A couple weeks ago I did a triathlon. It wasn’t a very long triathlon, and I wouldn’t exactly say I trained for it, but it was my first and only tri of 2015. A year ago I was preparing to go to Arizona to complete an Ironman, but this year a lot happened…school, sickness, recovery. Like I said, it wasn’t a very long tri (.75 swim, 18 bike, 5 run) but it included my only open water swim since Tempe Town Lake last November.
The NEMO tri (which stands for Northeast Missouri) was one that I had been contemplating for the better part of a year. You see, it’s the one and only tri my mom has ever done. She did it when she was my age, on the cusp of 40. And she did it with my dad on the course. He was the runner of his team, but he was there.
So, a couple Saturdays ago, Brian and I made the drive over to Columbia, then north to the small town we grew up in. I only lived there for 5 years of my youth, Brian’s family is still there. I’ve only been back a handful of times since I moved away in 1989 but the memories are still as fresh as ever.
We rolled into town a few minutes before the athlete meeting at the Thompson Center was supposed to start, but I figured I could get checked in and get my biked checked before. As we approached the building, that from the outside looked exactly the same as it had 26 years ago, the memories started flooding back. Memories of my first ever mile race that ended in that parking lot, I ran 7 minutes flat. What I would give to still be able to do that!
We walked through the doors, the set up had changed, but as we walked toward the stairs, I stopped suddenly and pointed to the exact spot where my dad bought me a Mickey Mantle baseball card well over half my life ago.
We walked down stairs and into the main hallway. To the right were the racketball courts where my parents were playing wally-ball the day my brother fell off the jungle gym in our back yard and I had to call them to come home so he could get stitches over his eye. Eventually, we walked into the big gym, which didn’t seem nearly as huge as I remembered, but I had spent hours shooting baskets as a pre-teen.
I signed my waiver and got my packet, which we took to the car in exchange for my bike and helmet. We went back to the gym, got my stickered that it was approved for racing before returning it to the rack on the car. We still had a few minutes before the meeting, so we grabbed a seat and watched the other athletes shuffling in.
Brian said, “That guy has been the director here forever.” I turned and looked to see who he was talking about. And a name I hadn’t said in almost 3 decades, instantly rolled off my tongue. “Dan Martin”, a person who was instrumental in encouraging my love of running at the ripe old age of 9. I guarantee he is the one who handed my first trophy at my first 5k all those years ago.
We sat there looking around and I’m quite sure Brian could tell I was trying to hold the tears at bay as I said, “I didn’t expect it to be this emotional…”
We sat through the meeting and waited to say a quick hello to Dan, who had been trying to figure out why I looked so familiar. “You look exactly like your mom the last time I saw her!” It’s true, people say it all the time. Even our voices are the same. Even my dad couldn’t tell us apart on the phone.
Before we headed to Brian’s parents’ house we drove out to Thousand Hills State Park so I could preview the course a bit. I remembered the huge hill I was going to have to climb immediately after mounting the bike, but I wanted to see if my memory was correct. As we pulled into the park, we came to the playground. Some of the equipment was different, but them memories were still there. We parked and found the little trail that leads to the “cave”. We walked down the hill and found it. I loved that cave as a kid. I used to walk down there and imagine myself an explorer, like I was the first one who found it. I’m sure every other kid who grew up there did the exact same thing. B and I read the names that were written all over the rocks, looking for people we knew. Then we made our way back up the hill to the car and drove over to the transition area/finish that was already set up in anticipation of the next morning.
Yes, that hill was pretty much exactly what I remembered. It was a doozy. All of the hills were. I felt my nerves flare up in my stomach a little, but I told myself not to worry about it until tomorrow.
We left the park and drove past where Leo’s roller rink had been, I spent so many Friday nights there skating to the sounds of Madonna and Phil Collins. My first kiss was there in the coat area. We used to make “suicides” mixing all the different flavors from the soda machine. And we ate giant dill pickles. I had my own skates that I carried in a purple skate case, with a care bear keychain.
We spent the evening with Brian’s family. I had promised Silas I would take pictures of the baby cows for him. We grilled and ate chicken and pork chops. Brian pulled out some old school projects and we went through them seeing who all I remembered from his school days before I came to Kirksville Upper Elementary. Which has since been renamed Ray Miller Upper Elementary, for my principal and outstanding basketball coach. Brian’s sister came over with her kiddos for a while. We turned on the Michigan State football game and one by one everyone started turning in for the night. I organized my race gear and I managed to stay up long enough to see my Spartans win it against Oregon.
Then I climbed into bed and turned out the light in the room where Brian had slept as a kid. Funny, if you had told me then where I would be now, I don’t really know what I would have thought.
