Swim, Bike, Run...First Time!

author : FishrCutB8
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My experiences at Mt. Gretna PA's 'Got the Nerve' sprint triathlon.

Race report
My First Triathlon: ruminations and general observations from the Second Annual Got the Nerve Triathlon in New Gretna, PA.

Wow—what an incredible feeling to finish a triathlon! But let’s start at the beginning.

The Day Before
The day before the event, I drove to the site and cruised the bike route twice. I’m glad I did, because I knew how to get there and what to expect once I did. In particular, I found places I could make ground and places to watch out for, particularly a huge gravel wash-out that covered half the road on one of those desolate back roads that signify: this would be a very bad place to wipe out.

Race Day
I woke up and had breakfast about two hours before the event: bagel with turkey, oatmeal with fruit, and a banana. Actually, I wish I had eaten 3 hours before, as I could still feel it sloshing around a little in there. Maybe it was just pre-race jitters? The ride down was pretty cool. I could relax about it because I knew where I was going and how long it would take. I saw a lot of bikes on the Turnpike, heading for the event. It was cool—like we were all being drawn inexorably toward something, the number of bikes increasing as we moved closer toward the site. I was reminded of those scenes from Close Encounters where everybody shows up at Devil’s Tower, but they don’t know why…only, we knew why we were there...

The Race Site
I arrived at the event about an hour early and wish I had left earlier. The entire event was very well-organized, from parking to directions to location of everything you need (port-o-potty, race tent, etc.). Even arriving one hour early at the race site, when I got to the transition area, all of the racks were full. A word to the wise—leave EARLY! Still, I found a place along the fence just inside the entrance that actually worked out better because it was so easy to find. Score one for Fish!

I laid out my transition area and had everything well-organized when it was time to go listen to the instructions. I felt very well prepared. The instructions were very straightforward with no changes, but I was glad I went anyway. I also got my race chip for timing, which goes around your ankle by means of a strap. It did not fit on my ankle, so they had to put two straps together to make it longer…more on this later.

The Swim—Listen up!
We ambled down to the beach and into the holding pen. The first wave took off (the twenty-something young bucks) and then it was our turn to get into the water. I am so glad I listened to friends, family, neighbors, bulletin board experts and the voices in my head that said, “Get a wetsuit!” It has been an unusually cool spring in Pennsylvania, and it was reflected in one place in particular—the water temperature. Holy carp—65 degrees is cold!

I wish I had listened to the voices in my head that said, “Hey man—your goggles suck!” They were right. Good goggles are important. Mine didn’t exactly leak, but they fogged up easily and they never felt comfortable. It’s $10 I wish I had spent.

I DID listen to the advice that said, “Start toward the back and to the side in your first tri, because you’re less likely to get kicked.” Yeah right. I got kicked, slapped, and climbed over at one point. Still, expecting that those things are going to happen makes it easier. And, when my goggles got kicked off, I was especially glad I had put the swim cap OVER the straps. Nice.

The mind plays tricks on you in the water. There’s a voice that speaks to you that says, “You can quit at any time, you know?” There is no one out there to cheer for you, so you have to choose to listen to that voice or not. It’s a conscious choice. I just said, “I can make it to the next buoy and then decide.” And I decided to keep going. It’s weird the things you think about, and I’m sure for everyone it’s different, but the “You can quit anytime” voice seems pretty consistent among friends who have done endurance-type athletics. The other thought was Dory from Finding Nemo saying, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…” I love that fish! I reached the beach, smiling in the middle of the pack, and strode out of the water toward T1…

The Bike—On Your Left
I transitioned easily at the bike area—everything was laid out perfectly, just like I left it. I rolled my socks onto my feet, threw on my shirt, helmet, glasses and I was off. Who had the bright idea to put THE HILL 0.45 miles into the bike course? I curse their name! Pinch Road goes straight up, and being so early in the course, I didn’t have my legs under me. Still, I knew it was coming. I could hear the groans, whining, crying and screaming from those who did not now it was there. I got to use what is now my favorite triathlon term: “On your left!”

