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My First Triathlon by Robert Cohen
Why Is This Morning Different From All Other Mornings?
"Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever."
- Lance Armstrong
This morning I hurt. A lot. Yesterday morning I felt great. This morning, I will not swim, bike, run, or lift weights. I've worked out every other morning since January of 2010, fulfilling one of my two New Year's resolutions. The other one was to lose 100 pounds, which I've done.
Each morning, I begin my day at the YMCA swimming pool in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Wanna meet me? I'm the one stretching by the front door, anxiously awaiting somebody to open the gym so that I can swim laps in my lane in the womb-like 90+ degree water...
Yesterday morning, I headed for an outdoor gym. The water temperature was in the 50s and there was no painted stripe on the bottom for me to follow and maintain a straight line. The wind was brisk, the waves were high, and the water was salty.
The swim was in open water, and I imagined schools of fish scurrying away from the 6:40 AM invasion of their home by 1,200 air-breathing intruders. The water was filled with jelly fish who showed no fear, and I had many close and unpleasant encounters...
Noyac Bay, Sag Harbor, New York. We who were there were practicing an act of extreme physical self-abuse through intense exercise because some perverse drumbeat within demanded that each of us swim nearly a mile and then peel off our wetsuits and take to the roads on our bikes for the next 90 minutes on our 25 mile jaunt, followed by a 6 mile run.
What is it like to swim one mile? Imagine your local high school track. Imagine swimming around that oval four times. Imagine doing so with a mass of humanity tugging your legs while trying to pass, elbowing you just for the fun of it, some climbing right over you as they sprint to their finish while you try to maintain composure and not let the surge of adrenalin increase your pace.
And then there are the tides. And the imaginary ferocious great white minnows...
I got out of the water from the swim, and both legs cramped up...I crawled to the beach and then limped to the transition area. A different muscle cramped up while I was on the bike, and I finished the hilly 25-mile ride completely exhausted, having used all of my energy reserves. Then came the six mile run, which I willed myself to finish with each painful stride.
The screws in my back from a failed spinal fusion operation during each leg of the triathlon reminded me that I am part bionic man minus the magic tricks of Hollywood...
I began the race with numerous pains due to intense training of the past three months. Pain is an exquisite teacher. I ended the race with laughter and a tear.
I had "hit the wall" after completing the challenging bike ride. I got off the bike 150 yards from my transition area, and used the two wheeler as one might use crutches, jogging to the area where my running shoes and cap were stored. I had no energy left, but faced a six mile run to complete my triathlon.
Each time things got tough, I recalled warm memories of my very dear college friend Linda Gronlund who lost her life on September 11, 2001 when her airplane went down in a Pennsylvania field. She lived in the same town in which Sunday's race was held...I also visualized two of my daughters, Jennifer and Sarah waiting for me at the finish line. All of the above became my motivation when occasional thoughts of quitting briefly raced through my mind.
This morning at 1:00 AM, the worst of my pains is located under each arm where the sleeveless neoprene wetsuit chafed my skin with each stroke. My neck is also sore from the repeated breathing which each alternate stroke brings in the water. I had the bright idea of just applying aloe vera to the raw skin, and it was as if I had just splashed gasoline on a fire. So, I'll deal with the discomfort as it heals. I walked to my desk with a lot of pain in each foot which experienced the repeated stress of hammer-like pounding from the many cumulative tons of running that a 6 mile race will deliver.
My family and friends were there to give me hugs at the finish, and the large crowd gave me wonderful cheers and an ovation, which came as a nice surprise, as did the post-race interview which was broadcast to the spectators at the finish line. An Olympic-like medal was put around my neck, the reward for those who finish the race.
My first triathlon. Veni, vidi, vici.
"We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey."
- Kenji Miyazawa