Free is for ME!

Posted: December 9, 2010 in Marathon, Triathlon
Tags: ,


“That’s not true,” my wife said when she saw the above saying on a car bumper sticker a few weeks ago.

Needless to say, the costs related to running and training can occasionally be an issue in my house, as I’m sure they can be for others. There are race entry fees, new socks, new shoes, the never-ending supply of energy bars, GUs, Gatorade, the latest, greatest compression socks and BodyGlide (that’s where the real costs add up. You can never have too much BodyGlide!)

That’s why, when the occasional freebie comes my way, I’m more than happy to say: “Free is for ME!” Today was the ultimate freebie day.

First, I’ll have to back it up a bit. Because my employer recently told all employees that we are only to use work-related social media accounts for work purposes (makes perfect sense), I created a new personal Twitter account just for running/triathlon training purposes. As I was adding to my list of people/companies/websites to follow, I clicked on TriJuice, a Minnesota-based Triathlon news and shopping site and added them to my “follow” list.

Unbeknownst to me, I became TriJuice’s 600th follower on Twitter. This is where the fun starts. Moments later, the website’s editor sent me a direct message telling me that they wanted to send me a “gift” for being lucky No. 600. It’s the gift-giving season after all, and who am I to say no. So, very soon I am expecting to receive my new Xterra Wetsuits Transition Bag.

*Blonde girl not included.

I’m pretty sure I will get tons of use out of this bag. As Clarke Griswald said: “it’s the gift that keeps on giving.” This gift is much better than the “Jelly of the Month Club” though.

I’m constantly amazed at how companies use social media these days to gain exposure and build customer loyalty.  I don’t know much about TriJuice as a company, but the reason I decided to follow them on Twitter is simple: I think it’s one of the easiest, most-effective ways to learn about such companies and websites. Giving away free stuff also helps! Needless to say, I have added them to the list of websites I will visit when looking for gear and news related to running and triathlons.

Believe it or not, my day of freebies didn’t end there.

Later that afternoon, when my local Starbucks didn’t have the milk I wanted for my grande Americano, they gave me a coupon for a free cup of coffee on my next visit. Cha-ching!

Finally, when I drove to my local grocery store to pick up a few items, a coupon popped out of the register for a free Gatorade Recovery drink.

Of course, I walked right back to the beverage section and picked one up. While I chug down lots of Gatorade products, especially G2 grape, I haven’t had too much experience with Gatorade Recover drinks. There’s one simple way to get me to try it — Give it to me for free!

Marathon No. 3 is in the books. Can somebody please return my quads and calves to me?

I have been slacking lately on posting here, but this past weekend’s marathon is definitely worthy of a race report.

But first, a quick rewind. Before running in the 5th Annual Ridge to Bridge Marathon in Jonas Ridge, NC on 10.30.10, I achieved a significant running milestone at the Big Peach Sizzler 10k in Atlanta on 9.18.10. I actually WON my age division (35-39) for the first time in my brief running career. I posted a PR of 40:33, holding off a hard-charging 17-year-old kid named Forrest down the stretch.

I could write a full race report about it, but the marathon is my focus here, so I will spare you the details. However, I will say this: the Sizzler is a great race. Very well organized — as are all Big Peach Running Co.-sponsored races in Atlanta — and very fast. If you are looking for a good time to get into an early group for the Peachtree Road Race, this is a great race to run.

Now back to the marathon.

I had targeted the Ridge to Bridge Marathon (R2BM) earlier this summer in hopes that it would be a good race for me to run a Boston qualifying (BQ) time. Like many runners, I didn’t expect Boston 2011 to sell out in 8 hours! The unexpected sellout left me disheartened, but I went ahead with my plan and kept my hopes alive for a BQ for 2012.

The R2BM is VERY different from the 2 other marathons I have competed in — the ING New York City Marathon or the ING Georgia Marathon (now sponsored by Publix).  For starters, it is run in the mountains of North Carolina with only 300 runners. Oh, and the other little difference — it descends a total of 2,700 feet. Almost all of that descent takes place over a 9-mile stretch between mile 5.5 and mile 14.5.

