Three years ago, I chose the impossible. I did my first triathlon.
It still amazes me that I ever thought the idea of combining swimming, cycling and running was a remotely good idea, let alone a good sport for this aging human.
I still have that first hard-won medal, hanging by itself, but surrounded by many more achieved since then, none without hard work, all of them appreciated. The trophy wall has expanded to three walls and part of the floor (I’m looking for an antique corner table so the trophies on the floor will no longer rest there). I start Triathlon Competition Year Number Four tomorrow with a triathlon, of course. A tough one (it involves a bridge crossing during the bike portion), but it’s a good way to celebrate both a milestone in competition and a milestone birthday. I have begun my seventh decade on the planet.
At a time when many of my contemporaries prefer the comfort of the couch and computer, I look for stairs and seek new ways to wake up sore in the mornings. Bottles of OTC pain relieving-pills and a variety of ointments, salves, rolls and gels are now a common presence in my life, rather than an occasional visitor. I need a training day off now and then, something I once considered only in times of illness or excruciating pain. My workout gear still takes up more closet space than regular clothing, and my bike lives on an indoor cycling stand so I can ride it on rainy days. I’ve been packed for this weekend’s event for almost a week, so ready-set-go has conquered nerves and anxiety. I still use a gear list, but by now I can place everything in my transition bag the same way, in the same place, every time. If only I could re-pack the bag after the race as neatly as I pack it before the race.
I enjoy the competitive community; we temporarily stop being friends at the sound of the starting gun, yet we are there for each other if something goes wrong out there. We never let an injured athlete sit alone and hurting on the course. Show up in transition with a broken shoelace or bent spoke, someone in the crowd can fix it. You need extra water, ice, sunblock, bug spray or a protein bar? The guy or gal in your rack row is sure to have some. TP run out in your porta-potty? Open the door and ask; another competitor will get you some. It’s gratifying to see a lot of kindness out there in a world where bullying seems to be a government institution and the widespread callous treatment of minorities is expected and accepted. Triathlons, swim meets and competitive running events have neither race nor ethnic requirements, and remarkably few physical requirements; you only need to bring your best effort.