Posted by: charityliz | June 6, 2011

tri saga

So I completed my second sprint triathlon this past weekend, and of course, it was an adventure.   But after I complete a triathlon, I feel like people perceive me as that much stronger/braver for it (and maybe there’s some truth to that), but I don’t always feel that way and I want to tell my side of the story.    Hopefully this will give a little more reality to the picture of who I am, even amidst some of my most challenging accomplishments…

For my own sake, more than anyone’s, I’ve recorded the details of my journey.  And I figure I should just share it with those of you who are interested in reading a short novel on someone’s novice triathlon experience (riveting lunch-time reading material for sure–haha)!

DISCLAIMER: Before reading any further, anyone who’s interested in actually doing a Triathlon should take my dramatic (albeit very real to me) recording of this weekend as just ONE person’s viewpoint.  Most people will say nothing but amazing, fun, inspiring things about completing a triathlon.  And although I feel some of those elements in minor amounts today, I’m going to tell it like it is (or at least how it is for me)….even though I would whole-heartedly encourage anyone to do a triathlon in the end!  On any other day, I could probably even rewrite this saga as a motivational speech…and maybe I will.  But today, it’s just going to be the raw and “un-cut”  feelings and internal dialog that dominated my experience this time…


Began training in late February.  Enjoyed most of my training.   Swimming is always more of a challenge when I start, but even that got to be enjoyable after a few weeks.  Swimming can be very relaxing and a super good time for meditating!

Hit a “small” obstacle in April with an unexplainable foot/arch injury that kept me from running, biking (and even walking at times) for a month!  Recovered just in time for a solid month of regaining training momentum in May.

At this point, I’d like to point out that that I truly love TRAINING for triathlons!  The balance of swimming, running and biking is a great fitness pattern…and it works well with Pilates and SUP, which I really enjoy and build-in for strength training.  I also love looking for motivational bible verses or quotes that I can use to help focus me and keep things in perspective.  To me, triathlon training isn’t really about being physically fit, but it’s part of building character—learning self-discipline, learning to push oneself, learning one’s limits, learning to pray for help, learning to get encouragement from others, learning to stay positive, and learning to have FUN and ENJOY the opportunity.  I’ve never seen myself as a true athlete (and I’m completely fine with that).  I guess I lack the edge that I see in “true” athletes, but I love being active, challenging myself and doing new things…and training for a sprint triathlon really isn’t something that has to take over your life.  About an hour a day—give or take.

However, COMPETING and all that goes with it, is totally different from TRAINING. Here’s where character is tested and where my story of yesterday’s competition comes full circle….

Friday Night:

Realize weather is forecasted to be very cold and rainy for Sunday’s triathlon.  Began wondering why I signed up for this stupid race in the first place!  “What was I thinking?!  Ocean water and Morro Bay in June is not necessarily a balmy summer occasion.  I already knew this!”   But I tried not to think about it, and exercising sheer commitment and a tidbit of denial, I loaded my bike on my car and headed for the Central Coast after work on Friday.


10am: Wake up to rain.  Nervousness about the weather is beginning to set in, but still in denial, I decided to head over to the race site, check out the course and do a test swim to get used to that frigid water that I should have gotten used to days ago.

12pm: Arrive in Morro Bay. Do reconnaissance of the course, while staying in the warm safety of my car. I didn’t notice much about the course, because I was too busy looking at how blustery, rainy, cold and freezing it was.  “Forget the course.  This weather is awful!!  How am I supposed to do a triathlon in this?!” And going for a test swim was completely out of the question; I didn’t care what my training book recommended—I was not going to get in that storm brew of an ocean!! I would take my chances with the initial shock on race day— if I even made it that far! Anyone who knows me well, knows I don’t like anything under 70 degrees or any more than partly cloudy skies on a usual day…and this certainly holds true for a triathlon day.