While running a downhill marathon might seem easy to some non-runners, those who have run downhill for any significant length of time will tell you that it is no easy task. Compared with my experiences in NYC and Atlanta, this marathon was much tougher. Yes, this was my fastest marathon time of the three, but it was also the most painful 26.2 I have run. This marathon is not to be taken lightly.

Before competing in this marathon, I battled through a variety of injuries, most notably a twisted right ankle (golf cart mishap) and a reoccurring right calf strain. Needless to say, I wasn’t as well prepared as I had hoped to be. In the 4 weeks before the race, I was only able to get in one run of at least 20 miles. But enough with the excuses.

I drove to Morganton, NC with another Atlanta runner (Michele) I had met on the Brown Mountain Running Club‘s message board and checked in to the not-so-lovely Days Inn. Note: if you are going to run this marathon, spend the extra $25-$30 and stay at the Hampton Inn in Morganton.

After checking in and picking up our race packets at the nearby Quality Inn, we drove 30 minutes to the race’s finish area at the Brown Mountain Beach Resort for a little test run. I’m glad we did. I had planned to wear a new pair of K-Swiss K-ona triathlon shoes for the race, but the dirt/gravel road surface was a bit rougher than I had expected. After our 4-miles test run, I decided to stick with my old faithful Asics Gel Nimbus shoes. This is NOT a trail race, but the road had sticks and small rocks strewn across it. You have to watch your footing a lot more than you normally would running on an asphalt road course.

Oh, and for the record, the race packet was great. A tastefully designed tech long-sleeve shirt in fall colors. A nylon bag, gloves, an oval R2BM sticker for your car, a few coupons and a small bag of candy (it was Halloween weekend after all).

The next morning, we all piled into about 6 very nice buses (they each had a bathroom on board) and drove about 45 minutes up the mountain. When we got off, the sun had begun to rise. It was a beautiful brisk Fall day.

I was near the front when the gun went off and soon found myself running in a nice small group at a pace slightly faster than I had targeted. The first 5-6 miles are mostly paved and very flat. I figured I would keep the pace at about 7 mins/mile. This is about 30 secs faster than what I needed to average over 26.2 in order to reach my 3:15:59 Boston qualifying time goal. This wasn’t an uncomfortable pace for me so I stuck with it.

After reaching the 5.5 mile mark, I grabbed some Gatorade from the aid station and headed down the mountain. This is where things got interesting. I quickly realized that I might lose a toenail at some point during the race. My toes were JAMMED into the front of my shoes on just about every step I took. Ouch.

Secondly, I noticed really early that it was hard to slow down. I was still averaging under 7 mins/mile. Some miles clocked in between 6:30 and 6:45. At one point, other runners I spoke with on the descent said “respect this 9 miles”. As much as I tried, I just couldn’t bring myself to slow down. Still, this didn’t seem like it was going to be much of an issue. That all changed at about Mile 15 when I hit the flat road. My calves felt like they were going to explode! Most people I spoke with about the race said that my quads would hurt the most. I have been biking a lot, trying to build up my quad muscles, and I think that really helped. Regardless, I was still hurting.

By the time I reached Mile 17, I seriously wanted it all to end.

Here is a note we all received from race director David Lee in the days leading up to the race. I guess I should have read it more carefully.

Miles 6-16: The big drop begins at about mile 6 and continues through about mile 14 with only one rise at about mile ten. Keep an eye on your watch to make sure you’re not running too quickly over this section. Averaging even 10-15 seconds below goal pace is running more aggressively than necessary. One can easily go much faster at various points in this section; the hard part is resisting the urge to do so.

This is where the course’s scenery helped. The crystal-clear river (Wilson Creek) to the left, the bright sun shining through the autumn leaves, the sound of pickup trucks rumbling by with shotgun racks in the back window and Confederate flag license plates on the front… it was all quite lovely.