I passed people. I got passed. Having driven the course the day before, I knew where I could make ground, where to conserve energy, where it was going to be tough for me, and where it was going to be tough for others. About two miles into the ride, I found it—my ride. The pedaling got easier. The cadence was higher. I was spinning, and clicking through the gears (I use Shimano—if it was Campy, I would have been clacking through the gears), and the road was disappearing under my wheels. I looked at the other competitors and saw it. I was getting stronger, they were getting weaker. I was flying…

An interesting note: I thought there would be more race support, especially watering stations. I had packed Gatorade in both bike bottles, anticipating a lot of water on the course. There was very little—only two stations on the entire course. Next time: water in one bottle and Gatorade in the other, or even two bottles of water and rely on the GU for carbs.

Coming home, I knew there was going to be one big climb of about a mile. After that, there was a flat-downhill mix. I decided to push it a little and get up the hill, knowing I could cruise on the downhill and flats to recover for the run. Course knowledge rules. People looked at me as I went up the mountain… “On your left,” I said. “On your left!” I was in the zone and loving it. I was getting stronger. I rode into the transition area and heard the cheers of my wife and daughter. Nothing spurs you on like, “Go Daddy!!!!” as you ride into T2…

The Run—Coming Home
I put my bike in and threw on my shoes. Again, knowing where everything was in my transition area was great. I doused my head with water, dumped the rest on my hat and I was off! Not so fast…take the GU packs out of your shirt. Okay, now I’m off…like a herd of turtles.

What is that wobbly feeling? Sure, I’ve heard about it. Even experienced it a little doing bricks. But jeezopizza—that is a wobble, isn’t it? I kept the legs going, and the wobble lessened. Cool—maybe if I keep the legs going, it will get a lot better. Gradually, the wobble disappeared. The course started on the road, running on the same area as the cyclists, so I got to see people coming in. It was then I realized: I was not going to finish DFL. And, I was not going to DNF, even if I had to crawl home.

The course turned onto a trail, and I felt better. I was really feeling good, and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to run. I felt like I was running downhill. The course was an out and back, and I reached the halfway point and turned around. I looked back…upwards…I had been on a false flat…I had been running downhill!!!! Oh carp! At this point I have about 2K uphill and a flat half to finish. There is only one thing to do. Run, baby, run. I am going up the false-flat. People are passing me. I am suffering. I am passing people, but make no mistake about it. I am suffering. That voice that says, “You can quit this” comes back. Where is Dory when I need her? I hear the guys from JPFitness (it meant so much to me to have the encouragement you sent on this board!), FitToBeMen and BeginnerTriathlete in my head. I hear Lance Armstrong saying “Pain goes away, but quitting is forever.” I hear Sgt. Smiter, in the voice of Lou Gossett, Jr. Saying, “DON’T YOU QUIT ON ME MAY-O-NAISE!” Most of all, I hear and see my wife and daughter waiting for me at the line. I’m not quitting. I am suffering, but the pain will disappear. I will not quit. I suffer on.

I hit the pavement part of the run course and I know I have .5K to go. The adrenaline hits like an oncoming freight train. I am euphoric. My strength has been renewed: I have mounted up as on the wings of eagles. I can run and not grow weary. I see the line, I see my family, I hear the cheers and I break into a full sprint. I hit the finish, and just like that, it is over. One hour, 42 minutes and 50 seconds after beginning, I am a triathlete.

Remember that strap that didn’t feel right? It fell off. Meaning my time was not recorded. My wife (I love that woman!) took a picture of the clock as I finished (speaking of which, can someone tell me a good linkable picture site, and I'll post some pics). She rules!!! I accomplished my goals: I didn’t drown. I finished. Actually, I finished in the top third (unofficially…I’m still waiting for the times). People were very nice and I really enjoyed the camaraderie. And, when people found out it was my first tri, they were extra friendly. It’s an interesting brother/sister-hood, and I will relish the memories of this race forever.


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date: June 5, 2006