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Many athletes are seeking less traditional forms of competition to develop their fitness and challenge their mental stamina; one of these is the triathlon. This event may seem daunting, as most people associate triathlon only with the infamous Ironman (which requires athletes to run a marathon after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles), but triathlons come in many lengths, ranging from the sprint to the Ironman.
Writer Karen Schroeder completed her first triathlon. Here she shares her experience.
Swim, bike, run. It sounds simple enough. On any given summer weekend as a kid, I had probably done each of these activities. And as an adult, I run several times a week, get in a few laps at my Mom's pool during the summer, and ride my bike around town a bit. So, I knew that I could swim, bike, and run, but could I do them one after another and do them quickly?
That was the challenge my brother Jim posed to me and my friend Bob one Sunday in August. Jim had completed the Hyannis, Cape Cod sprint triathlon about five times, and he was looking for some brave new souls to do it with him in September. Bob and I were just those eager takers.
"None of my friends who have done the triathlon with me have done it a second time," my brother warned us, but we were not scared off so easily. I had run in several road races, Bob had competed on his bike many times, and we were both ready for a new challenge.
With only a few weeks to prepare, I borrowed a friend's bike and spent an afternoon out on the roads with Bob, where he refreshed me on the finer points of shifting, turning, and braking. I kept up my regular running routine, and we even plunged into the cool waters of the Atlantic for a few strokes. And then the day came.
On that crisp and windy September morning, I stood on the beach among the seven-hundred-plus nervous athletes, donning my swim cap, goggles, and new triathlete bathing suit (complete with strategically placed padding to make the bike ride more comfortable), waiting for the first gun to go off.
When my age group was sent into the water, I was off into the wave-rocked depths of the Atlantic ocean for a one-quarter-mile swim. At first, the frenzied swell of swimmers (myself included) destroyed my concentration, and I swallowed a lot of salt water. But within a few moments, I pulled myself together, put my face down and started swimming hard. I pushed through the water, full of stroking and kicking limbs, each destined to leave a bruise on my straining body. Building speed and confidence with each stroke, by the time I rounded the second buoy I was feeling strong and fast, and in a few minutes, I emerged from the water and sprinted across the soft sand of the beach toward the transition area to suit up for the bike.
The 10 miles of biking went by pretty smoothly, the breeze off the ocean was refreshing as I pedaled over the hilly, winding course. I passed some bikers, and some passed me, but when I reentered the transition area to jump off the bike and into my running shoes, the 3.6 miles that lay ahead of me and my tiring legs was all that filled my water-logged mind.
Early in the run, I caught sight of a hardcore triathlete who had blown by me on her bike. She was racing the entire course wearing only her triathlete bathing suit, a sure sign that she was a seasoned multi-sport athlete, unlike myself who pulled a pair of biking and then running shorts over my bathing suit for each successive leg of the event. I pushed myself to catch up to this woman.
Once I had caught and passed her, I used this mental game to motivate myself through the rest of the run; choosing a runner ahead of me to catch and then another, and soon, I was in sight of the finish line. The final stretch curved back around onto the beach where this trek had begun. As I sprinted the final 100 yards across the soft, unpredictable terrain of the beach, I extended my stride and pumped my arms for what seemed like an eternity until I was finally propelled across the finish line.
In just over 75 minutes, I became a triathlete. For the next few moments, I basked in my own private high. I have experienced the "runner's high" several times before, after completing a road race, or during an ordinary morning run lit up by an extraordinary sunrise. But this high was a little stronger, an intense combination of relief, pride, and sheer exhaustion that gave me a sense of exhilarating serenity.
Although the intensity of that high has faded a bit with time, the pride remains and plays a significant role in the ongoing process of defining and refining my sense of self.
Since that September morning, I have noticed a slight shift in the way I perceive things, including myself. I find beauty in the smooth outline of a flexing muscle, the grace of a lengthening stride, and the power of a strong scissors kick. I am proud of my strength and my stamina, not my jeans or dress size.
I rarely step on a scale to evaluate myself, instead I track how long I can hold the flexed arm hang and how much closer I am to doing a pull up. No longer am I secretly thrilled when someone asks if I have lost weight. Instead, I am honored when I hear a friend refer to me as a triathlete.