🥵 Letter 136: I am a Triathlete
Pre, post and during my first triathlon reflections
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Aloha fellow learn-it-all 👋
Greetings from Diamond Head, Hawai'i 🌺
It’s been a pretty mellow week for me. Taking it easy with my foot off the gas a bit. I’ve been getting back into yoga. Just to take another leap out of my zone of familiarity, I signed up for my first balancing upside-down class. I also started a fresh journal — what a glorious feeling.
Last night, I went to a white elephant gift exchange gathering. Christmas is nearly here! I’d love to know your favorite songs to get into the spirit.
As promised in last week’s letter, this is a reflection on my triathlon.
Now, let’s buzz into letter 136 from a learn-it-all. Enjoy!
❓ Question to think about
What’s it like to be in a triathlon?
The sun wasn’t even awake yet. Butterflies were hectically swirling in my tummy. The stress could not be suppressed. I nervously befriended a woman who lost track of how many triathlons she’d done. She was in line for the two port-a-potties behind me.
My first lesson for the Turtle Bay Turkey Triathlon: don’t eat half a Papa John’s pizza the night before or else you’ll hold up the line even longer.
As I walked away from the transition area, barefoot over pebbles, with a herd of over 100 plus fit athletes from all walks of life, heading towards the ocean with my cap and goggles in hand, I couldn’t help but wonder: “what the heck am I doing here?!”
Why the hell did I pay $170 to do this? How is this my reality on the Saturday after Thanksgiving?
I couldn't chicken out. My friend had already driven me there, and we played Noah Kahan’s whole new album on the way over. Carter Anne, my partner in crime, was horrified by the ocean and even she was doing this race next to me. I looked down at the intense-looking tri-suit that I impulsively paid $50 for as a placebo of fastness versus a practice suit. I looked the part as a triathlete, but I felt like an imposter.
I was in too deep to back out.
I watched the “youths” take off — flailing their arms and splashing their legs like energetic sea dragons.
Then the men took off. Man oh man, I was glad not to be in that heat. Most of them looked like they got paid to work out daily in the military.
The women were up next. I visualized myself back in my seven-year-old self before swim meets, where Coach Michalik prepped me to jump in the pool. I started doing some deep breathing exercises to help blow out the butterflies: six seconds in. Hold for four. Exhale for eight.
Ankle deep in the bay, I befriended another woman for advice. She’d done one before. Her tip: “just have fun.”
Huzzah! That was my original intention. I set it the day I signed up, but I forgot about it until that very moment. Fear is a pro at hijacking my brain, making me forget things like that.
Before the event started I was tempted to go to the edge of the line where there were fewer people, but I knew I’d risk getting swept up by the current if I strayed away from the group. Best to stay in the middle of the gang, and alongside Carter Anne. She thought we’d be less likely to be eaten by a shark that way, too.
The MC man with the megaphone started counting down. We had 30 seconds. I nervously was defogging my goggles. I strapped them tight on my head. Then we had 10 seconds. Ready. Set. Go!
The horn went off and I swan dove into the water. White splashes everywhere. Screw the “every 5 strokes and breathe” technique I had practiced over the past two months. I was practically doing a Tarzan drill — freestyle with my head above water — to pass some slow pokes. Before I knew it, I was already rounding the yellow mark and making my way back to the beach. No way. I was just getting warmed up, and starting to have fun! I started pulling my arms even harder with each stroke, and bending my knees to kick in even smaller faster strides. As I swam into shore, I noticed there were only a few women ahead of me. Swimming is fun! And I can do this!
I emerged from the water and jogged over to the transition area. In the blink of an eye, I whipped off my cap, put on my helmet, slipped dry socks over my soggy feet, velcroed my shoes on and took off with my road bike (borrowed from my friend Scott).
During triathlons, participants are not allowed to start biking until meeting the road terrain. The transition felt longer than I imagined. I was so full of adrenaline that I didn’t even consider that I didn’t know how to run while pulling a bike next to me, and nearly rolled my ankle on a stone. I passed two guys. I hadn’t felt this competitive since the Turkey Trot I (drunkenly) ran with my siblings two Thanksgivings ago.
Finally, after what seemed like an infinity of awkwardly jogging in clunky shoes, bike in tow, I got to the road and mounted it. Only 20 kilometers to go. I couldn’t get my shoes clipped into the pedals until a third of the way into the ride. But I didn’t care. I was thriving. While on the shoulder of the road, cars were passing me, but there weren’t any pot holes. It was actually buttery smooth terrain. I threw up a shaka to the police officers, who made me feel safer and less likely to get hit by a car (like I had three weeks prior). I was “making wind”. I felt like I was zooming by like that 1985 inspiring movie “The American Flyers”. I averaged about 16 miles per hour while practicing, but my watch said I was going 20 now. I wasn’t backing down. It felt fun to go fast — and I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt like I was in a video game, passing fellow players one by one.
Once at the halfway point, I needed to do a U-turn. I nearly wiped out, since I didn’t lean appropriately and my shoes were tightly clipped in. But I didn’t wipe out, despite going off the road, and was so grateful. I smiled and waved at Carter Anne as I biked by her on the way back. She survived the swim. Heck ya!
As the biking portion came to a close, I saw number three in front of me, taking a water break while coasting on her bike. Maybe she was preparing for the run? I didn’t want to slow down. I didn’t want it to end. Again, I was just warming up. I was racing against my Garmin watch, seeing how fast I could go. I clocked in at 23 miles per hour.
