By Allendra Letsome, NOW Vice President of Membership
At 7:55 a.m. on a rainy Sunday, I crossed the timing pad and entered the water. Three hours and 40 minutes later, I heard the announcer say one of the most important sentences of my life: “Allendra Letsome, you are an IronGirl.”
Before we get any further, there are two things you should know.
First, IronGirl is a triathlon in the family of Iron triathlons, the most famous being the Iron Man in Hawaii. IronGirl is the only Iron triathlon for women only. The distances are a 0.62 mile (1k) swim, a17.5 mile (12k) bike and a 3.4 mile (5.5k) run — all of which must be completed within four hours and 30 minutes of the start time.
And second, according to most medical charts and tables, I am overweight. Some might even say obese. I say I am “beautiful,” and now I will add “strong.”
It wasn’t easy. When my sister and I decided to do the triathlon, we did not consider ourselves athletes. We had never done any sort of endurance activity, and we definitely had never trained for anything like this. You might even call us nerds. But we were committed to doing it, so we gave ourselves nine months to get ready.
We started our training with swimming, since it was first in the triathlon. When you’re an overweight teenager at the pool, you never go into the water without a t-shirt or some sort of cover-up. But when you are powering through an 800-meter swim twice a week, you lose the t-shirt and the shame. And when you get out of the water, and everyone is staring at you, you know they’re not looking at your rolls or thighs, but admiring what they just saw you do.
Even though biking should have been next, I knew that running would be a bigger challenge for me. My sister is an excellent runner. She is a natural — graceful and swift. I, on the other hand, run at a pace usually referred to as walking, and often times look quite upset about doing it at all.
When I first began running, it was indoors and on a treadmill. I would wear my comfortable, shapeless clothes to hide whatever jiggle or bounce was going on underneath (and in the beginning, there was quite a bit). Sometimes when I ran, my body would do uncontrollable things, like my eyes tearing up or my stomach making weird (and loud) noises. It was only with the encouragement of my sister that I would try again the next day.
As my stamina built up and my distances got longer, I had to ditch the baggy clothes because they were just too hot, and I no longer had the time or energy to worry about what was jiggling or bouncing. But it wasn’t until I starting training outside that I really learned to love how my body looks when it runs. The trees didn’t care if I bounced. The squirrels didn’t care if I jiggled. It was just me, my body and that two mile stretch that I was tearing up. And if anyone had anything to say, they never said it to me. (Or maybe I was just too fast to hear them.)
There’s an old saying: “It’s as easy as riding a bike.” Let me correct that. Falling off a bike is easy. Riding a bike is HARD. Especially when you haven’t ridden since you were in middle school. And let’s not forget the stylish biking attire known as bike shorts. They flatter no one, but if you don’t want to get your pants caught in the gears, you have to learn to love them and how your butt and thighs look in them. It will always be more appealing than the sight of said butt and thighs after they’ve been dragged across the asphalt in a crash. And when you’re pedaling away, and you crest the top of that really killer hill and start coasting down the other side, nothing can beat the pride you feel knowing that it was just you and your body that got you to that point.
And so on that early rainy Sunday morning, with 2,500 IronGirl participants and untold number of spectators and volunteers, I wasn’t at all ashamed to walk up to the starting line in my triathlon gear and bike shorts. Because I knew that my “overweight” body was going to get me across the finish line with a smile on my face. And it did, and for that I love it!
Our bodies, with all of their rolls, bounces, dimples and creases, are amazing machines, and we ask a lot of them; but if we love them, they will perform with grace, class and style! And really, that’s the only thing that matters.