The day finally arrived. I'd been preparing for this since January. I’d trained hard (well mostly), lost another 20lbs (on top of the 18 I’d lost since August), and was feeling pretty fit for a guy who had smoked for 23 years and has not been serious about fitness for about the same amount of time. I had a 400m swim, 14.7mile bike, and 4.1mile run ahead of me, and it was now or never!
I awoke at 4:00am and wolfed down a couple slices of whole wheat toast with peanut butter, water, and a cup of coffee. Then I double checked the transition bag in case the gremlins messed with it while I slept - it was still all in order. I went out in the dark and mounted the bike rack on the car, pumped up tires, racked my bike, and finally woke the dear wife. She was really great for agreeing to go with me. We drove the 20 minutes to the race, found parking nearby, and got in line for my timing chip. So far, so good.
What came next shouldn't really have been surprising. There was no chip for me. You see, I picked the race packet up on Friday, only to discover that the helmet and bike number did not match the bib number. A quick check and question in the BT chat-room convinced me this really should not be the case. I was lucky in that the pickup was not too far from home, so I was able to straighten it out Saturday. Then, no chip. As if I didn’t have enough anxiety already! So the race director came over and there was another guy in my predicament. We were told to stand off to the side and wait. The race director talked into his Walkie Talkie and disappeared. My anxiety level rose. After about ten minutes, where there had been a line several hundred people behind me, there was now no one. I started looking at the sheets that had the chips on them, and lo and behold, mine was there, just in wrong place. I’d lost time for nothing. ”Ah well,” I thought, “roll with it.”
Next it was down to body marking, and then off to transition. That ten-minute delay definitely impacted my selection of spots. This one guy was taking up a lot of room. "Hey, buddy, can you move your stuff over? There are two more folks who need to fit in here." I got a dirty look and he moved his bike two or three inches - how nice of him! The volunteers began moving through, saying, "Transition is closing, move down to the beach" “Hey, I just got here!” I thought. “OK, breathe...” My heart was already starting to pound. I finished setting up, found and kissed my wife, snuck off to pee in the woods, and finally headed down to the start area.
As we stood around waiting for the start, a BTer (Rowdy) stopped by and introduced himself. That was very nice of him. I also noticed a lot of wetsuits. And I noticed my gleaming white flesh. “Hmmmm maybe I should have a wetsuit,” I thought. ”What the heck, it’s only 400 meters.”
After the national anthem and some final words, we started. For this race we were seeded according to swim times. Swimmers were sent in at five-second intervals. The first number in was 201. I was 225, so I was definitely in the fast group, which was nice, but more on that later.
My turn came up quickly. “GO! Run and dive! HOLY COW, that's cold!” It took my breath away, and for the first 100m or so I just was trying to get into a rhythm, establish bi-lateral breathing, and relax. I sighted in on the first buoy and passed a couple of people, but wasn't pushing too hard.
The end of each lap was shallow, so there was actually some running to do, and I turned for second lap. Now there were more swimmers - some frog kicking, others faster, some slower than I. I swung outside - maybe a little too far, but I was passing people. I went around the turns and headed for the exit. Then I got up and ran out into transition. All in all, I was pretty happy with the swim leg. But my heart was racing!
In T1 I tried to be rather deliberate in my actions—not frantic, but not pokey either. Helmet on, glasses on, HR monitor on, sock and shoes - all in all, not too bad, but getting a dry shirt pulled on over a wet body was not very smooth.
Being a fast swimmer put me up with the faster athletes. As expected, they started to pass me soon out of transition. Some would just slowly pass. Others with aero wheels would literally buzz by. I probably could have pushed harder, but I told myself, "This is your first race." I had to ride my race and not compare myself to anyone else. Rowdy was nice – He told me to keep it up as he passed me pretty early. Then this guy I see from the pool passed me, and also offered encouragement – again, appreciated. If asked how many people passed me on the bike…I think they ALL did! I wanted to have something left for the run—at least, that’s what I keep telling myself.
Coming back into T2, I was glad I had laced up my shoes that morning and brought a small plastic shoe horn – that made the shoes go on better.
As we headed to run out, a volunteer said, "Good luck." A nice gesture to be sure, but some little runner dude growled, "Luck has nothing to do with it." Our attitudes were completely opposite – here he was super focused and competitive, and I, by comparison, probably seemed a little out of it. Maybe even lollygagging!
It was into the run, by far my worst discipline, but one I have worked hard to improve on. Today was not a great day...I was just plain slow. No real problem getting my running legs (such as they are), but my heart rate was very high from the start - and I figured 90% of my max was not really good just starting out. I thought, “This is my first one, there is no reason to punish myself. I should have fun and do what I am comfortable doing. After all, it is a learning experience, and I can race in the future.” So I did some walking till my heart rate dropped below 85% of my max, and then started running again. The early part of the run took me past the finish area, and as I ran past I heard, "Hi Poppie!" My two daughters were there with my ex wife. It was nice of them to come down, so I was sure to be out of eyesight before I walked again. I had to keep up appearances!
That pattern continued as I ran-walked the next three miles as my heart rate rose and dropped. All sorts of people passed me—tall ones, short ones, fat ones, skinny ones, young ones, old ones…it seemed it was turning into a Dr. Seuss story out there! But I kept plugging. I might have been passed, but I was going to finish.
At one point there was an old woman taking her Sunday walk along the river - it was a very pretty morning for it, and everyone was huffing by her. Well, heck - I gave her a cheery "Good morning," and her face lit up. That felt good. A little later, near a lagoon, a couple of herons were having a territorial dispute. It was like watching pterodactyls. It wasn’t like I wasn't taking the run seriously, more like I was enjoying the experience knowing that I was going as fast as I could. It was such a nice morning, I felt like I may as well enjoy it. More folks passed, and more offered encouragement, which I think was really great! When I start passing people, I’d give them a kind word too. It really lifted my spirits. Finally, I came into the end and pushed - funny how the crowd actually got me to come in a lot stronger than I really was the whole run. I looked better than I felt.
For my first, I came in about what I expected. I predicted 1:45, and I came in at 1:46:36. And while I don't feel elated, I do feel satisfied.
I learned some things about myself:
1) I enjoyed interacting with people - the volunteers and other racers. 2) I can enjoy myself even if I am not competitive. 3) I need to lose more weight.4) I'll be back!
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