First Tri: A bit too cocky

author : Team BT
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It fell apart, but I didn't give up

One night in mid February, I mentioned to my son that he ought to do the Xterra Xticer race at Oak Mountain State Park in May of this year. This should be easy – 200m swim, 11k mountain bike, and 2k run. He said he would do it if I would, so we registered and the challenge was on.

I printed out the bike course from the past year, and started riding it every couple of days. I swam at the YMCA pool until the water was warm enough in the lake at the park to swim there. My run training was practically nonexistent due to bad knees. My plan was to run/walk the run portion. Leading up to race day I was super confident. I knew the bike course like the back of my hand, and had swum the course many times. As a matter of fact, I was downright cocky about how well I was going to do.

The race morning is where everything fell apart. My first mistake was spending too much time socializing and not getting in the water to acclimate myself. The second mistake was when the start gun for our race went off I dove in with my goggle still on top of my head! It all went downhill from there. I had never swum in a large group before, so the “washing machine” I was in caused a panic attack. I managed somehow to get to the first paddleboard and tried to gather my wits – to no avail. Somehow I managed to swim again, only to repeat the panic attacks until I was about 100 yards from the finish. By that time, all I wanted was to get out of the water alive. If being the last finisher by about 3 minutes was not bad enough, the race announcer called out my name welcoming me back to land! Needless to say – all cockiness was gone – I was totally humbled. My wife even tried to lighten the mood while I was bent over trying to rest and get my heart rate out of the stroke level range by saying “Why don’t you act like a regular grandpa and just play golf!”

I actually ended up calming down enough to pass my share of people on the mountain bike and walked/ran to the finish.

I learned so many things that day, so many things I will do different in my next tri- but the one thing I am extremely proud of is that even though I was having a major panic attack on the swim, I gathered my wits enough to not give up.

After a couple of weeks of good natured ribbing from my family and friends about my lack of swimming prowess, I received an email from USA Triathlon inviting me to Nationals based on me winning my age group! I forwarded the email to all of them. I was the only one in my group – what they don’t know won’t hurt them.

The photo is me with my son – who finished 30 minutes before me and came back to run with the old man!

Don Helms

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date: October 31, 2018

Team BT