On race day, hundreds of athletes will line up with all of their memories and experiences tucked away neatly beneath their swim caps. What do they bring to the starting line? What are they going to leave on the course? What will they take with them across the finish line?
I know what I wish to bring to the starting line.
I wish I could bring the heart of a champion. If that were the case, then this sprint tri would surely be a walk in the park. As it is, I bring my own heart, and who better to bring it than me? It’s filled to the top with encouragement from my husband, kids, family and friends.
I wish I were bringing a lifetime of athletic experiences to call upon when the race gets rough. My main sport through high school and college was musical theater… while there are many similarities in the preparation… somehow I don’t think that breaking into song halfway through the run is going to help anyone. I am bringing a year of dedicated training. I couldn’t say that last year.
I wish I were bringing the confidence of a veteran. Although my confidence has increased dramatically over the course of this year, I’m going to stock up on endorphins the day before the race. I’ve heard that they do amazing things on race day. I plan to put my goggles on that morning and let the endorphins do the rest.
I wish I were bringing the tall, slender figure of a cardio-goddess. Despite my efforts, I have not managed to lose five inches in width while gaining five inches in height. Unless Claudia Schiffer decides to drive with me in my GEO, I will not be bringing the aforementioned goddess.
I wish I wasn’t so nervous about the bike ride. I’m really not all that comfortable riding a bike with wheels so skinny they could turn on a strand of hair. I’m also not comfortable with the fact that the first time I rode it, the chain snapped and left me high and dry on the side of the road. Alas, I will bring the scary bike… with a new chain, of course.
I wish I wasn’t so deathly afraid of the run. After years of hating running with a passion, I finally learned to like it. About two months ago, I started running the full three miles for the first time… ever. Last week, two weeks before my race, my ankle gave out on me and I noticed the subtle formation of a bunion. (Bunion. Funny word… pain in the foot.) Right now, I can walk, but I can’t run. So, I bring with me a bum ankle and a wannabe bunion. What choice do I have?
I really wish I’ll be able to run the whole thing… and for good reason.
I was never much of a runner as a kid. I was on the track and field team from fifth through eighth grade, but not because I liked running… it was just the thing to do and my dad was the coach. What I liked most about track was, actually, the field. What I liked most about the field was waiting my turn. I threw discus and shot put. I would sit with whoever was lucky enough to be “on field” and make screechy whistles out of blades of grass.
So… you can see where my competitive drive comes from.
Once a season, everyone on the team took a turn running the mile. (It was always “the” mile, never “a” mile.) At practice before the meet, we’d all huddle around my dad to wait for our sentence. The mile was always last to be announced and without fail, when we heard the news of who had to run it, the entire team made a collective gasp to console the mile runner of the week. A series of condolences would follow. “Oh… my… gawd! I can’t believe Gretchen has to run the mile. Oh… Gretchen… what are you going to do?” All the while, everyone else was quite relieved that they had dodged the bullet one more time.
Despite my efforts to convince my dad that no one would notice if the coach’s daughter bypassed the mile, my name still managed to find its way onto the list. Not good… it was actually worse than swimming the 100 IM… if that’s possible. (When I swam butterfly I looked like a drowning moth.)
The days leading up to the meet were torture. I think I’m sick. I’m not kidding… something’s really wrong with me. I’m sure it’s the flu. Anything for a get out of jail free pass…but my effort was in vain. I still had to run it.
To make a long story short, I got my childhood nickname from a napkin holder that I used regularly during family meals. And so it was that I, “Chicken,” stepped up to the starting line that fateful day.
By the first turn, I was dead last… my shorts were creeping up in the front and sliding down in the back. I was sure that my good lung had collapsed. It was absolutely painful.
My dad, being the supportive coach, and father that he is, sensed that I wasn’t having the best race. As I rounded the 220 mark on my last lap, I saw my dad waving his clipboard and bounding across the field. “Go, Chicken!” He hollered. “You can do it!”
Oh… my… god! I was mortified. My friends were all there.
“Keep going Chick! You’re doing great!”
I just kept wishing he would call me Meg. If I hadn’t been so out of breath, I would have told him to stop with the nickname, but I couldn’t spit out a single word.
“You’re almost there! Goooooooooo Chicken!”
To my surprise, I made it through that day and am currently one week away from my race. Yes, I will be bringing that crazy memory to the starting line. I hope to drop my insecurities (and maybe twenty pounds) somewhere between transition one and mile two. And I will carry my head, and my swimcap, a little higher as I cross the finish line. (Oh crap… what if I accidentally leave my swimcap on for the whole race?)
I have to admit that I’m still feeling a little chicken.
Published in beginnertriathlete.com (July 2007)