A First Class Finish – Written by Kip Caban following her amazing achievement of finishing her first triathlon, a true inspiration to all first time athletes.
As I stepped into the Gower Peninsula on Saturday the 8th of August to compete in my first ever triathlon, there was only one thought going through my mind: “I hope I’m not last.” It’s not that I’m ultra competitive, it’s just that I’m a bit of an overachiever. I’ve succeeded at everything I’ve ever tried and to be honest, I’ve never had to try that hard. I’ve only needed the most minimal studying or training to come in middle of the pack. I was completely unprepared for what lie ahead. It wasn’t until 2 hours and 46 minutes later that I realized my thought probably should have been: “I hope I finish”.
When the air horn went off to signal the start of the Gower Peninsula Triathlon, I leaned into the sea, swallowed a mouthful of brine, and immediately wished I’d trained more. My goggles fogged up and my wetsuit seemed intent on drowning me. I heard a voice from somewhere in front of me say “Don’t worry about this, you only have to finish the swim”. OK, I only have to finish. As I approached the first buoy I wondered if I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I was struggling to swim, not to keep up, not to be competitive, just to stay afloat! As I tore off my goggles I heard the same voice “That is the furthest point! You’ve got it from here!” Do I? I must! I feel like I’m seconds from making bubbles, but the guy ahead is trained to spot a sinker and he doesn’t think I’m in that category. I struggled on the next buoy. “There it is!” he said, “Head on in!” And I did! Whew. One event down, two to go!
At the transition point I noticed there was only one other bike left, besides mine. That niggling voice came back, more urgent than before: “I really hope I’m not the last one.” One other exhausted swimmer came in right behind me. We were it! I threw on my shoes and helmet and ran my bike through the funnel. The Marshall who had insured our bikes were tagged on the way in smiled as I scooted past: “There you go, get up that hill!” Right. I jumped on my bike an began the ascent. Luckily I had no idea before I started (due to my lack of attention to emails) that that hill would take me from 20 meters above sea level to 160. I believe I made it to about 120 before I had to dismount and jog (let me remember it as a jog) along side my bike. The final athlete had overtaken me prior to this point, I was the last entrant on the route. I was able to remount and as I neared the crest of the hill. A man sitting on his fence with a cup of coffee shouted: “You’ve almost made it! It’s all downhill from here!” He knew I was ok, even if I was having my doubts. I thanked him and informed him that I was the last one.
As I crested the hill, I was rewarded for my diligence with a breathtaking view. The words of one of the organizers sprang into my head. “Just enjoy yourself.” Before now, I had hopes of finishing in the middle of the pack, because that’s what I do. I let gravity pull me forward and realized that this was not going to happen for me. As I struggled up another incline I came across an athlete on the side of the road. Her gears had exploded. I felt a twinge of guilt. Should I offer her my bike? She’s obviously better prepared for this and has a chance of actually finishing. My hopes of finishing were fleeting, as I noted that even from my high vantage point, I could no longer see any part of the pack. Or was this just me trying to give up without actually having to answer for it? I asked if she was all right, she said she thought she had it fixed. So on I rode. Through the tiniest of road ways, spotted with sheep, cattle and horses, watching me struggle ever onward. At one point I noticed a lamb that had managed to get itself into a glassed in bus stop. It couldn’t find it’s way out and was beating itself into the glass, running back and forth. If I had been able to ride at the speed everyone else did, I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but there I was, no other riders in sight. I slowed down and positioned myself so that I was directly in front of the opening, the panicked lamb stopped short and looked directly at me. He ran toward me and out of the bus stop shelter. Awesome.
The next turn brought me news of my location. “You’re half way there!!” shouted the Marshall, as I limped by, looking a bit worse for wear. “Thank Heaven!” I shouted back and headed up another gentle incline that burnt my stomach and legs and brought the taste of salt water to the back of my throat. I knew the first hill was the worst hill, but I also knew that there were more technical and steep areas ahead. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. It was the first time I really wondered if I would complete the course. My thoughts were hitting me like shrapnel: “This is a difficult course for a first time triathlete. No one would think any less of me if I quit. I can work harder and try again later.” Then up to my right pulled a Marshall on a motorcycle. “How you doing?” he asked. “That’s relative, but I think I’d be happier if we switched bikes!” He laughed, “Eh, you’re all right then! I’ll see you at the next intersection.” I don’t know if he heard me call him a showoff as she sped off, or not. But I do know that once again I was given the courage to go on due to the kind word of a complete stranger. I did see him at the next intersection and one more time along the course. He let me know that I had less than a mile to go and that I had done it.
The end of the bike route was the same as the beginning. I realized that I much preferred going from 160m to 20m! At the bottom, I was amazed to see a crowd of people cheering…for me!?! Didn’t they realize I was the last one? As I stepped off my bike to walk it back into the transition area, I had to pass other athletes who were packed to leave. They had already completed the entire triathlon! They moved out of my way and smiled and clapped. I was taken aback by the realization that they wanted me to finish as badly as I wanted to finish! I hung up my bike and headed for the run. It was a course that had to be run twice. As I stepped onto the sandy beach, I reminded myself that running is my strong point. There was a volunteer there with a huge smile and a glass of water. “You’re practically finished!” I gulped down the drink and headed off toward the beach. There were Marshalls all along the trail. They were pointing the way and telling me I could do this, I could finish. As I rounded the corner for the second lap, I didn’t know if I could. My 2 supporters where there cheering me on. I had come this far, but I didn’t know if I could make another 2.5K. I considered just running toward the finish. Who would know? Who would care? I was the very last competitor. But I would know. Not only would I know that I had cheated, but I would know that I had cheated everyone that boosted me through the water, up the hills and over the sand, everyone who knew that I could do it, even when I didn’t. So I ran (let me remember it as running.)
As I came around the last corner I could not believe my eyes. It seemed that EVERYONE was lined up around the last few meters of the race. The announcer said my name and number and my ears were filled with cheers and shouts of encouragement. I was so overwhelmed by this show of support that my eyes filled with mist, much as they are as I type this now. As I finally, finally crossed the finish line, I found myself thankful that I finished at all, indebted to my family and the Marshalls who willed me on and moved by the amazing show of support from my fellow triathletes. They were my fellow triathletes, because I AM A TRIATHLETE! And next year, I will take that hill!!