I wake before dawn and travel to my destination in the early morning darkness, my hands wrapped around a steaming mug of coffee.
In the chilly morning air, I stand shivering at the water’s edge with bare limbs and bare feet, longing for my warm, cozy bed, wondering why I am doing this and knowing that no sane person would.
The sound of the horn sends us splashing into the cold, dark water, arms and legs thrashing, lungs burning. The freezing wetness will seep through the neck and arms of my wetsuit, which is choking me.
On numb legs I will stagger across the beach and into the transition area, attempting to peel the thick wetsuit from my damp skin. The coldness that I’ve adapted to will consume me once again as I stand vulnerable and exposed to the elements, the crisp morning air causing my arms and legs to grow prickly with goose bumps.
I will do my best to tug on arm warmers, shoes and a helmet, my shaking body hindering my efforts, before mounting my bike and pedaling away, a soggy, quaking blur on wheels.
The rising sun will gently lift the frost from the air. My legs will churn faster and faster in an attempt to gather both speed and warmth. In the first few minutes I will shiver and wipe my nose as the icy breeze crashes into my body. I will hope for hills so I can rise from the saddle and pedal harder, raising my heart rate and heating my muscles.
Eventually, the moisture will have evaporated from my skin, my heart will be pumping wildly, and my spirits will be soaring as I glide along the undulating road and into the transition area once again.
I am hot now, my heart and lungs working overtime to keep the engine running, to tackle the hills on foot and push as hard as I can. The finish line appears like an oasis in the dessert and I move my legs faster, though I can barely feel them now.
My chest feels like it will explode as I make the final sprint to the finish, surging forward with everything I have and wanting to collapse in a heap of elation and exhaustion. I exchange my timing chip for a medal, which I proudly hang around my neck.
Finally, my breathing will slow, my muscles will tighten and my heart will swell—with pride and happiness, with a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie. I will have forgotten about the darkness and the cold as I bask in the light and the warmth of the insanity, the experience, the adventure.
This is who I am. This is what I do. I am a triathlete.