1:00pm:  Stand in line to pick up race packet.  Meet two fun fellow triathletes, Katie & Dan, and we chat it up while standing in line.  I explain why I’m freaked out (because of weather and being on a new bike and the freezing cold ocean and open bike course on the highway in the rain and yadayadayada) and they are like “Yeah, the weather’s crappy, but it will still be fun!  We will probably down-grade from the Olympic distance to the Sprint distance just so it’s not as intense for us, but we’re definitely going to do it, and YOU SHOULD TOO! You can do it!  We’ll see you tomorrow at the starting line!”  I walk away thinking, “Yeah right.”

1:15pm: Pick up race packet.  Ask about how to return timing chip, should I choose to ditch the race.  Yes, I actually asked about ditching as I was checking-in…the ultimate contradiction!

1:30pm:  Have lunch with dear and faithful friend, Heather, at restaurant overlooking the blustery, stormy bay.  Heather happened to be my one of my roommates and biggest fans that supported me through my first tri experience last year, so it was fitting that she saw me through this one. After careful discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of ditching the triathlon, I walk out of the restaurant 80% sure that I would ditch, telling myself that it’s completely acceptable and understandable… “and maybe we should just stay out late and make an appearance at my favorite Karaoke bar, instead of going to bed early for a race I might not even follow-through with.  That’s more like it!”

3:00pm: I decide to post my feelings on Facebook, half knowing that my friends would help set my head straight.  Status: Looking @ rainy blustery & freezing in Morro Bay right now &forecast is the same tomorrow for the triathlon.  I’m not sure if I have it in me to do this! L

Responses:  Lot’s of encouraging…”you can do it” and “we’re cheering for you”…. I seriously am the luckiest girl in the world to have such amazing friends that care enough to keep me going in my weakest moments!

3:00pm: Another long-winded decision-weighing session with Heather (yes, the same dear and faithful friend that walked me through the previous discussion 3 hours prior), while overlooking the rainy Atascadero Lake from her living room.  At this point I’m 90% sure I’ll ditch the race.

6:00pm:  There’s a break in the rain.  We decide to go for short bike ride around Atascadero …you know, just to get more used to the bike that I’ve been riding for only a few days.  Yes, I switched bikes the week of my race .  Not exactly the best timing, but it’s a road bike and should be far more efficient than my other bike.  And can I just say that road bikes are such a different monster??!  But I’m feeling more secure at the end of this short joyride, and I’m now leaning toward doing the race the next day—70% chance that I’ll go.

7:30pm: Go out for pasta dinner…after all, if I’m going to race the next day, I need to do the right thing and load up on carbs!  Go to one of the best Italian restaurants in town, and the only stuff that looks good to me are meat dishes!  “Seriously?!”  So I settled for chicken and pasta.  But the best part of the meal was an incredibly delicious glass of wine and a soul-feeding conversation with two dear friends (we didn’t really talk much about the race).

10pm: Drive home from dinner and have another long discussion with Heather (same dear and faithful friend that’s already had this discussion with me at least three times in the same day), about whether I should follow through with the race. Weather forecast is still looking crappy.  Went to bed with 50% chance that I’d actually do the race the next day.

11pm: Before falling asleep, I literally pray that I wake up to sunshine and no rain—and that would be my sign to do the race! (bold, I know)

Sunday – Race Day!

6am: Wake up to rain.  Ug.  No sign of answered prayers.

6:45am: Sitting in Heather’s living room sipping on coffee, still in pajamas, feeling apprehensive, and literally searching online for the next triathlon in the Bay Area that I can participate in—desperate for any excuse to ditch this race and have another one lined up, so as not to feel like I wasted all that energy, focus and discipline on training.   Found nothing.

6:50am: Decide I would at least drive to Morro Bay and if it’s still raining when I arrived, I would not make myself do the race.  Pack quickly, since I should have been packed and ready to go already.  Note: procrastination is not a good idea on race day.  “What’s wrong with me? I need to get going!!”

7:30am: Driving through the canyon toward Morro Bay, the rain and fog just got heavier.  99% positive that I will not do this race.  But right as I’m turning the last bend into Morro Bay, the rain stops and the clouds break and I actually see patches of blue sky!  I hated to admit it, but decided this might be a sign from God (and an answer to prayer).  “Fine, I’ll do it.”

