My First Tri Experience - What was I thinking?

author : kcowart
comments : 11

I have always been an athlete, growing up playing team sports like basketball and soccer. I also ran in a couple of 10K races every year, so I had no reason to worry about running a 5K...right?

I have always been an athlete, growing up playing team sports like basketball and soccer - soccer being my true passion.  I started playing soccer when I was four years old and played in high school and college.  After graduating college I continued to play in an “old man’s league” (I am only 32).  At this point you are probably asking yourself, "why is he talking about soccer? This is supposed to be about triathlon."  Well I am just trying to give you some perspective on how I thought I was in pretty good physical shape.  The key emphasis being on 'thought'. 
My wife, who is much more athletically gifted than I am, had been trying to talk me into doing a triathlon for a couple of years.  It wasn’t until we met a person (Chris), who is now a very close friend, that we really started to entertain the idea of doing a triathlon.  Chris is one of those guys that compete in Ironman events so right there it tells you he is a little bit crazy.  He just kept nudging us to give it a try.
My concern was always the swim portion.  When I get into a pool, I sink. I am not a big guy at 5’ 9” and 165 lbs., but I really have to work to stay afloat.   Of course, my wife who is 6’ tall and slender was a competitive swimmer growing up so she wasn’t concerned at all.  Eventually I gave in to the idea that I would really like to call myself a TRIATHLETE.  My wife and I decided we would register for the  “My First/My Next” sprint triathlon that was coming up in June which gave us about four months to train for it.
I went out and bought a used road bike.  It was actually pretty nice and had the “clipless”, clip-in shoes.  Don’t get me started on why they are called that.  Let me also preface this with the fact that I didn’t even know how to ride a bike until I was about 22 years old.  So it was quite a sight for my wife and kids to see me attempting to clip in for the first time and immediately falling over.  So much for building confidence in my ability to complete a triathlon.  I quickly learned that if I get the bike rolling first, it is much easier to clip in.  After a few laps around the cul-de-sac in my neighborhood practicing clipping in and out, I was off for my first training ride.  I planned on riding for a little over an hour at whatever pace felt comfortable just to get used to the bike.  After about 20 minutes of cursing I was back home completely exhausted.  It turns out that if you turn left out of my neighborhood you have to immediately go up some steep hills, which didn't bode well for the beginning of my ride.  So I turned around and decided to go right out of my neighborhood...lets just say my neighborhood entrance is in a valley which at the time seemed like the Grand Canyon.  So either way I chose to go, my legs were shot by the time I got to anything resembling flat ground.
You probably can’t tell yet, but my wife and I are competitive people when it comes to sports.  I had to make sure it was a level playing field by getting her a new bike as well.  She wouldn’t let me spend as much on her bike as I did on mine though.  Which really was not all that much.
As time progressed, I went on some training rides with my friend Chris.  He even introduced me to the best thing ever in the biking world...drafting.  After he showed me how much easier it makes riding, he told me that it is completely illegal in triathlons.  It was like giving a kid an ice cream cone and then knocking it out of his hand just as he was about to take the first bite.  I focused most of my training on the bike, as I had a huge fear of falling over trying to mount my bike in the race.  My wife and I went on a few training rides together which went pretty well.  Neither one of us was really taking off ahead of the other person.
I also started swimming in the pool at the gym a couple of times a week.  And of course by “swimming” I mean I would do 50 meters and then stop and rest.  I didn’t know how I was going to complete 400 meters without stopping in the race.  A little more anxiety started to set in.  I kept at it though.  Eventually I made it up to doing the full 400 meters without stopping although I was completely wiped out after those workouts.  So my confidence was slowly starting to return.
As for run workouts, I wasn’t concerned about that too much.  I was a soccer player who had to run in games all of the time.  I also ran in a couple of 10K races every year, so I had no reason to worry about running a 5K...right?
During the months leading up to the race, I was able to convince some co-workers to sign up.  I felt pretty good about inspiring others to lead a healthy lifestyle.  We would do some friendly trash talking every day that just helped to fuel our training.  At about 2-3 weeks before the race, my wife and I were playfully talking about what kind of splits we would have (pretending we had any idea what we were talking about).  That was when we started downplaying our true impressions of how we would do, because we didn’t want to give each other a competitive advantage.  All the while, my wife just kept saying she “wasn’t racing against me,” she was only trying to do her best.
I started reading lots of articles on BT trying to figure out how to set up my transition area and how best to save precious seconds.  I even watched the video on how to already have your shoes clipped into your pedals to start the bike leg.  Luckily, I decided against that.  I would have certainly wiped out trying to slide my feet in.  The articles were very helpful though.
Just before race day my confidence had grown so much that I was really only concerned about equipment failure preventing me from finishing the race.  So I decided that I would carry two spare tubes with me just in case I ran across some rogue delivery truck accident that spilled thumb tacks all over the road.  The good news is I didn’t need either of the spare tubes for my bike.  I was however able to change a woman’s tire before the race started, in the transition area, when she overinflated hers and blew up her tube.  Since I had the spare tube, I didn’t have to think twice about giving it to her.  With my good deed done for the day, I knew I was going to have a good race.  My wife and I finished setting up our transition area (yes I shared with her the tips on setting up her area too) and headed down to the beach for the start of the race.
Down at the beach I found out that only one of the five people from my office actually decided to go through with the race.  The others just gave up their entry fee.  Well at least I was able to influence one person.   The swim stages were released in three minute intervals with my wife and I being in the same stage.  Did I mention that my wife was a competitive swimmer growing up?  I jumped in the water and immediately found out that open water swimming is very different than swimming in the pool.  I was thinking that it would be like sharing a lane with someone...boy was I wrong.  First of all, I couldn’t find the black line painted on the bottom of the lake to help me swim straight.  Then I realized I could barely see my own arms as they entered the water.  Of course I topped it off with the mistake that all first timers make...I tried to breathe.  As soon as I turned to take that first breath, a wall of water smashed me in the face.  You would think that swallowing that much water would help to keep you hydrated, but it doesn’t. 

