by Alison Conway
I consider myself a recreational triathlete. Which is to say: I wouldn’t buy a magazine related to the sport and I don’t have a tri-bike. Sprint triathlons were what I did, in before-Covid times, to take a break from running. A recent injury, however, threw me into the pool, where I met people who are serious about their sport. Very serious. Since competitive folks are my jam, I looked forward to going to triathlons with them this summer–and also to proving to my swim coach that I had learned from his excellent instruction.
Triathlon attracts type-A people, it seems to me. So much gear to organize! Such complicated training schedules! It’s a long way from running, which requires only a pair of sneakers and a will of steel. The paradox, though, is that the triathlon event is built to thwart the same dream of mastery that motivates its participants to sign up. Every race, something goes wrong. A bike tire explodes. The water turns out to be too rough and the swim is cancelled. Etc. And so the perfectionist finds herself defeated by forces beyond her control, after months of training. At least, this is how it looks to me, from the outside.
I don’t think of myself as a perfectionist, but I’m probably somewhere within shooting distance. I’ve done my best to learn the basics of the triathlon challenge. Last weekend I carefully reviewed “Summary of TriBC Rules” the night before race day, including this one: “It is mandatory that the bib number be worn on the back of your body for the entire bike course.” At dinner, I described the brutal hill that began the bike and run routes. One dinner guest described running a half marathon in San Francisco a while back. Half way up a steep hill was a man holding a sign, she said, that read: “It’s just a hill, get over it.” We laughed and I strategized how to break down that hill.
The next morning was windy—very windy. I carefully placed my race belt with my bib under my running shoes so that it wouldn’t fly away. I came out of the water after a great swim–(thanks, Coach!)–and reminded myself: wetsuit off, shoes on, helmet on, glasses on, grab the bike. I ran down the shoot onto the road, swung my leg over the bar—and saw the racer ahead of me with his race belt on. “Good god, the bib number!” I ran back into transition and put my belt on, cursing my idiot self.
So much negative chatter in my head as I headed out onto the bike course! Until I met the hill. There, I remembered the race sign described the night before: “It’s just a hill, get over it.” And I decided, as I toiled up that hill, to make it my mantra for the race. Get over the disappointment of a ruined bike time, get over the desire to beat myself up, get over everything except the beauty of the race course I was on and the thrill of being there, at all, after two years of pandemic. It was a beautiful morning to swim, bike, and run, and to watch my new pals from the pool race their hearts out.
The take-homes for me are these: listen carefully to women you meet at dinner parties–they may have wisdom to impart. And race day is yours to shape, whatever which way it plays out.
Alison Conway lives and works on the unceded territory of the Syilx (Okanagan) Peoples.