You are reading the words of someone who has survived a triathlon!
It was a “sprint” triathlon. Like the name implies, it is a short event. 300 meter pool swim, 12 mile bike ride and 5k run. A standard for sprint distances has not been established, but this is pretty typical and just enough for the first timer and beyond.
This was simply a great experience. Without anything to compare it to, I can only say it seemed very well organized. From the moment I unloaded my bike on the drizzly dark morning, things could not have gone any smoother. Clear directions from the volunteers had me looking like an old pro.
I’m not exactly sure why, but one of the most anticipated moments for me was body marking. A young lady took a Sharpie and wrote #479 on my shoulders and left calf. My age (45) hit my right calf. My only regret was her incredibly poor penmanship. I was hoping for something photo worthy, but I would just have been disappointed had I taken one.
It is no surprise that my biggest fear was the swim. I’ve written it in these pages before and everyone I talk to has the same phobia regardless of swimming ability. Until you’ve done it, the unknown is Everest-like.
My swim went great. I was nervous about it for weeks ahead of time, but by race day I had a peace about it. It was in a pool for gosh sakes. My plan was to get in the water and try to stay in open water, slow down, breath and slow down some more. Now, it wasn’t without its out of control chaotic moments, but if I get started describing it we will be here all day.
With 600 athletes (the term used extremely loosely), getting in the pool takes forever. I was slotted to start 479th, but the coolest part about that is you can go take a leak when #400 is getting ready to start. They start you every 5-7 seconds, so a last minute bathroom break is awesome to get rid of the sensation you have to pee caused by nerves. I had also assumed that by the time I started that I would be swimming through 400+ urine samples. This meant I only swam through 200 or so. Victory!
The other thing to note is that (a) people lie about their swim times and (b) there are a lot of out of shape people entering triathlons. #1 is supposed to be the fastest swimmer. Yet, I know I saw people scattered from front to back that simply could not swim a lick. Breaststroke, backstroke, sidestroke, dog paddle, you name it. The out of shape people needed to take a break at the end of every 50 meters so they clung like crabs to the end wall leaving little room for the rest of us to touch up and make the turn. The look on their faces as they gaze at you is indescribable. Like zombified statues with fear, distress or flesh in their eyes. As you might guess, this creates a log jam effect which I calmly navigated to the exit ladder and out of the building.
Transition between the different segments requires some planning and skill. Neither of which I possessed on race day. I was just happy not to get penalized or disqualified for jumping on my bike before officially crossing the Bike Exit line.
It was still a little misty and overcast, but I wanted my sunglasses on so I could look cool.
Unfortunately, I left them sitting on the ground in my transition slot. I guess I’m just lucky I didn’t still have the swim goggles on...talk about not cool. It was at this time that I realized that my new fancy watch had dropped the signal to my bike’s speed/cadence sensor and was going wacko. They say never try new gear for the first time in a race. It was a watch for Pete’s sake, what could go wrong? Duly noted.
I knew the two loop bike course was going to be tough. The hills in the area are much steeper than normal for this part of Texas and my bike engine has only been a few hundred miles since childhood. My arrogant assumption that the bike would be easy for a seasoned distance runner like me was just plain stupid. This was a race, however, so I pushed hard while trying to save enough steam to get through the hills at the end of Loop #2.
If I had to summarize the one thing I learned that will influence me in the future it is this: the lighter you are the faster you are on the bike. I roared by a group on the first major downhill only to discover that I was simply being carried along faster because I was the heaviest guy in the immediate area. It wasn’t the bike or my hidden power finally showing up on race day. This was glaringly clear after a few hills when the young women and scrawny dudes effortlessly rode by me on the inclines while I was setting fire to my legs trying to get over the top.
Actually, only during the bike was I ever passed by anyone. I went by many on the swim and several on the run, but I definitely gave back some ground on the bike. I still picked off the people on tricycles, a guy in a banana costume and some old ladies, but generally I was just hanging on hoping the run would come soon.
T2 (Transition #2) went smoother than T1 simply because I wore my running shoes during the bike since I don’t have those fancy pedals and special shoes. I basically racked my bike and thankfully remembered to take off my helmet. On with the sunglasses to look cool and I was off. Another poor assumption was that I could leisurely go through T1 & T2 and allow my heart rate to drop considerably so the next segment would start out in a controlled manner. Only after the race did I read somewhere that transition really ramps people up and one needed to be careful not to overcook yourself in the frantic move from one part to the other. Needless to say, my rate was well above what I had planned and I was feeling it.
Another thing that must be experienced is the unique feeling you have switching from cycling to running. The legs send you messages like “what is this thing we are doing right now?” and “I think we should not be moving in the violent manner.” Yes, you feel like you’ve never run before as the
muscles move through a rather slow process of switching gears. Like a car going from forward to reverse, bike to run requires a sudden change in muscle mechanics. Within a mile or so, things feel normal again. This really stinks when the run portion is only 3.1 miles since 1/3 of the darn thing is just trying to get things back under control.
I did a brick workout (cycling followed by a short run) early in my training and realized that I needed some practice at this before race day. Actually, I enjoyed these workouts because it really felt like a hard effort. I think my longest brick was an 18 mile ride followed immediately by a 5 mile run. This really helped take some of the mystery out of the event and I highly recommend it.
The run was uneventful generally. I mentioned a banana costume earlier. Weird, but not so weird if the event is Halloween themed. Batman, superman, ghosts, witches and oh so many more. Obviously, I did not dress up. It is just not my thing and as a first timer I had no business attempting anything but a straightforward effort.
I slowed during the second mile so that I could finish strong and in my right mind. With the final
mile a minute fast at 8:35, I scooted through the finish with one of the biggest smiles of my life. It was a feeling of complete joy and satisfaction. Something that I had secretly wanted to try, but was too afraid to attempt had now been accomplished.
When I got home, my family seemed proud enough and didn’t bother to ask if I would do another triathlon. I guess they know that I always have more.
Sure enough, the three month journey left me wanting more. A friend of mine told me to only attempt triathlon if I was prepared to be hooked. I’m not sure that I’m hooked, but I get it. Something inside me is different. It wasn’t so much the event itself, but the training. I truly enjoyed the extra training. That may sound crazy to most, but quitting triathlon would leave a vacancy in my newfound routine that I would miss immensely. Plus, I have over $1,000 in new toys that are just begging to be played with. So, you will find me on the road or in the pool for the foreseeable future. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.
Run in Peace, Rest in Grace