As I stumbled out of T2, trying to get my legs to actually run, thinking I had actually paid money to do this, I reflected on how I came to the last leg of my first tri…
Last May, as I was leaving my local Y, I passed an older guy finishing the annual “Anyone Can Tri” triathlon. I was going to turn 40 the following year and thought a triathlon would be a neat goal to complete before my birthday. This one would consist of a 325 yard swim in the pool, a 10 mile bike ride and a 5k run. The traditional list of issues that usually accompany these types of decisions followed. Although I had been an avid Y goer for years, there was no way I was in the type of shape to complete the race. I would need to learn to swim for real, not just splash about. I would need to run a 5k, something I had never done before. I would also need to bike for 10 miles. This activity was not as daunting, as I used to ride a bit. OK, so I rode a bit about 10-12 years ago, but at least I had been on a bike for more than 30 minutes at a time.
The first thing I did was visit beginnertriathlete.com.
No, really! I read a bunch of first timer articles, concluded that I was probably considered a Clydesdale (hopefully 6 feet, easily 220 lbs,) and printed out the “Couch to 5k” training schedule to figure out how to run. I was on my way. The running wasn’t so bad. I’ll never have a blazing mile time (11+ minute on a good day), but I didn’t start this to break records. I ran my first official 5k last October with an old friend. Ironically, my sister was in Chicago the same weekend for the Chicago Marathon. To say that thinking of my sister running 26 miles was inspirational would be an understatement.
Before triathlon day, I ran in a Turkey Trot and a bunch of “winter series” races put on by the local road runners club. During the early stages of the “Couch to 5k” program, I purchased a copy of Total Immersion, got a fresh pair of swim trunks (no Speedo, remember my doughy dimensions) a pair of goggles, and headed for the pool. What a disaster. I spent weeks trying to get comfortable with the roll, trying to “find my buoy” and splashing about. Eventually, I figured out I was comfortable breathing when rolling to my left (I thought this was odd since I’m right handed, but apparently I’m a left breather), was able to do a freestyle crawl for a length, and a back flutter kick on the return length to complete a lap. Not exactly Olympic caliber, but it worked for me and became my strategy for the swim. I rode a stationary bike all winter, did my share of laps in the pool and at an indoor track, and even completed an indoor triathlon at the Y.
Unfortunately, I never found the disposable income to purchase a bike.
Race day was drawing near, so, it was off to my basement to see what kind of shape my 20 year old Centurion road bike was in. Upon my professional inspection, I concluded that the bike was in roughly the same shape I was – not good. I took it to a local bike shop, explained to the mechanic that I needed to get 10 miles out of it and left it with him for about a week. I got the bike back and it looked great, the chain had grease on it, the wheels were true, and it looked like the Centurion would save the day. One thing I haven’t mentioned is that I live in the Northeast. What this means is that "spring" is a relative term. On some days, you can actually experience all 4 seasons in the span of 12 hours. It was on one of these types of days that I was able to get out on my bike for a test ride. It was great to be on it. I struggled with a snowy head wind for the first part of my route, but eventually fell into a groove and was able to work through all the rings. I was as ready as I’d ever be.
THE BIG DAY
I was a wreck. My poor girlfriend had become my mandatory volunteer for the day. We got to the transition area before 7:00 AM. The first heat would start at 7:30. I would have to hang around for my heat until 9:15. We chatted with some other racers; however, not many seemed to be rookies. Someone said that I would have to change in the transition area after the pool. Well OK, but it was maybe 45 degrees that morning. Yuck, all just part of the experience.
Finally, my heat. I was marked up, had my Championchip strap around my ankle, and hopped into the pool.
My strategy of doing a length of freestyle/crawl followed by a length on my back served me well. Before I knew it, the volunteer working my lane said, “Up and back then you’re out”. Fantastic. I made it to the transition area and had no problem changing in front of strangers and family. I’m hopping someone will write an article on how to pull on Lycra socks over semi-dry feet. What a struggle. I got on my bike, determined not to flat, and headed out to the bike route. The weather was very similar to my training ride, only no snow. I was being passed by others in my heat and the 9:30 heat, but I didn’t care. My mom, sister and other friends were on the course cheering. I made it back to T2, ditched my helmet and bike and started the run.
“Run” was anything but what I was doing.
I spent the first two miles trying to get my legs to move more than six inches apart. I looked like I was tap dancing down the street. To take my mind off my snail pace, I decided to say hello to all the racers and thank all the volunteers that I saw along the course. This helped my breathing, let me regain whatever composure I thought I should have, and gave me enough energy to actually run the last few hundred yards to the finish. I was met at the finish line with hugs and kisses from my girlfriend. She seemed as relieved as I was that it had all worked out in the end. My mom and sister were hooting and hollering with some of my friends. It didn’t matter that the volunteers were already pulling up some of the timing mats, or that my bike didn’t have much company in the transition area. What mattered was the sense of pride I felt over completing my goal. What mattered was seeing how much fun my girlfriend, my mom, my sister, and my friends were having. What mattered was talking about how I can’t wait to do it again next year.