First Triathlon Story
Hickory Grove Triathlon Near Colo, IA
Place 189/192 men’s div.
32/32 in age group
I warmed up with a very short swim before most others got to the beach. Being my first tri, I was getting jumpy and nervous as more and more and more people crowded onto the beach. There must have been a hundred other guys with blue swim caps like mine. And we’d all be starting in the second wave! I moved off a ways and dipped my feet back in the water and looked out over the very peaceful lake in the early morning. I took a deep breath and thought about how far I had come to get here. I had only been training for nine and a half weeks. I dropped from 290 lbs to 265 lbs. When I started training I was only able to swim 200 yards in ten minutes, mostly a slow breast stroke and side stroke with little stretches of freestyle. My first actual bike ride was just 7 weeks ago when I got a new bike. It lasted five miles, took a half hour, and I collapsed and almost passed out when I returned home. My first “run” was a mile long and took nearly twenty minutes. Most of which I walked and watched my six year old son run ahead of me and tell me to “come on and run, daddy!” Yet here I was on race day. Actually feeling ready to swim the 500 yards, bike the 15.5 miles, and run the 3.1 miles and do them all in a row. Just finishing would be worth all of the hard work I had put in. My wife and kids were here to cheer me on, as were my parents. All I had to do was the best I could, and have some fun. With that I turned around and headed for the crowd, no longer nervous or anxious.
Swim – 9m 17s
I was able to leave my glasses on the announcer table right near the water exit, so I could pick them up a few steps from the water after the swim. But I spent a long fifteen or twenty minutes before my wave standing and watching the blurry people around me press in. The first wave left and I had six more minutes until my start. It went fast, and somebody from the first wave was exiting the water as they gave us the ten seconds to start call. The horn blared and I was off! I ran into the water and dove, feeling fast and sleek with my shaved body. Yes, I shaved. I was a swimmer in high school twenty years back and I like feeling slippery in the water when I race. Besides, it’ll grow back. I was bunched up with what seemed like a hoard of other people. I remember catching a mouth full of water on one breath that choked me a little. But I have not panicked in the water for decades, so I just coughed it out and took a breath on the other side. I caught an elbow in the forehead, thrown by the very guy who talked me into doing this triathlon in the first place. I was going to smack him back a little, but then somebody cut across behind me, grabbing my ankle and then my butt. I worked my way to the outside of the pack and gave myself about a ten foot buffer from then on. I did cut into the buoys a bit on the turns, but otherwise swam out on my own. I remember rounding the first buoy and spotting the one at the far end. It seemed so very far away. But I got into my groove and just had a fun swim. Before it really registered, I was approaching the second buoy. I passed a lot of people on that long second leg of the triangle, and by the time I turned the second buoy and headed for the finish, the pack had stretched out enough that there were only a few people around me. Before I knew it, my fingers were scraping sand. I popped up and ran up the beach, stopping to grab my glasses. There was a nice hill to climb and a road to cross to get to the transition area, and there were people lining both sides and cheering. I was so startled and pleased by this that I actually ran up the hill smiling! My wife and kids had found an open spot along there to cheer me, and that boosted me even more. I had not really expected to be able to run up that hill. But I did!
T1- 3m 41s
I had been practicing my T1 for a couple of weeks. Rinse feet in my special foot bucket, bike shorts on, shirt on, shoes on, helmet on, grab bike, go, go, go. It had been a mantra in my head before bedtime. Yet somehow when I got there, I couldn’t remember what I wanted to do. I rinsed my feet then grabbed a shoe and slid it on. Then remembered that I wanted to put the bike shorts on first. Off came the shoe, on went the shorts. OK. Now the shoes. On went one shoe. NO WAIT! my brain yelled. YOU WANTED TO DO YOUR SHIRT BEFORE YOUR SHOES! OK, off came the shoe again. I had my shirt halfway on when the thought struck that it really didn’t matter if I had a shoe on to put my shirt on. Duh! So I bent down and put the shoe back on. By this time I noticed that my once cleanly rinsed feet now had grass clippings on them. Shoe off. Rinse feet. Pull the dumb shirt down for Pete’s sake. Shoes back on. Right feet? Yes, right feet. Let’s see, where was I? Rinse, shorts, shirt, shoes… Ah yes, the helmet. On and fastened. Bike off the rack. What am I forgetting? Why are all those people running by me with their bikes? Oh yes… GO, GO, GO! And so what should have taken just a minute or two ended up taking nearly four.
