“It’s the highlight of my summer.” I’m stealing that quote from my teammate, Phil because I agree one hundred percent.

The Whidbey Island Triathlon is a short sprint of a race, but it still takes dedication and commitment to training. It’s a half mile swim, a twenty mile bike ride, and a four mile run.

If I tackled this one alone, I wouldn’t be writing this, I’d still be working on my bike ride or crawling the final mile to the finish line. I jest, a little. I have considered doing the Triathlon myself, just for the ability to say I did it, but then I get a message from my teammates, and I know it’s going to be another victorious relay. As long as I do my part and practice.

Funny enough, we are on an island without many swimmers. So, three years ago I was randomly asked if I might be interested in joining a Triathlon relay team as a swimmer. My reply was “well, the swimming portion is the only thing I’d remotely want to do.”

And then I was introduced to Sam and Phil. Sam is from the mainland, Everett, and is a very fast runner. Like, sub-twenty minute 5K. Maybe that’s not Quicksilver or Flash speed, but it’s pretty damn fast. Phil, well, Phil is the Penguin Blur on a bike. It’s his superhero alter-ego. He may be the fastest cyclist on the island.

And then there’s me. I’m not an Olympic athlete, but I did swim competitively for nearly ten years, and then basically swam for a living for six years before moving to the Pacific Northwest. If nothing else, I am very very comfortable in the water.

My first two years I participated in the triathlon, I practiced at Island Athletics, and I enjoyed my swims. This year, though, I had timing issue and needed to be able to practice on my schedule, not that of the pool classes, or compete for swimming lanes.

Last year I bought my racing wetsuit at the end of the season for a bargain. So this year, I decided to save the money I would spend at Island Athletics and just practice at the freaking lake where the race is held.

I think the practice paid off.

Last year, our team took the gold medal, but I tanked on the swim. This year, I was super comfortable in my wetsuit having swam the lake dozens of times. I swam the distance and knew just about when and where to push myself, when to pace myself.

Last year my eating habits were all over the place. This year, I was methodical in figuring out when and what I should eat to maximize energy output. My breakfast of champions for my swim was 1/2 cup organic oats with a splash of maple syrup and three slices of bacon cut and mixed into the oats. Super easy to fix, and when I eat it 90 minutes before my swim, paired with my special Yerba Mate tea and a splash of honey, I feel unstoppable.

This year I warmed up at home with a quick 500 meter row followed by some good Pilates stretching and mobility.

As it came time for my heat to start, the butterflies in my stomach started to release my energy before it was go-time. Being in the last heat is fine with me, but I would love to go first once, and not have to compete with so many swimmers ahead of me. The lead swimmer from the first heat was getting out of the water before my heat even started.

As I waited for us to go, I turned up the volume of my aqua iPod and let the music do it’s work. Music is so motivating to me. It can push me when I want to quit, and help pace me with a good rhythm.

I felt strong during the swim, and as I ran up the hill to pass the band to Phil for the cycling leg, I knew I had done well.

It’s not the greatest swim time for a triathlon (that honor for today went to the Navy girl who finished her half mile swim in under twelve minutes), but I was pretty pleased. Just under fifteen minutes.

With Phil racing his heart out despite a rough summer on his end, and Sam experimenting with a faster running technique, we finished the whole race in 1 hour and 32 minutes. A full ten minutes faster than any other racer. I was in the fourth heat, the last group to start the triathlon, a full twelve minutes behind the first group. And Sam was the second person to cross the finish line.

I will admit I feel I have the easiest portion of the race. But I am a swimmer. Just like I will always be a zookeeper, I will always be a swimmer. Within two hours after my swim, I was feeling as though I hadn’t done anything. So I went to a shady portion of the field, pulled out my Memory cards, and pumped out a quick twenty minute workout before the award ceremony.

This year, the relay teams received their due respect. We had the fastest time on the course. It’s because we were a very specialized group. I was the strong swimmer, Phil the speed demon on a bike, and Sam with the smoking legs on the trail. Together, we were an unstoppable force.

And I have every reason to be proud.