A lot of build up, anticipation and anxiety led me up to this point. At 40 years old (how in the world did I get so OLD?) I am getting ready to compete in my first triathlon. OK, compete might be a strong choice of words, I think that complete might be more appropriate in this situation.
Ever since I started getting in shape about 5 years ago in the back of my mind I always wanted to do a triathlon, it has been on my bucket list for years, but I never really thought that I would be able to do one. Fast forward to 2012 and I thought to myself, “Hey, you can run a marathon, why can’t you do a small triathlon?” And my brain very quickly came back with a one word answer, “Water”, which was quickly followed by another word, “Dummy”.
You see back in the mid 80’s I learned to swim, and I think I knew how to do it for about a month. For years my “swimming” consisted of the doggie paddle, or plugging my nose with one hand, diving underwater and swimming with my other arm and my legs. Yes my aquatic prowess was something to behold, the stuff of legends some might say.
Anyway, I was figuring that I am currently in what I might consider the best shape of my life (I feel sorry for my twenty-something self), and I thought that it was going to be now or never. With my mother having passed away a few years earlier and my father loosing his battle with cancer I figured that I better get started living or get started dying. You know, I am not sure what movie that is from but it does seem appropriate here.
I watched a couple of my friends compete in their first triathlons last year and was really inspired to give it a shot. So registration came open for one this year for beginners I signed up with a good friend. So I knew that I could run, figured that I could ride a bike, I just desperately needed to learn how to swim.
I got a pass to our local Natatorium and proceeded to learn to swim. I must admit that the advent of the internet and YouTube are amazing things. I met with one of my friends who also was a swimming instructor to give me my first swim lesson, which basically consisted of her making me believe that in fact I would not drown if I put my head in the water without holding my nose. I spent a lot of time that day just holding onto the wall of pool with two hands and putting my head in the water and learning to breathe.
Over the next three months I got better at controlling my panic in the water, with only the occasional mid lap choking fit while forgetting to only exhale and not inhale through my nose in the pool. I kept up on my strong suit, running, and put time in getting myself used to bicycling again. The worst part of bicycling by far is the soreness of my ass, and surrounding areas. But I figured that if I could just somehow make it out of the water I would be ok. In fact, that became my mantra of sorts in the weeks leading up to race, “Just get me out of the water”.
So the day of the race finally arrived, and I actually felt pretty good about my chances of surviving the pool. At this point I should mention that the swim portion of the race was being held in an indoor pool, starting at 4 feet and going down to 9 feet. I assumed that if worse came to worse I could always walk about half a lap and doggie paddle the other half. And when I said that I felt pretty good I should say that it was my head that felt good, not my stomach, no my stomach had a whole other opinion on the situation.
I woke up with my alarm and went downstairs to grad a V8 for breakfast when my stomach first decided to voice its’ displeasure with the proposed events to take place that day. So I went into the bathroom to evacuate my stomachs worries (and yes, that is the nicest way that I could think of to say that). I then ate some granola only to have my stomach strongly oppose the introduction of food to the days schedule and we had to have another evacuation.
Now my wife has been sidelined from activity for quite awhile and was going to come out to the triathlon to support me in my first race. I realized what a big thing this was for her and I was so excited/nervous to have her there with me (you know the whole "no witnesses" thing). But on the morning of the race she was dead to the world. I tried waking her up 5 times before I had to leave for the race, but the only time she really realized that I was leaving is when I kissed her goodbye.
I did make to the race with plenty of time to spare, enough for me to check in get my number Sharpied on my shoulder and calf and to make sure everything was ready for the bike portion of the race (which will be important later).
My friend and I watched the first wave of swimmers hit the pool and my stomached raised its final protest to the race. After a quick bathroom break I got back out of the pool and told my friend that it was time to get topless, which to me being a Howard Stern fan was immensely humorous. If you have known me for a while you might know my extreme discomfort with taking off my shirt in public, I have had low self esteem and very self conscious of my body. My only thoughts getting into the pool to start were, please don’t drown, please don’t have a large cloud of brown following you through the pool and please don’t be last.
