You Never Forget Your First Time

author : lewandsails
comments : 5

My surprise was just how much this race was about others - and not just my personal goals.

Wow, this was great! It was my first tri, and I couldn't be happier that I did it. It's amazing because it's such a personal achievement, set by personal goals and completed by personal will. But after finishing it, I now realize how much help and support I got from others that made it possible.


So, at the risk of sounding like I won an Emmy or something (I do realize it was only a sprint), give me a second to thank my wife and three young kids (Natalie, age 5, Joey, age 4, and Jonny, age 3) who were all at the finish line with signs, cheers, smiles, and an incredible card from my wife telling me how proud she is that her husband can achieve anything he sets his mind to. Well, Nance, the admiration is more than shared; I can't imagine anyone that so easily and enthusiastically supports her husband when he comes home one day and says "I'm going to do a triathlon in seven weeks"! Thank you for not telling me the obvious - that I was in the worst shape of my life and I was crazy to jump into this. And thank you for putting in extra effort watching the kids while I trained.

THANK YOU'S: (Now, I've got a couple more "thank you's" to get out there. If you want, jump ahead to the part that's not indented. I recommend you don't, but if you want the crux of the event, it's down below. If you want the important part of the story, it's right here in the indent.)

In addition to my family, there's my "coach", Vertrees, I owe you more than I can repay. Thanks for planting the seed, loaning me your road bike, and pushing me to get it done. That was a good strategy of finishing just a little ways ahead of me so that I feel like I can catch you next time! You are one smart man - staying at my pace on the bike and making up that story about puking on the run so all I need to do is learn to swim better. You definitely figured out how to get me through this and make sure I want to come back for more! Seriously though, thanks. I wouldn't have done this if you didn't keep telling me I could. And I'm sure the effort you put into my training took away from yours; sorry that affected your race. I promise I'll relent a little on the stupid questions from now on. And at the risk of sounding girly, I'm glad to have gotten to be friends through this. You're a great guy and a good role model. I look forward to more.

Finally, my "training partners," Funk and Sars - two college friends that I had grown apart from and through this have re-connected. One of them did the race, while the other is still working towards it (he had to attend a conference that weekend). I'm glad to have you guys to share the pain and to fumble through the learning with me. Congrats, Funk, on great performance!

Oh, one more thanks - to my friends who showed up, family who couldn't, the strangers I met along the way, my employees and coworkers, and my neighbors (definitely sounding like the Emmys now) - all of whom offered unsolicited (but much needed) support. And at the precise moments during the race when the question, "Where am I going to find the energy for this bike/run?" entered in my head, I heard the unclouded and innocent cheers of a five year old ringing in my ears, yelling, "GO KEVIN!!!" So, a special thanks to Anna (and her dad/my friend Steve!) for being at every turn and transition cheering me on. You don't know how nice it is to have the support of someone who knows me well and can see my pain! I'll definitely be there at your half-marathon, Steve. Good luck!


Seven weeks and four days ago, I was at a golf outing of friends and ended up in a foursome with a college friend and two guys I had only briefly met before at a couple of professional sporting events. My college friend (Sars) and I were complaining about being way out of shape. I'm 36 and have always weighed the same until this last year; work became a huge stress and I "ballooned" up by 15 pounds. I know that's not a crazy amount, but the three flights of stairs in the parking garage had gotten hard, I'd get short of breath mowing my lawn, etc. These are the clear signs that I was going down hill. Well, as luck would have it, the two other guys in the foursome were 1) Vertrees (i.e. "Coach") who'd done an Ironman and several sprints, and was training for a HIM and 2) Shane who owns a couple of Irish pubs that happen to be a sponsoring a sprint series.


By the end of the front nine, beer-per-hole round, I was saying, "Yes, I'll do a sprint in seven weeks," to make Vertrees stop nagging me. He had also convinced Sars and one other college friend (Funk) during a rain delay in our round. I honestly thought he would leave it to us to follow up - which I never would. Sure, it'd be awkward the next time I saw him, but a triathlon? Come on. Me? I’d wanted to do one ever since getting choked up watching Ironman Hawaii finishes on TV, but I knew I never really would. Well, the golf went fine - I shot a cool 124 for the 18 hole round (I'm a sailor, not a golfer) and said goodbye to Vertrees (who somehow shot worse than I did!), knowing I would never have to worry about this "tri" thing again…

...until the next morning, when I got an email with a link to, the date of the sprint (just seven weeks away), and an offer to borrow a very nice, hardly-used road bike that happened to be my size. DAMMIT!! He was still hounding me! Well, with the Fourth of July coming up and a couple of long distance sailboat races right after, I thought, ”There's no way I'll find the time to get in shape. I'll say yes, give the exercise thing a real shot - I mean, hey, I really do need it - and I'll re-assess in three weeks. Hopefully he'll fade away or focus on Funk and Sars.”


Little did I know that three weeks later - with hardly a run or bike and absolutely no swimming practiced - it would be harder than ever to say no. DAMMIT, AGAIN! With Vertrees asking, "What time should we meet at the lake? How's my bike working out? Did you buy your really cool (so totally revealing) shorts yet?" And with Sars and Funk fully engaged in training, I realized I couldn't easily back out now. I thought, "I'll have to give it a real shot, but don't be disappointed or surprised when you realize you can't do this." With only four weeks to go, I knew swimming was my Achilles heal. No, it was more like kryptonite. I had spent 25 years sailing and learning to stay OUT of the water, now I didn't want to have anything to do with getting in it!!! Well, with a lot of effort, the luck that a neighbor was a 13-time all-American swimmer in college and willing to give me some pointers, constant encouragement from Vertrees and my wife, and the simple fact that now too many friends now knew about it, I found the motivation to get prepared.

