This summer, on a nice August evening, Lara invited me to The Res (Boulder Reservoir) to come cheer for a couple of her colleagues who were doing an impromptu, small triathlon. The great thing about Boulder, especially in the summer, is the constant array of activities available, all within close range. I hopped on my cruiser bike and pedaled the 2-miles to The Res to join her. While chatting, someone was talking about the upcoming late September 24-hour triathlon and my ears perked up. As I eavesdropped on the details of this thing, the wheels began to spin in my head.
As soon as the group walked away, I launched into what I would later painfully regret. :)
CS: Hey Cooper (my continued nickname for her), we should do that!
CS: That 24-hour triathlon those people were talking about.
LE: Really? That’s crazy.
CS: I know. It totally is. Let’s not.
Le: NO! Let’s do it!!!!!
(What I have gone on to learn about this woman is she is truly fearless, and probably among the toughest people I have ever met.)
What have I gotten myself into??? I hadn’t been doing any sort of training for months. A swim or run here or there, but nothing consistent. But I wanted to finish out my abysmal 2009 year with SOMETHING different and something I would be proud of. This certainly was different. I had never done anything like this before, but how hard could it be? I was an athlete!
Only someone this naïve could truly be so STUPID. :)
Cooper and I launched into planning mode. We searched for 2 other partners, but hoped to get 1. A 4-person team would be ideal, but we could handle 3. Naturally, we went to our beloved JZ first and tried to coerce her into getting on board.
CS: C’mon! Do this with us.
JZ: Um, hell no.
CS: Shut up. It will be FUN! Just do it for fun!!
JZ: There is nothing about that idea that sounds even remotely fun.
*Laugh* How can you not completely love this woman! She is nothing if not direct.
Lara chimed in to remind me that there is really nothing that JZ does “for fun”. It’s competition or it’s nothing.
Lara then contacts her friend Amber Rydholm. Amber had just done Ironman Canada but was up for something “fun”. (I think we are all total nutcases as to what we think is fun!) Little did I know this chick would be our fastest player (she would go on to post the fastest bike and run splits for our group! Stud!). We decided we would do this thing as a gritty, 3-person all-female team and as Lara said, “Our goal is to have some fun and beat some boys!”
Why would we need race support?? “Oh, you will!”, Eric insisted. “You’ll need someone with a level head to help keep you guys organized as the night goes on. You’ll need me to be sure everyone is ready for their shift, has eaten, can go get something if you need it, etc.”
I gulped heavily as I realized the scope of this thing was bigger than I had realized. I couldn’t imagine WHY Eric would ever offer to do something like this for us but we all voiced our continued gratitude. I am telling you, my friends all have the GREATEST husbands! Truly.
(I can’t begin to convey how important he, in fact, TRULY was!! I had no clue!! Eric was a GODSEND!)
The rules of 24-hour triathlon are such that you must complete equal portions of swim-bike-run over the 24-hour period. The teams with the most completed tri’s are the winners.
Swim: 500 yards
Bike: 12 miles
Run: 3 miles
Meaning, if you did 19 swim portions but only 16 bikes and 15 runs, your total would only count as 15 completed triathlons and essentially your extra swims and bike would not count. So, planning was imperative to make the most out of the time and keep the total count even at the end.
You could do things in any combination you wished, but there would be no swimming after dark (liability). All swimming needed to be completed by 6:45pm and could resume at 6:45am. Our group decided to front load the swims – we would do approximately 12 swims and then we’d start bringing in the bike and run portions to catch up.
There were about 90 teams doing this thing – all different categories of gender and number of team members. There were 20 teams of 3-people. We’d be racing against some all male teams with some mixed with male-female. We were not intimidated by this, however, and were poised to bring down who we could… all in the name of fun, of course! : )
At 9am the event officially began with about 90 people at the swim start. We rotated through swim loops until about 11am or so and then Eric instructed us to start biking.
Here is me amid some swim loops and then Cooper on one of her loops.
