“Float, cruise, stroll.” That’s what my boyfriend, Jackson, told me as we walked to dinner in Eureka Springs the night before my first triathlon. August had come so fast and I didn’t feel like I put in all the training that I needed. Nerves were starting to creep in now that I was less than 24 hours out. Jackson was trying to make me feel better. It’s not that hard, not really.
I signed up for a 300 yard swim, 6.5 mile ride, 2 mile run. It’s called a "super sprint." I picked it because it’s the shortest race distance I could find in the area around the time I was looking to do my tri.
Back in January I took a trip over to Jonesboro to get fitted for a bike at the Gearhead Cycle House. I worked at the Springfield location at the time and it was worth a trip to visit the place I trusted most to set me up with a bike. I didn’t (and still don’t) know much about bikes, how they’re made, or how to care for them. I didn’t know what I was looking for in a bike or what I needed to go with it. I warned the bike shop guys that I was coming.
When I got there, they showed me two different bikes and explained what I was looking for. I hopped on a Specialized Allez Sprint and test rode it in the shop– a surprise ice that morning kept me from trying it on the road. We talked about price differences, weight, sizing and fit. I nodded my head through most of it. They made it simple and easy to understand, but still, I didn’t know how to make the right decision. I looked at my outfitters and said, “Look, I don’t know what I need. I trust you guys. Is this the best bike for what I want to do?”
They said yes. The ice melted that afternoon and I was able to take my brand new bike for a spin around the neighborhood. I was in love.
A surprisingly cold winter put a hold on my plans but I finally started training in March.
I rode once or twice a week for those first couple of months. I swam once a week, if that. My first few times in the pool, I didn’t have any goggles so I swam with my head above water to see where I was going.
In June, I finally made the switch to clipping in on my bike. My first time out on the road using them, I came to several successful stops before pulling up to a stop sign, unclipping my left foot, and then leaning right on instinct. Thunk. I hit the pavement on my right side and scrambled out from under my bike. A car pulled up and asked if I was okay. “Yeah, just learning to use my new clips.” I laughed, embarrassed.
I knew that out on my bike and in the water I must have screamed amateur. While on a ride with Jackson and my brother, my legs screamed going up hills and I rode the brakes all the way down them. I fell over again as we tried to turn around and head back. I unclipped right, leaned left. I scraped my knee pretty bad on that one.
It was around that time I started wondering if I should re-think my triathlon goals. A year ago, I just came out of my collegiate running career and back in December, I ran my first marathon. A triathlon seemed like the perfect next step. But a tri requires balancing your time and energy between three different sports and I had only ever poured myself into running.
Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for the world of three sports, back to back. But I’d already bought the bike, the tri suit, the accessories, and my race entry. And I’m no quitter.
I kept training.
I went down to Little Rock to help out at one of the Gearhead stores for a few weeks and since my dad lives in the area, I had him go to the pool with me one morning and coach me through a workout. My dad was a swimmer, a dang good one, and I knew he’d have some advice to improve my training. And he did. “You need conditioning,” he said. “You swim fine, but it’s just like running. Push yourself past what’s comfortable. It’ll get easier.” He chuckled to see me huff and puff at the end of a single lap.
I started swimming farther. Longer reps. More reps. Swimming got easier.
Riding was still a struggle. I felt less guilty about skipping rides than I did runs, so I skipped rides frequently to sleep in. I felt nervous on the road with cars whizzing by, so I rode on the greenways in Springfield and had to maneuver walkers, runners, and tight curves. All of this slowed me down and turned training rides into casual ones.
After moving to Tulsa, with longer greenways easily accessible, my rides became longer and more frequent. I thought out each stop, unclipping first and pressing up on the opposite foot to dismount cleanly. One morning I set up camp in the driveway and ran out a mile. I returned and switched into my cycling shoes. I took the bike out for a mile and came back to switch my to running shoes. I did five reps, feeling like the transition was no problem.
Some days, I got up to swim at 5AM. I did what I could and panted in-between laps until I felt like I could go again. I’d come home after my morning swims and go run.
Most days, I cut my workout short or skipped it altogether. I was tired from moving to a new city and working lots of hours to get a new store going. I’d turn off my alarm and go back to sleep. I’d say “I’ll go tonight.” Then I wouldn’t.
I squeezed in some long runs. The marathon is still high on my priority list. I got in a few longer rides. The most I had swam without a break: 300 yards. I still hadn’t swam in open water.
Race day got closer.
On August 9th, we loaded up the car and headed to Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
Arriving at the course Friday afternoon, I heard mumblings of the steep, hilly course and the nerves settled in. I stood knee deep in the water and stared out at the blue sky full with fluffy white clouds. A few thoughts buzzed through my head in those moments: “Why do this? Why race? Why swim, bike, run?”
I turned around, searching the crowd for my crew. My daddy stood holding my camera, his voice cutting through the rest of the bustle, “GO LINDSEY BETH!” Jackson and our dog Kona stood down the shore, smiling at me. My aunt, who had surprised me just before the race, was up on the hill.
I had that feeling again– a feeling I had back in December before running my first marathon and a feeling I used to get before every race in college. I can’t stop training and competing– I’m addicted to this feeling. It’s not the middle-of-the-race pain I’m hooked on; that hurts. I don’t need a trophy; those just collect dust. I don’t even need athletics to stay healthy; you can train and never race.
What I want, what I crave, is that tension just before I start a race. There are questions lingering in the air: How will I do? Will I finish? What will be the hardest part? Will I meet my goal? Did I train enough?
I turn back towards the water, and as the horn goes off to start the race the questions are gone in an instant because there’s only one answer: Might as well TRI.