A First Hand

By Jessica Henry,
Raleigh Chronicle Reader                              

Ladies and gentlemen, the big day has come -- and gone.  This year's Azalea Festival Sprint Triathlon is now in the past. 

The weekend was filled with Team in Training activities from top to bottom.  On Friday, Mike and I drove down to meet the group at the race site in Wilmington, N.C.  We checked out the course (the pool, transition areas, and a bit of the run) and took a short bike ride to make sure everything was in working order. 

It was a good thing we did that, because one of my teammates actually did have a problem with her bike--one can never do too much pre-race preparation, particularly when technology is involved. 

Afterwards, we went to the packet pick-up so we could get our bibs, numbers, and (SWEET) participant t-shirts.  Then it was off to the hotel for a little R&R before the pasta party in the evening.  Mmmm . . . pasta.

For the pasta party, the whole group took a trolley into downtown Wilmington, where the Triangle TNT group (us) met up with the coastal TNT group.  At dinner, we got some really good eats in a great location, and got to hear stories about why so many of us wanted to do TNT, and from some cancer survivors for whom TNT has made such a big difference.  It was very inspirational.  (Almost made me want to run a triathlon!  ;) ) Then it was back to the hotel to rest up for the big day!

In triathlons where the swim is done in a pool (rather than in "open water"), the start time for individual participants are staggered depending on a racer's classification: "Elites" go first, then racers by "age group," then "Athenas" (females over 150 lbs), then "Clydesdales" (males over 200 lbs), and then--finally--the "novices."  Most of the TNTers, myself included, were novices.  So our start time came toward the end of the morning, which, in my case, was 11:08 a.m.  Thus, most of my morning was spent cheering folks on and watching other participants so that I'd have some idea of what to do when my time came. 

When my time did come, I was ready to go!  The swim was fine (there were some "traffic problems" in the middle . . . next time, I'll give a quicker estimated time so I won't have to work on passing folks!), and I was able to finish the 300 meters in a little under 6 minutes.  After the swim came a 200 yard (barefoot) dash to the bike transition area, where I slapped on my bike helmet and shoes and zipped off on my ride.  The bike course was great--Wilmington is super flat, so there were almost no hills throughout the whole 10 miles. 

BUT--none of the streets were closed to the public, so it got a little scary at times!  Nevertheless, the course had plenty of volunteers and police to keep us on track, and I was able to finish the whole 10 miles in a little over 34 minutes.  With a quick transition to get rid of the bike, helmet, and bike shoes, and get on my running shoes and race belt, I set out on the 5k running portion of the race. 

As it turns out, after a 10 mile bike ride, your legs feel like spaghetti and your hips are ready to not being doing this anymore.  I was thankful for my teammate Rob, who kept 20 feet in front of me keeping my pace while my legs loosened up, and who gave me the extra push at mile 2 to go ahead and speed up for the rest of the run. 

My coach and several of my TNT friends were there at the last turn to let me know that I was near the end to send me in finishing strong.  I gave my final "kick" to the cheers of the crowd, and finished my run in an even 27 minutes flat. 

A truly unexpected surprise, however, came out with the results: My teammate Ruth grabbed my arm and said, "Jess, look at this!"  As it turns out, I placed THIRD in the "Female Novice" category, with a time of 1hour and 11minutes!   

Plus, three of my teammates placed in their categories, including Ruth, Lauren, and Martha!!  Triathlons are competitive, so having so many participants place, even in the novice category, is quite rare.  To quote our coach, "WOO-HOO!!" 

We all celebrated Saturday evening on a party cruise, where our teammate Chrissy showed us all how to dance like nobody's watching, even though everybody's watching.  ROCK ON, Chrissy. 

I feel really good.  It was great to share such an accomplishment with so many wonderful people, and particularly for such a great cause.  Every one of my TNT teammates made it across the finish line, and were able to share in the success that we all had achieved. 

We spent 16 weeks training hard, dedicating our workouts to those who were fighting real battles against blood cancers, and we succeeded together as a team.  GO TEAM!!!

To everyone who's offered me their support on this astonishing journey: Thank you all for your support, kindness, and inspiration.  Your help has meant a tremendous amount, not only for me, but also in the fight against blood cancers. 

The North Carolina TNT Azalea participants raised over $55,000 this year (Isn't that AMAZING?)!!!  At our pasta party, we heard from a mother who's 7-year-old daughter has been leukemia-free for 3 years; her life has been dramatically altered by the generosity of folks just like yourselves.  You should all be very proud. 

Of course, I need to give a special thanks to our Coach Chris, for being so patient with me as I struggled from a flailing fish out of water to (marginally) competent guppie swimmer; my mentor Chrissy, for keeping me laughing and reminding me how important it is to have fun.

Also, I'd like to thank my mentor, Blake, for his technical expertise and endless willingness to help everybody out; our campaign coordinator, Angela, for being the best cheerleader a team could have; and my teammates, Laurie, Jen, Krista, Rob, Ruth, Betsy, Martha, Kevin, Courtney, Celeste, Lauren, and Alaine, for joining me on this challenge and being generally stupifyingly awesome. ::

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::Raleigh Triathlon Competitor Tells All
By Raleigh Chronicle Reader Jessica Henry
Thursday, April 19, 2007

RALEIGH - The story below was written by Raleigh Chronicle reader Jessica Henry, who along with several other Raleigh triathletes, competed in the recent Azalea Festival Sprint Triathlon in Wilmington, NC.  She gives us a first-hand account of what it's like to compete and also tells how she did in the race, along with her friends as well.

For those who haven't had the pleasure of competing in one, a triathlon involves running, swimming, and then riding a bicycle on a course to make one grueling competition.  This year's Azalea event included a 300 yard swim, a 20 kilometer bike ride, and a 5 kilometer run.
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::Raleigh Triathlon Competitor Tells All
Jessica Henry gives us a first-hand account of what it's like to compete in the Azalea Festival triathlon in Wilmington and also tells how she did in the race, along with her friends as well.

Photos By Jessica Henry