8:00am: Outfitted and ready to go.  Transition area set.  I head to the water and take a dip, along with half the other triathletes who are clearly serious about this race and following the typical pre-race protocol to dip and get acclimated to the water.  Meanwhile, the other half of the contestants are standing on the shore apprehensive about the water temperature, and once I get wet, I know exactly why. “ Yikes!!!  That water was so frigid!  The wetsuite might keep my body warm, but my face is going to freeze off halfway into the race!“  At least at that point, I knew exactly what to expect.

8:15-8:30am:  Small talk with Katie (new friend from day before) and several other contestants as we wait for our wave to start.  While most of them are getting pumped and excited, I’m getting more and more nervous, wondering why I just don’t seem to get that adrenaline rush that is supposed to kick in and make you soar through any challenge!

8:35am: Horn blows and I take the plunge.  Katie and I go running for the water, both saying our last words of good luck to each other before the final submerging.  The voice in my head: “Burrr. Dang, this is cold!  How did I ever body board in this stuff when I lived in Shell Beach! No turning back now!  But dang—it’s COLD!”   I had quite a difficult time finding my rhythm.  And looking ahead at that fourth buoy way out in the distance, I wondered if I’d make it.  And, though I’d trained to swim twice that distance with a freestyle stroke (in a heated indoor pool—quite different than open ocean!), I suddenly found myself unable to do more than five or 6 strokes without stopping to look up, breath and seriously just hang out in the water!  I was taking the just-finish-and-don’t-worry-about-winning mentality to a whole new level.   So… I started employing all kinds of various swim strokes—back stroke (checking out cool cloud formations along the way), breast stroke, butterfly and even doggy-paddle (all of which I never trained with)—and all before I even reached that first buoy!  It was almost funny how much I was just thrown off by the cold water!  But I’ll also say, there were a LOT of other people in that same mode.  It wasn’t that I truly thought I couldn’t make it, but I just felt like it was a long way to go and was trying to figure out how to conserve energy and not freak out during what is supposed to be the least draining part of the race.

8:50ish: Finally make it as far as the second buoy thinking  I’m only ¼ of the way through….but then, as I approach, I realize people are turning around here at the second buoy.  “Oh!  No way! We’re already turning around!  I’m already half way done!  Praise God!” (Turns out, the fourth buoy in the distance was for the Olympic swimmers!).  Form this point, I end up doing my normal swim pretty much all the way back.  It’s crazy how all the sudden I had more focus and energy to swim right, when I actually realized I could do it (proving the adage “racing is a mental thing” to be completely true).   It was still a challenging swim back, but nothing like the first half of the swim.  And I’m proud to announce that my face did NOT freeze off!

9:10ish: (I have no watch on during the race, so timing is a bit fuzzy) Feeling like I’ve accomplished the biggest victory and completely relieved to be out of that water.  I’m also reminding myself that today is about finishing, not about winning.  So I take that concept to the extreme, and while everyone else is hurriedly ripping off their wet suites, putting on cycling gear and jumping on their bikes, I’m seriously just taking my sweet time.  🙂

9:15-10:00ish:  Beautiful bike ride!  So scenic!  Overlooking the ocean both ways.  No rain.  No intimidating hills. Totally enjoyable (other than the brief moment when I went off course because of poor signage and luckily figured it out and turned around within a hundred yards).  But overall, the ride was 13 miles of beautiful countryside.   Sigh…”I’m glad I did this triathlon”.

10:00ish: Start the 3 mile run, which quickly turns into an obstacle course of jumping through streams, struggling up sand dunes and across muddy running trails.  “Um…did I sign up for an Adventure Race or one of those Muddy Buddy things?! …. No! I did not! What the heck?!”  What was supposed to be my strongest, least stressful leg of the race, was proving to be much more challenging than expected.

10:05ish: Knee starts hurting—bad!…and for no apparent reason, since I’ve never had knee problems or  injuries of that sort.  “Really?  Is this really happening to me right now?! Oh well.  Just keep running.”

