After deciding a few weeks ago to turn my regular running into something goal oriented, I have been running with a new schedule. However, when my friend Tony told me he was doing a sprint triathlon (.5 mile swim, 10 mile bike, 3 mile run), and invited me along, I jumped at the chance. I knew that it would disturb my training, but I have wanted to do something like this for a long time. In my head, I weighed the pros and cons of doing the tri:
- It gets my first triathlon out of the way - I'd like to eventually do them regularly, but in order to start, you have to do it for the first time once.
- I'm doing it with a friend - Tony is doing it already, so I'm guaranteed to have somebody to confide in about nervousness
- I'm already in great shape - no matter what happens, I can still probably have a decent running leg after the swim and bike
- I don't have a road bike - that's right, I'd be doing a 10 mile ride on roads on my clucky mountain bike
- Swimming - I've never really been a fast swimmer, and hadn't done it in a long time. I don't think I've ever swum anywhere near 1/2 a mile.
- It's $60 - I'm unemployed. You figure it out
But, being very willing to take my lumps, I signed up and brought my mountain bike with overfilled (and thus fairly hard) tires to the race. I met Tony, registered, and waited for the race to start. What follows is what happened from the gun going off for my "wave" of starters, the last.
Swim or Survival in a Pond
The crowd of athletes around me all wearing silver swim caps (that's how they group you into "waves", by swim cap color) quickly surged ahead, aggressively stroking away. I first tried settling into a freestyle stroke, and instantly found that that really sucked. Icky pond water was getting in my mouth, and my goggles just worked like some sort of odd beer vision simulator. I tried the American Crawl a little more, this time keeping my head out of the water, but that did next to nothing, and quickly devolved into a dog paddle that was not only barely effectual, embarrassing. So, I turned to the only other thing I felt comfortable with: the elementary backstroke. I liked it because I couldn't see anybody else while doing it except the three or four people who were slower than even me. When something started to ache, I'd switch to a sidestroke, searching for something else to remember from those elementary school swimming lessons. The first buoy of two passed, finally. Now, a 100 degree right-hand turn. No problem. Backstroke for a few minutes, it's almost relaxing. Sidestroke to check my bearing, and I see that I'm swimming not parallel to the shore towards the next buoy, but out into the middle of the pond. That sucked. Adjust, go back to backstroking. Eventually, after many sidestroking breaks, I make it to the second buoy. Another 100 degree right-hander, and just relaxingly stroke it on in. There wasn't really pain in my legs or arms, just in my head, because I wasn't used to being that far out in the water and having to swim for that long. I was swimming through concealed panic the entire time. Finally, my feet touched bottom, and I trudged (much faster than the people around me now) to the transition area.
The transition was nice, largely because I was so relaxed having finished the swim portion. I was happily surprised to feel incredibly fresh once I was out of the water; I felt like I could run a half-marathon after the hell-swim. That was the only thing that I was very worried about, and I took my time getting ready to ride. I leisurely took off my goggles and cap, wiped off my feet, and put on my socks and biking shoes. I noticed that Tony's bike , which was racked next to mine, was gone (along with most of the others!). I realized he must have really beaten me badly in the swim, and was already biking. So, finally I put on my helmet and dragged my bike from the rack to the start of the riding course, and took off.
Bike or Make Do With What You Have
The tires on my bike barely gave me any resistance. This was a welcome relief. There were just two things I would hate about my steed during the ride: The position that it put me in (not very aerodynamic), and that I had more gears. The course was gently rolling, but not enough to worry anybody. However, with all those downhills, you could really take advantage if you had the right gear ratios available. There were so many times that I was pedaling as fast as possible, and couldn't catch up with my wheel. Thus, I was unable to maintain a lot of my speed going up the hills. Luckily, mountain bikes do work well for climbing, so it just used a little more energy that it should have. Overall, I think I used the same amount of energy as everyone else, I just think a road bike (or even a tri bike) may have bought me a few minutes. Every time I passed somebody on a mountain bike, I would shout "Go Mountain Bikes!" They seemed to get the joke and generally appreciated the comradery of the triathlon equivalent of riding the short bus. The finish to the ride came none too soon, and I gladly dismounted and walked/ran to the transition once again
I had passed quite a few people on the ride, so there were still a lot of bikes already in the racks, but not nearly as many as had been taken already during the first transition. I quickly stowed my bike and helmet, kicked of my shoes, and laced up the most used piece of equipment I had, my running shoes. Tony's bike was already back, I hadn't caught him on the run. Hopefully, I had made up some ground though. I took off for the run with legs that felt a little odd, but still fairly fresh. At this point, I think I could have comfortably run a 10k.
Run or The Road Racers Revenge
Let's just refresh here: I am, and have been for over eight years, a competitive runner. However I define competitive has changed a lot over those years, but I've always been running, and always been racing. So I started the run portion like any other race: slightly faster than my actual pace, but still kind of relaxed. I passed people. I passed a LOT of people. Apparently, my leisurely swim had saved up a lot more energy that most others had. I felt fine, with the exception of my legs, which felt slightly wooden from having just biked. But, I convinced myself that that would go away quickly, and maintained pace. I declined water stops; it was only 3 miles, I can stand being thirsty for half an hour. The course meandered through suburban streets, a very subtle uphill the entire time. I passed people. Finally, we turned left into a field. This just reminded me of my home way too much, and I took off again. I passed people. Finally, we hit a straight uphill in some trees. It was like climbing horribly uneven stairs. But when we got to the top, I relaxed as a long downhill carried me the last mile home. I crossed the finish line feeling fine. I still hadn't seen Tony.
My girlfriend was waiting for me, and was very happy to see me finish happily. We were happy together. I looked for Tony, who had apparently bested me today. After I talked with him for a while, I found out that he had panicked during the swim and had been taken back to shore, where he immediately started the bike. We traded our experiences during the race, and ate some watermelon. When the results were posted, I didn't even really care. I had placed slightly above the median of the field overall. Definitely good enough for me.
After sitting around for a while and eating some free Clif bars and muffins, my lady convinced me to pack up, and we crammed everything in her car and drove home. I finally washed the pond scum off of me, and I relaxed for the rest of the day, content to be a triathlete.