Today I completed my first ever triathlon…
June 22nd, 2015 I bought a bike, a Trek FX 7.3. This changed my life. This neon green chariot of awesome, which I was eventually riding about 100 miles a week, culminated in riding in the Saint Paul Classic where I road it 50 miles in one go. While on one of my rides in late August (which I thought of in my head at that time as bombing runs, an hour of fun exercise outside, zipping around curves and always pushing for more speed) I wondered what I should do next. I considered actual bike racing but quickly discarded that idea. Competing against single sport athletes was likely going to be a source of frustration, plus looking online didn’t turn up many local newbie friendly events. What else then? A triathlon. I had never swum any distance ever. I despised running at that point. What do you do when you are only passable at one sport? Do three at once.
But it seemed clear to me that this was how I could continue my passion for bike riding as my weight loss goals were becoming a reality and I needed something to keep the motor revving and allow me to set a positive active example for Gabe (Kate too, I suppose but especially at this time being there for Gabe weighed heavily on my thoughts as it does always). I brought this up with the ever fit and active and down for whatever Derek Mooney, he agreed we should do one in 2016 and it was on. For quite some time I didn’t mention this to anyone – as then it would be a real thing that I would need to do. That is how I roll – but eventually I started telling people about it and then it really became a living, breathing thing to pursue.
So what really happened today? I swam, I biked, I ran, I achieved my goals.
Easily the most intimidating part of the Tri for me. Do you know that I do not like deep water? Not in an overt way, but swimming in pools has always given me a tight chest and irrational anxiety. Skiing and even tubing always carried an air of dread for those times when I would be in the deep lake water, swim jacket or no. This was my second swim out into deep lake water (who swims away from a perfect good beach area where you can touch and have fun anyway?) and my first in the competitive/busy environment that is a Triathlon wave start. It was good that we were in the second wave (yellow swim caps!) as it allowed me to watch the younger men and “elites” take off in their blue caps. I was able to see how far out we would be able to walk/run before diving in effectively, as several of the first wave ran in, dove, then stood back up to run farther.
When it was our time to enter the water, I entered middle of the pack but just behind Derek and we both staid upright until the water was quite deep, nearly waste high. We stayed up a little longer because there was a line of guys right in front of us – and we were walking as fast as they were swimming. Finally, it became weedy and it was clear we needed to dive in. The water was slightly warmer than air temperature, probably about 68-70 degrees. It still felt cold and for some reason I had trouble processing the cold intake of water into my mouth (seems like you always get a little) along with the jostling of the people around me. I didn’t really press though, so it wasn’t long before I was in some clear water.
That’s when things went a little south for me. As I hit the first buoy (there was four out and four back) my brain, the part of it that operates at a primal make-sure-I-survive level, registered that I was in deep water. I was paying close attention to my breathing at this point, and I could hear the sharp intake of breath I was taking when I was breathing. This is not good, as it can lead to hyperventilation if you let it really short circuit your breathing for too long. I went probably ten or twelve strokes trying to get it under control and I just could not shut it down. I had to flip over on my back – instantly I was able to get my breathing under control. After a few seconds (felt like minutes) I flipped back over, sighted a buoy and started swimming again. Again, the anxiety kicked in and I lost control over the depth and quality of my breathing. I began to contemplate how I would back out of the big Tri coming up in August that I had already registered for with Derek. Back on my back I went, too wired to be frustrated. Regaining my control, once more I flipped over and started swimming.
And then I was just able to keep swimming. I think all of my pool time paid off. I was pretty much alone at this point, way out of line with the buoys but I diligently worked my way back to the right and got into my groove. I passed a guy resting on a kayak – a blue cap! They had started three minutes before I had. I started passing more yellow cap swimmers and finally reached the buoy where we swam for about 100 of the 800 meters laterally with the beach before turning and coming back. I passed another guy and kept working. Some short time later, I looked to my right and saw a green cap (the next wave, the women, who started an additional three minutes behind us) just fly past me. Uhoh, I thought… then I saw more colored caps. I swore to myself, disappointed with just how slow I must be swimming if I was in a group of green caps! Then I realized they were blue! I was catching whole groups of the slowest blue caps! This realization let me surge the next 200 meters or so where I swam until my hands were hitting the sandy bottom. A whole host of support greeted me on the beach when I came up, cowbell and all. My competition tunnel vision that had gotten me through the swim was still in full force though as I went by and tromped up the hill. In the transition area I was selfishly pleased to see Derek changing out of his wetsuit and into his biking gear. My investment in Tri shoes paid off and while Derek exited transition before I did, it was not by much at all. Of course, that was the last time I would see Derek until he was just a few hundred yards from finishing while I was a little over a mile out! Unfortunately, I took a big swig of Gatorade before getting on my bike – something I had never done during my training sessions or Bricks.