After I calmed down and fell into my stroke (I use the term loosely), I finished the swim portion with a smile still on my face...until I saw the hill we had to run up bare footed to get to the transition area.  It was just cruel.  To make matters worse, I saw my wife heading out of the transition zone on her bike just as I got to the top of the hill.  I knew she would be ahead of me out of the water, but I didn’t think it would be by that much.
The T1 transition went pretty smoothly (thanks BT!).  I was out on my bike heading through the 12 mile course that I had trained on many times.  It felt great passing a large number of people on the first hill.  Even when I hit the “killer” hill just before the turnaround, I was feeling good.  I just knew I would be catching my wife soon, so I kept looking for her up ahead.  It seems that every female racer decided to wear the same outfit for this race.  Every time I thought I had caught her it turned out to be someone else.  And then it happened...I realized a little too late that I had not been drinking any fluids since starting the race.  At about mile six, my calves started to cramp.  Stopping wasn’t an option so I pushed through it, although it slowed me down considerably.  I made the turn to head back to the transition area and kept looking for my wife.  I knew that I didn’t have much chance of catching her on the run leg since we run at about the same pace (I did mention she was six feet tall right?  Long legs cover more ground).  So I tried to push through the pain and peddled harder.  Well I came to find out after the race that I was only about 10 seconds behind her at the turn around, but when she saw me and I didn’t see her, she really picked up her pace.
I pulled into the transition area without falling and racked my bike only to find that my wife had already been there and gone out on her run.  I finished the bike portion in 41:42, which I was a little disappointed with as I was shooting for under 40, but really that wasn’t bad.  
Remember when I said I didn’t need to train on the running much since I did that playing soccer?  I was wrong.  My legs had never felt like that before.  If you ever wonder why they call the bike to run transition workouts “bricks,” it is because that’s how your legs feel when you try and run.  The run itself was pretty uneventful although I was still holding out hope that I would catch my wife.  I finished the run leg in 24:56 which wasn’t too bad considering all the other stuff I had just done.  As I crossed the finish line, I saw my wife standing there with our son and holding our daughter cheering me on.  It was a very uplifting moment.  As I came in the announcer proclaimed that I was a TRIATHLETE...that is where the addiction really got started.  
Of course on the way home, my wife had to call all of our friends to let them know that she beat me in the race.  What happened to “she wasn’t racing against me?” Laughing To top it off, when we pulled into our driveway a random door-to-door salesman was walking up to our house and saw the bikes and asked how the race went.  The first words out of my wife’s mouth were “I beat him.”  I mean come on, we don’t even know this guy!
After my defeat, I completed an Olympic distance triathlon later that summer.  Then my wife and I had a rematch on virtually the same course just four months after the first event.  This time I was ready for her and finished WAY ahead of almost 45 whole seconds!
I am definitely hooked on the sport of triathlon.  I will be completing a couple of Olympic distance races this year working my way up to a half Ironman next year.





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date: April 13, 2010