 10:00pm with a 4:00am wake up. I sleepily crawled out of bed and dressed in my swimsuit and spandex. I slipped sweatpants and a sweatshirt on and headed to the kitchen for my pre-tri breakfast. One egg, a slice of toast, and a banana. My husband, puppy, and I continued to yawn our way to the car to head to the race.
Transition Opens: Shaking more from nerves than the cold, my husband helped me pull my Target Schwinn bike out of our stylish Buick. I already looked a little out-of-place as others easily took their light, expensive race bikes off the back of their crossover SUVs. Tim helped me carry stuff over to the transition area. I stripped off my sweatshirt so the lady could write “88” on my left arm then pulled up my sweatpants leg so she could write “88” on my left calf. This made it so real! No turning back now!
Shoot, I’m in the transition area. Now what? I had read about how to set my bike up, but I scanned around me seeing how others were setup. It was pitch black and their were a few parking lot lights that lit up the area. Some wandered around setting up their gear with a head lamp – EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT THEIR DOING BUT ME! Ok, probably not true. But it felt like it.
I made my way to the 4th row on the right side. An even number, I’ll remember that one running out of the water. Racked my bike, and laid out my towel with everything I would need on top. Turned my bucket upside down so I’d have a place to sit if I really struggled to get the wetsuit off. It was only 5:15. Time passed quickly. My race buddy, Carlee showed up shortly after I was setup. She setup her items and we made our way to the bathroom to pee one more time before pulling on our wetsuits.
Transition Closes: They announced over the loudspeaker that in 15 minutes we’d all need to head down to the beach. The nerves that had slightly calmed were back. Carlee and I wandered down to the beach where we joked about how awful we were going to do compared to others – I think this helped calm our nerves down because inside we both knew it was going to be THAT bad. They announced we would be picking our wave. We choose to go in the 3rd wave (out of 6). This would at least give us a little bit of a head start on the last wave so we hopefully wouldn’t come out of the swim dead last. Tim and Carlee’s boyfriend, James, found their way to the beach to hug and cheer us on. Weather was perfect – beautiful sunrise and the air was perfect.
The first wave was called up. Carlee and I watched as they made their way out to the starting point. The horn went off and all the fast swimmers began the race. At that point my fears of swimming with hundreds of people became worse. The first wave looked like a pack of sharks fighting for one piece of meat. Water was splashing everywhere and people seemed so close together!
The 3rd Wave (Swim 1/2 Mile, Time: 21 minutes, 29 seconds): All took quickly, our wave was called. My adrenaline was pumping and stomach twisting with nerves as I made my way into the water, headed to the starting point with everyone else. Carlee and I stayed to the far left, as I had read it was easier to swim on the outsides. The horn went off way to early and we began to swim. About halfway to the first buoy, I began to realize just how hard this was going to be. Their were so many waves and people were tight around me. I was kicked a few times and kicked a few people myself – whoops. Mentally I was freaking out!
I had A LOT of swimming left though – so I closed out everything around me and refocused. “You can do this Liz. Just get to the first buoy. One stroke at a time. Time your breathing. You can do this!” I was back on track, but still exhausted and tired. “First buoy, first buoy.” It felt like 10 minutes to get to the first of the four buoys. I fought back every negative word in my head that told me I couldn’t do this. Howwww would I do this!?!?!
I made it to the first buoy! Suddenly it felt as though I had the entire lake to myself. People spread out – It was just me, the lake, and my monstrous goal. I stopped worrying about everyone else and began setting a pace that was sustainable. I ended up taking my goggles off and keeping my head above water, as I wasn’t used to practice differently than this. Occasionally I would glance up at the lifeguards on paddle boards and wonder what was going through their mind – did I look like I was dying? The water became calm and I was moving steadily. As I closed out the world, I actually found peace and joy in the middle of what I thought was going to be the hardest part. To my surprise, I was REALLY enjoying the swim!
I made it to the point where I could stand back up. Smiling, I waved to Tim in excitement as I clumsily unzipped my wetsuit and rant out of the water on to the beach. I continued running to the transition area.
T1 (4:19): I counted down the rows to my bike as I ran in. I speedily tore off the wetsuit to my ankles. And shoot, I’m stuck. I sat on the ground and struggled to pull the wet suit off my ankles. Should have taken the tracker off my ankle and put it back on after taking the wetsuit off – lesson learned. This really slowed me down! I eventually got it off and I poured my extra water bottle over my feet. Wiped my feet on the towel and quickly slipped on my socks and shoes. Struggled to get my shirt on over my wet swimsuit. Clipped on my race number. Put on my helmet and ran out. Water was already on my bike. My energy gels were taped to my handlebar.
