Earlier this year, I started running. Why? Honestly, I don’t really know. I just needed some goals because that part of my life felt kind of empty. My husband is a runner and likes doing shorter races, so we both started training. He does the iFit training programs on his treadmill, and I like to run in our neighborhood.
After running My First 5k, I became highly motivated. We took a vacation to the beach a month later and brought our mountain bikes with us to ride around the area while we were there. Next thing I know, I’m riding 8-10 miles on the bike along with running 3-4 miles, and it hit me like a ton of bricks…
I know how to swim, so why not do a triathlon and see how I like it?
So, I registered for my first Sprint Triathlon on August 20th with a close childhood friend. In fact, she was the one who told me earlier in the summer that she was doing this particular race and asked me if I wanted to come with her. Off we go!
Friday, August 19th, 2022
My friend Steffonie and I got on the road to Mount Pleasant, but didn’t get to the race site in time to pick up our packets. No biggie, we just had to get there early the next morning to pick them up. We both packed meals to eat at the hotel, so we went straight there to get settled in. I brought my vegetable sushi rolls and happily indulged right after we got into our room. We were in our jammies by 7pm and reading our books while chatting and decompressing. Being friends since fifth grade, we’re like two old ladies when we travel together and went to bed at 9:30pm. As we were getting ready to go to sleep, she asked, “Set the alarm for 5:30am?” I thought for a second and responded, “Let’s do 5:00am, just to be sure.” Her eyes got big and said, “Okay.” Little did I know how much I would regret this decision to sleep for an extra thirty minutes.
Saturday, August 20th, 2022
I slept HORRIBLY last night. We stayed in a hotel, so I was woken up around 11:00pm by some people in the room next to us singing Happy Birthday. I dozed back off and woke up again at 1:45am from hearing more noises in the hotel. This time, I was awake until 4am…then the alarm went off an hour later; I thought the world was coming to an end. I wanted to go back to sleep so badly, but the fear of being late for the race was motivation enough to make myself get up. I ate my apple, drank some electrolytes, and ate my Banana Oatmeal Breakfast Bar. We got ready, loaded our bikes up on the rack of the car, and headed to the race site. I noticed how much lighter her road bike was compared to my massive mountain bike, and it made me start to question how fast I could go in the race. I would soon find out how big of a difference that would make when it comes to speed.
We picked up our race packets, got our numbers, and got all our things set up in the transition area. I looked around and saw an ocean of road bikes, desperately looking to see if there were any other mountain bikes like mine. Didn’t see any. We headed for the port-o-potties to pee, then got our goggles and swim caps to head over to the pool with everyone else.
As we walked into the pool area, each section was set up according to our pace. The fastest pace was labeled, “I swam in college and am very fast.” I laughed out loud and said, “Nope, that ain’t me!” We walked right past that and made our way farther to the back of the line marked, “I like to hang back.” Perfect. I had never swam 250 meters nonstop before today and was most nervous about the swim more than anything else. Thankfully, the pool was relatively shallow (even though it was HUGE) so if I needed to stop at any time, it wouldn’t be a problem. The way the lanes were set up, we were supposed to snake up and down each lane for the full 250 meters. They let us in one person at a time, waiting for the person ahead to get about halfway down the lane before letting the next person in. There was a DJ playing some upbeat music, so I was dancing in line along to the music to get my body warmed up. Did a lot of people see me doing this? Probably, but I didn’t care.
THE SWIM (250 meters)
The race started, and the swimmers began getting in the pool. There were 85 ladies in this race, so we stood in line for a while watching everyone else get in and start swimming. The fastest swimmers were in front, and I watched in awe as they swam like fishies; making it look abnormally easy. I would prove them wrong, because it really wasn’t as easy as they made it seem. I was extremely nervous for this part of the race since I had the least amount of training and experience with it, so I was happy that it was first so I could get it knocked out and move on.
Steffonie was in front of me, and we made it in. The pool was pretty wavy since there were so many people swimming their laps, so when I first got in and started swimming, I was hit with some unexpected issues. First, water got into my right eye goggle. I put my contacts in for the race, so I could feel the water swishing around in my eye.
