It’s a beautiful spring afternoon in Texas and I’m gasping for air, feet pounding the pavement as I churn up a hill in my neighborhood. Okay…maybe “hill” is generous…it’s more like a slight incline. But my tired legs, sore from yesterday’s bike ride, are complaining anyway. Determined to complete my planned run, I lower my head into the wind and force each foot forward at my blistering pace of 10:45 per mile. Just then, the song on my iPod shifts to a good head-banger from Sanctus Real…“Iiiiiiiii’m not all right….”No kidding, I think to myself. I am SO not all right! What am I doing? Why am I pushing myself like this? Why am I expending so much time and energy on something as crazy as a triathlon? What kind of psycho came up with this sport anyway?I had the same thoughts at my last Olympic distance race, just two weeks ago. In fact, I have the same thoughts in every race, usually about two miles into the run. Why am I doing this? Why did I pay money to do this?!?The answer is, of course, because I’m not all right. I train for two reasons: to lose weight, and to help manage my clinical depression, not necessarily in that order. Losing weight has been an up and down battle. Oh, I exercise plenty, but I eat plenty, too. I’m still working on that magic formula of consistency and calorie intake that slides the pounds off of my hips. As for the clinical depression, the endorphins and the boost in energy after a good workout do wonders for stabilizing my moods and brain chemistry. In fact, if I go more than two days without a workout for any reason other than deathbed illness, I begin to grow horns and fangs and my children either escape to the backyard or tiptoe into their rooms and lock the doors.Run, run, run….breathe, gasp, breathe….Then there are the races. I initially signed up for that first race to motivate me to do the exercising. It worked. There was something about committing money to an event that made me want to do well to justify the expense. Now with twelve races under my belt in three years, the motivation is a little different. I want to beat that last time, maybe even make the podium someday. As I get older and move up the age groups, that dream of a top three finish gets closer – I actually placed fifth in a sprint race last year. My competitive nature has been channeled and engaged. It’s the same nature that got me into trouble with my depression last year, the striving to be perfect and wow the crowds so that I’ll be accepted and loved. I know better now.“Iiiiiii’m not all right! I’m broken inside….broken inside….”But that’s the beautiful thing about triathletes. None of us are all right, and no one expects anyone else to be. We all have our personal psychosis – otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing this crazy thing! Not only that, but in the age group divisions at least, the only real competition is with ourselves. With very few exceptions, the other athletes are always there to lift you up. I love that! It’s what drew me to the sport in the first place.My last race was a classic example. I hit the water hard and shaved three minutes off my swim time from the previous year. After a smooth transition to the bike, I hammered hard and took another seven minutes off my time. With a lightening fast transition to the run, I hit the course eleven minutes ahead. But at mile three, disaster struck. I felt my chest tighten and my breathing shallow out – it was an asthma attack. I’d never had one during training or a race before, so I didn’t have my inhaler with me. It wasn’t severe, but it was enough to make me slow down and walk. As I fought to get my breathing and heart rate under control, I clenched my fists in frustration.“Way to work, 1254!” I heard behind me. I politely waved as the super-fit blonde gal raced past me. In a few minutes, I began to jog again. “If I can just make it to that next water station,” I thought, “then I’ll take another walk break.” I made it halfway. Frustration began to build, but the volunteers began clapping for me and cheering, “Go, 1254! You can make it!” A few more steps, and I jogged slowly to the water stand, grabbed a cup and walked as I sipped some Gatorade. I continued like this for two more miles – walk, jog, walk, jog, try to breathe. With a mile-and-a-half to go to finish the race, I so wanted to run the rest of the way, so I tried jogging again. After about 50 yards, my chest clenched up.“Aaugh!” I gasped, as I slowed again to a walk. Then, I felt a comforting tap on my shoulder. A tall, lean, 4%-body-fat type gave me his silent encouragement as he passed me. No words needed, he nodded in understanding. I sheepishly smiled at him as he cruised ahead, effortlessly breathing and striding away. With renewed determination, I caught my breath and tried again. This time, I made it about 100 yards before my lack of oxygen short-circuited my legs. One mile to go. One way or another, I was going to cross that finish line.“You’ve been kicking my a__ since the bike!” I heard behind me. I turned to see a large man in a blue t-shirt lumbering up beside me. “You’re more than ten minutes ahead of me right now! C’mon! Let’s go!” “I’m having trouble with my asthma!” I explained as he jogged next to me.
“Oh, man!” he said, “Now I feel really bad! Not only are you totally thrashing me, but you can’t even breathe!” I waved him by, and watched as he struggled ahead, then began walking himself. Urging myself into a jog, I caught up with him.“Okay,” I said, “If I can finish this thing running, so can you.” And together, we made our way towards the finish line. We chatted about our races, our goals, our families for the next few minutes. I felt my chest relax as I began to think about something other than breathing. My leg strength returned under me and began to urge me forward. “Finish strong,” my running companion said as he slowed once more. “I’ll see you at the finish line.” I tried to wave him forward, but he would have none of it. My legs took over and I began to push my pace.Run, run, run….breathe, gasp, breathe….I could hear the pounding music and the cheering crowds as I approached the finishers’ chute. The announcer called my name, and I sprinted across the line, sucking wind as I did. When I slowed to grab the cold wet towel and water bottle offered to me, my head began spinning with the lack of oxygen and I lowered my head to keep my balance. My husband ran over, grabbed me in a big bear hug, and showed me his watch. Even with the difficulty on the run, I had beaten my previous year’s time by more than four minutes. Wow.Sanctus Real wails again. “Can I lose my need to impress? If you want the truth, I need to confess…Iiiiiiii’m not all right….”Thinking back to that race, I continue to pound out my training. One-quarter mile to go. I remember all of the people who encouraged me. The more I floundered, the more people were there to help me forward. The encouraging words from those who were stronger than me, the cheering from the volunteers who pointed the way and supplied my needs, and the running companion who was sharing my struggle as we ended the race together. It’s what I love most about triathlon. We all have been there. We all are not all right. And we all help each other forward…one step at time.I think all of life should work like that. The only competition and comparison is with ourselves, and when we’re struggling most, that’s when everyone around us cheers us on the hardest. It doesn’t matter if they’re in a stronger place than you are, if they’re on the sidelines to support you, or if they’re sharing the same struggles, they’re cheering you on and you’re cheering for them, too. Thank you, triathletes, for being such a good example for me. No matter where I am in life, I can encourage someone else, and no matter how much I am struggling, someone can be there for me if I let them. Together, we will all finish the race.Finally, my run is finished. I stop my watch, slow my pace, and look up at the bright blue sky while I breathe. In my ears, Sanctus Real is finishing the song….“Iiiiiii’m not all right…..Iiiiiii’m not all right! That’s why I need you…..”
music (piano and singing), swimming, web design, graphics design, reading, computer games, bible study and teaching