July 10, 2016.
I ran my first triathlon this weekend and had a blast. I met some great people who supported me and I finished in a respectable time. One thing I’ve learned is that a shrinking violet is no way to go through life. Take that chance to look foolish and crush the ego.
In hindsight, I could have trained harder for the run. Running, although not as difficult mentally as the swim, is not my forte. I’m not fast. Slow and low was how I ran. I think a lot of it has to do with my stride and unwillingness to puke.But let’s start at the beginning.
I woke up at 4AM the morning of the race, but lay in bed for an additional 15 minutes which drives Jenn nuts. When my alarm goes off (Rock Clock!), she wants me to get up. But I let my mind wander for a bit, thinking about the day to come.
I had prepped well and everything I needed was already in the car, sans water bottles and my bike. I had time for coffee and even an egg and toast. A nice, leisurely morning before I took my first step on the journey that is tri. I jumped in the car, still dark out, and pushed play on the “Tri” playlist I had created for myself on Spotify. “You Make My Dreams Come True”, oooh oooh! I had songs that were happy. Nothing about crushing my time, beating other people, etc. Just stuff to lift me up. Bob joined in, Van Halen, Journey, Rick Springfield, and The Outfield. All happily singing along on my 30 minute ride to the starting line. No traffic. Dark. Warm out. Perfect.
As I got close, I got in line behind a few other cars with bikes on the back (hell, who else is going to be driving around at 5AM on a Sunday?). I parked, got my stuff, unhooked my bike, and walked over to the transition area where other athletes were getting ready. There was a buzz of energy and a lot of smiling faces. I put my stuff down (awkwardly) asking the official if I was doing it right… which I was… because ya know, this isn’t tough stuff, it just provides enough room for the ego to come knocking to say “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING!”. Asshole.
After getting situated, I went to get branded. Branded with my number (233) on each arm and my age on my right calf. 44! Well, it’s your age at the end of the year. So… ok. The cool thing about the branding is that the Sharpie doesn’t go away for a few days, so you get to walk around with this badge of courage, letting other people know you’re a badass that does tris. Branded, energized, nervous, I do what I do… start talking to people. This guy, Perry, was right next to me, #232. A country fella from Goldsboro with a long pony tail, most likely Native American, but I didn’t ask. GREAT guy who had lots of stories, the most recent of which was the Ironman in Raleigh. I listened eagerly. I’m a bit in awe as this is something I want to do someday but have no idea how I will survive the swim. We chat and I meet his buddy Clark, and I am now FB friends with both. It’s funny how you can create contacts and relationships so quickly; all you have do to is act and be humble. Be the change.
We all walk to the pool, but still have a long time to wait until we start. They do it by swim time, and I think I guessed something like 6:10, which meant my start time was somewhere around 7:58AM. Soon after we enter the area where the pool is, I felt a tug on my elbow: Jenn and the kids are here! Kisses, hugs, “good lucks”. Jenn’s smile is ear to ear. I can still see it. I smile.
Laughing, we get in the pool as Jenn, Mia and Zoe take pictures and videos. I finally get to the head of the line, goggles on, finger on watch button waiting for the guy behind me to say “GO”. Funny thing, I meditated in that time. It seemed to last much longer than it actually did. I swam backwards into my mind as I waited to begin something I was honestly scared of and thrilled by. I cherished those 15 seconds. The seconds before I would be pushed off of the diving board into the world of triathletes. Cool. I let go.
My swim was as expected and is still a challenge. I have a problem getting my head to the side to breathe. It’s a mental problem that I know I will overcome, but I feel like I’m going to drown by swallowing the entire pool. The swim was tough, especially with my lack of skill. To my surprise, however, I did not get passed! A small win.My watch said I finished in 5:45 minutes, but my official swim time was more like 6:15 (not a bad guess).
Out of the pool, a grin on my face, I wobble drunkenly out the door. Where’s the Corona?
Holy shit! I have to get on my bike. Flashback: I had mentally marked out where I had put my bike (edge of building) but when I ran out, I looked for my number. The numbers, coming in from the pool side, went high to low. But in my mind, I was thinking low to high as I entered from the other in when I first got to the transition area… did I pass my bike? I panicked a little.Shit! Here’s where the help comes in. I look up and see Perry there, helmet on, waving me over. Gratitude. Damn that was awesome. So many little things went right on this race, this was one. TIP #1, pre-race, walk the course from the pool to your bike, not your bike to the pool to get your bearing.
The kids and Jenn are there. Right beside me on the other side of the gate as I put on my clothes. I drink my C4, dry my feet, get my shorts on, but can’t get my shirt on. It probably took me 20 seconds, which is long when you are fighting against time. My wet body would not let the new Under Armour shirt slip on. TIP #2 practice putting on the clothes you will wear while you are wet (assuming you do not have a tri suit on).
I walk my bike out to the gate, snap my helmet, get on the bike and… STOP! The official stops me because I am not supposed to get on the bike until I pass the “Mount” sign. Oops. My bad. Tip #3, look for the “Mount” signs.
Once on the bike, I was rocking it. The “new” 2008 Felt S32 I bought worked flawlessly and was so light underneath me. I felt strong as I switched gears on my way 5 miles down the hot asphalt road, cooly gliding out through the spectators. Cars passed since this was an open course, but it did not matter because I was confident and strong. I was in the zone and starting passing other cyclists. Changing the gears on the aero bars made me feel invincible and technical, like I had figured something out. Like I was a triathlete. Sweet dude.
A thing I like to do at races is to thank the volunteers and the police. As I fly by, I say thank you. I get smiles and “good job”s. I really do appreciate that these people want to get out there and help. Again, gratitude kicks in.
I hit 5 miles and turn around. As I duck my head into the wind, leaning on my aero bars, I am mesmerized by the road underneath me flowing light water speckled with little diamonds. It’s a blur and all I hear is my breath and my wheels on the road. It was zen-like.
I pass a few more folks and then turn in. Jenn and the kids are cheering me on. I take off the helmet, put on my hat, and I’m off… in the wrong direction as I run to the bike exit. Tip #4, pre-race, walk the course from the bike to the run, not the run to the bike. Mentally put the Legos together. Good tip.
I run out, gasping for air, but determined. Fuck, this sucks. I’m frigging tired. I run up the hill and then stop, knowing the kids will come around the corner any second and I’ll have to show how strong I am and that none of this really bothers me. I pick up the pace, make the first turn and run down the hill. At this time, the kids begin running with me, which is something I will never forget. Jenn got a great picture.
It’s hot. In the mid 80s with a lot of humidity. I run up the hill, turn, grab some water (say thank you) and begin running down doing Gallow-walking all the way. I get down the hill, make the final turn. I’m an eighth of a mile from the finish. I run down the finish line, the kids on my tail. The DJ calling my number and name.
I FINISHED! I didn’t bonk. I didn’t get hurt. I didn’t have much of anything go wrong. Awesome. I get some water and then Jenn, the kids and I go over to cheer on more runners. Done.
On a somber note, one of Perry’s teammates had a heart attack during the race and died on the course. This guy, mid-50s, had just completed the 70.3 Ironman in Raleigh. How could this little sprint trip him up? It reminded me that life is precious and believe it or not, death is an option when doing these races. I have seen plenty of people go down during races, but never a death. My thoughts go out to his family. Stay healthy my friends.