Confessions of a Triathlon Addict

Blame it on my insatiable appetite to get my hands dirty in something new, or my itchiness to be the first Ko to pay over $200 for a bike...when I moved back to the States after more than two years abroad, I decided to try a new event.

Rock climbing? Check, but every time I go it costs $40. Yikes.
Half-marathon? Check, check - in Houston and in Jordan.
Marathon? No thanks; I'd rather have knees when I'm 50.
Triathlon? Hmmm...why not?

And so the obsession began.

After some quick research, I settled on racing in the Nation's Triathlon - an Olympic-distance event in Washington, D.C.. My "research" must not have been too thorough, though: the race had sold out about 4 weeks before. The only option? Sign up with Team in Training, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's largest fund-raising program.

And so I became an advocate for blood cancer research. For the next 4 months, I lived and breathed for training and raising money. I exuded triathlon fumes. Emails sent out to relatives and friends pleaded for any amount that would inch me closer to my fundraising goal of $2800. Some donated $5; others donated quirky amounts like $104.37. As the triathlon date of September 13 crept closer, I blasted the emails harder and more frequently and hosted several fundraising happy hours as excuses for friends to spend money on a good time and simultaneously contribute to my campaign to Annihilate Blood Cancer.

I had no idea how to train for a triathlon, and registering with Team in Training was the perfect remedy. TNT coaches and mentors hosted weekly BRICK workouts, an acronym triathletes use to refer to Bike + Run = ICK. My first team workout, I took my uncle's mountain bike, a dusty, too-big, fat-wheeled, heavy monster from Craig's List. I hadn't ridden a bike since I chased the postman around the block, but Hey, I thought, how hard can it be to balance on 2 wheels? I balance on 5 toes in yoga all the time! On the road, though, I found myself passed by 60-year-old recreational riders out for a stroll on their skinny-tired road bikes.

It was only a matter of weeks before I succumbed to my road-bike envy and bought myself a Felt FW35: a bold and beautiful, sleek frame with skinny tires and Ultegra components! My tri-friends had warned me about riding clipless, and so I practiced for an hour in an empty school parking lot, riding in circles, clipping in and out, giddy with excitement every time I felt the satisfying click when my shoes nestled in the right place on those big-as-my-palm pedals as I gently rotated my ankle outwards.

My weekends became booked with brick workouts, open water swims, and endurance runs - and I loved it. On Mondays, I couldn't wait until Saturday, when I'd wake up to a 6 am alarm, drive for an hour to get out of the city, and power through a 3-hour workout with my fellow triathletes-in-training. My quads, once flabby from eating goat and fried eggplant for two years in Jordan, slowly started to show traces of muscle. I started copying other athletes, wearing cycling shorts that made me feel like I was wearing a diaper but saved my butt from the numbness of a 2-hour ride on a tiny saddle. As the date of the Nation's Triathlon approached, I increased my training rides and runs, grew more comfortable in open (and brown) water, and ate like a sumo champ to compensate for my 2-a-day workouts.

The donation that put me over my fundraising goal of $2800 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society was from Alan Lyss, the father of my honored teammate Aaron. I had met Aaron through swim practices at my gym; in simple words, Aaron is a lymphoma survivor, competitive triathlete, brother and son. Diagnosed with lymphoma on his 28th birthday, he underwent 6 cycles of aggressive chemotherapy and during his treatment, came up with the brilliant idea that he'd compete in a triathlon only 3 months after he finished his last chemo treatment. And he did. He beat cancer, and he beat the lows that come with chemo to surface as a triathlete, a mentor, and a hero.

On September 13, the day of the Nation's Triathlon, I was pumped, psyched, giddy, nervous, anxious, and nearly peeing with excitement in my wetsuit. A few minutes before my heat's 7:54 am start, I was treading water in the Potomac, waving to my family on the sidelines, and peering out into the horizon at a stream of swimmers from previous heats. As soon as that gun went off, I made a beeline for the first orange buoy. Around every buoy corner, I met ankles and elbows, and fought to cut the closest corner. Several times, I swam straight into the hips or crotch of a slower swimmer from the previous heat, unable to avoid the crash because of near-zero visibility in the Potomac.

1.5 kilometers and 26:46 later, I was in T1 (1st transition). I slipped out of my wetsuit, strapped my helmet on, took a deep breath, and smiled. Bon Jovi was blaring from the megaphone over the 24,000 square foot transition area that housed more than $1,000,000 worth of bikes. And I was in the center of it all! A quick check to make sure I had all my gear, and I hoisted my bike off its rack and ran to the bike exit.

The bike course was flat, breezy, and followed a route that I'd driven repeatedly in TicTac, my Honda Civic. Repeated calls of "On your left. LEFT!" were made by impatient cyclists passing slower bikers who were straddling the center of the road. 40 K and 1 hour, 22 minutes later, I was back in transition for T2, exchanging my road bike shoes for a pair of bright yellow Asics racing flats.

The run was fast. I surprised myself. Redemption time, I thought, as I steadily passed the cyclists who, just half an hour earlier, had been screaming at me to get out of their 30-mph-bike path. At each aid station, I splashed my face with water to cool myself from the ruthless absence of shade. 10 kilometers and 44:29 later, as I turned the final corner, I heard the famous Team in Training cowbells. This must be how people feel when they talk about angels singing, I realized, as each annoying cowbell clanger and "Go, Team, Go!" cheer grew louder and more frequent. Volunteers and staff from Team in Training, sporting bright purple shirts and purple-and-green pom-poms, yelled at me from the sidelines. My family and friends leaned over the tape dividing the course between the sidelines, spitting into my face to "Go, Mindy! GO! You can do it!"

And I did it. I completed my first triathlon in 2:39:12, beating my tentative goal of sub-3 hours. I raised over $3000 for blood cancer research, surpassing my initial goal of $2400. I fostered a new addiction and found a reason to justify eating big breakfasts, even bigger lunches, and massive dinners. Triathlons, let me tell you, can lead to an obsession worse than any caffeine or TV-series addiction. It makes you do insane things, like buying a $1000 road bike and waking up at 4 am on Sunday mornings so that you can have the roads all to yourself. It makes you want to swim in giardia-infested waters with seaweed clinging to your wetsuit. It makes you quiver with excitement when you hit mile 7 of an endurance training run. It introduces you to the most overzealous, obsessed, inspiring, and motivated community in any city.

I'm hooked, I'm happy, I'm healthy, and I'm gonna keep on racing in triathlons if this high from racing in the Nation's Triathlon repeats itself each event. I've already lined up a schedule of future Olympic-distance triathlons that I plan to train for in October, May, and April. And in June, it culminates in a half-Ironman. There's no better way to spend my first winter back in the States than training for triathlons.

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