This blog post was written when I first started training for triathlons. One of my events, I dedicated to a friend who passed away. I’m sharing this to honor his memory, his strength and his courage.
A little over a month ago, I read on Facebook that my friend, Jim Reed, was going to lose a leg. I didn’t know what happened. I saw him more than a year ago at the Long Beach Diner. He seemed fine. But obviously you never know.
I went to see him at the Grandell Rehabilitation Center in Long Beach. Although he had a positive attitude, I felt I wanted to do more for him than just pick up a brisket sandwich from Wally’s deli.
Doing something challenging for his honor
I wanted to do something challenging that would honor his courage and inspiration. Since I had just signed up for the Montauk Sprint, I thought completing it would be a great way to honor him.
I knew the Montauk Sprint would be hard. I knew it would be harder for me, just getting over a hamstring injury and doing my first triathlon two weeks earlier. But that made the challenge even stronger.
Lots of challenges
As the Montauk race became a reality, I had a lot of challenges — issues at work, disappointments with family members not being able to attend the race and just daily life stresses, which provoked race anxiety.
Race morning, I woke up at 4 am, got dressed and headed out the door to race site. Marti, my race buddy, came to my rescue by staying overnight at my hotel and helping calm me before the race. She was wonderful. She helped me get organized and stay focused.
When I arrived at the race site, I met two of Marti’s teammates from Brand’s All Women’s Tri Team — Lisa and Tinnette. What amazing women! Tinnette was racing with me.
Then I saw my teammates — Constance, Eric, Carrie and Coach Rich from Tri Global Coaching. It was so nice to see them there. I appreciated their love and support at that moment, because I really needed it.
As I was putting out my gear on my transition mat, I started to run the race through my head. My coach saw me contemplating. “What are you doing?” he asked. I told him and he told me to stop. “You know what to do, just go out there and do it,” he said.
After being marked up with my number 266 and my age (umm, I’d rather not say), I put on my wet suit and white bathing cap and followed a stream of people to Fort Pond. The white caps were last before the relay racers. We waited. I stood with Tinnette.
When it was our turn into the water, we went in half way. Tinnette told me she was going to stand in the back. I stood in the front. The countdown began – 3, 2, 1 and then the horn blew and we were on our way out approximately 375 meters and back for a total of 750 meters.
I started to swim and immediately got kicked in the ribs by the woman in front of me. I stopped and started choking. She knocked the wind out of me.
“Are you okay?” she asked, looked at me as I nodded and swam away.
I took several strokes with my head out of the water. I started hyperventilating. I kept stopping along the way out. I couldn’t catch my breath. People were swimming by me. I felt as if I already lost the race. I didn’t see anyone behind me. I started to panic. I felt as if the sky started to cave down on me and I would never be able to get out of the water.
A woman on the paddle board stopped me and said, “just relax for a few minutes. Don’t do anything until your breathing is back to normal. Then take 10 strokes, count and you’ll be fine.”
I loved the fact that the water was fresh water and not salty. I looked over at the sun and saw it rising. I thought about my friend, Jim and thought, I could do this. I have to do this.
So, I took 10 strokes and felt okay. Then, I took 20 and 20 became 40 and before I knew it, I was at land. I did it. I wasn’t feeling mentally good. I kept having negative thoughts about being last, but then I thought, it will make a good blog post. So I kept going. I can’t stop. I have to keep doing this and finish this for Jim.
Out of the water
Once out of the water, I tried to remember what to take off first – the bathing cap and goggles or the wetsuit? I remembered Eric, my teammate, saying “take off the wetsuit while you’re still in the water.” So the wetsuit came off halfway first and then I started removing everything else.
I transitioned in T1 faster than I did in Florida without a wetsuit. I knew I needed to make up time.
I got on the bike and rode away. I passed a woman on the left. She was taking her time. I didn’t understand why. After that, I saw very few people on their bikes. I wanted to tag behind someone to gauge how fast I was going but there really wasn’t anyone there. I rode as fast as I could up and down the hills of Montauk. (This was something I feared prior to the race and when I told my coach that I was afraid of the hills, he said, “they are just freaking hills.” So, I focused on that.)
The ride was magnificent. I was a little nervous with the cars on the road but everyone seemed aware that we were there. Riding up the hills burned my thighs and riding down them made me incredibly nervous. I wanted to brake but I held myself back. I knew this was my only opportunity to make up time. I went 26 miles an hour on the downhill according to my Garmin 910xt! It was fast.
The miles seemed to pass by quickly and this time, I made sure to drink water. (In Captiva, I didn’t want to attempt to drink because I was fearful I would drop my water bottle in the road. This time, I didn’t care.)
I saw the dismount, slowed down and unclipped my shoes. I got off the bike and ran into T2. I changed quickly and was out the run within a minute or so. As I started, I saw Coach Richie. He ended up running with me for three miles. This time, I didn’t stop. He wouldn’t let me. The only break I got was on the water stop, where I had a few sips of water and kept on running. I started feeling knee twinges and back pain but I ran through it.
The run was beautiful. It circled around Fort Pond. My coach was amazing on the run too. He was motivating and encouraging. I needed that. I kept thinking about the bad swim and how I could have done better. He told me to let it go. (It was hard for me to do that.) About 2.5 miles in, Coach Rich told me I’m on my own and to pick up the pace.
The race wasn’t easy. But as I started approaching the finish line, I got a bit of energy and ran as fast as I could to cross the finish line. I ran this 5K in 35 minutes. This was my fastest 5K ever!
As I crossed the finish line, I said out loud, “I did it for you Jim… You’re going to pull through this…”
I didn’t finish last. There were others who followed me.
I saw Marti who handed me my tri bag and I went back to the transition area to pack up. I was disappointed. I felt as if I didn’t do as well as Captiva (even though this was a much harder race). As I was packing up, my phone rang…
“Hilary, you won your division,” Coach Rich said on the line.
“How could that be?” I said. “I felt like I screwed up the whole thing.”
“You need to come over here now to get your award,” he said.
I was in shock. I went over to the award area and they actually called my name. I was handed a plaque, a dozen yummy delicious cookies that were baked at a local bakery, and a $20 gift card to Brand’s Bicycle Shop in Wantagh. After I collected my award, Constance, my friend and teammate, told me to go to the podium. I went up there for a photo. I was proud of my accomplishments but was still shocked that I won first place in my division.
After the race
A few days after the race, I went to see my friend Jim at the nursing home. I gave him my medal. He was so happy.
Although Jim is no longer around, I dedicated this race to him and ended up winning my age group. This was only my second race and I was totally hooked!