Do you remember what it was like your first time?
That nervous feeling in your stomach. The sweaty palms. Wondering if you should go through with it. Would it hurt? Would you be able to go all the way? What would people think of you afterwards? Wondering if it would seem as special when you’re done as it does as you lead up to it.
There’s nothing like doing it for the first time.
Especially when you’re surrounded by several hundred strangers.
Ah yes….the virgin triathlon.
We’ve all had one. For some, it was breathtaking, beautiful, joyous. For others, it was difficult. A death march. Almost always, though, that first attempt is addictive.
As an “experienced” triathlete, I don’t think I approach races with the same wonder and awe that I did as a newbie. When you’re fresh into the sport, every race is over-the-top big. Every distance is new. Every time you run is a personal best. I just don’t get as excited as I used to. Setting up transition is more workmanlike. More focused. Less awe-inspiring.
A week or so ago, I got to experience a virgin race with my wife. It was her first triathlon ever. And I got to re-live some of those first time jitters.
Leading up to race day, she wasn’t too excited or nervous. She kept saying she just wanted to finish. She felt that she was probably under trained. She didn’t have any expectations for a fast finish. In fact, her stated time goal for the sprint was, “just finish under two hours.”
When we arrived at the race site and started walking towards transition, I could tell that her nervousness and excitement were growing. Husbands can tell these things – at least those who have been married for 18 years. We got our race packets and chips. We got body marked. She was excited. Perhaps a little nervous, although that didn’t really show.
We took her gear into transition. I helped her find her assigned rack and start to set up her transition area. Then, it was time to make our way down to the water to start our races. Her – a sprint; me – an Olympic.
We parted ways just prior to the start of my race with a kiss, a hug, and a wish of good luck. As I waited in the water for my chance to start, I thought of her. I wondered if she was as excited for her race as I was for her to race. She was racing for me. Perhaps because of me. Something we could do as husband and wife. I was so excited and nervous….that she’d finish, that she’d have fun, that she would like this sport that I have come to love.
As I turned the final buoy, I guessed that it was close to time for her to start her swim. I was wrong. She was already in the water, stroking her way towards the swim out.
I half-heartedly expected to see her in transition, and was slightly disappointed when I didn’t. I saw a friend as I got on the bike and asked her if she had seen Mrs. TM yet. The response, “Yep! She’s on the bike, and she looks great!” Relief. Joy.
I saw a glimpse of her on the bike. Long enough for me to yell “Hi”. And we were gone.
Once I got off the bike and started on the run, I hoped I’d see her again. Less than a half mile into my run, I saw her. She was flying! And she looked awesome! I gave her a quick kiss and again we parted. She to the finish, me to my 10k run.
Afterwards we talked about the race, and I learned her splits. I learned that she was very happy with her performance, and went just over 90 minutes. She was happy the race was over. She enjoyed herself and was pleased with how the race unfolded.
Just like a father watching a newborn walk for the first time, I was overpowered with happiness, joy, and excitement. I think I was more proud of her for doing her first triathlon than she was. And thankful, too. You see, earlier this year, Mrs. TM had a heart condition that required surgery. She’s fine now, but this race was a testament of how very far one can go in just a year.
It turns out that she never got too nervous. She was excited at the start, but never nervous. She paced herself, ran within her limits, and had a good time. She enjoyed herself. Not only did she have fun at her first triathlon, she’s indicated she’d like to do another one sometime….just nothing longer than a sprint. Doesn’t matter to me if she races a sprint or an Ironman. She enjoyed it and it’s something we can do together.
At the end of the day, I think I was more nervous than she. I had butterflies in my stomach. I had that sense of awe and anticipation the whole day. It was as if I was a triathon virgin all over again.
And it was great.