This day had been anticipated for nearly the last year. It seemed like such a huge challenge when Joe made the executive decision for us to drop our respective 6-person teams and go tandem this year. Initially I thought "what on earth is he thinking?!" until it became a massive personal goal and I pushed myself to break outside my comfort zone. I learned to downhill ski. Someone had to do it. Joe taught himself how to skate ski and enjoyed it much more than I did. I could practice cycling. That wouldn't be a problem. Joe is a faster runner than I am. Together we can paddle a kayak like nobody's business. And so we set our goals. I learned how to ski and then practiced as much as I could. Joe bought me a nice road bike, I learned how to ride clipped in and I felt confident in that too. Joe practiced skate skiing until the snow levels drastically dropped and it became impossible. Which then lead to the race officials cancelling that leg altogether and switching it to a trail run (that Joe would later describe as a cross between land navigation and trail running.) He started running several times a week on his lunch break and we paddled together the few chances we got.
I was excited. We were really doing this together and it was going to be amazing. And then the time drew nearer. Two weeks prior to the race my excitement turned to anxiety and I started dreaming nothing but relay races and every outcome of nearly every dream was that I somehow let my husband down. I missed a transition, I ran the wrong way, I didn't swim fast enough (that one was odd... there is no swimming in the PPP...) I realized it was my biggest fear. He was so confident in us... in me... that I was afraid I wouldn't live up to the outcome he had in mind. I was terrified. Until he sat me down and told me how proud he was. How impressed he was that I had not only learned to ski but ended up enjoying it. How proud he was that I overcame my fear of chairlifts, my fear of going fast downhill, my fear of clipping in to my bike. He knew that we had pushed ourselves and prepared for this. Regardless of the outcome, we were in this together, we were a team and we would do our best. And that was exactly what I needed to hear to get me through it.
We woke up early Saturday morning though I'm not sure how much I really slept Friday night. My dad was there to watch the kids. We had prepped our equipment the night before. Race numbers pinned and stuck, kayak dropped off at the launch, gear loaded into the van. We headed up to the mountain early to get in a practice ski run before race time. I was confident and did fine but it didn't do much mentally to prepare me for the real thing. We sat together for a few last minutes in the lodge before I headed back up on the lift to take my place in line for our starting wave. And then it began. My start time was called and I followed suit as everyone placed their skis at the top of the hill and took their places behind the starting line 200 feet downhill from that point. The countdown came and the race officially began.
From this point on the advice I would give to prepare for the alpine ski leg would be to forget the actual skiing and practice running uphill in your ski boots. The time I lost on this leg was primarily from watching everyone else sprint past me while I struggled to gain footing in my "robot moon" boots (I can barely WALK in those things... how on earth are those people RUNNING?!?!) I kept up with the majority of the pack once my skis were on, until I lost control and fell. And though I did pop off a ski, it stayed close and I was back up in less than 30 seconds. But I had lost momentum and therefore my speed. I came in nearly last in our wave. Joe caught me in the gate, tore off the timing chip and took off. Though the terrain may have been incredibly rugged, a 2 mile trail run leg for Joe meant that I had barely enough time to get out of my skis, run my equipment back to the van (again, I was still in my ski boots) , take off ski pants, change shoes, change helmet, change gloves, change jackets and run across the large parking lot to the bike staging area. I was there only a few minutes before he was crossing the transition line. He transferred the timing chip anklet and I took off on the bike. There's nothing like being timed to make you feel like, even mostly downhill, 22 miles takes for-ever... I watched as Joe passed me in the van and couldn't wait to get off the bike and be halfway done with the whole race. I kept watching my time and speed and was incredibly disappointed that I was slower than I had anticipated (though I credit some of this to the poor choice in jackets as my cycling windbreaker flapped like a parachute the entire way.) But when our number was called out as I entered the transition chute and unclipped from my pedals Joe was poised and ready to run. Another passing off of the timing chip. This time I knew I had a little more time to prepare and was able to relax just a bit. I rode my bike to Joe's truck at the kayak launch, loaded it up in the back seat, changed into my paddling top, running shoes and hat and headed off to wait at our boat. I positioned his paddle just like I was instructed, I turned on the go-pro cam, I watched the time and I waited.
We wrapped up, rounded up equipment, went home to shower and partied with the Kittelson crew like we usually do. But nothing compared to the glorious feeling of our accomplishment. All I kept thinking was "we seriously did that... we SERIOUSLY did that?!"
So while it may seem insignificant to a lot of people, and many don't take it as seriously as we do, you will never know the feeling of bonding, love, support, and accomplishment that overwhelms you when you take on this kind of challenge with someone you love unless you just do it.
We did it.