Once upon a time, there was a little girl who didn’t believe she was good at sports. She was clumsy and large, and was always picked last in gym class. She grew into a young woman who believed she would never be an athlete. She saw all physical activity negatively and developed an abusive relationship with food. She had low self esteem, and didn’t believe she was beautiful or strong. That little girl doesn’t live here anymore. Today, she is a triathlete.
I awoke early on Sunday morning prior to my first race, nervous and excited in equal measures. Today was the day! I’d worked for it, I’d struggled for it, and finally it was here. In the days leading up to the race, I’d had moments of abject terror, but yesterday morning, I felt only a little nervous, and very excited. There was no more waiting, no more worrying, it was time to trust my training and take the plunge (literally)!
I arrived at the transition zone as it opened, and met some lovely kind women who were my rack mates. One woman, Emily, was jumping around with nervous energy and said “I’m so nervous! Are you nervous? You don’t look nervous!” I assured her that I was, but I was trying to keep myself calm. Hearing the advice of some people who had done the race before who were sharing my rack helped with that a lot.
When my wave arrived at the swim dock, my nerves kicked in. When it was our turn, I jumped into the freezing cold water of lake Ontario for a quick “warm up” (can it be called a warm up when it is that cold?), then moved to the dock which we jumped off to start the race. As I walked down the dock, I looked up at the bridge overhead and spotted my parents who had gotten up at dawn that morning to be there. I didn’t expect to see them before I started my race, so that was an awesome surprise!
Finally, my wave got into the water, and I positioned myself near the front so that I could have a start without tons of people kicking me in the face. The swim was the part of the race I felt most confident in, but I was surprised how hard it actually was. 750 meters felt fine in the pool, but it was a whole different story with people swimming over me, kicking me in the face, adrenaline pumping through my body, and a time chip strapped to my ankle. As I swam under the bridge into the last portion of the swim, I thought I heard someone yell “Go Ashley!” Later, I learned, that was my friend DeNeige, who had joined my parents on the bridge. Apparently I was easy to pick out of the crowd due to my distinctive wet suit!
When the swim ended, I had pretty much never been happier to see a dock in my life, and I ran back to the transition zone to switch into my bike gear. Leading up to the race, I was most nervous about the bike ride, because I’d only started practicing on my borrowed bike three weeks before, and was also new to clip-in pedals. As I ran with my bike up the ramp, I was thrilled to see my parents and DeNeige there again, as I wasn’t expecting I’d see them so often in the race. Knowing they were there cheering me on at every transition filled me with so much love.
Being new to clip-ins, I was worried about how that would go, but I was relieved that I managed without too much trouble. Then, I was off! I was so surprised that the bike ride ended up being my favourite part of the race. Riding on the Gardiner Expressway was incredible! I loved seeing the city around me, and we rode toward the CN tower on both the outbound and inbound routes. On my inbound route, I spotted my condo building, and for a moment I thought to myself “that’s your home, this is the life that you wanted, this is the life that you worked for, this is the life that you’re living”! It felt incredible, and I went faster.
I safely got through the bike ride, ran back into transition zone and changed for my run, and then saw my cheering section once again lined up to watch me run out. Mom was my official photographer all morning, DeNeige yelled “you’re killing this!” and Dad gave me a high five as I ran. We all knew in that moment that I was going to do this. The scary parts were over. I was finishing the race.
The run-dear God-the run was hard. Triathletes talk about ‘brick training’ when you run after you bike, because your legs feel like bricks. As I expected from my training, my legs felt heavy and slow but I kept pushing. One of the lovely things was that the outbound path was open to the public, and many people who were on their runs or bike rides shouted out encouragement to us as we raced. It was so awesome to have random strangers cheering me on in what, for me, was the hardest part of the race. One woman parked her bike at the 1km remaining marker, and called out to every runner who passed “1km left! You got this! Only 6 more minutes!” In my head I thought “well, 7, but okay, I can do that.”
As I saw the turn into the finish line approaching, I somehow forgot about the blazing heat and fatigue, and I started really running. Other racers who finished earlier were holding signs that said “Finish strong! Suffer now! Beer Later!” I felt elated as I ran past so many people cheering, and spotted my Dad, grinning and cheering right before the finish line, and tears started to fill my eyes as I sprinted across the finish line and saw my Mom and DeNeige both cheering and taking photos and video.
The moment when I crossed the finish line felt like an incredible victory. For me, it wasn’t just about finishing a triathlon, which was an incredible accomplishment in and of itself, but it was also about truly coming to redefine myself. Seven and a half years ago, I made the commitment to reinvent myself as a healthy, active person, and completing this triathlon felt like the ultimate proof of my success. Becoming a triathlete felt better than any weight I’d ever lost, because it was about strength and health, and learning what my body was physically capable of. I pushed myself completely out of my comfort zone to undertake a challenge I’d dreamed of, but had never had the courage to do before. Prior to the race, I wished I had a buddy to go with me and hold my hand, but at the end of the day, I did it by myself, for myself.
Yesterday was an absolutely incredible day, one of the best of my entire life. It was a monumental road mark on my journey of wellness, and it made me reflect on who I am now, and where I’ve been. I cried so many tears of joy yesterday, the hardest after I learned that my time was 18 minutes less than my goal (I completed it in 1:42). I never dreamed I’d do so well, I just wanted to finish. I did so much more than that. This blog is about my active pursuit of joy, and I can definitely say that yesterday, and in the months of training that led to this point, I very much lived that. Through injuries and illness, I struggled and pushed, and every effort was worth it for that joyful, jubilant moment when I crossed the finish line,
when I became a triathlete!
While I raced alone, I did have MANY people supporting me in many ways, beyond just my amazing cheering section. From my cousin Nicole, who leant me her road bike, my friend Kelly, who came and gave me monthly swim lessons leading up to race, my Ironman tri inspiration Rachel, who gave me amazing advice, to Izabella my nutritionist, to my bestie Lily, my constant cheerleader in all things, and to all of my friends, family and colleagues who told me I was going to kill it, with utter confidence. A huge THANK YOU to all of you. I saw you all at the finish line cheering me on.
Photo credit for all the race photos go to my awesome Mom, Adrienne Gilbert. Thanks Mom!