Now onto the craziness of the race…

RACE DAY: "Coach" Vertrees had taken me out to the course this past Wednesday - the race was yesterday, Sunday. He showed me the transition area, talked to me about what to expect, and answered a bunch of my rookie questions. He did the same with Funk on Saturday. The night before the race, he sent me an email telling me his fiancée just decided to register too, and even though she's been training for a marathon, that I'd better not let her beat me! (This man is a genius at motivation - I have no doubt he was telling Blake she better not let two rookies beat her!) Sunday morning I got to the course at 6:00 am for our 7:30 start. The event was incredibly well organized. Three hundred participants, and no glitches that I could see. Within minutes I was registered, had numbers painted on my body, got set up in the transition area, and was waiting in line for the porta-john. One odd thing: I couldn't understand why they put my age on my calf...

The Swim! I remember an SNL sketch where Martin Short plays an Olympic men's synchronized swimmer. He wears this ridiculous costume, complete with water wings, and says, "I'm not a very strong swimmer." That's EXACTLY how I felt, and it was the only thing I could think throughout this leg of the race! (Oh, except, "Always keep an eye on the support boats, just in case I need a break!").

I'd heard it and read it dozens of times: Don't let the race be your first open water swim. So I listened and did two practice open water swims - just enough to realize that it's a lot different than in a pool. I thought I was prepared. Well, no one told me that you should practice swimming in open water while people kick you, bump into you, and somehow put their hand right between your butt cheeks. Yeah, no joke. Someone actually brought their hand up for a stroke and put it square between my cheeks!!! Talk about a motivator to get the hell in front of someone and out of the water!

We swam a triangle course, and the first leg was chaos. The second leg consisted of getting passed by the group behind and thinking, "Is it just the fog, or is that buoy WAY more than 800 meters away?” The third leg involved getting passed by the leaders of the last two groups. This was exactly as fun as I imagined, but it was over! Oh, and Blake was three people in front of me!!!

The Bike! I'm a decent biker. Not great, but it's certainly my strongest event. So, while I huffed and puffed through the transition, thinking, "Is this sand going to hurt my feet?" (fyi, I never noticed it again), I knew I could catch my breath and maybe a couple of people on the bike.

It went perfectly. I rode as well as I expected, at exactly the pace I wanted. I never quite found the time or break in my heavy breathing to drink enough water (I think this is a rookie mistake that I'll correct next time). I ate my GU at the turn like I planned. I passed a bunch of people while getting passed by several (now I understand the ages on the calf; it's to break your spirit when a 58 year old passes you like you're standing still!). And I came into the transition with the confidence that I was going to finish!

The Run! On Wednesday of this week, Vertrees made me do my first brick. We biked the course's loop, and started to run. I cramped up like a pretzel as he called me names (thanks, Coach). So, I was a little cautious this time. I changed costumes, quickly stretched the muscles that had cramped a few nights ago, and was off taking the advised super-short strides until I found my legs and made it up the tortuous hill they started us off on.

My first mile took about 10 minutes - definitely slower than I wanted, but at this point I was happy to just be able to finish. Then, as coached, I found my legs! My next couple of miles were about 8:30, significantly helped by the 19 year old girl who gave me encouragement as we both struggled up a mini-hill with about a mile left in my second lap (same for her, but on her first lap). She politely said, "Look at it this way: At least you're outrunning a 19-year old" (the second advantage of the age on the leg - it makes other people take pity on you for being so old!). I said, "Yeah, but you probably won't drop dead of a heart attack at the finish". With that, the race between she and I was on! For the last 3/4 of a mile she and I traded the "lead" at least five times. She edged me out at the turn, but had given me enough motivation to finish the race one minute and fourteen seconds under my goal! Thanks, stranger.

The Finish! My wife and kids, Steve, Anna, and Jason were all at the finish. With signs, smiles, cheers, hugs-despite-the-sweat from my wife and kids, and just a whole lot of love. Blake was just behind me (although she did beat me by a little over a minute - damn marathon runners!). Funk was just behind her. We all hit our goals, even Vertrees whose goal, I'm convinced, was to make us all feel great while still kicking our butts. It was incredible!

The Results! I've learned that the actual time and position of your finish doesn't matter (for what it's worth, I was dead-middle overall, bottom third in my age group). What makes these things so special is that while it's about you, it's even more about others. Whether it's an acquaintance who becomes a good friend through devoting seven weeks of encouragement, coaching and support; or a neighbor who tries to help your swim only to give you the best advice she can in a "don't be a wussy" kind of way; or a family who cheers you on - with signs and all - even though the time that goes into training is subsequently time taken away from them; or a friend and his daughter who cheer your name at every turn; or the 19-year old stranger who spurs you on when you need it; or the unknown stranger who gives you a goose to make it out of the water faster. It's about achievement and realizing just how lucky you are to be able to achieve it. Thanks to all of you - I will never forget my first time.

Along the way I know I've inspired enough people (Steve, Amy-the-swimming-neighbor, my Dad, and a friend and co-worker's husband) who now plan to do this for themselves. I hope I've learned how to be a good source of support for any and all of them as they need it. I'm happy to share what I've learned and hope to spread the cheer.

Oh, and if you're going to do your own "first tri," I strongly encourage you to enjoy every minute of it. At those moments of self-doubt, imagine a five year old girl shouting your name Trust me, it helps. Remember that finishing this makes you feel like you can accomplish anything in the world, and, more importantly, lets you know just how lucky you are to be able to do it!

Good luck!


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date: November 24, 2008