The alarm went off at 5:25 am. But I had already been awake off and on for a while. I rolled out of bed and started getting ready. Brian poured me some coffee in the kitchen. I made a peanut butter sandwich and grabbed a banana. We loaded up the car and by 6am we were on our way to the course. It was in the 50’s, but the air didn’t feel as cool as I expected. We got to the park, I got my body markings, set up my bike and the rest of my gear in transition. I debated about whether or not to wear my wetsuit and ultimately decided against it, as I always do, but second guessed my decision until I didn’t have a choice anymore.
Brian and I were sitting in the car to stay warm and relax since I still had plenty of time until I had to get on the shuttle to the swim start. He could tell I was nervous. He put a hand to my cheek.
I’ve done an Ironman. Why in the world am I so nervous about THIS?!
The truth is, I was scared. I was scared of how much it would hurt, of how hard that hill would be. I was scared of being weak, of overdoing it and ending up in the hospital again. I was scared of not honoring my memories of this place well.
I knew there were only 3 people in my age group, so all I had to do was finish and I was pretty much guaranteed a spot on the podium. But that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to earn it.
Eventually it was time to go. I had been talking to the girls who were set up in transition next to me, and I decided to follow them to the shuttle. I gave B a quick kiss and said I would see him after the swim. Turns out one of the girls I was talking to, is the wife of an old friend of Brian’s.
I rode the shuttle over to the beach. I found a few other non-wetsuit-wearers and hung around them. Turns out, one of those guys is a friend of Brian’s sister who she had mentioned the night before. I took it as a good omen that I was meeting people I had some sort of connection to. It calmed me.
I waded into the water. The sun was up now and the air was hovering around 60 degrees, but the water was 74 so it felt like getting into a bath. I acclimated to the water. They shot the cannon sending off the individual men. Then they gave the rest of us a countdown, and 3 minutes later we were underway.
I knew once I got going some of the anxiety would dissipate. It did. I’m still not a fast swimmer, but this time I felt like a swimmer. I had predicted 30 minutes for myself. I just kept breathing when I needed to and making my way from one buoy to the next. At one point, I took a breath and I could see a row of cabins on the hill. The same cabins that the whole Jacobs side had rented for a week one summer. Memories flooding back. Keep breathing, keep swimming. And finally, Dan helped me out of the water in almost exactly 30 minutes. I ran towards T1, waved to Brian, shoved half a banana in my mouth and the other half in my pocket, then got on my bike to tackle that hill. I actually passed a couple people on my way up. I don’t know why I stress about hills, if there is one thing I know about myself, it’s that I’m a climber. I rode past the playground and thought about that cave. I thought about how far I’ve come since my younger days there. And I kept peddling.
We rode out of the park and at the 9 mile mark, we turned around and rode back. I continued to pass people, mostly on the uphills. When we got back into the park, I had to go down that massive hill. I think I’m more afraid of going down than up. Steve in particular likes to tease me about how I ride my brakes going down steep hills. When I got to the bottom, I saw B as I passed. I said hi, he looked surprised to see me there already. I had finished the bike about 10 minutes faster than I anticipated.
I racked my bike, ditched my helmet, changed shoes and headed out for the run. The 2.5 miles out were almost entirely uphill. I knew I had to keep my heart rate under control. I ran past those cabins again and then onto a brand new paved path through the woods. It was tough, but beautiful. Finally after the turn around, there was one more short up hill and then the rest of the way was pretty much downhill to the finish. I was almost done. I had done a good job of finding balance between pushing myself hard, but not so hard I ended up back in a hospital bed. Just before I got to the finish I saw B and made silly faces for the camera. Then I cruised into the finish and it was done. I felt good. I felt really good. I kept saying I was surprised at how good I felt. I was tired, but not totally wrecked.
I had hoped to finish in under 2:45. I was surprised to learn that I finished in 2:24 and change, and earned myself 2nd place for females 40-44. During awards, Dan called me up and presented me with a NEMO pint glass along with the others. Memories of years before at the forefront of my mind.
“Lindsey, you’ve done this race before, right?” He said into the microphone.
“Nope. My mom did. 25 years ago.”
And she earned a 2nd place age group finish as well. Keeping it in the family.
It was a great race. Everything went exactly as you would hope. The weather was perfect. No flat tires. It was just an all-around great day.
I had a tough time coming back to reality in the Lou after that trip to the ‘Ville. I found myself wanting to go back to Kirksville, 1985, when life was just being a 10 year old kid, riding bikes, building forts, trading baseball cards and playing kickball. But I finally had a break through the other day when I dusted off my Mizunos and hit the trails in Castlewood, for the first time since Berryman. Without even realizing that I hadn’t dumped the sand out of them since the race that made me so sick, I had been avoiding the woods ever since that day in May.
But this is how I know that I did myself proud at NEMO. I was scared, but the only way I would really have been weak or not honored my memories well, is if I had let the fear stop me from getting out there and trying. We fall down, we get banged up. Life isn’t always kickball and baseball cards, but I will take advantage of those opportunities as they come, even if I get a scraped knee and need a Band-Aid once in a while. And, well, if this is what 40 looks like, then I’m in for a pretty good ride.