Rain is pitter-pattering on the roof of our RV as we snuggle into the final moments of calm before the storm. It’s only 5 am and in a few short moments the coffee will be brewing and the camper will be alive with activity as everyone prepares for the anticipated day. Sean gives me one last squeeze in our warm cocoon before hopping out of bed to begin his tediously prepared pre-race checklist. Today is the day we trudged to Knoxville, TN for, and despite the pouring rain and ominous sky, the plan has not been foiled. Sean and Pat will be tackling 70.3 miles of swimming, biking, and running on an increasingly treacherous course of rain, mud, chilly water, and wind. I am participating in a relay, so only 6.2 miles of running is my responsibility. It’s a family affair today as his mother, father, and future sister-in-law take on their own personal challenges.
Before this moment, as I have been attempting to learn and train for my first triathlon experience, I have only seen this as a physical test and a sport for athletes who need an outlet. The concept of pushing your body to such a limit and devoting so much precious time to a seemingly arbitrary pursuit of physical training was so confusing to me. But as nerves for all of us began to set in, I slowly realized it is so much more.
We darted out of the camper so the boys could make their early preparation deadline before strapping on wet suits and swim caps to face the icy river. As we stood with the first heat aside the river, rain dumping down on us, I felt a unique energy like never before. And then as I watched my love march down to the dock below, leaping in the cold water with the other brave souls, it began to set in even more. I watched them take off at the sound of the blaring horn, thrashing in the water with only the rumbling sound synchronized splashing below.
Due to my relay position, I was not scheduled to run for hours. I watched my team’s swimming leg and biking leg take off. They bravely faced the conditions for the sake of our team. As I watched the valiant competitors set off on their long wet bike ride, I spotted Sean. Warmth rushed over me as I watched him saddle up on his steed and begin the next leg of his 56 mile journey. I saw a stoic, centered, focused version of this man, further driving home the intensity of what we were out here to do. Each triathlete trudging on appeared like soldiers as they pushed past the discomfort and darted by on their bikes.
When it was finally my time to face the rain, I set off to run my run and finish; no more than that. But as settled into my stride, a special energy took over me. I reached mile three, shoes covered in mud and heavy with rain water from the deep puddles along the trail. Halfway there. A smile spread across my face as gratitude swept over me. It was a heavy greatfulness that I could run with these people pushing themselves so hard. It wasn’t a day of my own achievement, despite reaching a personal record. It was oddly a day of reflection and deep appreciation for this type of commitment and pursuit. This is much more than a test of physical strength and testing what your training yielded; it is a test of will. It is a mental and emotional game and in the end the pursuer grows stronger in a profound way.
I equate this struggle followed by growth with many moments in my travels. This is my strongest reference to pushing myself to discomfort to achieve deep inner transformation. Now, as I dig my heels in for my own first full triathlon attempt, the training process is going to have so much more meaning. Pushing through the pain doesn’t seem so torturous anymore knowing that the efforts will yield a massive high and so much more. Suddenly I get it and it makes me wonder what else is out there that will bring this indescribable uplifting feeling of achievement and growth... The adventure continues.