At about mile 19, I started to feel a twinge in my right hamstring. I actually let out an audible “NO! DON’T DO IT!” This was the same hamstring that almost brought me to the ground at Mile 19 of the NYC Marathon. This time the muscle spasm held off… until Mile 23. When it hit, it hit hard. My hamstring went into a full spasm. My leg curled up under me as I tried to massage the cramp out.  I had to stop completely. I managed to get back on the road again after about 30 seconds. Then, about 1 mile later it hit AGAIN. This one was worse. I actually yelled out loud (I think I might have scared some hunters … or at least  a squirrel or two). I had to stop and walk this one off for about 50 yards. My time for this mile dropped to 9:37.  With the two spasms, I was “stopped” for a total of 2:05, according to my Garmin.

According to my carpool friend Michele, I need to get more salt in my diet or take in more electrolytes in the days leading up to the race to avoid cramping. (I didn’t cramp during the ING GA Marathon and drank NUUN tablets all during the week leading up to the race. I didn’t do that for R2BM. Lesson learned.)

When I finally reach the finish area, I figured I had about 2 minutes to reach my Boston Qualifying time of 3:15:59. It hits me that I might not make it. After I cross through a fence and enter the parking area, volunteers point me to the LEFT. The finish line is to the RIGHT!

I look one of the volunteers right in the eyes and say “that’s cruel!”  She laughed. I didn’t. From here, I have to make a loop around the parking lot and then sprint to the finish. I can’t see the official clock and try to go as fast as I can without stretching out my stride too much. It’s basic survival at this point. It’s a fine line. The last thing I want to do is bring on another spasm in the closing yards.

My watch says 3:15:45 as I start to crest a small little hill and go around a corner for the finish line. As I reach the top of the hill I spot the clock… 3:15:59… I actually see the clock tick over to 3:16:00 with about 50 yards to go. I was so crestfallen that I let out a “F_ _ K! I’m not sure if there were any little kids nearby. If there were, I apologize.

What if I didn’t stop and walk for a few steps at those two water stops early in the race? Could I have started to run sooner after the hamstring spasms? Perhaps.

Did I give it EVERYTHING I possibly could? I’m not so sure I did. I crossed the line at 3:16:17. My official chip time comes in at 3:16:14. Yes, that’s just 15 seconds. Are you kidding me? I finished 6th in my age group and 29th overall out of  265 total finishers.

However, there’s good news. The 2011 Boston Marathon is sold out and I wouldn’t be able to run until 2012. Here’s the catch: I turn 40 in May of 2011. The qualifying time for the 40-44 age group is 3:20:59! Your qualifying time is *YOUR AGE ON THE DATE OF THE BOSTON MARATHON*

So, unless they drop the times between now and 2012 (which is entirely possible), I’m in! I guess there’s something to be said for turning 40 after all. If they drop the times, I might still be able to petition. I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Regardless, I’m still disappointed that I missed my time goal. However, there are worse things to worry about in life. They gave every runner a very cool handmade ceramic medal in the shape of an acorn.

I remember seeing medals given out at the race from years past and they were in the shape of a leaf, which I thought was pretty cool. This year, the overall winners got a vase and age-group winners each got an original bowl-shaped ceramic leaf as their awards. Very unique.

My new friend Michele absolutely killed it. She’s 49 and ran 3:40:20 for third place in her age group. She has run 37 marathons and this was her first age-group award. Of course, I forced her to pose for a picture!

Although I was disappointed with my day, I was psyched for Michele. What a great accomplishment!

As much pain as I am in, I would definitely run this race again. It’s in a beautiful location and is very challenging. I would love to see what my time would be if I had used a different strategy.

Since my first marathon (3:46) on Nov. 1 2009 until now, I managed to knock off 30 minutes and qualify (hopefully) for the world’s most exclusive marathon. Not a bad year, I guess.

I remember reading that line many times in various places. It makes perfect sense, but it needs some clarification. You may not actually drown in sweat, but too much sweat can sure make it hard to run.

That’s especially true in Atlanta in August. Lately, any run I have done longer than 8 miles has been made more difficult by the simple fact that my shoes turn into sponges due to the amount of sweating that occurs in the 90 degree temps this time of year.