By the time you finished your loop and wandered back to the tent area and calmed down your reignited adrenaline, you had about 40:00 until your next shift. It really was impossible to get any sleep like this, but we all relaxed as much as we could. The same was true with the running. Eric organized us each to run 2x 3-mile loops, in essence giving each team member an approximate 1:40 break. Again, you’d try to rest, but there was always music blaring from other team sections or people being rowdy. Plus, you’d meet people and strike up conversations. There really wasn’t a lot of time to be sedate.
We were doing pretty well, but after much of the day our energy began to wane a bit. At one point when Amber was doing her run shift I remember looking at the official clock and saying to Lara, “Oh, wow. It’s already 10:00pm. We’re doing ok.” Lara looked at me to say, “That’s 10 hours, dear.” Ugggggggggggggggggggg. It was only 7:00pm. I was struck by the reality that we weren’t even halfway done. Later I’d get an occasional text from JZ, “how’s it going?” and could only respond in jest, “I’m in hell!” Part of me wasn’t kidding.
We would go on to learn that planning was of the essence. Teams from previous years (they came back again???) had it dialed in – when they would swim, bike or run. We planned it as strategically as possible but still learned a million things we could have done better from watching the other teams. Still, we were doing alright. : )
One of the highlights was the arrival of our friends, Jon Robichaud and Pamela Robbins, at about 9:30pm. They came to support us, bringing us food and renewed energy. They ended up staying through the night to help us, too. What great friends they are!
That beer was for Jon, not the athletes! : )
Pamela kindly rubbed by aching back in between my bike shifts.
Every once in a while you'd see a white light bobbing in the distance that slowly would make its way towards you in the darkness of the night. There were no other lights out but headlights, it was pitch black. You wouldn't see an actual person until they were right on you, but you both would always exchange an exhausted, encouraging nod. "Good job", I would breathlessly say to each person. As if on cue, a somber "You too" was heard in response. Like veterans of the same war, we helped our fellow competitors along this CRAZY ASS journey.
As the night went on, it became colder, and colder, AND COLDER. Someone said it was 28 degrees but I refused to let that register. Despite my 3 bags full of stuff, I somehow failed to bring more warm clothing. This was a critical error. Only having brought one sports bra (WHAT was I thinking?), this would increase how cold I got as the wet bra from sweating during the run or bike would then turn to ice against my body when I stopped moving. No matter how many layers I put on, I could not get warm. Hours 1am-4am were among the most horrible of my entire life. I cannot convey how absolutely frozen I was and how completely miserable I was. Thankfully I kept my complaining or whining to a minimum, but I couldn’t stop thinking that I had signed up for this bullshit as something “fun” to do. Eric kept bringing me scalding hot tea to try to get me warm and often expressed concerns by how blue (cold) I looked as I shivered profusely. The other hours had not been too bad but I have to admit that these 3 hours were utterly horrific to me. I realized in these hours that I am not nearly as tough as I had once thought.
I don’t remember a time in my life I had wished for daylight so heartily! Once 6am hit and the sun rose, I began to thaw and our team was motivated to finish this crap! :) Our final 3 hours were among the fastest splits of the whole event. We gals started hauling serious ass. Despite very little sleep and a night of bitter cold, our dispositions improved, there was tons of laughing and cheering, and we were rocking! I don’t know where the hell that came from but we were on fire. As we crossed the line at hour 24, the results were in. We had done 21 full triathlons, a feat we found amazing, and SOMEHOW ended up winning our division!! Only 1 team of all-men had beaten us! For our first attempt at a race like this we more than impressed ourselves. We were proud of one another as a team.
I am not sure I would describe this race as “fun”. As Cooper put it, “We did it once, no need for us to ever have to do it again!” … but I will say it most definitely got me out of my comfort zone which I think always forces you to face things about yourself you may not like, or reveals your weaknesses –and your strengths. Perhaps all of these. And, really, only in these moments of learning can you TRULY choose to be brave or choose to quit. Though I am surprised by the many personal weaknesses I saw in myself, I also CHOSE NOT TO QUIT.
That’s the Sharpie I respect. And, I have always felt, there is no feeling finer than true self respect. There is no self respect when things are easy. Self respect is felt when you stand there, face in the fire, and press on. You don’t need to do a 24-hour insane event to feel this about yourself. Learnings like this are all around you – if you have the courage to face them.