The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 31, 2001

Features

Carlisle women participate in triathlon

When alarm clocks went off in at least three Carlisle homes this past Sunday morning, they stirred mixed feelings of apprehension and anticipation in the women who sleepily swiped at the off buttons. For all three were facing a formidable physical challenge in the hours ahead: the Danskin Women's Triathlon, featuring a half-mile swim, 12-mile bike ride and 3.1-mile run. Start time: 9 a.m. at Mirror Lake in Devens.

"I was extremely nervous," says Kathy Balles, 37, a homemaker and mother of four who lives on Nowell Farme Road and was participating in the annual event for the first time. "I was kicking myself for putting this thing over my head."

Once outside, however, after making sure her bike was safely anchored to the top of her car and all her gear was ready, Balles began to relax. "I thought, hey, it's a nice day. This won't be so bad," she says. "I just kept on going, and every step closer to the start came easier."

Meanwhile on Maple Street, Stephanie Stenton, another first-time triathlete, says she was "nervous, but excited." In the weeks and months leading up to the race, the 40-year-old caterer and mother of two says she had been experiencing "total calm before the storm. But on the last two nights, I was tortured by anxiety-ridden nightmares. In one, I was at the race and realized I'd forgotten my bike."

Over on North Road, I was experiencing a third-timer's anxiety. I had completed my first Danskin Triathlon three years ago, and joined a team the following year for the bike leg of the race. I had both the benefit and the disadvantage of knowing exactly what was in store for me. "Why am I doing this?" I asked my husband, my two daughters and myself more than once.

Luckily the beautiful weather would serve as comfort and motivator for the nearly 1700 women who had traveled from all over the Northeast and beyond in order to attend the race. I for one felt immediately calmed by my initial view of Mirror Lake in Devens, lined by pine trees with a crisp blue sky overhead. Even the volatile August temperatures cooperated, remaining relatively comfortable in the high 70s and low 80s with a slight breeze.

"I am so lucky to be in this race on this gorgeous day," Stenton recalls thinking.

Not far from the bannered area on the beach designating the swim portion of the race was the most tantalizing sight of all: the finish line. At that moment, the sweet victory of the finish line seemed remote and far away indeed. Would we ever make it?

In the transition area a short but unfortunate uphill jog from the lake nearly 1700 bicycles were placed in numbered racks with each racer's running shoes, helmet and other gear positioned on the ground nearby in easy grab-and-bolt fashion.

Race time approached, marking the culmination of months of training. For about a year, Stenton had known she would participate in the race, after hearing about it from workout buddies at the Thoreau Club in Concord. Stenton, an avid tennis player who enjoys running and considers herself an "outdoorsy person," decided to tackle the race for the benefits of cross-training and also to celebrate the fact that she was turning 40.

"It was a good year for me. I was feeling good, feeling like I could do whatever I set my mind to do and wanting to be in better shape," she says.

For Balles, her initial inspiration was Carlisle resident Kim Donovan, who participated in the race last year and convinced Balles to give it a try.

"I needed a goal to make me exercise," says Balles, who swam competitively in high school and was a member of her college crew team. "I needed the fear factor to keep me going. Otherwise, I might tend to blow it off."

Even before the race began, the atmosphere among participants and spectators (comprised mostly of proud husbands and offspring of the racers) was one of celebration and encouragement. There was no sense of fierce competition, but instead a pervading spirit of camaraderie and mutual support among women of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities.

Finally, the racers lined up on the sandy beach, wearing color-coded bathing caps that designated each starting group. We chatted nervously, blew kisses to our cheering sections and waited, giant butterflies fluttering madly in our bellies.

Then the torturous countdown, and we were off! It was an open-water swim, curving around large orange buoys the first one seeming impossibly far from shore. There was the initial confusion of thrashing arms and legs as swimmers strove to find open space, then relative calm, as each settled into her own pace. Benefiting from numerous training swims across Walden Pond in Concord, Stenton felt confident in the water. Balles too noted that the swim didn't seem"as long as I thought it would." As for me, I silently cursed myself for not training enough for this leg of the race, and focused on getting through without sinking like a stone to the bottom of Mirror Lake.

Running uphill to the transition area on tired legs was its own challenge (even the transition segments count in your overall race time), but soon we had mounted our trusty steeds and begun the bike portion of the race. All three of us felt strong and confident after months of biking in Carlisle, although Stenton noted that the scenery in Devens (including the army base and road construction) could not come close to the beauty of our hometown's roadways. As Balles completed the bike ride, she recalls thinking, "Two down, one to go."

On rubbery legs, we started the run. Uphill. Luckily, what goes up must come down, so we enjoyed the benefits of the occasional downhill inclines, even if it seemed there weren't enough of them. Along the route, spectators and volunteers cheered us on, encouraged us and handed us cups of water for drinking or pouring over our heads.

Then, finally, FINALLY, the finish line grew closer. The same hill we had cursed after the swim was now our best friend, curving down toward the finish line, giving us a welcome push for the last hundred yards. All finishes were big; all faces were flushed and happy. There were whoops of victory, bear hugs and congratulations. There were tears of joy and relief.

Choking back my own tears, I was nearly bowled over by my husband and daughters, who rushed forward at the finish. My husband's eyes were moist as he hugged me, my girls my teenagers were clearly proud and impressed. I recalled the question I'd asked repeatedly just hours earlier and realized I had my answer. "This is why I do this," I thought with a grin. The finish line.

After the race, I went home, took a hot bath and spent the rest of the day feeling like a tired, happy slug. Balles, with energy to spare, ended up taking another bike ride with her husband. Stenton basked in the knowledge of a goal accomplished, inspiring her husband to tell her she was "glowing."

As for our race times, let's just say they were respectable. We all can claim achieving our "personal best." And next year, all three of us plan to compete again.


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