Crossing the Finish Line: What I Learned From My First Sprint Triathlon

Health and Fitness, Marie's Triathlon Journey
first sprint triathlon


Fair warning: this is going to be a long post. I think it’s the longest I’ve ever written. But I’ve got so much to tell you. And at the end of it, there’s something I want to ask you. So, hang in here with me. We’ve got lots to talk about.

First off, I did it! I completed my first sprint triathlon.

No, not in the time I had hoped for. But as a couple of you wisely pointed out, I beat everybody who stayed at home on the couch.

The sprint triathlon didn’t kick off until Saturday but I picked up my race packet on Friday. When I pulled my bib number from the envelope, adrenalin, anxiety, and excitement flush through my veins. 

It really was happening!

After snapping a quick selfie for Facebook, I picked up my t-shirt and hoodie. The t-shirt came with my race fee, the hoodie I paid extra for. Figuring it might be my first and last tri, I wanted every souvenir I could lay my hands on. Next stop, the race briefing.


Playing by the Rules

Best In The West is an official USA Triathlon event. There are a lot of rules.

The rule that took me most by surprise concerned music. You aren’t allowed to have any. No headphones, no mp3players, nothing!

That was definitely an issue for me. I use music to pace myself when I run, specifically Broadway musical soundtracks. (Don’t judge. It works for me.)  Listening to musicals not only helps me keep my pace, it also helps drown out the sound my breathing, which is something akin to an asthmatic elephant.

But USA Triathlon sees listening to music as giving the athlete an unfair advantage.

Well…yeah. Okay.

But considering all the disadvantages I was facing (age, inexperience, age, the fact that I walk (and run) like a duck, and did I mention age?) would it be so terrible they gave me a teeny bit of an edge? It wasn’t like I was going to win this thing.

Things started getting really real

Somewhat frazzled, I went back to the hotel, ate dinner, and tried to sleep.  When the alarm went off at 5, I was already awake.

My husband, aka The Chairman, came to cheer me on. We were the first ones into the hotel restaurant when it opened but were quickly joined by other crazy people  racers. They all seemed so relaxed. Though it was obvious they were strangers, they chatted like old friends, wishing each other luck.

I noticed this throughout the day.  Triathletes are just so for each other, so encouraging.  When I approached a group of three women and introduced myself, they immediately included me in the conversation. Upon learning it was my first tri, one said, “You’re going to do great! Just relax and enjoy yourself.” It was advice I would hear throughout the morning.

After bacon and eggs, we headed out to the lake.  Though it was still dark, the parking lot was filling up. More than 700 people would be racing in various events on Saturday.

After racking my bike and setting up my transition area, we went to watch the start of the Half Ironman. Then I got some coffee and posted a quick video on Facebook.  With 30 minutes left to go, I told my Facebook buddies that I thought the odds of my booting up my breakfast before the start was about 50%.  It wasn’t a joke.  

A Rookie Mistake

It was time to warm up. Leaving my shoes in the transition area, I minced my way across the rocky beach to the lakeshore. Water temperatures at Foster Lake are above 72 so I elected to swim without a wetsuit. The water was still pretty darned chilly. I inched in to give myself time to adjust. I dove in and swam a few strokes. That’s when I realized that I’d forgotten my goggles.

They were already calling up the wave for the start of the sprint. I hurried back over the rocks, wincing with every step. By the time I returned with my goggles, the waves of men had gone. Fortunately, women over age 45 were the last wave so I had a minute to collect myself and try to calm down.

The announcer called up our group.  I minced over the rocks yet again and joined my sisters.  With our assigned purple swim caps, we looked like a bunch of grapes bobbing in the water.

As the announcer said, “On your mark, get set…” I smiled. I really was going to do this!

Why is it So Hard to Swim in a Straight Line?

I’m not a fast swimmer. It takes me about 16 minutes to swim 500 meters.  So I wasn’t surprised to find myself near the back of the pack.

But I was surprised by how incredibly hard it is to swim in a straight line.

Most of my training took place in a pool. All I had to do was follow the black line. There is no black line on the bottom of the lake. You’re supposed to lift your head out of the water now and then to spot the buoy marker and head toward it. This is called “sighting”.