Oh my gosh, what if my contact comes out and I can’t see during the rest of the race?? I thought.
I closed my right eye, and kept swimming until I got to the wall to turn around. I flipped my goggles up quickly to let the water out, then stuck them back over my eyes to keep going.
Not only did water get in my goggles again, but the pool was so wavy that every time I came up for air, I choked down water. All of the swim training I had done in my own pool at home had been in very calm water, and they were more like intervals because I took breaks. I wasn’t used to being in a huge pool with 85 other people swimming their little hearts out, creating a bunch of waves to come crashing into my mouth and down my windpipe. As I approached the end of the next lap, there was a photographer taking pictures of each person as they came up.
Oh great, I’m going to look like a panicked housecat trying to swim in this race when they snap a picture of me.
The picture is below, and although I don’t look quite like a swimming cat, my stroke was all kinds of messed up from the distraction of choking down water and trying to maintain a steady pace.
Nevermind the photographer, who cares how you look? Meow out loud if you have to make yourself feel better. Just keep going, you have got to get through this. It’s the hardest part of the race for you. Let’s GO!!
I started to get a little more accustomed to the waves in the pool, but my freestyle was getting quite tired and the lady behind me was closing in quickly like she was ready to pass me.
Ohhhh no! She is not going to pass me! No way! You can do this! GO!!!
I switched up my stroke to somewhat of a lazy man’s doggy-paddle/breaststroke. I don’t know exactly what it was, but I was moving. That’s all that mattered at this point was to keep moving and not stop.
If I stop, it’ll just slow down the progress of finishing this swim. GO!!!
The pool was pretty big, but also shallow throughout most of it. In the middle of the laps, I was in the very middle of the pool. Fitting, eh? When I got to this halfway point, I came up for a breath of air and choked down a big gulp of water. The lady behind me wasn’t gaining on me, so I had a few extra seconds to spare. When I choked down that gulp of water, I needed to stop for a second to cough it all up, so I went to put my feet down to stand…but it was too deep for me to stand, and I felt myself flailing for a split second and a bit of panic start to develop.
NO!! KEEP GOING! GET TO THE WALL SO YOU CAN STOP AND GET YOURSELF TOGETHER! YOU CAN DO THIS!!! KEEP GOING!!!
I pushed forward, got to the wall and took a few seconds to cough up all the water, then pushed off the wall with massive force and plunged forward. The next couple laps were pretty steady and uneventful, just me coaching myself in my head to keep going.
You’re almost there. KEEP GOING!!!
The last lap was like euphoria. Even though it was super bright outside and there was no tunnel anywhere to be seen, this felt like a light at the end of the tunnel. I made it through the hardest part for me, and was ecstatic to have made it through the entire swim without stopping or drowning. The volunteers were there at the edge of the pool, cheering everyone on. I climbed out of the pool and jogged to the transition area.
I’m really not a big fan of putting on shoes and socks while my feet are wet, but in these races you suck it up and do what you can. I sat down on the grass and dried off the lower parts of my legs and feet as much as possible before putting on my socks and shoes in a hurry. I took a swig of my Gatorlyte drink in my bag, put on my helmet and sunglasses, then pulled my big ole’ bulky mountain bike off the rack.
THE BIKE (8 miles)
When you participate in a triathlon, there are rules concerning the bike and when to mount/dismount. There are signs up everywhere and we’re given instructions, but when you’re in the moment you really have to pay attention to what you’re doing. I was jogging alongside my bike until I could hop on, with people telling me which way to go. Well, apparently I was distracted because I took a right where I was supposed to take a left, and they started calling out to me in a panic. I turned around quickly and had to toss away that feeling of embarrassment to keep pedaling. “Oh, you meant my OTHER left!!” I cried out and we laughed.
