A Tri-umphant First

author : monacoiii
comments : 1

I took up swimming to heal from a back injury. I’m a runner. I run marathons. How can I not swim 25 meters? So, in order to force myself to learn, I signed-up for an open water sprint triathlon.

A few months ago I suffered a back injury while training for a half marathon. The injury occurred during my mileage ramp-up for the big event and I was bummed. The thought of inactivity was more painful than the injury itself. So instead of shutting down completely, I found different ways to keep and maintain my fitness level. Two of those activities were swimming and biking. I particularly liked the idea of swimming: a total body workout with little impact. I couldn’t wait to get started.

My first endeavor at the local pool was laughable. I guess I didn’t really know how to swim. I could float a little and get around a bit but the forward crawl was new to me. Once I got a handle of the mechanics I found myself struggling to complete one length of the pool (25 meters). Two lengths was all but impossible. The fact that I couldn’t swim well didn’t perplex me. What I didn’t understand was all the huffing and puffing after 25 meters. I’m a runner. I run marathons. How can I not swim 25 meters? So, in order to force myself to learn, I signed-up for an open water sprint triathlon. For four nights a week, week-after-week I trained at the pool. Eventually, one lap turned into two. Two laps turned into four. And before I knew it, I was well over a mile. It took time, but it was time well spent. Incidentally, during this time, my back healed and I PR’d my half marathon.

And so my training continued. My plan consisted of a mixture of Joel Friel’s schedule from his book “Your First Triathlon” and a bit of my own tweaking. I heavily favored swimming in my program and I biked sporadically. I eased up on running so as to not re-injure my back.

Three months later I found myself standing in line at the packet pickup the day before the Steelman Triathlon at Nockamixon State Park in Quakertown, PA. I was tired and cranky. In fact, I was tired and cranky all week. I hadn’t slept well in days. I believe the reality of my first open water swim was beginning to get the best of me. As I looked out toward the marina, I thought, “What have I done?” I was getting nervous. Another night of restless sleep awaited me.


I woke up at 4 a.m. to rain...pouring rain. Actually, more like a torrential downpour. Part of me wished for lightening so I wouldn’t have to go through with the open water swim. My rational side said I was ready. I didn’t know who to trust.

I arrived at Lake Nockamixon around 5:15 am, less than two hours before the start. My heart was beating unevenly. The rain continued. I stayed in the car and watched as my fellow competitors put their bikes together and prepared for the big day. Many of their bikes cost more than my car. I was officially petrified, heart pounding uncontrollably.

I eventually summoned the courage to get my gear, brave the elements and head for the transition area. The body markers were extremely cheerful as I entered the transition area. How could they be so cheerful when I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown? After getting marked I had about an hour and a half to kill. I spent the majority of that time huddled under a small tent, wet, cold, and freezing. By now I was completely psyched out.

Finally, an announcement was made, the transition area was closing. I had to remove myself from the safe confines of the vendor tent and begin preparing for the race. The rain continued with no signs of letting up. My transition gear stayed safely stowed away in my tri bag. Any time I planned to save during the transitions was a distant memory. I wanted to keep my gear dry, so it stayed in the bag. The remainder of my pre race prep consisted of shivering, shaking and talking it up with fellow newbies. “Wait, I’m not the only nervous one here,” I thought to myself. It was a huge relief to know I wasn’t the only one.

Finally, our wave was called and we waddled our way like penguins to the lakes edge. The rain continued, easing ever so slightly. I could run now and never look back or I could man-up and get in the water. I got in the water.

SWIM (1/2 Mile)

I eased myself into the lake and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was warmer in the water then out in the pouring rain. It was refreshing and calm. Then, the horn sounded and our wave took off with reckless abandon. I started in the back to avoid as much of the banging and kicking as possible. While it’s impossible to escape it all, the waters were fairly clear in the rear. I immediately got into a groove and started passing a few people about a 100 meters into the swim. “Wait,” I thought, “I don’t have to stop and turn every 25 meters? This is great!” Despite the fact that visibility was near zero, the freedom of the open water was awesome. I took my time, and made sure each stroke was meaningful. I did veer off course a few times and made a mental note to “sight” more often. Anyway, the hours of preparation paid off and I felt calm and cool during the 800 meter swim.

SWIM TIME: 22:52


I emerged from the swim feeling great (albeit a little light headed) and ready to tackle the next portion of the race. The rain had once again reared its ugly head and was coming down harder than ever. I took short strides toward the bike rack which really helped my legs adjust. The transition area was drenched so I decided to forego my socks and shirt. I quickly slipped on my bike shoes and helmet and plodded my way to the mounting zone, taking my time so as to not slip on my clips.

T1 TIME: 2:34

BIKE (12.8 miles)

The bike began with a rather grueling hill. It was a challenge but it helped my legs adjust to the pedaling motion. Once out on the bike course, admittedly, I had no strategy. 'Don’t slip, don’t fall' was my motto. The first half of the bike was nice, flat and fast. The second half had a few hills. They were more daunting than I had anticipated and slowed my pace considerably. I tried to keep up with the other riders in my age group but more and more passed me as the 13 mile ride went on. I wasn’t discouraged though. I was a runner, and I would make up time on the run. As I turned back into the transition area the rain had finally subsided

BIKE TIME: 43.42 (17.6 mph)


It took a while from the time I dismounted the bike until I got to my stall. Next time I will probably leave my shoes attached to the bike. Once I got to my spot, I quickly changed shoes (Yankz are a must) and threw on a dry shirt as I ran toward the transition exit. Only 3.1 miles to go!

T2 TIME: 1:40

RUN (3.1 miles)

3.1 miles was all that stood between me and destiny. 3.1 miles was barely a warm-up for a seasoned, middle of the pack marathoner. 3.1 miles was a cinch for a guy who’s taken age group gold in the distance. 3.1 miles after swimming and biking, however, was a much different story. I tore out onto the course like Steve Prefontaine, skipping the water/Gatorade station at the start. A quarter of a mile later I was reduced to my long slow distance (LSD) pace. Hardly the sub 6:20 pace I was hoping to run. What was happening? Where was the kick? I only had 2.5 miles to go, but my legs were zapped. The transition from bike to run, despite practicing several times during training, was a bit more difficult on race day. The legs just wouldn’t turnover like I wanted them too. I wasn’t disappointed though. My slow pace allowed me to enjoy the sun that had finally poked out for the remainder of my first triathlon.

The final straightaway was lined with spectators who braved the elements to cheer on family and friends (my wife and sister included). I finally found my 5th gear and raced toward the finish line.

The ice cold finisher’s towel that awaited me at the conclusion of the race did not mark the end of my triathlon; it marked the beginning of my triathlon career.

RUN TIME 22:44 – 7:20 pace

TOTAL TIME 1:33:31


DIV PLACE 15/40  


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date: September 9, 2009