Let me tell you about all of the compliments I receive when I do triathlons because I'm such an awesome triathlete, or something like that. You should know, by the way, that the photo above is not actually me doing a triathlon. I know you were wondering.
My part of yesterday's Hy-Vee Triathlon in Des Moines was to race 25 miles on my bike between my teammates, Muriel, who swam one mile (which is MUCH further than it sounds) and Laura, who ran six miles (which is every bit as far as it sounds). As difficult as I think the bike portion was, I still believe they each had the harder sport to perform and can't imagine doing either for those distances. While I have been cycling quite a bit as of late, I haven't been training for speed and I've always taken breaks at about the ten to fifteen mile point. For this race, it was all about finishing fast and not stopping. I know, crazy stuff.
As soon as Muriel sailed through the water like a silvery little fish, she ran to me and my bike where she passed on the chip we have to wear in order to be timed officially and I had to run my bike out to the transition gate before I could mount it for the race. Now, most people in good shape would probably not consider the run with the bike to be exercise, but I am not in good shape so by the time I was allowed to mount my Trek Pilot 1.0, I was already pretty winded! Then, BAM, right out of the gate was the first hill, which I had to climb still panting from the run. By the time I finished that hill, I was already cursing the day I was born, and I still had miles and miles of headwind to contend with! I was pretty happy that the course seemed to be flat, until I realized everyone was passing me. Humiliating. I continued on directly into the heavy winds, trying to muster up some positive self-talk like "You're feeling strong!" or "You've got the edge!" but instead I just heard words passing through my brain like "My lungs are killing me!" and "I can't feel my feet!" Without trying, I found myself going slower and slower, losing the battle against the wind. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, I saw the hill ahead of me and wanted to cry just a little on the inside. Instead I climbed it, lowering my gears as slowly as possible, doing anything to avoid having to walk up the hill. I've never had to walk my bike up a hill, and I certainly didn't want to start during a race for speed! I made it to the top of the hill, my lungs ready to explode, when I looked up and saw another hill ahead. It didn't seem possible but, sure enough, the hills weren't done with me. Once again, I summoned all the power within me, every last shred of power I could find, and slowly climbed that hill while old men and morbidly obese people passed me by on their bikes. At the top of that hill, I saw that there was another hill and another after that, with absolutely no downhill action that would allow me to gain any momentum.
As I creaked up the next hill, I received the first "Looking good!" comment of many to come from fast, capable athletes passing me. Now, you might think that it is very nice of a fellow triathlete to call out such a compliment during a competition, and you'd be absolutely right, it is super nice and meant to be encouraging. But the dark, ugly truth is that no awesome triathlete would ever call out "Looking good!" to another triathlete climbing a hill using super strength and actually looking good. This compliment is reserved for triathletes, like me, who look like they could be going down any second, like they are on their last leg, huffing and puffing away. So when the compliments started pouring in on those hills from good triathletes around me, I knew I wasn't actually looking good. Ouch.
As I accepted compliment after compliment, it occurred to me that there is one good thing about biking on a windy, uphill course –– the journey back on that same course. On the final four hills going up higher and higher, I just kept telling myself how fantastic it was going to be coming down, and it was. I went so fast on the way down that, for the first time ever, I kicked my Trek into its highest gears. I passed cyclists who had passed me on the way up and I laughed smugly to myself in silent triumph, until I remembered that most of them were doing the entire triathlon themselves and not just the bike portion like me. Most of them had already swam a mile and were probably reserving some of their energy for the six mile run ahead of them. Still, I felt a little better about my situation and, thankfully, didn't receive a single "Looking good!" compliment the whole way back to the finish line. Maybe if I work hard, next year nobody at all will tell me I'm looking good. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.