One thing I noticed at this race was the lack of mountain bikes. That was the second time I questioned my so-called logic of bringing a mountain bike to a triathlon race. Even though my new mountain bike was significantly faster than my old one, it was like trying to win a race on an elephant as opposed to a cheetah. Slight difference. Steffonie and I had finished the swim right around the same amount of time and I was right behind her after my wrong direction fiasco. I got a little over confident and thought I was going to be Speedy Gonzales on my mountain bike. I started to pass her, but just a few seconds later she passed me and then I didn’t catch up to her again on the bike.
There was nothing I could do about the bike situation at this point, so I just enjoyed the ride and kept a steady pace for the entire 8 miles. The neighborhood was absolutely beautiful. The landscaping was pristine, there were sidewalks throughout, and the homes were all Coastal-style and breathtaking.
Dang, I want to live in this neighborhood!!
A lot of people who live in the neighborhood were outside cheering for us along the route. About halfway through, there was a big family outside their house cheering and clapping. I was pretty much on a solitary ride, so they were cheering for me as I came by. I looked over and cried, “This is a lot longer than you would think!!” They laughed and continued to cheer.
We had to do two 4-mile loops in the neighborhood, but the bike route seemed to go by somewhat quickly…even though it was the most time-consuming part of the race. I absolutely LOVED riding my bike as a kid, so I spent many years riding all over the place. I felt like a kid again, but this time I’m in a race.
As I was finishing up my last lap and heading to the transition area, one of the ladies in charge called out, “Go to the guy in the pink shirt!”
Okay, literally EVERY SINGLE VOLUNTEER WAS WEARING A PINK SHIRT. There were pink shirts EVERYWHERE.
I laughed and cried, “Pink shirt? I don’t see anyone wearing a pink shirt!”
Apparently she didn’t think that was a funny joke, but the other pink-shirted people laughed. “Over here!” one guy called to me, and pointed me to the transition area. The bike route was over, so I jogged alongside my bike to put it back on the rack, take a swig of water, then tore off my helmet and headed for the run.
THE RUN (2.5 miles)
If you have never tried to run after riding a bike, it’s…interesting. The first time I attempted to do this, I felt like my legs were noodles that had just come out of a freshly boiling pot of water. It was ridiculous. Thankfully, the first time I tried that was about three weeks before this race, so I took the time to make sure to get enough practice doing a run after a bike ride. I started a slow and steady pace out of the transition area, trying to make sure I follow correct directions this time so I don’t make a fool out of myself by going the wrong way. After getting through the directions and on the course, the self-coaching in my head started up again.
All you have to do is go 2 1/2 miles. That’s it. Let’s do this!!
I was pretty much jogging by myself again, seeing a few people here and there both in front of and behind me. Not even half a mile into the run, I started to get stitches in both of my sides.
What in the world? Ugh…no! Keep going! You’ve got this! Just keep it slow and steady, but don’t stop!
I continued to keep my pace slow and steady, but I was getting a little tired. I have noticed during my training sessions that I actually get stronger, faster, and more energized on the second half of my runs…but that’s only if I’m keeping a slow and steady pace. Coming off hot and sprinting will wear you out fast, and these races are all about being steady so you don’t burn out. The saying, “Slow and steady wins the race,” absolutely helps me through these events when I’m talking to myself. As you can see, I talk to myself a lot.
There was one water station set up on the run, but we passed it twice. The first time through, I didn’t feel like I needed it. I’m still trying to get used to drinking while moving during these races, so it’ll definitely take some practice. However, I know it’s absolutely crucial for hydrating and fueling.
My biggest goal with the run was to just keep going at a steady pace without slowing to a walk or having to stop. Endurance events are truly a test of how strong your mind is to push your way through when you think you can’t keep going. This is definitely a mindset I did NOT possess during the first part of my life, but I refuse to let it reflect what the rest of my life will look like.
I thought for sure I had gone farther when I saw the 1 mile sign.
Is that for real? Seriously?? I’ve only gone ONE mile? That can’t be right. Crap. Let’s GO!!!
The ladies in this race ranged in age from 10-79. During the run, I passed the 79 year old lady and was so excited to see her. I exclaimed, “I’m going to tell my mom about you! You’re amazing!!” She laughed and said, “You tell her to get out here next year, if I can do this she can too!” That lady is my hero.