I am bad at it. Really, really bad.

Basically, I slalomed the course, swimming back and forth instead of in a straight line.  I don’t know how many meters I swam before I was done but it was definitely more than 500.

Each buoy was supposedly set at 100 meters intervals.  I’m sure they were. But, for me, the distance between the first and second buoy seemed like miles.  Only a little over 100 meters into the race, I started to doubt myself.

If I was this slow, this tired already, how could I hope to finish? For a moment, doubt morphed into panic. Believe it or not, I had practiced what to do in the event of panic.  I stopped swimming, treading water and breathing deeply, and gave myself a pep talk.

I reminded myself that I swim a thousand meters on a regular basis. I reminded myself that there were lifeguards just a few feet away so I was not going to drown. I reminded myself that all I had to do was finish, it didn’t matter how long it took. Then, I took a deep breath and started to swim.

Eventually, I got there. I don’t yet know how my time broke down by sections, but I am sure that the swim took me much longer than 16 minutes. But I got through it.

The Calm Before the Storm

My first transition went smoothly. Not wearing a wetsuit was a big advantage. All I had to do was put on my bike shoes, gloves, and helmet, then drink some water and eat a Shot Block, and go.

I will be curious to see what my time was for the bike section. I’m not a fast biker either – I’m not a fast anything.  But I felt like it went well. It was a pretty course and I loved that we had the road to ourselves.

The hills were tough in spots but I didn’t have to dismount at any time. That was one of my goals, so I felt good about that. Some bikers passed me but I passed some other people. Overall, it was a good ride.

Arriving back at the park, I dismounted and headed to the transition area, waving at my husband on the way. Transition went smoothly but I did have to make a potty stop, so that cost me a little time. But when you gotta go, you gotta go.

I was feeling pretty good. All I had to do was run 3.2 miles and cross the finish line. Easy!

That was before I saw the hills.

The Thing That Saved Me On Those Darn Hills

Now, I’d known about the hills for a few days. We’d driven the course a week before. But driving those hills was way easier than running them. They were awful!

A quarter mile into the run, I realized there was no way I was going to reach my goal of running the whole race.  The hills were too much. I had to walk them. That fact that about half of the other racers were doing the same made me feel better.

So did all of the, “Way to go!” and “You got this!” comments I received from other competitors.  One very fit young man, obviously an elite athlete, grinned as he was running toward me and lifted his hand so we could high five each other.

I cannot overstate how the encouragement of the other competitors added to this experience. It was just wonderful. I felt like we were all in this together. Soon, I was joining in, casting smiles and affirmations back to my fellow racers. It felt like we were all on the same team.  Because we were.  It was a great feeling.

But the person who really saved me on that run? Robert Preston.

In case you’re not as big a fan of musicals as I am, Robert Preston starred in The Music Man, the film and Broadway versions. I’d listened to the soundtrack a zillion times during my training.  Suddenly, at the base of a particularly daunting hill, Robert Preston’s voice popped into my head.

Oh, we got trouble my friends, Trouble right here in River City. Sure I’m a billiard player, mighty proud to say it, always mighty proud to say it...

“Trouble” is a patter song with a very definite beat. For the rest of the race, I trotted along in time with Robert Preston. Sometimes I walked, sometimes I jogged, sometimes I ran. But I kept my feet moving to the beat. I kept moving forward.  That’s what mattered.


Crossing the Finish Line

I’m sure that 5K was slower than any I had done in training. I probably walked half of it. Fortunately for me, the last quarter mile was downhill. I wanted to finish strong and run in.

As I would later learn, I finished 284th overall. Yet, from the cheers and applause of the crowd as I came down the shoot and crossed the finish line, you’d have thought I was the first one in.

They knew what that moment represented to me, the amount of work I had to put in, the long hours and early mornings, the overcoming of blisters, aching muscles, and doubts.

As I crossed the line, one of the race officials hung a finishers medal around my neck. I immediately began to cry.

This was a bad idea.

Being short of breath to begin with, I started to hyperventilate.  However, the ladies in the first aid station were very nice. They helped me calm down and breathe, gave me a drink of water, and sent me on my way.

