White Sands Polar Bear Triathlon 2004

author : dwilliams
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What? This isn't a duathlon?

By David Williams

I've been lifting weights heavily for months now but about one month ago, I started feeling like I was spinning my wheels. I wanted a challenge and a goal - running a triathlon popped into my head. I did some research on the Internet and read a few books on the subject. There was only one triathlon coming up and that was the White Sands Polar Bear. I only had a month to train for it, but since it was the only show in town, I decided to go for it instead of waiting.

The Training.

I started running more, doing spin classes and stationary bikes along with reduced but still hard weightlifting. The website indicated that the event was a duathlon with a 5k run and 30k bike. I knew that I could handle the bike portion of it with little effort, so I concentrated on building my running volume.

Two weeks before the event, my knees were killing me. I talked to people and eventually went into a Denver running shoe outlet. The lady watched me walk and knew immediately that I had a gimpy left angle. She also told me that using trail-runners on the road was a bad idea and the likely cause for my knees hurting. I bought a good pair of running shoes with good support and that seemed to fix my knees immediately.

I topped out and ran the distance of the race, 3k, just four days before the event.

The next day, I called the event staff to register. Me: "I'd like to register for the duathlon." Them: "You mean the triathlon, right?" Me: "gulp."

Yes, I learned two days before that I would have to learn how to swim. Actually, I can drag myself across the pool, but I didn't think I could do the distance in a crawl and without stopping. I was right.

I also had fun going out and buying a Speedo. The young sales clerk had fun asking me questions like, "Are you sure that is the right size for you?"

So, wedged into my new equipment, I swam the distance two days out from the event. I had to do the breaststroke a lot to do it.

The night before the big event, I was in Denver at 6:00 PM. I flew into Santa Fe at 8:00PM. I picked up my bike from my friend, Clarke, who helped me by getting it from the bike shop that week. I owe him and his wife "Team Dave" hats now. I then started the long drive to White Sands which is in the Southern portion of the state.

I didn't make it. I started getting very weary near Truth or Consequences. I pulled over and passed out in the vehicle at about 1:00 AM. I just barely remembered to set my watch to wake me up at 5:00 AM.

Next day...RACE DAY!

I was relaxed and stoked. I finished the drive and got on the base. It is on the Eastern side of the Organ Mountains. The Organ's are a jagged alien looking range. I'd say that they would be right in their element on the Moon. The missile garden that greets you at White Sands HQ certainly adds to that impression.

I got my stuff organized. It was a small miracle that I had everything given how little time I had to plan and lay things out before starting the drive down. The checklist did work though. I set my bike up on the rack and laid my stuff out. My book knowledge started colliding with what was going on though. One thing I read was that you set your equipment out to the right of your bike. People were doing it on both sides. Another was that the sequence of events was prescribed with the swim first. I had everything to go to do a swim, bike, and then run. Once I saw everybody standing around in their running gear and asked, I realized that it was instead going to be a run, bike, and then swim!

That was a good thing. My greatest concern prior to showing up was trying to swim slow in a small pool with 150 people running over me. Putting the swim last spread people out so that I didn't have to worry about it that much. But it did also put the portion that was the biggest variable (no swim training at all) at the end. How would I pace myself?

Another adventuresome twist, I discovered that the run course was labeled as 7k and not the 5k I had trained for.

I adjusted. I slipped my Perl Izumi skinnies over my speedo and put my bike jersey and gloves on. I put my biking socks on under my knew running shoes. I laid out my biking shoes, helmet and behind those, my swim goggles and cap.

Time to get it on.

The start was exciting. I can't quite explain the joy in standing in a mass, having a whistle blow and then running elbow to elbow with 150 people. The sense of momentum and flow is tremendous.

I didn't stay in "the mass" for long however. Runners kept going by me and I was tempted to up my pace to keep up with some of them, but I held back and just ran the pace that I had trained at. I finished the 7k in good condition and without stopping which was my primary goal, but I was one of the last people in the group of people who actually ran it.

But that is OK, because next was road biking and that is my strength! I had a quick transition and I could feel my spirit picking up for the ride through the open desert. It is a 30k out and back with a long downhill stretch that translates into an uphill coming back. I set off strong - my weight and freshly oiled bike had me flying down the hill. I still remember the first person I passed. I was surprised at myself for getting into that. But he wasn't the last. I passed another. Then I thought to make a game out of it. Maybe I'll pass five on this portion? That was saying a lot because I couldn't see anything but the next person. Everyone was strung out. So I tucked in and hauled it going downhill. Then came a long flat portion. I didn't let up. I passed four more people. I was flying by them and at that point I realized that I had a gift here. Echoes of all the AC/DC and African tribal dance music I listened to in spin classes drove me on at a very high cadence. On the way back, I'd seen one competitor after another appear, I'd say a little prayer like "you are going down!" and then it happened. I didn't feel the hill coming back either. By the time I could see the finish line, I had passed 15 people. I saw one more ahead and then I remembered Lance Armstrong's 2004 stage 17 victory where he stomped the crap out of a guy in the last 250 meters. So, I passed 16 before crossing the line.

Getting competitive during the bike was the best part of the triathlon for me. It felt really good.

The swim was bad. I had no legs left and I was just trying to the distance without drowning. All the people I passed on the bike came back to pass me in the pool. I wanted to crawl through most of it, but ended up breast stroking just to keep from sucking too much water. I noticed that the lifeguard was walking with me at one point, probably to make sure that I didn't drown.

I got out of the pool and was very wobbly. I actually bumped into a guy that I met earlier from Santa Fe. Afterwards, I went over to the pasta lunch and met a few people. There was an awards ceremony for the end of the 2004 Southwest Series. I dreamed of getting an award next year.

So that was my first triathlon.


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date: December 27, 2004