We were lined up by race number, curled around the beach, waiting our turn to plunge into the Niagara River and begin our adventure at the Summer Sizzler short triathlon. In the course of the pre-race conversation, I learned the woman next to me, Rebecca, was doing her first race. And she was pretty nervous for the swim. OK, maybe really nervous. I recognized that look of uncertainty in her face. It comes when part of your brain is telling you “relax, you’ll do fine” but is overwhelmed by the other part of your brain which is shouting “YOU ARE GOING TO DIE YOU STUPID FOOL.”
Trust me. I know that look well. I am Queen of the Panic People.
I tried to give her some advice as I, too, panic pretty much every time I get into an open water swimming situation. Of the 400-meter course about 200 of it is shallow enough to walk. My plan was to take my time going out. Put my my face in. Glide. Stand up. Put my face in. Take some strokes. Stand up. Put my face in. Swim.
Other people can put their head down in the water and go. For the longest time I thought that’s what I needed to do. But see, I am not other people. I am Amy Mo and as such my swim is a series of starts and stops. What I’ve learned is that when I embrace the way which is most effective for me, I actually do better. Unconventional ? You betcha. But the more I tried to be like everyone else, the more I beat myself up, the more I panicked. See how that’s not quite an effective use of my mental capacity?
Back to Rebecca. We crossed the timing mat, went into the water and Rebecca started running. That’s not me. I walked. I glided. I walked. I took a few strokes. Eventually I saw Rebecca floating on her back. I said a few encouraging words (“You’re doing just fine! Try some breaststrokes.”) I started swimming. I looked and saw she was floating on her back again with a kayak headed over to her. I lost track of her, but knew she was fine.
My swim didn’t set the world on fire, but I found my groove and felt comfortable and even confident. I was disappointed when the water turned shallow again. I swam as long as I could because I wanted to swim, not walk in a mucky river. Plus I knew the run to transition was long and uphill. I was saving my legs for that.
I hopped on my bike and sped off down the Parkway, which I never to ride except in races and events. The Parkway on Grand Island prohibits pedestrians and bicycles, although I always see people running and biking on the beautiful stretch that hugs the Niagara River. The one time I tried to train on that stretch I was pulled over by the Border Patrol. But I digress.
For once there was not much wind on the island and in a medium gear I kept a sustained but measured effort on the bike. This sprint triathlon was an addition to my already heavy training week schedule. If I was in it for the experience of race day, I needed to embrace the experience and not kill myself on the bike. Mission accomplished — a pleasant steady effort on a great course.
Then came the real fun. The run.
I pulled back into transition. I went to rack my bike only to find one of the other competitors in my row sprawled out in front of my transition spot. “Um. Excuse me,” I said in what I hoped was a polite voice. He didn’t respond. And he didn’t really move. So I worked around him the best I could.
I’m usually pretty speedy at transitions, but this time what normally would take me about 30-40 seconds took me over two minutes. Why? Because I was wearing my brand new Wonder Woman Converse All Star sneakers. And you can’t exactly put speed laces on canvas high tops.
The gimmick was a last-minute decision. I had posted my purchase on Facebook and one of my Facebook friends said she dared me to wear them in my next triathlon. My response, “How much would you donate to Carolyn’s House if I wore them at Summer Sizzler on Saturday?” She promptly donated and I was happy to keep my word.
I ran out of transition lightly, aware that these kicks were not made for going all-out in a 2-mile run. So I kept my pace light and easy. I smiled a lot. I ran across my friend Karyn. (She basically talked me into this race. And by “talked me into” I mean asked if I was doing it which made decide to do it, too.)
“Look!” I shouted. “Wonder Woman Sneakers! Wonder Women Sneakers!” And with that I kicked my feet out in a half jump-half skip kind of move. I repeated this every time I saw someone I knew. I repeated through the aid station hoping to amuse the Girl Scouts who had volunteered.
The run course was out-and-back and at one point I passed Rebecca. She looked strong. Really strong. She made it through the swim. I smiled. Then I danced across the finish line. Because, hello! I was wearing Wonder Women sneakers.
Across the line I saw Karyn and chatted for a while with her husband Mark. We talked about the race, about triathlon and about balancing competition and goals. I saw Rebecca cross the line and went over to give her a hug.
“You did it!” I said. She told me she panicked on the swim and that she was the second last person out of the water. But you did it, I reminded her, and told her she looked strong on the run.
In the final tally:
- I had a blast.
- I felt pretty good in all three disciplines.
- I raised some extra money and awareness for Carolyn’s House.
- I smiled a lot.
There’s something satisfying in the unconventional. It unlocks different perspectives and possibilities. Seismic shifts are sometimes felt strongest in a whisper.