I love my Asics Gel Nimbus 11s by they don’t love the ATL heat! Asics Sponge Nimbus 11s might be a better name at this point.

I have been looking into getting some new shoes and have heard great things about the new K-Swiss K-Ona triathlon shoes. A friend of mine has them and LOVES them. The biggest key to the shoes popularity among the triathlon crowd are the ingenious drainage holes.

I never thought “drainage” would be a selling factor for running shoes. Then I tried to run 14 miles in 95 degree heat. I made it to the 12.6 mile mark an simply couldn’t continue due to the soggy condition of my shoes!

I’m very hesitant to switch shoes, especially after running injury free for the past 10 months, but I really think I have little choice at this point.

Hangin’ With The Slayer

Posted: July 21, 2010 in Marathon, Triathlon

Last summer while driving down GA 400 — one of the busiest highways in metro Atlanta — a flashing traffic sign caught my eye along the side of the road. The black and orange sign was promoting the first annual GA 400 Century bike ride.  At the time, I didn’t even know what a “century” was. I have since learned that it’s just a short little 100-mile bike ride. This particular century is staged to help raise funds and awareness for the Georgia Transplant Foundation.

Since getting back into cycling a few months ago, I targeted the 2nd annual GA 400 Century as my first big ride. Although my longest ride prior to the Century was a short little 29-mile jaunt through the hilly roads of my town, I figured I would go for it. What did I have to lose? Other than my ability to walk for a few days, that is. For $40,  I could have signed up for a variety of rides ranging from 8 miles to 61 miles to 100 miles. I decided to get my money’s worth… and then some.

In the days leading up to the race, I chatted with a few local riders on to get a feel for what to expect. From what I could gather, this was not going to be an easy little ride. There were some serious hills I would need to be ready for. Eh, big deal, I figured. I agreed to meet up with two guys who did the race last year — they go by the names “Coldfire” and “Phat” online. That’s all I knew about them.

As it turns out, Phat was riding to honor his father, who was at the top of the organ donor list a few months ago waiting for a lung when he passed. Needless to say, Phat was on a mission to honor his dad as only he knew how — FLAT OUT. Lucky me…

We meet up at the front of the group a few minutes before the start. There appears to be more than 500 riders in the group, but Phat was easy to spot. His bright yellow cycling jersey had the words “BE AN ORGAN DONOR” written on the back in red letters.

Don't mess with The Slayer!

Before the ride, I boldly proclaimed that I would be able to “hang” with them on the road and wanted to join them at the front. Clearly, I didn’t quite know what I was signing up for. Phat, it turns out, has a sinister go-for-broke-take-no-prisoners attitude when he saddles up. As an escort of police motorcycles led us all down the highway at the start, there were Phat and Coldfire out front hammering away on the pedals.

They were driving the train down a road also known as “Hospitality Highway.” However, there was nothing hospitable in Phat’s riding style. He wanted to punish people who dared to get on his wheel. I later learn that Phat also likes to call himself the ‘Slayer.” This can’t be happening, I thought This is really going to hurt! Phat’s powerful pedaling was not new to Coldfire, it appeared. He was hammering away right along with him.

Quickly, the dynamic duo had sped off down the road, opening a large gap between me and all the other riders, including Coldfire’s brother, who had no intentions of punishing himself alongside his brother and his brother’s  keeper — SLAYER!  If only I had been so smart. Instead, I shift up a couple gears, leaving Coldfire’s brother behind and join them near the front of the pack. For better or worse, I’m now committed.

On the flat roads and downhills, I “hang” with them without much of a problem. However, on each significant uphill section, they quickly leave me behind. They are riding much more expensive bikes than mine, are more efficient at shifting, have faster wheels and have ridden more than 29 miles at one time on hundreds of occasions, it seems. Add all of that together, and I might as well have been on a tricycle. This was going to be hard work!

