Why I Tri? by Abbie Neal
I signed up for my first Ironman through a classic “bait and switch” maneuver by my swimming buddy, Karen. I had just finished my first marathon and had developed a fairly severe case of plantar fasciitis on my left foot. I was nursing it back to health (which is an incredibly long process!), and slowly driving myself and my family crazy with my unpredictable mood swings and bad attitude. It was in the depths of this injury-induced slump when Karen asked casually “Have you even thought about doing an ironman?”
Yeah, I’d thought about it - the same way I think about getting a full back tattoo all in one day, slowly pulling all my fingernails off (without anesthesia, of course!), or allowing fire ants to cover my entire body….why would anyone DO that??? I told Karen no, that I thought that type of endurance event was crazy, and left it at that. But her parting statement stuck with me when I left the pool that morning. She had told me that completing her first ironman event was the biggest accomplishment of her life so far, second only to the birth of her children. She said “When you cross that finish line, you really know you’ve done something BIG.”
This kept playing through my mind while I was at work that day. I thought about it more as I was falling asleep that night. My impulsive side kept prodding me: “What if….? Of COURSE you could do this if you wanted to!” while my practical side was screaming at the top of it’s lungs: “For the love of Pete, girl! What are you thinking?!?” So I decided to look into it a little more. How long was it again? (Excuse me, is this a typo or is the bike ride one HUNDRED and twelve miles?) What type of gear would I need? (A new bike is how much??) How much training each week would be required to prep for something like this? (8-14 hours? No problem…I work almost full time, 45 minute commute each way, 2 children, lots of family and friend commitments….I’m sure I could fit this in!) I had just cut my work schedule back from 40 to 32 hours to allow me more time with my family. It made all the sense in the world to fill that free time with up to 14 hours per week of hard training.
One week later I registered for Whistler Ironman 2016.
I was already a fairly decent swimmer - I swam competitively through high school, and after a short 22-year hiatus, had joined Blue Wave Aquatics about a year ago. My swimming fitness was steadily returning. I had spent a bit of time on my old road bike a few years ago, and really enjoyed the wind in my face and sensation of speed that biking gave me. My foot was steadily improving, and with the help of an amazing physical therapist and some awesome new shoes, I was running more comfortably than ever. And most importantly of all, when I ran this idea by my husband, he was all in. He fully supported my decision, and was more than willing to go the extra mile to manage the family while I’m going MY extra miles.
I immediately decided to join Raise The Bar because I knew there was no way I could do this on my own. It was through RTB that I found Northwest Tri & Bike, and fell in love with a sleek little beauty: my new Cervelo P2! I felt faster just looking at her! It’s also through RTB that I found my wonderful coach, Alissa. She has guided me with infinite wisdom and patience to complete my first 70.3 just two weeks ago in Oceanside, California.
To date, completing Oceanside has been my greatest athletic accomplishment. When I first started training with Alissa, my goals were: 1) to finish (without dying), and 2) to complete the entire run without stopping. For five months we worked together towards these goals. My long rides gradually increased from one hour to over four. My runs lengthened from 8 miles to 14, and my pace improved. My swim technique became more efficient, and I had more stamina. Through strength training I discovered I had a gluteus medius (two, actually!), and how to force them out of their early retirement. Despite this preparation, I had intermittent waves of nausea the day before the race. My confidence swung wildly from thinking I had the race in the bag, to thinking there was NO WAY EVER I would be able to finish this, and do you think anyone would notice if I just didn’t show up in the morning? Despite my nerves, I did show up, I did finish (without dying!), and I did run all the way to the finish line.
It. Was. Amazing.
One of the very best experiences of my life. Alissa had given me a race day guide which talked me through every step of the triathlon. I had read this guide so many times I had most of it memorized. It was like she was inside my head, or could see the future. Everything went exactly as planned. I ate precisely what she told me to eat, drank as many ounces as she wanted me to drink, took my s-caps as prescribed, and felt exactly the way she predicted I should feel at each stage of the race. Mile 10 of the run is when things started getting tough. My right knee started hurting, my stomach was a little crampy, it was getting hot….
I dumped ice into my cap to cool off (amazing). Backed off on the Gu and increased my fluids. Made a commitment that I wasn’t going to walk, except through the aid stations as recommended. I reached into my back pocket for my One Thing, and held on to that as the last few miles crept by. Before I knew it the last half mile was in front of me. I could see the flag-lined finish chute just ahead. There was a young man just in front of me who slowed to a walk. He looked tired but not completely spent. I slowed down next to him, patted him on the shoulder and said “Come on, man! You’ve got this!” He shuffled back into a run next to me, and we ran for several tenths of a mile together. As we neared the finish chute, I could feel it pulling me forward. I started to pick up my pace. So did he. We entered the chute in a fast run. His friends held out the Mexican flag for him as he ran by and he started waving it over his head as he sprinted for the finish line. I dropped back to let him cross the line on his own, then sprinted across myself, pumping my fists wildly over my head. I had made it! My entire family was there to meet me as I exited the chute, and my elation dissolved into tears of joy. The feeling was unbelievable, even better than I had imagined. And this was only my half!
I’m now ramping up my training to prep for Whistler. I’m a little nervous of the journey still ahead of me. Preparing for this is certainly the most difficult physical challenge of my life. But I love it. I love how I feel. I love checking off another training session on Training Peaks. I love being able to eat 4000 calories a day. I love watching the changes in my body. I love the look in my girls’ eyes as they watch me train - they’re already talking about futures races of their own. My oldest daughter (currently 10), has said she wants to run a marathon with me by the time she’s 16, and may do an Ironman when she’s an adult. My husband has started training with me, and is tossing around the idea of signing up for his own triathlon. It’s contagious!!
And what about Karen? Well, unfortunately she isn’t able to participate in Whistler 2016 as she had originally planned. I’ve given her a little grief about her trickery, but the truth is this has been one of the best decisions of my life, and it’s all thanks to her. I’m so glad she “talked” me into signing up. I am grateful for this amazing journey, and will celebrate the path that brings me across the finish line in Whistler on July 24th!
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