Celebrating 62 years; A 62 km. Triathlon
I recently celebrated my 62nd birthday. Although this is not an especially noteworthy number, it was important because of our current restrictions on sport in pandemic-times. Many of us in our Ceevacs community have been struggling with the restrictions that have been put upon us: no gatherings for workouts and social coffees afterwards, having all of our races and events cancelled, having to train alone or in tiny groups, and losing all of our momentum and motivation to train. With this in mind, I decided to create a little “carrot” to help motivate myself and triathlete friends to get out there and keep working at our beloved sport, Triathlon. What better excuse to use than my birthday? And why not really go crazy and attempt a 62 kilometre distance?
This idea probably seems like madness to most people; isn’t running enough torture? Who came up with the silly idea of triathlons anyway? The very first recorded triathlon happened on Sept. 25, 1974, and it was invented by two fellows from the San Diego Track Club, Don Shanahan and Jack Johnstone, as a way to cross-train the body (and mind). This tri consisted of a 10km run, an 8 km bike and a 500m ocean swim. At this time, I was a nerdy, sixteen years old teenager in Nanaimo, who liked to hike, bike, swim and do anything outdoors away from the usual teenage social pursuits. I was unaware of the sport of Triathlon in its inception, but I was somehow coming up with a similar idea on my own. I used to spend my summer evenings jumping on my awesome yellow Apollo ten-speed and cycling 10 kilometres to Departure Bay, then I would swim across the Bay and get back on my bike and cycle uphill all the way home again. To this day I still love climbing a big hill far more than riding down one! My parents and most of my classmates thought I was nuts, and they were probably right!
Most people, until they try a triathlon ask why would anyone do such a thing?
It’s like trying to explain to someone who’s never had chocolate what chocolate tastes like. But the best answer is that Triathlon is a matter of mind over body; proving that the mind is stronger than the body. I like to think of it from a kid’s perspective. Kids love to play; they love to splash around at a beach, ride their bikes like race-car drivers and run around the neighbourhood playing different versions of cops & robbers. For me, it’s the excitement I feel from my inner child. I get to swim in a beautiful body of water, I get to ride my bike (like a bat out of hell) and then I get to run like the wind. Pretty cool.
Then there is the actual physical and mental challenge of it. For most people, the challenge of open water swimming is intense; deep water you can drown in, many thrashing bodies, cold dark spooky water, long impossible distances. I am no stranger to these fears. As a child, I grew up in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes. I refused to swim in any of them. I was terrified of the fish biting me, the weeds grabbing me, and the cold dark bottomless lakes engulfing me and dragging me to their merciless depths. I did not have my first swimming lesson until I was 14, and I had a panic attack and almost never went back. Swimming is now my happy place and when the pools are open, I train 3x per week and clock on average 9km per week. I fully appreciate when someone tells me that they have a fear of the water, but I also maintain that if I can overcome that fear, anyone can!
The human body is not designed to swim well, therefore swimming efficiently is considered one of the most challenging of the three sports. If only we all had natural buoyancy, webbed toes and Michael Phelp’s arms and shoulders. Open water swimming is also made more difficult by no pool-lines to sight by and no walls to rest on. Swimming challenges the cardio-vascular and uses core strength, all of the upper body muscles as well as the hamstrings and calves for balance. Who is not exhausted after a long swim? This is where the mind challenge comes in during a Triathlon. Once you finish one segment, you have to put it behind you and move on to the next phase. In races, a transition from one sport to the next is only a few minutes long. Not much time to relax, stretch, refuel, or stare at your navel and contemplate life. That time is taken up puffing and panting, trying to wiggle out of your wet gear, get on socks and shoes on wet sticky skin, all while remembering the rules and order…helmet first before you touch your bike! Definitely a mind challenge!
The biking phase challenges your cardio-vascular, especially on the big climbs, but also uses core, lower body muscles and balance. For me, it is the hardest challenge on the mind; split second reactions, staying focused and riding defensively, staying on course, and putting a long time in on the saddle. Every second of it is work, but also exhilarating.
I am always shocked when the riding phase is over…now comes the real determination and guts…running. There is nothing stranger than the wobbly feeling of rubber legs and trying to force them to run. The brain says run, and the legs say don’t be silly, I just rode 40 km. It takes pure determination to shuffle along for the first kilometre, and then gradually the body sorts it out and a rhythm comes back, just before the exhaustion sets in and you realize it’s going to be a fight to the finish. This is where I survive with the use of mantras; I will finish, five down; five to go, one more loop, I will finish. And it is indeed sweet when you cross that finish line! Mind and body fully challenged to the limits.