I dismounted my bike and started jogging with it into the transition area. I changed into my Brooks running shoes, the best shoe IMO, and was off like a mad hatter. I usually suck at pacing while running. But I was already two-thirds done, so I didn’t care.
Whatever gas I had left in the tank, I was going to give it all — I was gunning it full throttle. I pranced my way past the horse stables into the woods and winded back around near the ocean. A part of the terrain was sand. I didn’t train for that! No wonder my cadence ended up being its highest yet, at 163 strides per minute at the end. When I had a half mile left and saw my watch was at 25 minutes, I started moving my feet even faster. I wanted to see if I could get a PR (personal record) and break a 34-minute 5K. I could feel my spleen squeeze in the right side of my gut as it squirted out whatever reserves it had left.
When I crossed the finish line, I couldn’t believe how fast it all flew by. It’s incredible what our bodies are capable of. The endorphins were overflowing. I was high on life. Accomplishment. That’s how I felt. I gobbled up a banana as soon as I could get my hands on one. Now I know why races like this exist.
‘Tis the season of gratitude and I feel like the wealthiest gal in the world given how healthy I am. The best is yet to come. And I cannot wait to do my next one!
So how the heck did I get here in the first place?
It started with a resolution I wrote down in 2020. I later added it to my bucket list, after doing a “fake” triathlon for fun.
I loved it and wanted to try it out competitively.
Three years ago I added becoming a triathlete to my bucket list. And now I did the damn thing. And it was one helluva fun time! I cannot wait to do my next one.
I am a triathlete!
🎥 Recording Pre-Triathlon Reflections
If you want to hear about all my goofy nerves before the race the night before, you can watch that 10 minute video here:
🎥 Recording Post-Triathlon Lessons & Surprises
If you want to hear some reflections on six lessons and three surprises two weeks after the race, you can watch that 10 minute video here:
Lean on three different friends. The accountability bud, the physical race day cheerleader and the ‘pro’ whose done one before to answer questions.
See it as an experience, not a race. The bar gets lower and there less pressure. You need a baseline, so just shoot for finishing.
Borrow gear. It minimizes the investment you feel you are making. I ended up spending $420 for this experiment. It’s not cheap.
Be flexible with your training. Have a mentality to show up almost every day to something to make you feel more fit. Someday it could be walking, yoga or swimming. Don’t forget about your weakest link though.
Create the worst case scenario. Mine was that I would just walk. If I was too exhausted, and did that I would still be successful in my head.
Have FUN. Everyone at races has game faces and different intentions. I wanted to have enough joy to do another one.
Folks from all walks of life. Young, old, tall, and short. We were all there to celebrate our fitness and that was special.
I am a sprinter. I smashed the story to smithereens that I forgot how to go fast.
Keep an open mind. Because I am not forcing any of this and choosing to sign up, I feel empowered to choose to do another one.
🔎 Word to define
Triathlon: an athletic contest consisting of three different events, typically swimming, cycling, and long-distance running.
Etymology: 1970, from tri- "three" + Greek athlon "contest" formed on the model of decathlon, biathlon, etc.
Originally of various combinations of events; one of the earliest so-called combined clay-pigeon shooting, fly-fishing, and horse-jumping; another was cross-country skiing, target shooting, and a giant slalom run; and a third connected to the U.S. Army involved shooting, swimming, and running.
Applied to the combination of a long swim, a bicycle race, and a marathon by 1981.
🌟 Quote to inspire
"Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory." - Dr. Seuss
📷 Photo of the Week
Yesterday I went to the DMV (department of motor vehicles) to get a new license since I got my wallet lost and stolen at a gas station last week. I ended up having to take a vision test and a written test.
I immediately went into a panic while taking that written exam. The last time I took a written exam like that was when I applied to the financial analyst for Heineken.
It went like this: I’d read the question, immediately think of the best answer but then play mind games looking at all the options and whether they were trying to trick me. I don’t miss test taking.
A super special shoutout to my partner in crime Carter Anne for the accountability and for making this so much fun to train for! What a memorable experience. It’s definitely going down in the books.
To all the moral triathlon support from Mitch, Dan, John, my mom and dad, Emily, Scott, Jenna, Sara, Rebecca, and the bike store guy whose name I forgot. It wouldn’t have been the same without you all supporting me.
To Steven Foster for connecting with me this week and his feedback on the writing and video content in this week’s edition. Also for inspiring this tweet.
To Nate Kadlac for leading Approachable Design cohort 9 last weekend. I designed this cool mood board and became much more comfortable using Figma
To Alexandra Allen for launching her new course on building scalable cohort-based courses.
I appreciate you reading this!
If ideas resonated, I’d love you to leave a comment, reply to this email, or send me a message on Twitter @JenVermet.
Never stop learning 😁
PS - in case you missed last week’s Letter 135: Surprises, Spaciousness & Letting Ships out of the Harbor
If you’re reading this because someone shared this newsletter with you, welcome! I’d love it if you subscribed:
On meetups with Internet friends from WOP:
On craving more balance between my brain and body:
On catching the sunrise at the DMV.
On my love for voice notes.
On training your mindset to find joy in hand-washing dishes.
On doing things that you love, like swimming for me.
On getting my temp ID.
Congrats on the triathlon. What an achievement!
Jen, as a fellow triathlete, I loved and related to this chronicle of your feat. Well done! Looks like you'll compete in an IM race before we know it. :)