Not nearly so much to talk about here. I got on my bike and mostly passed people. There were a couple of road bikers that passed me, but most were of the crazy Super Bike with full aero wheel varieties. This made me feel better about my preseason bike purchase, without which I would had been about 4 mph slower. That is a lot when it comes to bike speed! Unfortunately, a guy ahead of both Mooney and I took a header on some railroad tracks about four miles into the ~12.5 miles and needed medical attention – ambulances and the whole bit. I was able to catch Matt Shwartz who was riding bike for his team, who I gently razzed as I passed – but he did not take it that way. A t0-do for the week is to make sure he really knows that was in good sportsmanship, I really wasn’t looking to give him a hard time. As I finished the bike, I was greeted in two separate places by family and friends, which gave me some fire heading into transition. The whole step out of shoes on the bike thing is something I need to work on. I ended up stopping just past the dismount line to take my shoes off – I would be taking them off anyway, and that let me run my bike the rest of the way into transition… where I got lost. I went down the wrong row and was really confused for a few heartbeats. I finally figured out what I had done and had to go the full the length of the area and circle back. I quickly changed into my running gear and was back out. Again, in addition to taking pulls off my hydration kit (normal) while riding, I took a big swig of Gatorade.
I set out and after just a bit looked down at my watch. I was unpleasantly surprised to see that I was pushing something like a 6:20 pace (my realistic goal pace is 8:00) and it was not going well. Alarmingly, my stomach was feeling very swollen and a little sour. I slowed up and pushed on, looking down a bit later and saw that I was still tracking a 7:20 mile. I further pulled up on the reigns and tried to focus on good form… but my stomach pain was growing and I felt like it was impacting my ability to breath effectively. Mile one came and went – 8:30 at the mark. Disappointed, but feeling powerless to change my pace effectively, I pinged my legs and got a message back that they were ready to go… but cardio wise I was out of gas. Again, family and friends were there for support as I crossed through what would be the finish area on the out and back portion… I pushed into the trees as far as I could, completely consumed by discomfort in my abdomen. It was like I needed to burp, but there was no burp there – only fullness. As hard as I could, I focused on triggering a gag reflex and finally it happened. I stop and stood and coughed out some water… I started walking, and again managed to cough out some more water. Standing there, hands on my knees, a gal headed back the other way shouted at me, “you got this bro!” I cracked a smile (at least mentally) and got moving again. Soon I was running again and some people who had passed me a few minutes before I was then able to pass. Derek went past me the other way, and I was relieved that I had been able to get through my standing spell before he came by… I was able to keep pushing and the last half of mile two evaporated in another disappointing 8:46… but I was picking up speed. I finished the last mile in 8:07 and managed to really dial it up when I ran past the people yelling support and through the finish line… where I forgot to end my run 🙂 My band says my last .02 mile was run at a 104 minute pace! I guess standing there doesn’t produce a lot of results!
I did place 67th out of an unknown number of people who started the race (probably 160+). My goal was “better than average” so 69 should make the mark! I was aiming for under 1 hour, 30 minutes, and finished in 1 hour, 24 minutes. Additionally, I wanted to finish withing 10 minutes of Mooney, and he finished in 1:15.
I am very lucky to have so much support. Without Kristin as an enabler, this would never have happened. She did so much from watching the kids to sacrificing our together time so I could train… Thank you!
Despite my early swim misgivings, I am doing this again. I am convinced my anxiety can be overcome with additional positive exposure. It was quite a chore to overcome in the pool, I am confident it can be done again.
Gabe was there and got to see it all. He is very proud of what I did and proud of the pictures he took – another goal achieved and maybe the most important.