Let's call it my first individual tri. I’ve done two team tri’s- one way back in 1982 in Lafayette, Indiana, and more recently in 2006 in Carmel, Indiana. Both times I swam. That was enough for me. There’s no way I’d ever be able to do an individual triathlon- or so I thought. I had been lap swimming for years. Once or twice a week swimming a thousand yards is all I need to do to stay in shape – or so I thought. Last fall, I ran completely out of excuses why I shouldn’t or couldn’t join the local Masters Swim team. In November I attended my first Masters practice. I barely slept the night before because I was so nervous. These people are all amazing athletes in Masters and they’ll just laugh at me – or so I thought. What a great group they are in reality. They welcomed me and made me part of the team. After several months of training, I was comfortably doing the intermediate level practice. I was having a blast, even though I was sleepy on training days. I found my "thing" – or so I thought. One morning after practice, the guys in the locker room were talking about triathlons they had done and were planning to do - even Ironman. After that practice, I was all but ready to give up- I thought they were just swimming to stay in shape and that was all they did. After moping around for several days, I came to the realization that I at least ought to try and do a sprint tri- if I only survived the swim part, I was certain they wouldn’t take the t-shirt away! I then signed up for the Carmel Indiana Sprint Triathlon that would take place in April. Even better, my wife who was also now doing Masters Swimming and my college-aged daughter decided to do the Sprint too!
Fast forward to the night before the race. I had hoped to spend the previous three months doing a well rounded training program, however extended work travel got in the way of that. A 15 yard hotel pool and hotel exercise room equipment isn’t really the way to train! I was strangely calm. Having my wife and daughter doing this too was great- we were able to talk through what we needed to do and share hints we had seen on line- mostly from Beginner Triathlete. Our spirits were high and we were ready for this!
I was up early the morning of the race- more excited than nervous to do this! Quick check of the weather- still dark out but not a cloud in the sky. Uh, what’s the temperature? 29 degrees! It’s a 400 meter indoor pool swim so that’s not a problem, but what about the bike and run? As I kept telling the girls- everybody has to deal with the conditions. I might have sounded convincing, but I sure didn’t believe myself!
We arrived with plenty of time to spare. I was very proud of the work I had done to my hybrid bike that had hung in the garage for years prior to this March. Cobwebs removed, everything cleaned, oil where there should be oil, toe cages recently installed and a fresh set of tires and self-sealing tubes I picked up at WalMart. As I racked my bike, I realized that everyone would just make fun of my "equipment" – or so I thought.
I was back inside to wait for the swim start. I had a great time joking around with my girls, my sons, and my daughter’s fiance. A great time right up until they started giving the 15 minute, then 10 minute warnings and then time to line up. I was feeling great about the swim- this is my home pool after all and 400 meters is nothing – or so I thought. We lined up for staggered start – we would go off in 5 second intervals. Why am I so nervous? It’s just a swim. Wow, this line to get into the pool is going a lot faster than I thought. Don’t we need to think this through a little more? My stomach is in a knot. Off goes my daughter – wow, she’s moving great. I wish I could see my wife. I know she’s somewhere behind me in line but I don’t have my glasses on and don’t have a hope of seeing her! Only a couple more to go- the starter is one of our family friends- the nerves went away when she gave me a big smile, and finally tapped my arm to GO! I was cruising. I had hoped to do flip turns at each wall, but they were a little clogged up with people. Last 50 meters. What is this mob of people in front of me? I’ll just go around. Nope- parts of the mob of people decided to go around each other. For some reason, I stopped, stood up and exclaimed "SERIOUSLY?" There was a clog at the wall to get out of the pool. I opt for the ladder instead of climbing the bulkhead- two years before I had destroyed my left knee and could only walk with crutches at that time. I was not about to injure it getting out of the pool!
Off to T1. This ought to be interesting. Before the race, the good engineer in me theorized that there’s no need to practice transitions- seems very easy and logical – or so I thought! I passed my boys who were waiting outside the pool– whew, my most important transition was complete- getting my glasses from them! Out into the cold. The sun was up, and I’m guessing the air had warmed up into the 40’s. Wow, I am so cold. I’m soaking wet and only wearing tri shorts. Why won’t my legs move? There were so many people cheering as we head to T1, except one guy in the crowd who yells at me, “C’mon, run, this is a race!” I don’t remember if I said it out loud or not, but I at least thought, “Buddy, if this is so easy, you come do it!”
My swim was pretty quick, so the transition area wasn’t too crowded. I dried myself off. Shirt on and sweat jacket on. Time for the running shoes- hey, my fingers don’t work from the cold! Who are all of these people flying out of here as I fumble around? Shoes finally on. I look around and realize that the transition area isn’t crowded at all – because so many had completed T1 already! Now to unrack the hybrid bike. Oh no! The seat is so high I can’t get it under the bar of the rack. I continue to fumble trying to figure out what to do! And here’s what makes this sport so great – the guy a couple of spots down that was a REAL triathlete with a REAL bike stops to hold the rack for me before I knock the whole thing down! Thank you stranger! Off I go- those timing mats that seemed so close when I got here now seem miles away as I try to walk my bike to get on.
On the bike! My legs were starting to work at last. About a quarter mile in, I encounter a mountain they apparently put on the course while I was in the pool. I’ve driven this way thousands of times- how come I’ve never noticed this? Why am I huffing and puffing so much? My heart feels like it’s about to jump out of my chest! Keep riding. The police officers and volunteers are doing a brilliant job managing the roads. I thank everyone I can- I’m going so slowly I might as well have breakfast with them. I’m finally getting my breathing under control. Wow. I’m really tired. My legs are starting to hurt. Uh oh, I refuse to let that self doubt cross into my brain. I AM NOT GOING TO QUIT! People fly by me. I am so slow. I AM NOT GOING TO QUIT! Finally the turnaround point. Sharp u-turn. I sense someone right behind me. Oh great, I’m going so slowly I’m going to make this person wreck. Why, it’s the love of my life! My wife caught up to me from the swim. I don’t remember what she said for encouragement. Whatever it was I finally believe that I AM NOT GOING TO QUIT! At that point I begin to enjoy the ride. I’m not fast, but I’m out here. Wow, is that really the transition area I’m closing in on? This goes by so much more quickly when I’m enjoying myself!
I dismount right before the timing mat to run my bike to the rack. Something is wrong- I can’t feel anything below my knees! Bike racked and off to run. I still can’t feel my legs, and then it dawns on me- this is the bricks I had read about but didn’t bother to practice! I’m careful where I step. I pass the water station and ask one of the volunteers if they could please check and see if my legs were still attached! I’m picking up the pace now, and yes I will admit, I was walking. Great people all around me- passing me of course, but loaded with encouragement. It seemed like I was going forever. It became obvious they forgot to put up the one mile marker because I would have passed it by now. After what seemed like an eternity, I rounded a corner and see the one mile marker. I let loose my second “SERIOUSLY?” of the day. This time I laugh out loud. I begin to alternate between walking fast and jogging. I should be trying to run more, but I am so blessed and thankful that the knee that didn’t work two years ago was going to take me to the finish. I’m about a half mile from the finish and begin to hear the music, the crowd cheering and the announcers giving the names of the triathletes as they crossed the line. I become overwhelmed with emotion- I am going to make it! Oh great, I’ll cross the line and be bawling. No, this is time to be happy! Let’s go! I’ve got energy left- time to RUN! I’ve had many wonderful things happen to me in my life, but now way up on the list is coming to the finish with my family there cheering! Across the finish, the beeps of the timer mean that I AM A TRIATHLETE!