As I continued on the run, I started to come up behind Steffonie. The run is her least favorite part, and she had slowed down. She totally smoked me on the bike ride with her light and nimble road bike, and I had literally only seen maybe 3 other ladies with mountain bikes in this race. Insert face palm.
She knew I was coming before I got to her, because I started yelling at her. We’ve been friends for so long that the trash talk is always a good time, and the lady walking with her thought I was some random nutjob coming up behind them. We cheered each other on as I passed, and I reminded her that mimosas were being served at the finish line. “LET’S GO BABY, WE GOT THIS!!!” I yelled at her.
Although I was yelling at her, I was starting to get tired.
SUCK IT UP, BUTTERCUP!! You can do this! Don’t slow down, you can do this! Don’t slow down now!! Let’s GO!!!!
The self-coaching does absolute wonders, especially since I was pretty much jogging by myself most of the way. The volunteers and spectators were incredibly supportive and were constantly calling out, “Great job! Keep going! You’re doing awesome!” and it’s extremely helpful.
The last half mile was getting tough, but again I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. If you’ve ever participated in any kind of race event, there’s a line of people coming up to the finish line, cheering for everyone. It’s incredibly motivating, and we all need that if we’re hanging on by a thread…which I was physically at this point, but mentally I wanted to sprint another full mile. My body wasn’t up for that right now.
As I came through the clearing and saw how close the finish line was getting, a smile spread across my face. I didn’t actually sprint, but I picked up my pace because it was so close I could feel it, see it, and hear it.
OMG, You’re doing this! You’re almost there! YOU’RE ABOUT TO FINISH YOUR FIRST TRIATHLON! This is FANTASTIC! Let’s GOOO!!!!!!
I propelled through the last stretch and ran under the finish line wearing a HUGE smile.
I DID IT!!! I DID IT!!!! I FINISHED!!! THIS IS AWESOME!!!!
I heard the announcer call out, “Here is number 17, Erin Courtney!” and I totally blushed. There were a couple of volunteers waiting for me with my finisher’s gift, which was a necklace that was engraved with the saying, “Do the hard things.” I walked back over to the transition area to grab an LMNT packet and poured it into the ice cold bottle of water that one of the volunteers handed me. I quickly went back over to the finish line to wait for Steffonie to come through. She came through with a big smile on her face as well, and we hugged each other.
A few minutes later, we were walking around in the sun and I was sipping on my electrolytes when it hit me; the dizziness, fatigue, and slight nausea.
Oh my gosh. I need to sit down in the shade and eat something. NOW.
I found a cool spot in the shade close to the finish line, and pulled out an RX Bar to nibble on while I rested. At first I was worried that I overdid it or something was wrong, but started to feel better after eating and finish drinking my electrolytes. I sat there for about ten minutes to recuperate before getting back up and heading to the front to see the last participants cross the finish line and wait for the awards ceremony.
We all gathered around as the top 3 winners were announced for overall and each age group. The community, energy, and support at this race were absolutely amazing. I’m competitive by nature, so when the ladies in my age group took the podium, I daydreamed about one day being able to stand on that podium.
Maybe you’ll get there one day…but it takes time. Consistency. Dedication. That would be an amazing accomplishment in the future, but you have to start somewhere. After this, you’ll know what your times are and can just work on progressing each time. Be patient, Baby Yoda.
When I trained in TaeKwonDo, I took home two first place medals in my very first tournament. At the time it was incredible to have done so well starting out…but it set me up. As I went up in the ranks, the competition became more fierce and I didn’t get those two first place medals again and was disappointed that I was doing something wrong. With this sport, it will take a significant amount of time and effort; which means if and when I am able to place in the top three one day, it’ll take time but the level of appreciation and gratitude will be so overwhelming that I’ll be a blubbering mess.
Anything in life worth having doesn’t come easily, and this will be worth it.
I am looking forward to my next Sprint Triathlon, coming up on September 24th, 2022. Let’s GOOOO!!!!!!!
Below is my social media post from the race…