I tighten my goggle strap one last time, adjust my cap over my forehead, and dig my toes into the sand. However the gun goes off, as climactic as it used to be with the cannon and two thousand people running into the water together, or anticlimactic as everyone trickling in one at a time. It will be on.
I can smell the ocean. I can feel the sand. It’s just visualizing it now but good GOD I can feel it.
My heart RACES with excitement. Never nervousness. I have been at this far too long to be nervous. But the moment I lack excitement at the start is the day I walk away.
I have walked away, and I have come back. I know enough to never force it for any reason. I have retired and unretired enough times to know I will never actually stay retired. Stepping back has always been met with stepping forward. Patience is always rewarded in this sport (and in life).
That first dive into the ocean is what I C.R.A.V.E. The moment I taste the salt, and hopefully the waves will be big and brutal. That’s my strength and I don’t come all this way figuratively and literally for a calm ocean. The “oh my GOD are there sharks” is a terrible thrill for me I hate to admit, but it’s true.
As I swim I am cheering everyone around me on, that’s just how I compete. Together we rise. I have never understood the silly hatred competition can bring between people. We are playing triathlon here, not calculating a nuclear missle.
As I make the turn I will see that shore and if there are waves I will body surf them in, man that is so fun. And I will remember to savor this feeling and savor this moment. As my travel schedule is tight I may not get another shot at this feeling before I am on a plane home looking out the window and feeling so alive and sore and wrecked.
I love that feeling.
And how about how that run up the beach will feel as I navigate transition and find my bike, placing my helmet on before I remove my wetsuit. Someone inevitably will remind me to take the wetsuit off. I will smile and reply in my head “I work head to toe kiddo!“
Those first few pedal strokes down Front Beach Road, past the hotels with the ocean peaking out between. We will make that right and I will ride like I always ride, make believing I am a jet fighter in Star Wars. The wind will be fierce and the sun will be hot as it always is here in May. The sweat will feel amazing and like a long lost friend.
When I start that run I picture the road, the trees, the people that I have come to LOVE here. I know there will be a renewed sense of appreciation from them, and most definitely from me.
All of those senses come back so easily and so strongly. Notice I have made no mention about heart rate, pace or power. I tossed those away and I frankly don’t give a damn about any of it. I give that to my coach. I go by how I feel and that has gotten me farther than a device ever has.
I have been at this long enough to know better than to compare myself to years past. The athlete I am is not who I was at 17, 27 or 37. Or even at 44. The athlete I am is the one I am today. Never defined by anything in the past, only what is here in the present. That feeling that I can never describe. Of digging deep, standing on my own personal edge and seeing just how far I can ride that red line before I crack. And maybe I do crack. Wouldn’t be the first time. Won’t be the last time. Never let it be the last time. Never ride the line just to play it safe. Go for it, go big and if it falls apart you know you gave it everything you had.
Isn’t that what this is all about anyways? Race course or not, it’s about finding our edge, shining our brightest, taking chances on ourselves and on others that feel terrifying. It’s how we grow as people.
I don’t have to try hard to feel the last mile of that run. I don’t have to try hard at all. I can see the arch, I can hear the cowbells, I know how terrible my body will feel and at the same time how elated my soul will feel.
Then as I cross, THAT feeling. I have cried my fair share at finish lines, but if you know me you know I smile bigger than is even possible. For every finish line I cross. It’s pure freaking happiness.
See you soon Panama City Beach. See you soon.