My First Triathlon- HyVee Olympic Triathlon, Des Moines, Iowa

author : douglasschaefer
comments : 5

A story of how a simple email one day can change your life forever.

How Did I Get Into This?
One day last December, I received an email that changed my life. My wife and I both graduated from Drake University, which is located in Des Moines, Iowa. A couple of fellow alums (Nolan Mitchell and Bryan Ptak) are avid triathletes, and they sent out an email about the upcoming Hy-Vee triathlon in Des Moines in June of 2007. My wife forwarded it to me, asking if I thought I knew anyone who would want to do the triathlon. I immediately thought, “I would like to do so.” I was fairly athletic in high school, playing football, basketball, and tennis, and I was always a good runner.


I had run in several 10k’s and two half marathons, but hadn’t done a whole lot as far as exercise in the past two years because of personal (two small children ages 3 ½ and 15 months now) and professional (I’m a middle school principal and am working on my doctorate) commitments. Upon deciding that this was definitely something I wanted to do, I quickly checked with my wife that it would be okay. Upon gaining approval from the CEO of our household, I forwarded the email onto some of my friends from college to see if there was any interest. Much to my pleasure, three friends (Rob Fornoff, Tyler Schwiesow, and Chad Westberg) replied within hours stating that they wanted in as well.

Pre Season Training
Upon committing to this endeavor, I quickly began researching triathlons and found what has become my savior, I decided that January 1st would be my first real day of training so I had a few weeks to “get my legs under me” and to get a bike. I began running on our treadmill and felt good. I was also able to secure a less-than-spectacular mountain bike off of ebay locally for $20, but I figured it would work for me and I didn’t want to drop a whole lot of money into something I wasn’t sure I was going to stick with.


I was even able to get outside and run and bike a little, even though I live in the great state of Nebraska and winter can be a bear. I was ready to take the triathlon world by storm! Then came my first swim. I thought I was going to die! I could barely make it 25 yards. How was I going to swim 1650 yards in open water? Fortunately, my wife swam on her high school swim team and I consulted her the evening after my first swim. Come to find out, I was breathing all wrong. I was trying to exhale and inhale when I came up for breath. Exhaling while submerged seemed like a phenomenal idea.

Real Training Begins
So January 1st came and my official training began. My second swim went much better than my first because of my newfound knowledge of breathing techniques. I still was a long was away from being able to do the full 1650 yards continuously, but I was improving by leaps and bounds. Soon I was able to swim several lengths freestyle, then “rest” by fluttering on my back for one length (active recovery), and then repeat. My run times began improving as well. I somewhat fixed my “new” bike so that I could use the highest gears, but conditions outside (snow and ice) made it difficult to really get out and ride.

About halfway through January, I was starting to get hooked on training. I loved the fact that I had three different disciplines to train for. Unlike my run training before, I wasn’t getting bored doing the same old thing. One day I decided to force myself to swim the entire 1650 yards so I could get over the mental hurdle of being able to do so. From that point on, swimming became almost enjoyable to me. I also started getting out on some local bike trails for some long rides. My run times continued to improve and it was very evident that this would be my strongest event come race day.

Spending Spree
This was about the same time that I began making quite a financial investment into the triathlon. Before all was said and done, I bought a gym membership, swimming passes, a wetsuit, a pair of Speedo jammers , a pair of tri shorts, a bike helmet, bike pedals and shoes. A week before the big race, I also bought a road bike since my ebay bike was beginning to fall apart. Combined with the registration fee and travel expenses (hotel, food, gas, etc.), this adventure cost over $1500. Be prepared to drop some money if you want to get even somewhat serious about competing in triathlons.

Balancing Everything
I considered myself a bit of a morning person, but I don’t particularly enjoy waking up at 5:00 a.m. to work out. However, in order to schedule workouts around my family and work schedule, I found myself having to do so a few times a week. I kept most of my early morning workouts to the weekend so I was done with my exercise before the little ones woke up. This is just something that you need to do if you have a family and demanding job so you’re not taking away from the truly important things in your life. I also did a lot of running at night when the kids were fast asleep. Fortunately, I live in a neighborhood that has streets that aren’t too busy at night, lots of sidewalks, and even a walking path along one stretch.

Finally, the Race!
My three college friends and I attended the pre race meeting on Saturday afternoon and were immediately thrown into a tizzy when they told us that the water temperature was probably going to be too warm to wear a wet suit and still receive an official time. We knew that if the water temperature was too warm that we couldn’t wear wetsuits if we wanted to compete for prizes, but since this was our first tri, we knew we didn’t have a shot at placing. This became a constant topic of discussion leading up to the race itself. We were still hopeful that the water temperature would drop enough during the overnight hours to allow for wetsuits, though, and this somewhat comforted us.

No Wetsuits Allowed!

The morning of the race, I got up at 3:30 AM after only a few hours of sleep. I was fairly concerned about having to try to swim 1500 meters in open water without a wetsuit. My parents, wife, and kids came to the race to support me, so my dad drove me and one of my friends down to the transition are, which opened at 4:30 AM. We were walking up right at 4:30 AM and heard the announcement that the water temperature was in fact too warm, and therefore no wetsuits were allowed. The two of us laughed and immediately handed over our wetsuits to my dad to take back to the car.