Bike – 1h 03m
I finally got onto my bike and pedaled off past cheering crowds and out onto the road. First thing up was a nice downhill glide. I could have pedaled, but there was a 90 degree turn to the left at the bottom that we had been warned about. It turned out that there was plenty of road before the turn, and I could make the turn at speed with no problem. Then an immediate climb of the corresponding length and grade hit us. Another left turn at the top of that and a gradual climb over the next mile or so on a winding road. All of this time the power bikers were speeding past me. That’s ok though. Ride my race, ride my pace. There was a nice long straightaway with some shallow rollers. I was surprised to look at my computer and see that I was going around 20 – 25 mph! I realized why when I reached the turn around. The wind that had been nudging me along now hit me almost like a fist. It slowed me considerably, and those shallow rollers turned out to be pretty mean to a big guy on a bike riding into the wind! Fortunately the return ride was half as long before we turned right to head back to the park entrance and start another lap. As I rode past the park entrance I saw and heard my cheering section rooting for me. I managed a smile and a wave. Two laps to go. I picked up the pace a little on my second lap, as I was familiar with the course now. Down hill, up hill, long climb, long straightaway with the tailwind where I left it in the highest gear and maintained 22- 25 mph, once even hitting 30 mph on a downhill stretch! Then back into that miserable headwind that ate up all of that time I had gained. As I passed the start again and heard my cheering section again, I waved and smiled again. Some guy on the sidelines then yelled at me “NO! GET DOWN! GET AERO!” And I had to giggle. As if that extra second or two of “getting aero” would make a huge difference between where I would likely finish (back of the pack) and the winners podium. I almost turned around to say “Dude, chill. I just want to have fun and finish!” But by then I was at that sweet, sweet downhill again, which I pedaled. In fact, the whole last lap I pedaled constantly, not wanting to coast down the few hills I had coasted before. I was still feeling pretty good! I passed probably a half dozen people on the bike. But mostly just stayed left and watched others zoom around me!
T2 – 2m 06s
Into T2 my legs were doing the jelly thing. I hung the bike up but noticed that I was on the wrong side of the rack. At least it was not where I had stood to do my first transition. For some reason this was very important to me, so I crawled under my bike to stand on the “right” side. I dropped my helmet and slipped off the bike shorts. Then I grabbed the energy gel the race sponsors had generously provided in the race packet. I have never had an energy gel before, and since they only gave us one, I decided to try it before the run. I squirted a large dollop into my mouth and immediately regretted it. I felt as if a Rainbow Brite doll had crapped raspberry in my mouth. It stuck to every crevice and gummed up my throat making it hard to breathe. I tried to wash it down with the remainder of my home brew gatorade, but ended up leaving the transition area feeling like I was hacking up raspberry poo.
Run 43m 20s
I jogged out onto the trail and was guided by very helpful volunteers. My cheering section had moved again to watch me hobble by. I gave them a smile and a thumbs up and told them I’d see them in an hour or two. I had hoped to run a good majority of the run. In training, I was able to motate for the entire distance, but I couldn’t seem to actually run for more than a half mile to a mile at a stretch. And it always seemed to take a mile and a half of walking and jogging to get up to that. I had a few other things working against me on this day too. I had caught a nice cold that was making it hard to catch my breath anyway, and I hacked a lot of yellow goo onto the road for the bike and the run. Two days before the race after my last swim practice, I decided to try a race start from the beach to make sure my suit would stay in place. I ran into the water and on the last step before I dove I stepped down hard onto a rock. It left a half dollar sized purple bruise in the arch of my right foot. When I walked or jogged on flat surface it didn’t bother me too much. But our race was run about half on grass trails and a couple of stretches on a gravel road besides the nice paved roads that I was used to. Whenever the uneven surface or gravel poked up into my arch, it was like stepping down hard onto an electrified spike. Pain shot up my leg and into my back. I could only go so far doing this before I needed to stop and walk or risk falling down and sobbing like a baby at the pain. The other thing going against me was that 9 1/2 weeks of training was not enough to build the endurance I needed to run non-stop. Especially since the last 3 mile run I did was my last physical fitness test in the Marine Corps about fifteen years ago. But I kept going. I tried to ignore the knife in the sole of my foot. And the other triathletes were incredibly supportive! I can’t count how many others spoke words of encouragement as they passed me. Nobody was harsh or condescending. Just supportive. It really did help! My time ended up about ten seconds faster than the 5K I had run for practice a week and a half back. But considering this was the third time I had gone an entire 3.1 miles, I felt pretty good.
The pictures don’t show it, but I felt like I was grinning from ear to ear when I crossed that finish line. And before you ask, yes I crossed running, and no I didn’t have much energy left. They gave me a water bottle filled with water and took the little timer chip off my ankle. I staggered over to my cheering section and was congratulated by all, with wonderful kisses from very excited kids. My buddy who got me into this was there, too. He had finished a half hour before me. It was his third tri, and he weighs about half what I do. I had accomplished my goal – training for and finishing a sprint triathlon. I felt like a million bucks, even though I finished pretty close to last. The bug has bitten and I know I will do others. The training is actually fun. The races are a blast! I have lots of room to improve, and know exactly what I need to do to get there. But I can say something now that I never thought I’d be able to say… I am a triathlete!
John from Minnesota
Thank you for contacting TriathaNewbie.com and congratulations on completing your first triathlon!
You are a fantastic writer and we’re sure that your story is going to inspire many to get off their couch and start training for their first triathlon. Thanks you for sharing your talents and story with us.
“I had my shirt halfway on when the thought struck that it really didn’t matter if I had a shoe on to put my shirt on. Duh.”
“…a Rainbow Brite doll had crapped raspberry in my mouth..”
“NO! GET DOWN! GET AERO!”
We all laughed out loud on those ones! Ya know, if everything went perfectly, your first time triathlon story wouldn’t be half as memerable and fun to tell.
Again, well done and congratulations!!!! We’d love to hear about triathlon #2! We’re sure that with all of the lessons you learned from your first triathlon, some good training, minus the cold and foot pain, you’ll have another great event!
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