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October 01 2012 / Emily

Race Report: Belews Lake Sprint Triathlon… and some Perspective

A few weeks ago, two friends and I formed a team in order to race the Belews Lake Sprint Triathlon. We had a lovely time and did rather well for ourselves, winning the (small… *cough*only two teams*cough*) female relay division for which we each received a custom triathlon towel. But that was not the real reward I took away from that day. I earned more than a little perspective. And this is much needed perspective for me at the moment, so I am finally taking the time to blog about it.

For most of the athletes (and my team’s swimmer, Lauren) the swim waves started at 8:00am. But there were a few participants who began about 10 minutes earlier. I expected they were the elites, given a premier start time to keep the riff-raff out of their way. After all, triathlon swims seem to get rather crowded. However, as time passed I looked out at these swimmers’ caps bobbing around and thought they seemed to be moving rather slowly for elites. And it looked like each one had a boat just nearby. Then I wondered why they would need individual assistance, for if they were that challenged at swimming, perhaps the triathlon wasn’t the right choice for them. The first waves of “normal” swimmers started before long, and these early swimmers were catching up to the folks with boats. But as they approached the shore, I suddenly realized they were TOWING the boats. Each swimmer had a harness and was pulling along inflatable rafts or kayaks. It was then I saw there was a special needs child inside each boat. Incredible.

I want to take a moment to apologize if my use of the phrase “special needs” is at all offensive. These kids were physically challenged and it seemed perhaps mentally challenged as well. I want to be sensitive but am not completely familiar with the vernacular.

As these folks reached the shore the full impact of what they were doing really hit home. My eyes may have teared up a little – amazing how it can get so “dusty” outside like that! Some additional supporters helped move the rafts out of the water and pick up the child, who was carried up a hill into the transition area where all the athletes were switching to the bike portion. I learned later they were competing in the Assisted Athlete division, so I’ll use that term now. Each assisted athlete was then moved into a wheeled sort of trailer seat hooked to the bicycle and off they went again, being towed behind the bike.

I didn’t see that part happening as I was watching Lauren through her 750 meter swim. There were a variety of different color swim caps and I tried to keep an eye on her pink one moving through the water. Soon it was time for our team cyclist Dana to head into the transition area to prepare for her turn. Lauren’s family and a friend were out spectating and we all cheered Lauren on as she exited the lake and moved up the hill into the transition area, where she and Dana exchanged the timing chip on the velcro strap. I ran up that way myself to see Dana exit the transition zone and head up a steep hill onto the bike course. This was the longest leg of the race at 14.5 miles, so I had time to cheer her on and mingle with Lauren as she caught her breath from her great swim leg.

Before long, it was my turn to go into the transition zone to wait at our team spot for Dana to arrive so I could begin my 5k run. While I was in there, a couple of the assisted athletes came through, having finished the bike leg. The kids looked like they were having so much fun. A couple of them had signs on the windows of their trailers with their names on it, so I could cheer them on by name. Next, they switched over to jogging strollers to finish the final leg of the triathlon.

Soon, Dana appeared over the hill and it was my turn to go! We exchanged the timing chip band which I strapped around my ankle before speeding out of the transition zone. There was a U-turn to make and of course that same stretch of hill all the athletes have been dealing with. I pushed up the hill in the very narrow runner lane on the course. It’s a two-lane road into the lake area, and only one lane was dedicated to the triathlon, but that lane needed to house two way bike AND two way run traffic. It was a bit too narrow. True, most athletes are rather spread out by then but it was still uncomfortable at times.

It’s not too often you start a race essentially alone. There were a few other people about, but most races have a pack at the beginning, a crowd, like it or not. But the tri has plenty of people all in their different stages of the event. Most participants were doing the full triathlon individually. I’ll admit it felt rather embarrassing to have someone who has already swam 750 meters and biked 14.5 miles to briskly pass you during a 5k where you should have the freshest legs of all. Then again, I also felt guilty passing other runners. Really wanted to be sure they saw the big “R” in marker on my calf to prove that I was a relay participant!

Ahead, the bike course continued straight while the run course took a left turn into a neighborhood. I should mention that waiting at that turn was a big truck full of pizza. It was headed to the finish line for the participants and my goodness it smelled delicious. It was almost torturous to smell all that pizza and know I still had 20 minutes of running ahead of me. Okay, yes, I can wait 20 minutes for pizza, but I was hungry. I hadn’t adequately prepared for or really thought about how much waiting around there would be before my leg of the tri. Instead, I’d eaten the kind of breakfast I would eat before a 5k… but before a 5k in 2 hours, not in 4 hours. No big deal though. It had gotten a bit warmer than I’d expected but I was in a singlet and shorts so all was good in the wardrobe department. As I ran through a neighborhood, I saw one of the assisted athletes push by and gave a big cheer for them! Amazing to think the “assistant” was doing all this while pulling/pushing another person.

The course was out and back, so we turned around and I knew that pizza was around the corner! I pushed it hard through the finish and celebrated with my teammates. What fun we had!  Our combined time was 1:30:33.

But really, like I wrote earlier, the real benefit of the day was perspective. I had been aiming for a 5k PR that day, really thought I was trained up for it, but I didn’t get there.  My current 5k PR is 24:10 and I finished in 24:32. Disappointed? Sure. But what I’m really trying to focus on is those assisted athletes and their support teams.

The joy on the faces of those children was infectious. Seeing their family and friends surrounding them, loving them and supporting them was heart-warming. And hearing the cheers and waves of all the spectators and participants (especially the participants, because sometimes there really just isn’t much energy left) was so special. What an accomplishment!

And for me… what a dose of reality. I wrote in a post last week that I was trying to be positive and think of how lucky I am to be active and healthy and strong. Well that isn’t easy for me. I had a non-existent week of training and am feeling like the biggest lump on a log.

 I’ll never be fast enough; I’ll never get better; I started running to try and lose weight and get fast but I’m doing neither; I’ll never get thin enough; my thighs will always jiggle; even my non-active friends have better legs than I ever can; running makes me unhappy but so does not running; I wish I could stop running forever; it’s doing nothing for me; I’ll probably DNF (did not finish) this marathon; it definitely won’t be a new best; I still have a whole month of stupid pointless training left; running is my only identity so I can’t even stop if I want to. I’m boring enough, where would I be without something like running marathons to sound impressive with? I mean, that is why I do marathons because people are impressed by the distance. But they aren’t even impressed anymore, so next I’ll need to do 50ks and 50 milers and then more and more.

Bitch bitch bitch. I don’t even appreciate my health and my friends and the capabilities I do have. So I will try again to take my reality check from the Belews Lake Triathlon. I am lucky. There are people out there who are happy and strong despite their challenges and here I am almost crying over my inability to get close to 4 hours in a marathon or find a date or save enough money to buy a house. Instead of thinking of the things I don’t have, getting upset and adding to the list, I need to continue focusing on the positive. Take some lessons from the assisted athletes of the world. With a good support team you can make it through, but you have to want to. Embrace being alive, and crossing that finish line however you have to, however you can.


One Comment

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  1. hinsone / Oct 2 2012 6:44 AM

    There are benefits of setting goals, even if you don’t reach them. It drives you and gives you something to shoot for. Although, I feel confident you’ll get that 5K PR. You got very close, and maybe the narrow crowded course attributed to some of that. Congratulations on your great finish, and what an inspiring story about the assisted athletes, that is so awesome. I’m guessing the kids get the t shirts and finishers medals and the guys and gals who pushed and pulled them to victory don’t take any of the “credit” which of course makes them heroes.

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