As a personal challenge, I dig hard each time that they open a gap and have to hammer as hard as I can to catch up. This earns me some “serious street cred,” Phat proclaims. However, on more than one occasion, they have to slow down slightly and allow me to rejoin them. Turns out, these guys are “hospitable” after all. Phat’s kindness doesn’t last long though.

As we were cruising along side-by-side (there’s no drafting allowed in triathlons), we get swallowed up by a large peloton. This clearly annoys Phat. “That’s like cheating,” he says. “That doesn’t impress me. Let’s blow these guys up,” he laughs.

“Oh no,” I thought, this isn’t going to be pretty. Just like me when I run, this guy doesn’t like being passed on the bike. When the group all comes back together a few miles up the road, Phat decides to take the lead. Coldfire and I settle in behind him (The guy is a horse on wheels! Drafting off of him is the ONLY way we stand a chance.) For the next 5 miles or so, Phat drives the peloton into submission. Coldfire and I (well, ok, mostly me) hang on for dear life. When we finally slow down, we realize two things:  1.) We’re lost 2.) the peloton has been DESTROYED. This makes Phat a happy camper. Me… not so much. At this point, there’s only about 50 more miles to go.

Slowly but surely, I finally lose my battle to “hang” with them. They go off into the distance as I settle into a more comfortable pace. I ride with this guy for awhile.

At mile 80, I hit Mountain Park. Holy crap! There’s one major hill after another. It was like the Slayer himself had taken the form of asphalt and had come back to haunt me. I had heard stories of riders having to unclip and do the “walk of shame” up some of the Mountain Park hills. I was determined not to let it happen to me. I’m happy to say I succeeded.

When I finally reached the finish line after about 5 hours and 40 minutes, I spot Phat and Coldfire running laps around the parking lot. Before the ride began, I had agreed to run a few miles with them after we were done. What kind of an IDIOT am I? After a few minutes, I managed to slip on my running shoes and stumbled through a couple miles with them. Truth be told, I was afraid of what Slayer might do to me if I failed to hold up my end of the bargain.

I’ve run two marathons, several half marathons and done an Olympic-distance triathlon, but this day goes down as the single hardest workout I have experienced so far.

Oddly, I can’t wait to do it again. Bring it on Slayer! You don’t scare me. (Shhh… don’t tell him I said that.)

Seen in Lake Tahoe

Posted: July 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

If I was born in Lake Tahoe in 1897, this is what it might say.

Peachtree Road Race

Posted: July 15, 2010 in Marathon
Tags: ,

Seven years ago when I moved to Atlanta, the only thing I knew about roads named Peachtree was that there were a LOT of them. However, in the past two years I have come to learn that there is only ONE Peachtree Road Race.

If you are a runner, there are 10Ks and then there is “The Peachtree”. Safe to say it’s the grand daddy of all 10Ks. With 55,000 “runners” participating every year on the 4th of July, it has evolved into the world’s largest 10k race since the first 100 runners made that fateful journey down Atlanta’s main drag in 1970. For perspective, there are only 35,000 runners in the NYC Marathon.

I first did “The Peachtree” in 2009. After running a few qualifying 10Ks in hopes of getting a spot in one of the early waves, I missed the sign-up period (which seems to close almost as soon as the race itself ends). I actually had to borrow a number from a friend, whose son wasn’t able to run it. (Shh… they frown upon such rule breakers.)

I wasn’t going to make that same mistake this year. After posting a PR of 41:12 in a local 10k, I got myself a coveted spot in the first wave of the day. I could actually see the elite runners for a few seconds at the start before they left all of us wanna-bes in the dust.

In the days leading up to the race, I had set a somewhat realistic (I thought) goal of breaking 41 minutes. However, being the nut case that I am, I decided to go for a 20-mile bike ride the day before. With my legs still a tad sore from the ride, I approached the starting line with serious doubts of even coming close to my goal.

Little did I know, but the chain of events that were about to unfold at the starting line would play a big part in my race result. When I run, I use the RunMeter app on my iPhone. Because of this, I have to hit the start button and then tuck the phone into my Spibelt on my lower back (it usually rests in the exact spot where all the moms in their late 30s and early 40s are now looking to have their “tramp stamp” tattoos removed from.)