Once we got marked and into the transition area, I really began to get excited. There were already a lot of triathletes getting their transition area set up. I had read some about how to set up my area but I also was doing my fair share of observing others and learning little things (i.e., putting a colored towel at the end of your rack so you’re able to locate your rack easily). We also got to go for a practice swim. After we jumped in and swam about 200 meters, I felt very confident that I would be able to finish the swim, even without a wetsuit, and that I would be able to do so in a decent time.

By 5:45 AM, the transition area was closed and we were waiting on the beach for the start of the race, which was scheduled for 6:03 AM. Our wave (30-34 year old males) was the second wave, so we wouldn’t have to wait too long. We decided that the best strategy would be to stay to the back and left (the first buoy was on the right) so we could avoid any trouble and get comfortable in the water. Before I knew it, our wave was told to go through the chute leading up to the water, and about a minute later, the horn sounded and we were off!


The Swim Start

The start wasn’t bad at all. I had read all about how rough it could be, and I’m sure it was towards the front and especially on the right, but I was able to find my stroke and get comfortable. Unfortunately for one of my friends, that wasn’t the case as he was kicked in the face and nearly lost his goggles, but he managed to regain his composure. As I rounded the first buoy, there were about half a dozen guys from the first wave hanging onto it for dear life. I felt very proud that I didn’t have to do that, and continued to swim feeling fairly comfortable. I continued this until about the halfway point and then I realized that I felt very strong and began to push myself harder. The last 100 meters or so, I swam all out and before I knew it, I was running on the beach through the chute and into the transition area. My time for the swim was 31:36, good enough to be ranked 56th out of 138 in my wave. Going into the race I wanted to be at 35 minutes or less with a wetsuit on, so I was very pleased with my time.

Pop'n Wheelies

I ran quickly to my bike and observed that there were only a few bikes gone from my rack, so that made me feel good. I transitioned somewhat slower than I would have liked to, but I made sure I was good to go. I ran carefully with my bike shoes to the mount line and off I went. I felt very good and quickly passed several athletes at the initial part of the bike course. I then settled in with a few other guys and started hammering away. However, before I knew it, I started hearing vroom, vroom, vroom behind me and then some guy on some awesome bike blew past me like I was standing still. Then it happened again, and again, and again. I was in awe of just how fast these guys were going. Then, once I hit about the 12k point, I came across the leader as he was making his way back. Man, was he flying! I reached the halfway point in 36:30, downed a quick gel pack, and decided that I felt really good—I would kick it up some.


I managed to finish the second 20k in 34:19. The best and worst part of the ride was a rather large hill with about 5k to go. Going down it, we topped out at over 40 mph, so that was fun. Having to go back up it on the way back was the bad part. Fortunately, there was a group of 25 or so guys cheering everyone on with cowbells and everything. One guy was even dressed as a devil and was encouraging athletes to pop wheelies. When they did, the entire crowd erupted. It was exactly what we needed to get through that part of the race. My time on the bike was 1:10:49, my best time for 40 K by over four minutes. However, this proved to be my weakest discipline as my rank for the bike ride was 67th out of 138. Even so, the bike ride ended up being the most enjoyable part of the race.

The Last Leg

I somewhat gingerly got off my bike right before the dismount line and ran to my transition area. My legs were definitely wobbly after riding for over an hour. I was able to ditch the bike gear and put on my running shoes fast, but I really had to go to the restroom so I decided instead of suffering through the 10 K run, I would enjoy it as much as possible and visit a port-a-potty. This cost me about a minute or so, but at least I was comfortable during the run.

The run went rather well. After about five minutes, I got my legs under me and started to pick up the pace. I was passing more athletes than were passing me. However, as I was running with another 30 year old, a guy with a 60 on the back of his leg blew past us. Talk about inspiring!

The run was a couple of loops through downtown Des Moines. I got confused at one point and thought that instead of two full loops I had to pass the directors twice before heading towards the finish line, which was at the state capital. As I began to head up the final hill though, I quickly realized that there was no way I was nearly done with a 10 K since my time was something like 32 minutes, so I turned around and started walking to the next runner behind me and asked him if it was two full laps around downtown. He said yes, and so I started back to the loop. I probably cost myself about twenty seconds, but I actually started running even harder than I had been before, and soon I was right back at the base of the hill. I decided that instead of lumbering up it that I would attack it and finish strong. What helped immensely is that at the top of that hill I spotted my wife cheering me on to the finish. I continued in an all out sprint to the finish, and was able to pass another 30 year-old right at the end of the race! I felt good about my run as my time was 46:22, good for 36th in my age group.

My final time was 2:34:56, which put me at 47th in my age group and 319th out of 1399 total triathletes. I felt like I had just conquered the world and when I first saw my wife and daughter, I lost it and started crying. It was truly a great experience and I thank them, the rest of my family, and my other friends who ventured down this path with me.


Oh, and I can’t wait to compete in my second triathlon in a month!






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date: October 2, 2007