My friend was great at that point, easing my mind with a couple of jokes and the two of us trying to bribe one of the race officials. Well, our heat got started and with all of my pent up nervous energy I took off like a dolphin/shark/random fast fish. Now learning to be able to put my head in the water, not coming all the way up to take a breath was great, for the next race I would really like to learn how to turn around when I get to the end of a lap. That is one skill that I never did learn before the day of the race. So what I did was when I got to the end of the lap I would come up, grab the wall, turn around, and push off to come back. But all in all I was happily surprised when the official told me that I have only one lap to go after what seemed to be a pretty short time.
I got up out of the water with a bit of a grin on my face until I started making my way over to the transfer area to dry off and put on shoes to do the biking portion of my race. For reasons unknown to me, when I was waking across to deck of the pool I started getting really dizzy and lightheaded. I sat down to dry off my legs and feet and I started to feel a little bit better. So I grabbed my favorite jersey (Go Scotland!) and headed out to the bikes and whatever cushion I had build up on the swim was thrown away.
I got out to the bikes, which were to be set up and labeled by the staff in advance only to find that they did not expect me to be done with the swim potion so quickly and did not have my bike set up for me yet. So I grabbed an unused bike, pulled up the seat and started peddling, and there might have been a few curse words muttered underneath my breath. I am not sure who was using the bike before me but I am pretty sure that they must have had the tiniest feet in the world. During the course of the ride I had to stop and open the boot straps repeatedly to try to get my feet into them.
Now while I was one the bike I started eyeing up the other competitors and realizing for the first time just how small a group it actually was, it seemed like there were only about 50 people in the race. So I started trying to guess how old the other people were and how many were in my age group. The only one that looked for sure to be pretty close to me was a guy a couple of bikes over who really looked the part of an athlete. You know the type, about 6’3” 180lbs, skinny, muscular, just what you wish you could be. Well he got off his bike about a mile or two before me so I cranked it into high gear to hit my 15 miles and jumped of a tore off running.
I knew that the running portion of the race was only a 5k so I knew that I was not going to have a lot of time to mess around with extras, no Garmin, no water, just moved it. I got a half mile in and could see my guy up ahead on one of the many hills, and I silently thanked god for my running coach Shelia and her hill repeats. I threw it into a higher gear and started trying to close the gap. It was pretty amazing how fast I caught up to him; I took a second to check out his Cleveland Triathlon 200?
Jersey and tried to gather myself before I passed him.
I am pretty thankful that I did not have my Garmin on me so that I did not know how fast I was going or else I probably would have psyched myself out at that point. I waited until I saw him going for a drink of his water then I closed the last ten feet, passed him and didn’t look back. I figured that I kind of surprised him at that point so I wanted to put as much distance between him and me as I could before the turn around. At the turn around I passed another runner just starting back and I picked up my pace a little bit more. I could see that my guy was not far behind me and was pushing hard. That was about all it took, the second half of the run I just pushed as hard as I could and long as I could. It was nice to have couple of runners ahead of me for me to chase. I caught one of the runners at a cross road and another on one of the hills, all the while assuming that my guy was seconds behind me.
I remembered again Coach Shelia’s lessons on keeping your head up, taking small steps quickly and breathing to get up the big hills and this big guy just chugged ahead. I got to the end and had my time recorded. At the finish the current leader of the race was watching people finish and checking out their times, well I am happy to say that I got to give him a big scare. The official at first had me down in the wrong heat and announced that I was the new leader in the race. The look on that guys face when he looked at me and he thought that I beat him was PRICELESS!!!! His jaw about hit the ground, I could see him trying to figure out how a guy that out-weighed him by about 50lbs, and was about 15 years older just beat him. But the official quickly discovered her mistake and corrected herself, much to the other guy’s relief and my silent amusement.
A few days later the results of the triathlon were emailed to us and I knew that the competition in my age group was small, I just didn’t realize how small. Two people… that is it, just two people in my age group, me and the guy that I spent the entire race trailing only to overtake him during the run portion of the race much to my surprise.
Now since the race turnout was so small there was no awards ceremony, no awards given out, but how cool is in to have completed my first triathlon and win my age group, even if it only consisted of two people?
For the record, this was a sprint triathlon that consisted of a half mile swim, 15 mile bike, and a 5K run. And yes, I fully anticipate participating in another one as soon as I can.
A special thank you goes out to Bryan and Greg for their inspiration, Beth for helping me with my swimming, Shelia for my running and my fantastic wife, Kirstie, for putting up with my training, motivating me and always believing in me. I could not have done it without all of you.