The Bike (14.1 Miles, Time: 1 Hour, 9 Minutes, 19 seconds): I ran my bike out of the transition area, hopped on, and rode out of Juanita Beach park. This was the part I was most confident in – I had practiced and struggled through this route three times before. I was ready. The bike route was steep. 1300ft in elevation gain in 1.5 Miles. Then coming back from that peak elevation within 1 mile. And repeating. I knew when I needed to shift gears though, and that was really helpful. I was so shocked by all of the encouragement and support from those around me! Bikers passed each other saying “Good job, keep it up!” and “You’re doing awesome!” What a community there is in Triathlons! Everyone was doing this together, for themselves. Everyone had their own battle to face in finishing the race, but everyone encouraged each other to conquer that battle. It was so encouraging and one of the things that kept me smiling the entire time.
Coming down the last hill on the way to T2 I was freezing – my swimsuit was still wet underneath. I was pleasantly surprised to see my father-in-law at the bottom of the steep hill cheering me on both times I came by.
T2 (1:05): Before I knew it I was heading back into the bike transition. I got off my bike and realized my legs felt like 1000 lb weights. It was a struggle to lift each foot off the ground as I attempted to run my bike back into the transition area. My legs were burning… I struggled to find a place to put my bike, as someone had put their bike in my place. I found a spot and started running – oh wait, run back, take the helmet off. Woops.
The Run (3.11 Miles, Time: 36 minutes, 20 seconds): I felt as though I was dragging my legs behind me as I began my run. As I ran across the sidewalk along the beach, I realized that their were people sitting and relaxing from having completed the race. What! Ah, not a least bit encouraging…. I realized this would be the hardest part. I ran very slowly through the first quarter-mile when I realized I needed to walk. I walked for 2 minutes, then dragged my weighted legs in a slow run. I was surprised that I was still running – my legs were weighted to the ground and my hip flexors began to ache and burn. I was exhausted. Despite all of this, I still managed to find a smile and cheered with the volunteers along the trail. If they can be excited for me, I can be excited for myself. After all, I was about to complete my first triathlon.
I continued to run until I reached 2 unexpected steep hills that stood between me and the turning point to head back towards the beach. I literally said “Ahhh, crap. REALLY!” out loud. Only seconds later, I heard a woman behind me say “Ah, sh**. Why would they do that to us!” We laughed as we realized we just said nearly the same thing. Both of our running turned into walking and we found ourself laughing and getting mad at the hill, which made the situation feel a little better. It was encouraging to have someone who appeared to have far more experience than me feel the same way I did at that point in the race.
I made it to the turning point. The volunteer said to a group of us “it’s all down hill from here.” We all laughed as a triathlete responded “yeah, easy for you to say.” I ran my way down the hill and ran most of the way back. I stopped two or three times to walk for about 30 seconds. My hip flexors were SOOO stiff!
The Finish Line: I turned back into the parking lot where I could see the inflatable finish line. As I approached the line I was saying to myself “Ohh my goodness I’ve done it! I’ve really done it!” I smile stretched across my face and I seriously fought back a few tears of joy. This was surreal. I couldn’t believe it and I was overwhelmed with joy. I heard the announcer saying the names of the runners ahead of me (what, they do that? cool!) I saw Tim on the sideline cheering me on to the finish and my smile grew bigger. I heard the announcer say my name and before I knew it I was across the line! I ran right through, where my father-in-law congratulated me with a big hug! I went back for my finishers medal. Tim found his way around the corner and gave me a big hug. Oh man, I had done it!
I found two bottles of Chocolate Coconut water and drank them way to quickly. I recapped my experience to Tim and my father-in-law and cheered on Carlee as she came in minutes behind me.
I ached, I smelled, I was hungry – but I was very happy. What a mind-blowing experience. This feeling – that’s why I want to do this again. The feeling of accomplishing something that appeared and felt impossible. I can’t wait to do it again next year!!
I’m Liz Filion – I believe in chasing life outdoors by land & water. I’m a recent transplant to sunny Arizona all the way from the state of Washington. Wherever life takes me, my heart will always be anchored in the evergreens of the pacific northwest. I'm a runner, standup paddleboarder, and avid believer in seeking out adventure.Learn more