I have performed this push-start-tuck-zip-run maneuver hundreds of times before. However, on this occasion, with thousands of people bearing down on me, I somehow missed the expandable pocket on my belt. This is instant disaster.

There it was, my phone, dangling precariously from the end of my earphone cord. I frantically try to pull it up as I keep running. It seemed to be happening in slow motion. The phone, hanging on for dear life, suddenly lost its flimsy grasp on the end of the earphone jack and went careening to the asphalt, its plastic case exploding into two sections as it crashed down. Less than 10 yards off the start line, there I was frantically darting back into the fury of feet headed my way. I somehow manage to snatch the phone off the street without getting kneed in the noggin. I sense a few kneecaps passing inches from my nasal cavity but none make contact. Victory is mine! Or so I thought.

My phone’s life has been saved, but unfortunately the crash stopped the app’s timer. I didn’t realize this until I passed the 1 Mile mark and didn’t get a pace update in my ear. At least my tunes were working. I learned that nothing can stop Vince Neil from belting out “Wild Side”. Who needs a watch when you can have old school Motley Crue as your pace setter.

Now running without any knowledge of my pace, I simply try to run with the others in my group. At about Mile 3, my bike ride from the day before starts to catch up with me and I feel myself slowing down a little. I immediately realize that my goal of breaking 41 mins is highly unlikely. With this in mind, I start high-fiving kids along the route, and doing other wild and crazy things like running to the far side of the street to get water even though I know it is adding precious seconds to my time.

When I finally make that left turn and head down towards Piedmont Park I’m anxious to see what the clock says at the finish line. I’m prepared for 43 or maybe even 44 up there. Then, off in the distance, there it is… my ticking beacon of hope, teasing me with its first two digits — 41. As the clock ticks, the last two digits count up — :04, :05, 06. That CAN’T be right, I think. I hit overdrive and sprint across the line at 41:17.

Because it took me 10 seconds to cross the actual start line, my official time comes in at 41:07 – a new PR. Sweet. I’m disappointed that I didn’t break 41 minutes, but considering my starting line mishap and the fact that I ran on tired legs, I considered it a major victory.

Next year, I will run with a watch. Lesson learned!

My First Triathlon

Posted: May 24, 2010 in Marathon, Triathlon

So, I guess I am officially a triathlete now. And to think , two years ago I hardly considered myself a runner.

After a grand total of 18 days of preparation (not including my normal marathon training), I completed my first triathlon — the 11Global Series —  on May 22, 2010 at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Georgia. The Olympic-distance race (.9-mile swim, 27-mile bike, 6.2-mile run) was being held at Reynolds for the first time.  Considering it was my first triathlon, I figured it was a fitting match.

In a word, it was AWESOME!

First and foremost, Reynolds Plantation is a beautiful resort with one of the world’s finest hotels (the Ritz-Carlton Lodge). You can’t ask for much more as far as a location goes.

