Time to Tri this Out!

author : pdxbiker
comments : 2

With my new triathlon goal set, I had to find a pool, set a schedule, ramp up the cycling, and keep up the running.

I essentially started running in March 2007 while away in Memphis for a meeting. I was literally the only person on the beautiful riverfront running on a perfect 75 degree day. Many folks were enjoying the park that day flying kites, barbequing, and laying out, but no one running. I returned to Portland, Oregon, a U.S. running capital, and was hooked on running. That fall, I decided to do a 10k Oktoberfest run and was happy with my slightly sub-1 hour time. While not breaking any records, I was proud of myself and celebrated with 3 beers, 2 sausages, fried zucchini, onion rings, and a hazelnut chocolate dipped ice cream bar. Needless to say, I didn’t follow the prescribed recovery techniques, most importantly hydration. That evening we went to a friend’s house for a dinner/poker night and I felt so sick we had to leave – with an extreme headache and 3 seconds from barfing all over the playing cards.

Since this event, I have rerun the Oktoberfest 10k each year and added a few other runs and long bike rides along the way, including a half-marathon last fall. After the half,  I wasn’t sure where to go next. A friend, Shawn, was strongly recommending triathlons but I was leaning towards a full marathon for 2009. This seemed like a natural extension for me. I ran through the winter, even on 35 degree mornings, but there was something intriguing about the cross-training, especially being able to fit more cycling into my routine. We went swimming in December while stranded at the Skamania Lodge in the Columbia Gorge – deep in winter snows and winds – and I realized I could swim well enough to give it a try.

My swimming background is far from glamorous. I was teased in the YMCA locker room for my Underoos at swim lessons. I was the epitome of emaciated on my swim team and heard about it. I was disqualified at most swim meets for improper strokes, and I tried a last hurrah on the junior high swim team. You’d think a skinny little thing like me would’ve been a dart in the water, but it was not so. Running as a kid wasn’t too much better. In junior high, I “ran” cross country and track. For “workouts,” they sent us off for an hour “run,” which two friends and I interpreted as 5 minutes warm-up (enough to be out of sight of the coach) and 45 minutes of buying and eating candy at the local store. Needless to say, come meet time I suffered big time. I was always lost on the course because everyone ran so much faster that I lost sight of where they turned. I used my best Hardy Boys techniques to elucidate the path of the other runners, examining the grass for footprints, bent blades, and the occasional orange sign with a giant arrow. I wasted a lot of time being a detective, but at least I could catch my breath. The girls left 10 minutes after the boys, and would frequently catch up to me. My personal mission was shifted from detective work to racing the girls to the finish line, feeling tremendous pride when I held one of them off at the line.

With my new triathlon goal set, I had to find a pool, set a schedule, ramp up the cycling, and keep up the running. I read an article about run-commuting to work and set off for work a few days later, leaving at 4:50AM to get to work 5 miles later. Once a week, I continued this ridiculously early tempo-commute run and threw in trail runs, swims, and a few longer bikes with Shawn and other friends. In order to test my flat course 25-mile bike pace, I went to Sauvie Island outside of Portland to ride several times. This flat but scenic farmland area has quiet roads with a moderate and constant cross wind. I threw in a few brick workouts, getting off the bike and feeling how wrong running feels after cycling. Several months of training later, the race day was sneaking up on me and I still hadn’t completed an open water swim. I signed up for an open water swim clinic sponsored by the Athlete’s Lounge and put on by Chris Boudreaux, a professional triathlete. We learned to swim close together getting comfortable with touching toes, bumping arms, group starts, and exiting the water. After this I was excited and less nervous about the swim. The unknown had been eliminated and I could focus on other aspects of the race. I tried to ignore everyone’s reaction to the fact that my first triathlon was an Olympic length instead of a Sprint, as it was becoming apparent this was not a normal starting point.

The race day arrived and I was comfortably nervous, but less worried than I imagined. I felt ready and confident that I had trained well for the event. I got up at 4:50AM and ate a peanut butter covered bagel and banana, followed by a gross stomach feeling for the next hour. Ok, maybe there were some more nerves than I eluded to since breakfast usually goes down pretty well. I gathered my gear and left for the park at 6:15AM with my personal cheering squad and photographer – my wife Cathy. She was being a good sport, as she had been through the entire training process, and had her computer in the car for something to do during the long, boring parts.

We got to the park with what seemed to be an early wave of athletes and enjoyed the exciting atmosphere – thumping music, tents, and balloons. No clowns, thank God, but lots of other excitement and buzz in the air. I followed the crowd pushing bikes and got my legs marked before entering the transition zone. Setting up went way faster than expected and I had plenty of time to scout out the course, use the green plastic toilet, and go for a short warm-up run. I saw Cathy a few times at various places and noticed she enjoyed exploring all the areas and finding her photo-op spots for the race. Back at the transition, I chatted with Cameron, a friend I met at the swim clinic, and we were then in wetsuits and off to the water for the impending start.

My timing wasn’t great in the last few minutes so I didn’t get a chance to do a swim warm-up before everyone lined up for the start. Outside of the water, I was amazed at the camaraderie and willingness to help others during this moment. People helped each other zip their wetsuits, fixed wonky collars, and gave me pointers. The elites lined up for their start time and I knew the time had come. We waded out into the water and a minute later we were off.

My arms were tired rather quickly with the full wetsuit on, but I figured I wouldn’t be using them much after the swim so I suffered through it. Unfortunately, I didn’t find anyone’s toes to follow so I didn’t benefit from drafting. Worse yet, the guy to my right was doing the breast stroke the whole time and keeping up with me and my feeble freestyle. With every breath to my right, I saw him bobbing up and down. I rounded the last buoy with breast-stroke-man still next to me, and then I decided there was no way I could lose to him. I kicked my speed up a notch and finished a few seconds faster than him, only to come out of the water and spend four minutes in the first transition.

When I got to the transition zone, Cathy was there taking pictures. I was confused by the position of my bike since all the elite bikes were missing - despite having a hideous lime green towel to mark my spot. Cathy, not knowing if she could help me, subtly waved me over to the right rack, as if she were handing me a note with the test answers in high school. I tried to get the socks and bikes shoes on my wet grassy feet and attempted to get my heart rate monitor recording, and wasted time everywhere else I could. I was finally off on the bike and felt good. The bike was rather uneventful, with the occasional passing of those on mountain bikes and older road bikes, and being passed by the ominous sounds of riders with a disc wheel – whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. I caught up with Cameron and we leap-frogged each other numerous times until the second transition zone.

The second transition went pretty fast and I was off on the run. I forgot to take my bike gloves off and also carried my water bottle. Cathy was on the sidelines a few hundred yards into the run and took my water bottle from me, and I peeled the gloves off as I ran. Besides a mild gut cramp from all the carbs I took in, the run was decent yet painful. I passed a few college runners who were either cramped or injured, but otherwise held steady at a fast-for-me 8 minute mile. At the finish we noodled all around through the park and the finish really snuck up on me. In retrospect I wish I had a little more kick at the end, but I achieved two of my goals – to finish under 3 hours and to not throw up as the photographer took my picture crossing the finish line. I finished with a time of 2:47:22 and was happy to be done, but thinking about my next triathlon. Hooked? I’d say so. 





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date: August 5, 2009