It Takes Heart-Part 4: My First Triathlon

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I was filled with anticipation for this event, as it was the first in what I hoped would be many triathlons, and I had no idea how I'd do.

It was a beautiful day to try something new. This April, Sunday was unusually warm and sunny and added just the right touch to the morning. As I drove the forty-five minutes to Albany, Oregon from my home town of Eugene, I was filled with anticipation for this event, as it was the first in what I hoped would be many triathlons, and I had no idea how I'd do. I put my time in at the pool, cycled uphill and down, and ran, ran, ran, but now was the moment when it all should come together.

My wife Carol and I arrived earlier then necessary to check things out, set up my bike and gear, and in general, observe. I knew the basics- swim, get out of the pool and rush to the transition area, get on the bike and pedal like mad until it was time to slip on the running shoes and run. Luckily, a friend of Carol's had also entered the race and was setting up at the same time. Mike shared a few tips with me, one of which was to pedal easy the last mile or so of the cycling stage to help loosen up my leg muscles in preparation for running.

A few mistakes

I finally got things set-up to my liking in the transition area, although it seemed to take some skill getting the bike to stay on the PVC pipe. I'd decided to wear two pair of socks during the cycling stage so I put one inside the other and laid them on my shoes. That was mistake number one. Mistake number two was to fill my water bottle with diluted orange juice instead of plain water. I thought it would add a little flavor to the water and give me some electrolytes to boot. Mistake number three came when I failed to memorize my swim heat and lane.

I wasn't in the first pool heat, but I sat and watched the start of the race anyway, taking note of the variety of swimmers as things got under way. There were those that obviously hadn't spent a lot of time training in the pool and stopped at each end to catch their breath. A few were definitely out of their element in the water and seemed to sink between each stroke. But the guy that caught my attention was well ahead of the rest of the first heat. He swam so effortlessly, was knifing through the water. There was very little splash when each arm entered the water and his feet were simply kicking with a one-two, one-two rhythm that made it all look so easy.

Gear check

At one point I decided to triple check my bike and gear, and as I walked through the transition area I heard a bike tube explode nearby. Too bad for that rider. The first swimmer came jogging out of the pool dripping wet and focused on the ground so I stood and watched him transition. He didn't even towel off, just put on his cycling shoes sans socks, strapped on his helmet, jogged to the starting line and took off. He didn't even have a shirt on. It was sunny, but the temperature was in the mid forties, and someone commented that the breeze had to be cold. My gear was as I'd left it, so I returned to the pool as other swimmers started trickling out and running to their bikes while I mentally practiced my transition.

It was time for the second heat, and as I sat there with Carol I told her I was going to double check my start time and walked over to the lane judges’ area. Since I thought I was starting in lane one, that's where I went first, but she didn't have my name on her list. I was sure I was in heat three lane one but wasn't, so I decided to check with the guy in lane three. Sure enough, I was listed as swimmer number one, lane three, heat two. It turns out they were waiting for me, and because I hadn't memorized my heat I'd almost missed out. I entered the water and did a little warm-up swim before latching onto the side of the pool for last minute instructions. And then it was time.

Pool panic

I think a whistle blew to start the heat but I really don't remember. I just took off swimming, trying to get in sync. Looking back, I think perhaps I was a little too worried about holding everyone up, for as I reached the far end of the pool I panicked. It was an "I need to get out of the pool right now," feeling that came out of nowhere. I couldn't breathe, and whenever I tried to, water hit my face and entered my nose, shutting off my windpipe. I kept my head above water for the return leg and most of the next lap as, slowly, the panic subsided, and I coached my head back underwater. Soon I was swimming liked I'd been training to and everything was fine. I completed the swim and headed outside to the transition area.

Swim/bike transition

Note to self, "bring something to sit on next time." The pavement just wasn't the best place to be putting on socks and shoes. I'd seen people carrying their gear in buckets and thought it was too bad they didn't have a gym bag or something, and now those same people were sitting on those very buckets and changing comfortably. As I attempted to don my double socks the inside sock crammed into the toe of the outer sock proving a waste of time to set-up in the first place. I finally gave up and separated them, putting one on each foot. I wore my son's old batting gloves to bike in and they proved just as difficult to quickly slip my hands in. It wasn't a good transition but at least I was on the bike and moving.

Passed by one

The wind was a little chilly at first and it made me think of that first shirtless rider. If he could do it then so could I. I was riding a Trek Pilot 5.0 and it performed beautifully considering who was riding it. It belonged to Rob, the manager of the bike shop I frequented, and he was kind enough to let me take it for the event. As I rode I would focus on the rider in front of me and try to close the gap between us by constantly putting effort into each stroke of the pedal. It seemed to work because I passed riders multiple times but was never passed myself. That is until some gray-haired guy with big calves blew by me with ease. I told myself I should be able to catch him since I was younger and put everything I had into pedaling, but it was no use-no matter how I tried I could not close on him. I took solace in the fact that no one else passed me, and returned to the transition area none the worse for wear, other then the stomach ache I had, caused by the diluted orange juice. I won't make that mistake again

Last transition

The bike to run transition went more smooth then had the swim-to-bike, and after pulling on my shoes I took off running as best I could. I suffered from the usual bike-to-run leg stiffness despite riding easy as Mike had suggested, but as I ran they loosened up. At one point, before the first mile, much to my surprise, I passed the old guy who had zipped past me while cycling. That just proves we all have our strong events and where his was cycling, mine, at least in this event, was running.

Finish-line in site!

I kept putting one foot in front of the other as fast as I possibly could until I saw that blessed finish line. My first tri was under my belt! I ate a few things in the recovery area before packing up and heading home. Later that day, I scanned the results and noticed I'd taken second in my age group, missing first by less than two minutes. I couldn't help but think the panic in the pool and the sock debacle in the first transition had cost me first place, but maybe number one had made mistakes too, which would have given him an even better time. All-in-all it was a great learning experience and I couldn't wait for the next one.


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date: October 4, 2006


I love my family, football, tri training and racing, seeing heart patients smile when I share my story with them . . .


I love my family, football, tri training and racing, seeing heart patients smile when I share my story with them . . .

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