At the start of my triathlon, I have no idea what to expect. People asked me throughout the week, "Have you trained?" and I pause to consider my answer. "No, not really." I mean, I run and I dance and I ride my bike a little bit and I've gone swimming three times this summer, but I'm not sure those really count as training for a triathlon. My biggest concern, besides the swarms of bodies in the water that I'm supposed to swim in between and not get smacked, is that I'll not enjoy the experience because I'm too focused on being competitive.
I've always possessed a streak of the competitive in my nature. I remember competing in games with the boys on the playground in grade school, and as I grew older, not wanting to be outdone by a boy in any sport or adventure - like jumping off bridges and things like that. I always had at least one girlfriend who was a little better than me at sports and one that was right about the same level as me, and it was always challenging to not compare my performance with theirs. Even now, when I go for runs, I hate being passed. If I hear footsteps behind me, even if I'm tired and hurting, I'll still speed up. It's my dang pride.
But mostly, I'm competitive with myself. I have this internal idea of what I can and can't do that may or may not be accurate when it comes to athletics, but it usually borders on the level of confidence. Competing in cross country and track seemed to hard-wire me for racing. I can't seem to de-program myself from this. In my book, there is no such thing as a "fun run" when friends ask me to sign up with them for a 5k. I know I'll just end up racing it.
So the race begins and I plunge into the water, and feet and arms are flailing and my head's above water, paddling for at least 50 meters before I can even begin to freestyle. I have a hard time catching my breath at first. My heart is racing with adrenaline and so my breathing is excited and there's all this water splashing in my face. I focus my thoughts and recite my mantra for this whole experience: Enjoy the moment, Amber. I don't want to grit my teeth and power through this without the wonder.
And let me tell you, it's a wonder I can do this triathlon. A year ago, I couldn't. I've been a runner since I was a sophomore in high school, but my knees decided almost two years ago that they didn't want to run anymore. I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to do a triathlon. But a couple of months ago, I tested the streets again. I went for a run, and my knees didn't protest much at all. So I tried it again a week later. Still felt ok. My knees are quite creaky and cracky and I don't feel untouchable anymore, but I can do it. Now I'm up to about two runs a week, and each time I'm outside running, I smile and thank God that I can have this run. Today. Because I might not have it tomorrow and I know he doesn't owe it to me.
So I grin and thank God through this whole race. I thank him, too, for helping me complete my 16-mile bike ride without taking a spill, because that's a miracle all in itself. I marvel at all the older people in amazing shape and the ones that could barely run who are out competing. I feel admiration for the women who are at least twice my size doing what so many people say they can't do. I congratulate the ones who pass me by and encourage the ones that I pass by. We're in this, together, I think. And it feels so much, I don't know, nicer, than competing against them.
I'm nearing the finish line, and I've passed people my entire run, but now I see two little girls ahead. Maybe eleven years old. I feel humbled that I just now am passing them, crazy kids, but I tell them they're amazing as I come close. The last kick of the race, it's like I'm back at a cross country meet, and I switch into sprint mode and feel like I'm going to hurl. But the greatest thing is Ricardo's face as I cross the line. He's so proud, and he hugs me and tells me he's proud and that I'm crazy. And I think, it doesn't get much better than this.