Exhausted and elated, I met up with my husband. He’s been so amazingly supportive through all of this. After a big, sweaty hug and showing off my super cool medal, we went in search of food. I have never been so hungry!

My goal was to finish in less than two hours. My time was a little over two hours and fourteen minutes. Clearly, you won’t be seeing me at the Olympics anytime soon.  But you know what?

I am a triathlete.

And I’ve got a medal to prove it.

Yes, I’m Doing This Again. And Next Time, I’m Bringing Friends.

Two days have passed since I crossed the finish line. Since then, the question I’ve gotten most is this, “So, do you think you’ll do it again?”

Three days ago, I wasn’t sure. And now?

Oh heck, yes!

I’ve already got my eyes on a race for next summer, in Washington State. It’s a flat course and has an all female division. I’ve made up my mind, I am going to finish a sprint triathlon in two hours or less.

This triathlon was so much fun, a true pinnacle experience. I feel so great about how far I’ve come and what I’ve been able to accomplish.  When I woke up this morning, I kept thinking how great it would be if everybody I know could share that experience.

I’m not necessarily talking about you finishing a triathlon. I simply mean setting a challenge and working to meet it while being cheered on by others, the way my fellow athletes, the crowd at the race, and so many of you have cheered me on.

As I thought about it, I realized it really could happen.

I’m Picking YOU For My Team

In that video I made before the race, I showed off the “FierceBeyond50” Team Jacket I had made and joked about being the only one on my team.

But what if we really did have a team? I mean, more than just me. Wouldn’t that be amazing!

Honestly, I haven’t thought out all the details yet. I only got the idea this morning. But I’m crazy excited about the idea of Team Fierce!

Now, if your childhood was anything like mine, even the word “team” might bring up unpleasant memories. Hey, I get it. When I was a kid, nobody wanted me on their team.  No matter the sport, from soccer to Red Rover, I was almost always the last one picked.  But this is going to be different.

No matter where you live, no matter your age, or physical condition, or lack thereof, you can still be on the team.

In fact, I want you on the team!  No kidding, you are my first-round draft pick!


I’ll Take The Physical Challenge, Marie. 

Obviously, I’m a big fan of triathlons and am excited about doing another one. Maybe that’s a goal you’d like to set for yourself, maybe not.

You don’t have to become a triathlete to join Team Fierce, all you have to do is pick some sort of physical challenge. Pick the goal that’s right for YOU.

Maybe you’ll enter some kind of race – a triathlon, duathlon, or 5K. Perhaps you’ll challenge yourself to walk a mile, or even around the block a certain number of time a week.  Or maybe you’ll participate in water aerobics two or three times a week.

It doesn’t matter what you pick, as long as it is something that will physically challenge you. We’ll all be on the same team, but each team member will have a personal goal.


Send me an email.

Next, write to and put TEAM FIERCE in the subject line.

Tell me your name, where you live, your goal, and the date by which you want to reach that goal (a month, the end of the year, the end of 2019, etc.)

For example, if I were writing, my email would say, “My name is Marie Bostwick, I live in Oregon. My goal is to complete a sprint triathlon in 2 hours or less by the end of 2019.”

Something about this experience has really driven home for me is the importance of creating time-bound goals and declaring them publicly. It helps keep you accountable and on track. But the thing that really makes a difference is having friends in your corner.

That’s my motivation for starting Team Fierce. Those affirmations from other racers, the high five from that much younger, fitter athlete, that sense that we were all on the same same team helped me keep going. I would love to create a similarly supportive and encouraging virtual community for you, my Fierce Friends.

We will all have different challenges, levels of athletic ability, strengths and weaknesses, and goals. But we’ll be on the same side, cheering each other on as members of the same team – Team Fierce.

Let’s Do It!

Honestly, I don’t quite know how this will work yet. (Though I imagine a Facebook group will be involved.)  Or if it will work at all. It’s quite possible that I’ll put out a call and nobody will answer.

But I have to believe that some of you are ready for a new challenge and are just waiting for some kind of sign or nudge.

Consider yourself nudged.

Whatever goal you have in mind, I know you can do it. I know that we can do it.

Let’s do it! Pick your goal, send me that email, and join the team.  Let’s cross the finish line, together!

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