I decided over the summer to do something completely new and challenging for me. I signed up to participate in the Catalina Sprint Triathlon, which includes a half-mile swim, ten-mile bike ride through the hills of Avalon and a three-mile jog. I am a 44-year-old, single mom of two girls, 10 and 13, and I don’t think of myself as an athlete. I signed up because I wanted to prove to myself that I possessed the self-discipline and mental focus to accomplish this challenge. My jogging buddy also thought it was a great idea!
I started training through the summer with my friend. We jogged every day at 6:00 a.m., Monday through Friday, and eventually added swimming in a nearby lagoon to our routine. If you have never jumped into the water at sunrise, I highly recommend it! We invited a couple of other friends to join us throughout the summer, but alas, no takers.
During the last six weeks of training, I added cycling into the mix by signing up for spin class at my local Jewish Community Center. During my first class, I thought my heart was going to explode but I decided to stay with it. It gradually became more manageable each week.
I purchased my first road bike, which was on backorder due to supply chain issues. When I got the call from the shop that my bike had finally arrived, I excitedly went to pick it up. I grew up riding beach cruisers but never tried a road bike before. It is nothing like a beach cruiser! It feels very different, and the braking and gears take time to learn to use. You wear special shoes so that you can clip into the pedals. There is no kickstand! If you are not careful when coming to a stop, you can topple over before unclipping out of the pedals. A very patient staff member and a very amused customer spent about an hour trying to teach me how to clip in and out with my new cycling shoes. After several attempts, I made the executive decision to use my tennis shoes for the triathlon and leave the regular pedals on the bike, with the goal of learning how to use the clips another time.
Two days before the big the event, my training partner broke the news to me that she was sick and could not attend. I was faced with the choice of dropping out or going on this adventure alone. I decided I already registered, paid for my ferry ticket, hotel room and bike, so I would give it a try. If I failed, at least I would not know anybody there.
After work, I drove home, grabbed my bike and overnight bag, and headed to the ferry, of course, running late. I made it to the boarding line, only to discover that bikes also need a ticket. Nobody told me that! After this latest hiccup, my bike and I boarded the ferry as the last passengers. I enjoyed a scenic ride over to Catalina as the sun started to set.
When I arrived on the island, I wandered around on foot with my bike and overnight bag, looking for the hotel, with Siri guiding my way. It felt very strange not to have my two daughters with me. I got a call that evening from another participant, who happened to be a teacher at our local elementary school. Another mom had tried to connect us several weeks before, but we never got around to talking. She ended up inviting me to a local pub to grab a drink and explain the course to me. I enjoyed a nice evening and dinner, learning the about the challenges we would be facing the following morning.
I woke up bright and early on Saturday, packed my gear and headed to the sand to check in. When I arrived at the booth and received my bib number and tee shirt, the reality of the challenge that was in front of me began to set in. I could feel the electricity in the air as the other athletes began to set up their bikes at the transition station. I found it remarkable how so many different age groups were represented amongst the crowd. People from their 20s to their 70s showed up to compete. I curiously stared at everyone’s calves, which proudly identified the person’s age written with a black sharpie marker.
My new friend that I met the night before kindly helped me set up my bike, helmet, and change of clothes.
The schedule included the swim as the first event of the day. Hundreds of participants milled about, organized in three different groups. Each group wore different colored swim caps. As I watched the first group of participants swim out into the chilly harbor water, I felt my nerves kick in. There was no going back! I hung toward the back of the third group until I heard the whistle. Hundreds of people around me began to swim into the waves from the rocky shoreline and I hesitantly followed, being sure to keep my distance from the crowd so I did not get kicked. I followed the crowd, comfortably in the middle of the pack making my way around the pier. The water was chilly but the wetsuit I wore, and the adrenaline shock helped me through the course.
As I climbed out of the water and made my way toward my bike, I tried to quickly strip off my wetsuit and change into my cycling gear, which is no small feat when you are dripping in the sand! (Note to self: bring baby powder next time.) I finally made my way onto my bicycle, and followed the other competitors along the course, thinking, “Okay, this is not so bad.” As I pedaled along the coastline, I took in the beauty of the landscape. Gradually, the climb became steeper as we wound our way up the hilly terrain. I kept trying to pedal but the grade became so challenging that I could no longer push my wheels forward, so I got off and started walking alongside my bike, as I observed some other contestants do. When I finally made it to the top of the peak, I felt like I was ready to pass out and realized that I needed to do this two more times in order to complete the cycling portion of the event. The ride down was equally challenging trying to control the high speed of the bike as I coasted back toward the starting point. I asked God to prevent me from falling and suffering a major road rash or worse. I made it back to the beginning and absorbed the fact that I needed to do this two more times. What was I thinking? As I started my second loop, I saw many more experienced cyclists, pass me for their third loop. I decided to keep going even though I was clearly falling behind the crowd. After finishing the second loop, I felt ready to quit but I thought about all my friends and the people in my spin class who encouraged me, and my kids, who would ask me how it went when I got home. I decided to keep trying.
Loop three proved to be even more difficult. I started to run out of water and I could feel the pain searing through my legs as I tried to keep pedaling. I saw even fewer participants on my last loop. I did not know how I was going to add a 5K run at the end of the cycling event, but I decided to just focus on finishing one piece at a time. As I finally made my way to the crest of the last loop, I took a moment to admire the scenery and expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Then I got back on my bike and completed the final coast down, feeling like I was on Mr. Toad’s Wild Adventure at Disneyland. I made it down in one piece, cycled back to the transition station and dumped my bike. I grabbed some much-needed water and then started my jog toward the Casino, located at the far end of the coastline, grateful for the fact that the terrain appeared to be pretty flat. As I followed the course, I felt I would be able to finish and then I discovered that whoever drew the course had a sick sense of humor. After finishing mile one of what I thought would be a flat coast to the finish line, we suddenly took a turn back up into the hills of Catalina. My jog slowed to a walk with a lot of huffing and puffing. Occasionally, a bystander stopped to cheer and encouraged me to continue on. I pushed myself beyond what I thought my physical limits were in order to finish those last two miles.
I felt mentally and emotionally exhausted as I saw the finish line from the distance. As I got closer, I found the energy to start jogging again. (The slight decline, at this point also helped.) As I crossed the finish line, a volunteer, who looked to be in her late 60s, approached me and handed me a medal. I grasped it in my hands and suddenly broke down crying in front of this stranger. I couldn’t even understand this sudden flood of emotions but I felt like I was finally letting go of a lot of pain from the last three years, including navigating through a pandemic while going through an ugly divorce, starting a new law practice and figuring out how to be a single parent. The volunteer looked at me with kind but hesitant eyes and asked, “do you need a hug?” and I nodded in the affirmative, still wiping away my tears.
The experience of pushing myself to accomplish a goal outside of my skill level and comfort zone proved to be a new beginning for me. I realized from this journey that I can meet difficult challenges. I also realized that showing up is sometimes the biggest obstacle. I left Catalina with a sense of accomplishment and peace that day. My medal sits on my nightstand in my bedroom, and I smile whenever I look at it.