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.
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!
FOR SOME REASON, THEY MARK YOUR AGE ON THE BACK OF YOUR RIGHT CALF AT TRIATHLONS.
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 http://www.beginnertriathlete.com 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!