This was the view just outside my room. The night before the race, my kids enjoyed making Smores by the firepit with other guests.
I know what you’re thinking. What possesses somebody to do a triathlon with less than three weeks of training?  This thought popped into my head, too, just as I was about to jump into Lake Oconee.
Is that the first buoy WAY out THERE!?
Another thought that popped up was a sign I once saw somebody holding aloft while running the NYC Marathon. It was a bright yellow and orange sign with black letters with the words: “No Really…WTF?” These were my thoughts exactly. What the F was I thinking?! But I was also thinking — JUST PULL UP THE BOOTS STRAPS (or wetsuit) AND GO FOR IT! So I did.
For some quick background, I decided to do my first triathlon on May 4, exactly 18 days before the actual race. For most people, this would sound crazy. But if you’re already crazy, what’s the difference? For some more background, I have run two marathons over the past year, including NYC (PR is 3:28 at ING GA Marathon), numerous 10ks, a few half marathons and a bunch of 5ks. Running isn’t a problem. Because of my running, I am probably in the best shape I have been in since high school. I’m 5’8 1/2″ (yes, the half inch counts) and 149 pounds.
In July 2007, I was 172. (I know, it’s not as if I was 272. But for me, it was the heaviest I had ever been and I felt WAY out of shape.) Then I changed my life and became a workout nut. I run 4-5 days a week, etc. As for the bike portion of the race, I used to ride a road bike a lot in high school and during the summers while in college. But that was almost two DECADES ago! (I’m 39, as of May 24). Still, all I needed to do was borrow a friend’s Tri bike and I was golden! Heck, I could have done it on my mountain bike if I really wanted to. It might have been easier, actually considering all of the monster hills on the course.
After borrowing the bike, I took it for several long rides, up and down a bunch of hills, etc. The old feeling came back pretty quickly. I was feeling very confident. You’ve noticed that I haven’t mentioned the swim yet, right? I was trying to ignore it. Oddly, it never went away. This was the biggest challenge of my insane plan… by FAR!
I don’t belong to a fitness club and don’t have a pool in my backyard, etc.
There is a lake in my neighborhood I could have practiced in. But that would really be crazy.
Oh wow, look at that! You can go to Lifetime Fitness with a free 7-day trial pass. Sign me up. Oh, and look at that, if you know somebody who belongs to LA Fitness, you can just go as their guest and use the pool…Giddy-up!  Of course, none of this means that it will be easy. My first trip to Lifetime was a HUGE eye-opener. I could barely swim 100 meters (4 laps down and back in the 25-meter pool). Oh man, I’m in big trouble! I spent the next day looking up videos on proper swim technique, reading every article I could get my hands on, etc. I then head back for Day 2. It goes a little better, but I’m still struggling big time. An Olympic-distance triathlon includes a 1,500-meter swim. Holy cow. There’s simply no way I can do this!
Then, a neighbor says “dude, just borrow my wetsuit.” I quickly learn that wetsuits are AWESOME! This doesn’t mean I can stop training, jump in the lake, and let the current take me.
Next step, I enlist the help of my other neighbor (the one who lent me the bike — her husband’s bike, actually) and join her up at LA Fitness for a 5:30 am swim. Yes, triathletes are crazy. Who the heck gets up at 5:30? She just finished the Gulf Coast Triathlon in water conditions that she described as “SCARY.” If she can do that, surely I can swim 1,500 meters in a calm, warm lake. She gives me a few pointers on technique and tells me I will do fine (she was lying, but I liked it).
In total, I managed to get in 8 swim sessions before the race. This is hardly something I would recommend to everybody. But once I put on the wetsuit and figured out a good swim technique that allowed me to breathe comfortably without having to stop, my mind was put at ease.
On race day, I wake up early (slept terribly, of course) and am actually the first one to get to the transition area. I’m new to this, so I wanted to make sure I got everything taken care of an had no issues when the race begins.
The race was not “wetsuit legal” due to the 79-degree water temps. But since it was my first ever triathlon and I had never even come close to swimming a mile before, I wasn’t about to jump in the lake without it. I got a few looks, but I didn’t really care. In fact, one other guy comes running up to me and asks me to help him into his suit. I gladly lend him a hand. At least I’m not the only one, I figure.
Westuit buddies…
Right before I jump in the water, my daughter insists on giving daddy one last hug. How can I resist?
One last hug for dad!

When the siren goes off to start the race, I hang in the back of the swim pack. My “race” wasn’t going to begin until the run portion. The swim leg was simply survival. Shockingly, I find myself starting to pass people on the way to the first buoy.

Ready or not, here I go!

Once I get to the first buoy, I remember one of the videos I watched leading up to the race. A woman was standing with a microphone talking to all of the racers and says: “If you can get to the first buoy, you WILL finish the swim. I repeat, if you can get to the first buoy, you WILL finish the swim!” This woman was my little angel as I swam. The first leg of the swim proves to be really hard. A few times, I had to do the breaststroke (no shame in that) to catch my breath. Two other times, I actually rolled over on to my back and kicked just to keep moving forward. This allowed me to rest some more. (Again, I felt no shame.) However, at one point I notice a guy in a kayak keeping a close watch on me and actually pointing at me. Ok, there was some shame in that. I rolled back over, rounded the first buoy and suddenly “found my stroke” as swimmers say.

