You don’t wake up a triathlete any more than you wake up married.
It happens innocently and imperceptively over time: You’re given a drawer at his place… you get a dog together… until one day you’re living in the suburbs brushing your teeth at a double sink.
It’s true, but I’m not saying the journey isn’t weird. I remember the exact moment I started down this path…
The flagpole came into view first, and as I angled the car down the driveway, I found the parking lot full of people in their wetsuits. It was as if I happened upon a colony of lemurs. Their heads turned up and they regarded me briefly, as if assessing a risk: Are you friendly? And then, deciding I was harmless went back to their preparations.
I walked down to the sandy beach with a bunch of girls. “Let’s swim to that white house,” my friend said, motioning to a distant speck on the horizon. She waded into the dark lake. “How’s the water temp?” I asked. “It’s f*cking freezing!” She screamed merrily and dove in.
I sucked my bottom lip. To date my biggest athletic accomplishment had been an inverted keg stand. How on earth did I figure I was qualified for this?
When I emerged later back on the beach, gasping and light-headed, my friend had already been to her car and was sipping a cup of coffee. She smirked and waved as if to say, Welcome newly-minted triathlete. You passed the open water swim test. “You’re coming to the brick tomorrow, right?”
A brick is a bike ride followed by a run, so named because your legs feel like bricks by the time you’re done.
I joined the snaking single file line of bikes. The evening sky was that smoky blue shade of twilight, and the sound of gears changing made a whistle like casting a fishing pole. I was snapped from the beauty of the moment as a girl shouted over her shoulder “Hang on to my wheel,” then took off over a hill. I mashed determinedly behind her, legs and lungs on fire.
I let her push the entire way thru the swamp because I knew I couldn’t hold her pace. Back in the parking lot, as she pulls on her running shoes, she considers me like a Paul Simon song: She looked me over and I guess she thought I was all right. All right in a limited way for an off night. Thankfully, I’m able to cling to her on the run and she decides I’m okay, just a bit of a ditz.
“If you want to improve on the swim, you have to come to Masters,” she suggests.
When I go to the pool, some of the lake people recognize me and wave me over to their lane. “Hey Jen, swim with us.” Sure. Only I’ve never swam Masters and I’m breathless the instant I try to keep up with the lane. The coach is kneeling on the edge of the pool. “What are you doing?” he asks covertly. “I don’t know!” I confess, goggles askew. I look from the whiteboard to the clock. 3×100 Pull. 8×25 Kick. 6×50. “Is that math?!”
Soon I’m on after-dinner email chain. They come in fast and furious, What are you doing tomorrow? Can you meet me at the track/pool/church in Harding for a ride? Do you want to carpool to that race? We can hit the outlets on the way home.
Without really choosing it, suddenly I’m working out twice a day. Weekends are tris, 5K races, group rides or long runs. I’m committed. This is my new life. I’m married and it all seems so normal.
“I don’t think the rain will bother us,” I say, passing the newbie mantle to my running mate, who signed up for her first tri last week. I considered making her do a keg stand to see if she can hang. Instead, I choose to run in a thunderstorm. We park at the end of the cul-de-sac and I put a sign on the dashboard: Going for a quick run. Please don’t tow us. She looks at me doubtfully, and then we head out into the monsoon.
(Disclaimer: This is not everyone’s experience. There are some triathletes that take themselves very seriously. I am no one of them. Obviously.)