I could clearly see my breath as I squatted in the woods in the early morning darkness. This was the second stop and Pamela my wife was beyond embarrassed. “Hey, better here than in the car!” I quipped. I was alone in my laughter. Either to myself or at myself, I’m not totally sure which. Even the crickets were quiet at this hour. We had gotten up early and were on our way to my first triathlon.
I had on a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. The race was about to start. I was looking into the clear water beneath the small bridge and rubbing the chill bumps on my arm. It was cold. There are places in the world where wearing a small red and black speedo with a white racing strip could be considered normal but it’s not for a boy raised in the the sticks of Alabama. Patiently I waited for the other participants to don there 21st century spandex loin cloths. Any minute now I was sure that everyone of the 300 participants would transform like Superman in a phone booth and set me at ease with the slender attire I had been duped into wearing. That moment would never come. I waited until the announcer finally gave the 5 minute call and came to grips with two things. 1) I couldn’t afford the extra drag from those long shorts I wore to cover my business and 2) Brian, that captain that told me to wear a speedo, is out there somewhere still laughing at how well he delivered that line to me. “Everybody wears a speedo.”
I never got the chance to confront him about that $10 worth of shame I was wearing. In reality, I should probably thank him for the story. The first time you do anything, it feels strange. When I finally got the courage to drop the shorts and get into full blush mode, I had completely forgotten the nerves of the actual race and had a smile as big as a barn. “What the heck was I doing here!” Into the crowd I marched.
The Race Begins
I made some small talk with a few others about the race and our training. Those with white swim caps got the green light and disappeared into the cold lake in a flurry of splashes and excitement. Then, those with the blue caps. I was in the third wave and all 30 of our heads now covered with bright green, elastic swim caps moved into the water. The ice cold liquid rose up my legs and took my breath. The crowd grew quieter. All attention was focused on the man with the microphone. Boom! The starting buzzer sounded! In the moment we changed into torpedoes and fired ourselves into the churning abyss. Looking back my plan for pacing myself was quickly lost in the race-day magic. The phenomenon where you can almost always perform faster and longer when surrounded by other endurance athletes. On the last 100 feet of that swim, I must have looked like I was drowning… partly because racers from later heats were passing me like I was anchored to the bottom, and partly because I was drowning. If it hadn’t been for the super low-drag of my all-revealing wonder drawers, I might have had a much different story.
When I finished with the swim it had taken hours (ok, really about 10-15 minutes) I skipped putting the shorts back on because I knew I needed to make up some time. I felt good on the bike. I had never ridden with such a lack of separation between my flesh and the road. I was definitely taking advantage of nature’s air conditioning.
It took about 40 minutes to bike the 12 mile course. I dropped the bike and took off on the 5K run with a lack of conscience for anything but air. There was one moment I begin to feel like I was speeding along. You know, really getting into the groove and covering some ground. I had just topped a small hill on the road and the sunrise burst through the trees and splattered all over me and the ground around me. I was feeling strong and proud for being there and taking the risk. Exactly two seconds after that “moment of elation” a young boy of about 12 years old came springing by me like he had just begun. He was smiling, breathing easily, and move like a gazelle. He was literally bounding down the road in a heightened state of jubilation almost as if he had just found his golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. He did, however, find the time to turn and ask, “Hey, are you ok? A nod was all I could afford him. I was forced to accept that my legs were uncooperative concrete pylons and I would have to drag them the rest of the way. I looked to my right and a snail that had been pacing me began to actually pull away. I had to turn up the heat.
The Magic Socks
Easing into mile three I saw someone walking and made up my mind to pass them. It took a few minutes to catch up and of course I sped up slightly as I passed her to regain some of the pride that the 12 year old boy had taken from me. As I juked out of the trail for the split second required to successfully increase my standings, the woman I was passing burst out into laughter. “Nice socks!” She yelled. I looked down only to remember that I was indeed traversing the course shamelessly with only 6 square inches of a spandex windbreaker. No time for pride here lady, I thought to myself. I’m a race car in the red!
I may have been in the red in my mind but on the scoreboard I ran the course in neutral leaning toward comatose. I had a long way to go before I would ever consider myself fast.
The race was a happy time. I showed up unsure of the whole operation and completely out of my comfort zone. I made some friends, conquered some fears, and came away with a love for speedos. I don’t remember my exact time but it was close to 1 hour and 25 minutes for the course. Overall it was a success. I went on to run that triathlon again the next year in none other than my $10 worth of shame. It became my thing and I owned it. In the beginning of this story I mentioned the iconic conversation that started this speedo shenanigan. We were in an airplane descending into St Louis, Missouri. I suppose it’s pretty fitting that they also call it the “show me state.”
There are so many things in life that seem so difficult, uncomfortable, or scary from a distance. We all have fear. We all have things in life that we want that seem out of reach to us and our skill set. Many time those barriers are in our heads, actually, most times. As humans we prefer comfort but we crave excitement. We like routine but we need the thrill of something new to feel alive. If you have ever thought about signing up for a triathlon, make 2015 your year.
Here’s 3 reasons why you should sign up despite your fear of the unknown.
1) One day you will be too old.
2) The other people there are not all pros, actually many are first timers trying to make a good story.
3) In 100 years every embarrassment we have here in front of our fellow creatures will be lost forever in time. Meaningless to you and them. Live your legend now.
So what’s next? I’ve made it super easy for you.
Don’t put it off another year. Find a race, sign-up, and get started making it happen.
Thanks for being here!