It was a beautiful and crisp morning. The air was filled with chatter for the event that was about to commence. After some loose stretches and impromptu pep talks, it was time to see where I was at. I lined up along the shore with my good friend. A formation of planes flew overhead with timing just shy of the ending of the national anthem.
As I looked ahead, I saw Carl’s tall stature dwarf those around him. You see, Carl was a friend and neighbor of the same company mentor I had acquired in “The Get Down”. After my mentor got whiff of the feat I was trying to accomplish, he found it necessary to connect us. And I am so glad he did. Carl gave me the inside scoop on triathlons, let me borrow a wetsuit, and helped me with an initial training plan. Considering he was a veteran with over a dozen of these monster races under his belt, I didn’t take his guidance lightly. He came and found me earlier in the morning to make sure that I was all set. A few more quick tips left me feeling optimistic.
As the gun went off, the first flights disappeared into the Peachtree Lake waters. I saw Carl in particular effortlessly attack the lake. The rest of us were off in a staggered start that best favored my experience level. The suspense rose as I slowly inched my way to the starting line. “Just relax. You got this. It’s not a race.” It felt like my mind and Patrick were speaking at the same time. Next thing you know, my body felt a jolt of cold water. I was inching further and further from shore and it was all happening so fast. As I lost my footing, I made an attempt to start swimming. As my head completely submerged, everything went dark. My breathing was nonexistent and heart rate heightened. As I popped up for a life line of oxygen, I soon realized I forgot everything I knew. I was in over my head and sinking fast. I changed course and struggled back to shore as a slew of other triathletes came at me. There was no way out.
It was at that point when I knew I made a terrible mistake.
I dodged other swimmers to find the shore line as I struggled to tread water. Many of those athletes were stopping in confusion. I frantically searched for the bottom for footing that simply was not to be found.
A whistle blew and everything stopped. “Sir! Sir! Come this way. Swim towards me.” I saw a lady kayaking a few feet away. I made my way slowly over to her. Holding onto the kayak, I still could not calm down.
“Just catch your breath. You can do this.” she said. But her words meant nothing to me.
“No, no I can’t. I can’t do this.” And that was the end of that. It seemed like I just uttered a foreign language.
“It’s okay. It happens to the best of us,” she stated trying to console me. She yelled out my race number to the shoreline and I turned to find the rest of the race that had yet to take to the water. Their goggles were all staring at me. No one in that race was more disappointed than me though. The nice lady directed me along a short track (400m). After being given a life vest, I was told to kick around the buoys. Time stood still as I took my lap of shame. I was numb by the time I finished that stint as I saw the supporting crowd overlook me and focus on the top leaders finishing the full mile swim.
Disqualified, embarrassed, and broken I decided to take my frustrations out on the remainder of the race. Funny enough, because I got out of the water the same time as the lead pack, I was now competing with them. As they would pass and jockey for position on the bike, they would look over in amazement. Carl was soon the next to pass, but called my bluff. “You cut the swim short?” he asked and I promised to explain myself later. Although my 25 mile bike wasn’t the best in the field, it put me in prime position for my strongest leg.
With 10,000 meters of running left, I took off setting a blistering pace. One by one, I started picking off the same athletes that passed me on the bike. I was in my groove. Carl and I saw each other sooner than expected. With a mile and a half to go, I caught up to him and passed with ease.
“Show me that other gear you’re hiding.” And without a second thought, I switched the pace up yet again and tore to the finish line. It seemed as if I placed 3rd in the field, but most didn’t realized that I cut the course. The failure didn’t hit me until people came up congratulating me on an incredible finish. Little did they know, I never even got started.
The false sense of accomplishment was short lived as I waited for my friend to cross the line. How would I be ready for 2.4 miles if I couldn’t even swim in the lake? Doubt flooded my mind. I contemplated stopping right there and cutting my losses. But, then I remembered just how far I came. I remembered the number of people I told and the encouragement they gave. I remembered the shear amount of money I put up that would be a sunk cost. I pushed the doubt out and started to develop a game plan. I had four months to make it happen.
It was time to get to work.