10:15ish: I have to go pee like nobody’s business.  I’ve been holding it since halfway through the bike ride and now I’m downright uncomfortable.  And now that a beach porta-potty is in sight (and has never looked better), there is no way I can hold it any longer! Stopping was the smartest thing I ever did.  I felt like a million bucks when I was done…and that lasted for like 2 minutes.  Then I entered the last half of the run, which was all sand.  I could see the finish line, but my jog was ridiculously slow.

10:20ish: I stopped to walk for a minute…this was breaking one of my biggest personal “rules”, which is “do every part of the race, the way it’s supposed to be done…i.e. don’t walk during the run”…but it wasn’t because I wanted to stop, but because my knee was killing me and I really did not want to create some narly injury just because I was too stubborn to stop running in this stupid triathlon!

10 seconds later: Enter Don—a really cool guy who stops to walk alongside me.  Introduces himself as someone that’s part of “Multisport Ministries”, which is a group of triathletes who “do triathlons for fun, and never at the expense of helping someone else out along the way”.  So Don has done a ton of triathlons, but makes a point of encouraging people along the way (and apparently, I’m one of those people). Super cool guy!  We have a nice little chat for a minute and then he jogs the rest of the way in with me.  We both share some of our favorite inspiring bible verses that have gotten us through tough training days, and the hardest parts of the race.  Don was such a life saver, because he distracted me the rest of the way in.  We both decided to sprint the last 200 yards—he was way ahead in no time—but I whole heartedly called out behind him, “Go for it! …and thank you!”  This was my favorite moment in the day!

10:35ish: cross the finish line.  Done, done and done!

10:40ish: Go stand in the freezing cold bay water to ice my knee for 10-15 minutes.  Ahhhh, sweet relief!  “Thank you, God…for giving me strength to finish the race and for the opportunity to have this adventure!”

11:00ish: Run into Dan and Katie on my way out!  We all congratulate each other, they invite me to have a beer with them.  As good as it sounds, I am ready to pack up and take the long trip home back to the Bay Area.  The random community that forms at triathlons is really a cool thing though—everyone is so encouraging and it’s a great atmosphere the whole time.

Uber thanks to Heather for hearing me worry and deliberate ALL weekend long!  And special thanks to my friends and family, near and far, who have more faith in me than I have in myself—thanks for all your texts, FB messages and prayers!

So there it is.  Blow by blow.  If you’ve actually read this far, I’m impressed (Mom & Dad—I know you guys probably will read this whole thing! Thanks for being my biggest fans! )

If you’re someone that wants to try a tri (haha),  I truly hope you aren’t afraid after reading this.  It is totally worth it!!!….and most people aren’t near as dramatic as I am, I’m sure!   🙂



  1. YOU ARE MY HERO Charity!! I know that was a tough decision to make, I was full on behind you going or not…honestly, I would have ditched!! You inspired me even more in this TRI than the last one because you had sooo many good reasons not to participate, yet you DID, and you FINISHED! Next time I am teetering on throwing in the towel I will remember this weekend and your determination! I will thank you now for reminding me in the future, to step up my game and GO FOR IT!! So, Bill’s next visit? 😉 Love ya!

  2. Yay, Charity! I’m so proud of you! Good job persevering and finishing up strong!! 🙂

  3. I read the WHOLE thing and I am definitely impressed!

  4. Of course I read it all, and made sure I re-read parts if I got interrupted with sips of coffee…

    I am so proud of you, Sweet Pea. I should make you a tri-atholon quilt with verses from your training! That would be so fun! Maybe we’ll squeeze in one of those before I make you your elegant quilt, eh??? Keep that one in mind for your trip down here.


  5. aww charity!! u did it!!! u continue to impress me with yr determination, discipline and positive spirit!!!! so proud of u!!

  6. There is nothing that you write that I wouldn’t read. Because there is nothing that God is doing in your life that I would not want to know about! I am really proud of you.


  7. Good stuff, congrats! You’re tougher than I … I bailed on the idea about five days out, after looking at the forecast 🙂 If you’re around Sunday, and have the bug to be a spectator, you’re invited to head down to the Silicon Valley Tri with me!

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