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Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Addiction

This post is long race was almost 3 weeks ago but I've been busy since, here it is! By the way, this is a long one!

In May I joined the Fort Worth Team in Training triathlon team. Team in Training is a volunteer organization, part of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. It was one of the best decisions I've made. I decided to join for a few different reasons...I wanted to do my first Olympic distance triathlon. I've done a few sprint distances but I wanted to step it up a little. I also wanted to train with a group. Training on my own was boring and it was difficult to stay motivated. I also wanted to train with a group who was doing it for a good cause. So, I decided to join Team in Training and dedicate the race and the money I fundraised in memory of a very dear family friend, Alison Webb. Alison passed away in January 2008 after a long fight with lymphoma.
So, on May 5th, I started a long, 5 month journey of intense training and fundraising and made a great group of friends in the process. The race we did was The Toyota US Open Olympic Distance Triathlon in Dallas, on October 11. It included a 1500 meter swim (just short of a mile), a 25 mile bike, and a 6.4 mile run. For this race, we each had to raise $2600. Most of the money went directly towards the North Texas Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. A small percentage of it went towards paying for our race registration, our hotel stay before the race, and other small expenses. With the help of many, many friends, families, and lots of people I didn't even know, I was able to raise close to $3200! It wasn't easy and at times it was very stressful, but I had tons of support. It was amazing to me how much people really wanted to help. As a team, we raised over $40,000! All of that money went to families in North Texas to help pay for medical expenses for a family member with leukemia, lymphoma, and other blood cancers.
Joining the team was a HUGE committment. Not only did I commit to fundraising a big chunk of money, I committed a LOT of time. My summer was unlike any other summer I've had. No sleeping in on Saturday mornings, not much lounging by the pool, no late nights...I didn't really see any of the friends I usually hangout with. Every day after work, I came home and either swam, ran, or biked, and after a couple months I was doing atleast 2 of those at a time. Most Saturday mornings I woke up around 5:30 to get to our team workout by 6:30. At the beggining of our 5 month training period we were base building. So, short workouts to build our muscles and our endurance. By the end of the training we were doing 90 minute bike rides and 40 minute runs immediatly following. Our open water swims in the lake were sometimes close to 2000 meters. At times, I wanted to stop and throw my bike down or just walk during my runs, but as a team we were encouraged to remember who we were doing it all for. As a patient with a blood cancer, they don't have a choice to stop the pain...they have to fight through it. They don't have a chance to sleep in, instead of going to the hospital for their treatment. Remembering this is what kept me going for 5 months and through the race.

Race morning finally came and it came very early. My alarm went off at 3:15 am on Sunday, October 11th. I turned on the weather and it was 51 degrees and raining. This was NOT typical triathlon weather. All summer we had been training in 90 and 100 degree weather with the sun beating down on us...but not the morning of the race.

I ate my small breakfast in the hotel room and double checked my race bag to make sure I had everything I needed. My wetsuit, running shoes, swim cap, goggles, Gu's (nasty gel stuff you eat during the race for nutrition), water, helmet, PowerBar, Gatorade, socks, etc. At 4:15 am the team met downstairs in the hotel lobby and went to transition 2 (the area where we drop off our bikes after the bike ride and start running). Transition 2 was at The American Airlines Center. This particular race was a point to point race, which means it starts at one place and ends at a different place. This race started at Joe Pool Lake in Grand Prairie and ended at The American Airlines Center in downtown Dallas. So, we dropped off all our running gear at the AA Center and got on a bus with other race participants and made the drive to Joe Pool Lake. At this point, the rain was coming down pretty hard and I was bundled up in sweat pants and a fleece jacket. I knew this race was going to be more difficult than I expected, considering the weather conditions.
Once we arrived to Joe Pool Lake, the reality really hit hard. It was still raining, it was in the 50's, and there was fog hanging over the lake. I headed to the spot where my bike was. I made sure my tires were filled and everything was set up for my bike ride. We had to wait a long 2 hours before the race even started. About 20 minutes before my wave was schedule to start, I put on my wetsuit and ate a Gu. I made my way closer to the starting line. The first group to start off were the proffessionals. These were people who have participated in major triathlons and who actually were paid to do triathlons as a living. They finished the race in just a couple hours...that's AMAZING.

