Getting to the Starting Line Right on Time - 20 Years Late

author : browncd
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Twenty years after signing up for my first triathlon, I finally made it...but just in time!

Here I was on May 20th, 2006, finally standing at the starting line (actually, shivering chest deep in 60 degree F water), getting ready to start a triathlon in Terre Haute, Indiana. Something I had planned on doing 20 years earlier.

Here is a little about myself and my 20 year journey to the starting line of my first triathlon.


First, I am 59 years old, and in spite of dropping over 100 pounds in the past 3 years, I still have a ways to go to look like an endurance athlete and not a linebacker-which I was in high school and college. I was considered small (5' 10" and 220#) by football standards, but heavy by any other standard.


In the late 70's and early 80's, like many, I got into running to get back into shape. I ran in countless 5 and 10K's. I even did 3 marathons. With a lot of effort I got my weight down to under 200 pounds and ran a 3:47 marathon. But by 1985 I was burnt out on running. A few of the local runners that I knew were getting into this new sport, triathlons, that combined swimming and biking along with running. Back then there was little information about how to train for triathlons-especially for beginners.


I got a road bike and started riding it a few times a week, and I started swimming at the local pool a couple times a week. I had no idea what I was doing, but for a goal I entered the first Terre Haute Triathlon that was scheduled for the spring of 1986. The distances looked like something I might be able to do and it wasn't that far away from home. I was progressing in my training, until three weeks before the triathlon I collided with a dog on my bike. Along with nasty road rash, it resulted in a broken collarbone and a back so out of place that I could hardly walk. Needless to say, I didn't make it to the 1986 triathlon. By the time I had healed, I had gotten out of shape and had trouble getting back into training.

Over the following years, increasing responsibilities of work and family kept competing for my time, so exercise was pushed off as something to get back to when there was time-and there never seemed to be enough time! Finally, four years ago, I got the wake up call. My weight had gradually increased to over 300 pounds, and additional health problems had come along with it (BP, etc.). At my annual physical, the doctor told me he was concerned about my health and if I didn't do something about it, I was headed for some serious health issues.


I finally got some professional help to get some balance back into my life, which included taking better care of myself. Gradually, my weight began to drop with exercise and watching what I ate. I started riding a bike again, and when I started to get in better shape, I thought about even doing a triathlon. Luckily, I found the BT website to help with training plans for beginners. I picked one that seemed to fit me and started the journey back into becoming a triathlete. Since I never made it to the Terre Haute Triathlon in 1986, I thought it would be a good one to start with.

Now here is the adventure of actually doing my first triathlon and becoming a triathlete.

I had trained for months following one of the plans from BT, so even though I was a little nervous, I felt I was ready. I went over my checklist to make sure I had everything with me. I arrived the night before and set up in the campground in the park where the triathlon was starting, so I would be ready to go the next morning when registration started at 6:30 am.


Boy was I shocked the next morning when I walked over to register and get marked. The place was packed and everybody was getting ready for the race meeting. I had forgotten that Terre Haute was in a different time zone and it was an hour later then I thought it was. I hurriedly got my stuff set up in the transition area and put my wetsuit on just in time to get in the water for my wave to start. Talk about getting your heart going, hurrying around so I wouldn’t miss my starting time. I was kicking myself for missing something that simple as not getting the local time right!

This brings us to the 800 meter swim which was in a spring-fed pond that was a cool 60 degree F. Even in a wetsuit, that cold water was a shock to my system! Being a little late to the start, I had no time to warm up or even to get acclimated to the water temperature. I had just enough time to wade out into the water to get ready for my wave to start.


The next thing I knew, we were off! Even though I tried to stay calm, my heart was racing and after just 100 meters, I was out of breath and I thought I was never going to make it. I slowed down and did a slow breast stroke for a few seconds and finally got my breathing under control. From there, it was just a matter of keeping steady strokes to the finish. I made it out of the water in 18 minutes. I staggered up the hill to the transition area.

I had no trouble spotting my bike, since there were only about 20 left out of the 335 that had been there before the start. I struggled to get my wetsuit off, but everything else went smoothly for T1—or so I thought. In my haste to get ready, I forgot to put my water bottles on my bike and didn’t notice it until later. Once on the bike I started feeling pretty good. After a couple of turns, the course settled into an out-and-back route on some rolling-to-flat country roads. I got into the aerobars at a steady pace that felt comfortable. I soon started passing other riders. In total I passed over 25 on the bike and averaged just under 20 mph for the 40 kilometers.


When I got back to the transition area, I switched into my running shoes and headed out on the run. About a mile into the run was the first time I realized that I had not had anything to drink since the start and was beginning to get thirsty. By the time I got to the one aid station at the turnaround, it was too late. Even though I grabbed water and sports drinks I could feel my calves starting to cramp. I slowed down to a walk for most of the 8K run, but I finished.

I didn't finish last, and it wouldn't have mattered even if I did. I had finished my first triathlon, and nobody could take away how good I felt about that. I was surprised  about how encouraging everybody was as the back-of-the-packers, like myself, got to the finish line. Even the leaders that had finished an hour or more earlier were there clapping and cheering us on to the finish.

I am hooked on triathlons and plan on training for them and doing more in the future. This is a lot more fun then fishing or golf, and if you do them in moderation, they are better for you too! I now have something I will enjoy doing well into my retirement in a few years.


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date: February 7, 2007