Because of our current pandemic restrictions, I sent out my 62-Km Birthday challenge as a virtual event with the goal being distance, not time, and with the options to do it in any order, at any time, or to split it with a social-distant buddy, as long as it added up to 62 km. An Olympic level triathlon consists of a 1.5 km swim, 40 km bike ride and 10Km run, which is only 51.5 km in total. I had about eleven people rise to the challenge and they sent me their watch times proving their distances and efforts.
For myself, I was determined to challenge myself to the full-meal-deal and do it as a regular competition, consecutively. I got to the lake early on a Saturday morning, with stormy skies and an unenthusiastic temperature of 12 degrees out. Not ideal. But to my surprise, Janis G. was there with her huge smile and words of encouragement and she watched me suit up and take off; cheering me on. I’m glad she was there, so that I couldn’t change my mind! The water was cold, but survivable. Anyone who knows me, knows my dislike of cold water and knows my lips turn blue in the lovely pool temperature of 83 degrees. The water was calm, and I had the entire lake to myself…even the ducks were sleeping. It was beyond beautiful. I did the whole lake circuit and finished bang on at 1.99 km. Getting changed was my next challenge. My hands were too cold, and I fumbled miserably with my wetsuit, but finally managed, put two jackets on because I was shivering so badly and got on my bike. The first 10 km were uncomfortably cold in the wind, which cut through my two jackets like they were nothing. I was never happier to hit the first big hill climb and warm up a little bit. Surprisingly, my ride was uneventful; no stray dogs chasing me, no crashes, no bad gear changes, and the wind and rain that was forecasted held off. I used every kilometre of my distance to contemplate the equivalent age in my life and thought about all of my adventures, hardships and joys. It was a very satisfying reflection.
Back at the transition, I was now finished with 47 kilometres and 47 years old. About the same age that I had started to take up running more seriously. I now had a tough challenge ahead of me; 15 km of very rocky, rough, twisty-turny and hilly trail running through the Municipal Forests. Synchronicity; this also coincided with the most challenging 15 years of my life. Unfortunately, my tummy decided to act up, so I had more walking-moments than I would have liked, but I also had great stretches of flying like the wind. Also, an accurate reflection of my life! I finished 62 km, 62 years old and felt amazing! My longest ever triathlon distance!
I was so proud of the effort of everyone who participated! All were winners in my books. Kudo’s to Danna and her social-distant buddies who supported her for doing my 62 and adding one extra for her Birthday that she also just celebrated!!! Special Kudo’s to our amazing Coach, Sheron for over-coming her fear of the water and getting back into it to do my triathlon! So proud of you Sheron! And Kudo’s to Ellen, who also completed it, despite a tumble on her run portion and who scared the heck out of her running buddy, Janis. Most of you may know that Ellen just recovered from a major fall with broken bones, surgery and had an incredible recovery and determination to get back to running. This time, she bounced like a beach ball!!
The results were neck-in-neck, and I had to use actual math to figure them out!
Closest to 62 km. total went to our esteemed President, Cara Light for Female (her accounting and math skills must have been an advantage!) and her Hubby Richard Light for Male. The Boobie prize to Ellen, and Most Inspiring to Sheron. I have prizes that I will get to you soon, through social distancing!
I would encourage you all, as we try to return to a different way of doing sports, to challenge and support each other and celebrate these challenges and successes.
Missing my running, triathlon tribe, but sending hugs and encouragement to all,
TEAM – SWIM – CYCLE – RUN – TOTAL – DIFFERENCE
DANNA COLLEEN WENDY (GRETCHEN) – 2.023 – 47.19 – 13.00 – 62.213 – 0.213
ELLEN / JANIS – 1.0 (BEST GUESS) – 51.15 – 10.0 – 62.15 – 0.15
ROBIN – 1.994 – 45.13 – 15.00 – 62.124 – 0.124
BRENDA – 1.398 – 46.47 14.18 – 62.048 – 0.048
SHERON – 0.2 (BEST GUESS) – 54.0 – 7.8 – 62.0 – 0
RICHARD – 1.485 – 58.31 – 2.19 – 61.985 – 0.015
CARA – 1.021 – 58.51 – 2.45 – 61.981- 0.019