On the way to the second buoy, I find myself in a steady groove. Wow. Where did this come from? I actually have to keep myself from bumping into people. Could it be possible? Yes, I’m passing people. I chalk this up to my running training. More specifically, my breathing. That’s the key to a good, long run. It’s also the key, I suddenly realize, for a long swim. I picked a fine time to figure this out.

I finished the swim in the middle of the pack (shockingly) and actually passed some people over the second half.

Once I reached the shore, the only person happier than I am is my wife. I later learn she had tears in her eyes when I went into the water. She was REALLY nervous I wouldn’t come out. I run to the bike, somehow pull off a “flying” start (bike shoes clipped into the pedals when mounting the bike), slip my feet in and begin pedaling. The bike leg was the easy part, I tell myself. A few stronger bikers passed me, but I also passed a bunch of stronger swimmers, so I figured it was a wash.

Here I am finishing the bike leg. It was a nice, steady ride. Lots of hills. I got passed by a couple of people, but I was confident that I would catch them on the run. My favorite part came while riding along one of the beautiful country roads. There were four donkeys in a field all lined up, just staring at all the bikes as they rode past. Of course, to amuse myself I had to yell “JACKA__!” at them.

Twenty seven miles later, I arrived at “my race.” The 10k run. I had made mental notes of those who had passed me on the bike leg. With the age of each racer written on the back of his/her right calf, it made it easier to keep track. (There was a 39-year-old woman, a 45-year-old man, a 25-year-old guy who was about 6-feet-4, etc.) I hit the road at my usual 8 min-per-mile pace. Maybe a little faster, maybe a little slower… I wasn’t wearing a watch.

I’m off on the run. The woman in front of me in the shorts is on a relay team. She wasn’t in front of me for long. In total, I passed about 20 people on the run. My plan was simple:  slow and steady on the swim, go hard on the bike, but not so hard that I have nothing left for the run and then… attack the course once my feet hit the pavement. I love it when a plan comes together!

The most humbling portion of the race happens soon after I start the run. The leader of the entire race passes me on his way to the finish line just after I exit the transition area. He was flying! Then again, he’s a pro and finished in about 2:05.

I quickly forget about super-triathlon guy and start picking off runners one by one. Every single runner I was able to get in my sights, I caught and passed. It was a great feeling. That’s the cool thing about triathlons, if you excel in one area, it can really level the playing field. The swimmers get a huge head start, the cyclists can make up ground on the bike, and runners can catch up once the shoes hit the pavement.

I made up so much ground on the run, I stunned my wife as I approached the finish line. She wasn’t expecting me and fumbled to get the camera ready. She almost missed the moment. I crossed the line in 2:46:42 (unofficially) and finish in 35th place out of 85 men. (However, because I wore a wetsuit, I am listed as “disqualified” under USA Triathlon rules. So be it.)

Wow! I actually did it. It wasn’t impossible. And I actually finished with a decent time. If you’re like me and worried about the swim, take the time to learn proper technique, train a few times in a wetsuit (they actually rent them!) and go jump in a lake. Don’t think it’s impossible.

I’m going to steal a line I read in an entry on as I got myself mentally prepared for this race. These are words to live by!

“I won as soon as I answered the starter’s gun.  I cannot measure myself against the others who ran with me today, only the millions who did not; that group that did not try. The millions of people who thought they were too old or it would be too hard. Those who would not face the fear and doubt and overcome it. That group that I was a proud member of for (38) years, but will never be again.”

Do something very few people in the world actually even think about doing. No Really… WTF? JUST GO FOR IT!

And after swimming 1 mile, biking for 27 miles and running for 6.2 miles, what’s a few more laps in the pool with the kids!?

And they were handing out free watermelon in the pool!