The announcer called the 25-29 women group and we entered the water in groups of four. Fog was still so heavy that I could barely see the giant, yellow buoys that we were supposed to swim to. As I entered the 70 degree water, choppy water, I was beggining my first olympic distance triathlon...the race I've been training for, for 5 months. I expected the water to be freezing, but it was actually warmer than the air. I finished my swim in about 34 minutes. It was longer than I wanted, but considering that I couldn't really see where I was going, I was okay with the time. During the swim, I was kicked in the head several times and someone even grabbed onto my foot at one point. I kept going though and finally reached the boat ramp and ran out of the water. As I was running, I unzipped my wetsuit so by the time I finally made it to my bike, about 50 yards from the lake, I pulled it off and put on my shoes and helmet and made my way to the starting line for the bike.

I hopped on my bike, still dripping with water, and freezing because the wind was blowing and it was still only in the 50's. I had short bike shorts on and my Team in Training sleeveless triathlon jacket or long sleeves. I was FREEZING. The first 15 miles of the bike ride were really rough. We had to ride over the lake dam where the wind was really blowing hard. It wouldn't have been too bad but it was still raining and it showed no signs of stopping. Immediatly after we crossed the dam, we were greeted with some big hills...hills are NOT my forte. They actually make me quite grumpy to say the least. This was the biggest challenge for me in the race. Not the rain, not the cold, not the wind, not the fact that I was frozen numb from head to toes. It was the first 15 miles of the bike. At this point I was NOT happy. I wanted to be DONE. The moment that changed my mood for the rest of the race was when another participant passed me (going way faster than I was) and yelled "Keep it up Alison!" (Our team had written the name of the person we were doing the race for on the back of our jersey for the race and he assumed my name was Alison). After he yelled that, I remembered who I was doing this for and that I was going to finish the race with a smile on my face and I was going to fight to the end because that is exactly what Alison did. After that guy called me Alison and cheered me on, I counted 9 other times people called me Alison. Some yelled "Awesome job Alison!" or "Go Alison!" It really kept me going and kept a smile on my face. Also, when people saw my Team in Training jersey they would yell "Go TEAM!"...and I yelled "Go Team! Wooohoo!!" back at them.

Finally, the AA Center was in sight, so I knew my 25 mile bike ride was coming to an end. As I was coming to the line where I had to dismount from my bike, there were about 200 people cheering everyone on. It was awesome! I got off my bike and ran it to the spot where I had put my running gear earlier that morning. I took off my helmet quickly drank some Gatorade and was off on my 6.4 mile run. Not only were my legs wobbly from being on the bike, which is expected, but my feet were numb from the cold weather and rain. I felt like my toes were scrunched up under my feet. It was a weird feeling. I ran around the AA Center and as I began to run on the Katy Trail, I saw my parents, Ashley and Ryan, Chris, Kristin and her boyfriend Justin cheering me on. Ashley and Ryan yelled out "Boomerrrr!!!" and I screamed "Soonerrr!" as loud as I could and held my finger in the air.

After the 2nd mile, I started to warm up. The run was much easier than I expected. The rain had finally stopped and I knew I was on the final stretch of the race and I couldn't slow down and I refused to walk during the run. I had a smile on my face the whole time I was running. Everytime I saw someone run by with a Team in Training jersey on, I yelled "Go Team!" and they proudly yelled the same back at me. At the last mile of the run, I saw a woman from the Dallas Team in Training. The back of her jersey had "Dad" written on it and the date that he passed away from was just earlier this year. My heart broke for her but I also thought it was SO amazing that she was doing this for him. We talked with each other the last leg of the race and when we saw the AA Center and the finish line, we both sped up. A lady yelled from the side "GO TEAM! GO TEAM! YEAH!!" I also passed my family again and they were cheering as I ran across the finish line with my arms as high up as I could get them and with a HUGE smile on my face. I finished in goal was 3:30, so I beat it!!

As cold and rainy it was on race was one of the best experiences of my life. The last 5 months finally came together in those few hours. The training, the fundraising, the great friendships. I knew after crossing the finish line, it wasn't going to be the end. This is my and racing for a cause.


Ashley said...

Good story! I'm still so proud! I definitely laughed that people called you Alison and I teared up at the girl with "Dad" on her jersey. You did great...and honestly I was VERY surprised to see you smiling! But you did it!

Emily said...

That's incredible. I teared up about the Dad part as well. I am so impressed - that is a LOT of work and pushing through!!

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