So I finally sacked-up and ran my first-ever triathlon this weekend and man, let me tell you, it was A BITCH! I enjoyed it (afterwards) and I'll be doing it again....but wow. This was definitely a learning experience.
My day began at 4:30am. The alarm wasn't going off for another half-hour but I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep...my mind was racing already (rock me!). I had to be in McKinney by 6:15 so I needed to be out the door by 5:30. So I got up, had a protein shake, finished packing my race bag and headed out.
I met up with Henrik at about 6:30 where he so graciously delivered a bike for me to use. A bike, I might add, that I'd never seen before...much less ridden. In retrospect, this was piss-poor-planning on my part. Spilled milk, though...whatever. I'll get to that later.
We made it to the transition area where the volunteers wrote our race numbers all over us with magic marker. (That was kinda cool, actually. Not sure why, but it was.) Henrik showed me how to best set up my area and gave me a quick run-down of what to expect during my transitions from swim to bike and bike to run. After fielding all of my questions, we headed over to the lake where the swim would take place.
Now, out of all 3 events (swim/bike/run) I was sure that I'd do the best in the water. I swam some in high school and I've been training A LOT in the pool....so I thought this would be my strength. Well, had it been in a pool, maybe it would have. But an open-water swim is NOTHING like swimming in a pool. In a lane. By yourself.
This is not that. At all. Not even a little bit.
The starter gets everyone in my group into the water. We paddle out to a buoy where we're to tread-water until they give us the "official" start. 60-70 guys just treading water in one big bunch. Hmmm....how the hell is this going to work?
At the word "go" we all took off in this chaotic mess of arms, legs, and water. I couldn't see shit. I couldn't swim, either. I'd try to stroke, but my hand or arm would land on someone else...there was no "traction" at all. In addition to that little hiccup, I was being bludgeoned with arms and feet in the head, face, back, arms, and legs by the other swimmers. It was INSANE! My goggles were pulled down my face and were at one point just dangling around my neck like a necklace.
So you expend all this energy and effort to simply fight for position. (And in my case, fight to tread water while putting your damn goggles back on!) Forget about the fact that there is still a half-mile's worth of watery terrain to be covered before you can get out, you need to stay above the water to breathe! It was nuts, man....very intense. At one point I was sure that they were going to have to pull me into one of the many small "safety" boats around (just as we'd seen happen to a couple other people in the previous wave) so I wouldn't fucking drown but somehow, some way, I was able to finish. I had a pretty shitty time...like 18 minutes and change, but I finished it. And come to find out, I did better than a lot of people in this event.
I limped out of the lake. Most people who compete run from the water to the transition area to get their bike. I was so exhausted that I could barely manage to walk. Oh, and I might as well tell you that I had to stop and puke a few times on my way to my bike, too. Nice, huh? One volunteer said to me, "Hey 789 (my race number), you need some help?" And I wanted to say, "Hell yeah, can you give me a ride to the finish line?" but all I could muster was, "No...just struggling." It would have been SO easy and convenient to quit and blow it all off at that point...but that wasn't going to happen.
Now I'm on the bike, which I've never ridden before, for a nice 12 mile jaunt. Did I mention that I've never ridden this bike before? Yeah. Great. So, as I'm settling in, the first thing I realize is that the toe-clips are too tight to get my shoes in completely which isn't good. You want to be able to pull-up as well as press-down on the pedals for maximum efficiency and ill-fitting toe-clips puts the kabosh on that idea quickly. But I decide to press on because to be perfectly honest, that was the least of my concerns. I was still so exhausted from the swim that I was still in tunnel-vision. Seriously. You know, when everything is sort of black around the edges of your field of view? I assumed it would go away and it did a bit later.
What seemed more alarming now was that I had no idea how to work the gears on this bike. Henrik told me that one of the derailers was broken so I only had 12 gears instead of the normal 24. No big deal. But since you no longer move a gear-lever up and down like you did 20 years ago, I had no idea which way to shift using the brake levers; which on really nice bikes like this one, you just sort of push the brake lever to one side and the gears engage. The problem was, I'd never ridden a "nice" racing bike before! Part of it, too, was that for the first 6 miles or so I was living in a very surreal state of mind...probably from the oxygen deficiency I picked up in that damn lake, I'm sure.
At any rate, I ended up finishing that leg feeling a lot better than when I started it. My time suffered the most here. The 12 mile bike that should've taken me a half-hour took 48 minutes with the vomiting, sloth-like transition, and bicycle-related technical difficulties.
As I'm dismounting the bike in transition, where I'd ditch it in exchange for my racing belt and sunglasses, I noticed that my left calf seized up again. It happened the first time on the puke-walk from the lake to the bike, but I was paying more attention to the simple fact that I was still alive at that point and was just elated to be out of the water. Now, though, I had to think about running a 5k with a semi-bad wheel. I quickly came to a conclusion; just go.
About 200 yards into my run, I see Henrik finishing his run. DAMN! In passing he says, "finish strong, dude" and that was exactly what I intended to do. He had just ran a half Iron-Man a month ago and does these sprint triathlons all of the time. He's an animal and I have more respect for him today than I ever have before. I, on the other hand, am a complete newbie...just struggling to finish...but that very short pep-talk put some gas in my tank.
All things considered, I had a pretty good run - 3.1 miles in 29 minutes. I did have to walk a little bit in a couple spots, but I was fucking exhausted! What else?! At least I was no longer in danger of drowning or having to be shamefully extracted from the race by volunteers. I did sprint (that's a relative term, I'm sure) the last couple hundred yards and crossed the finish line feeling like a million bucks.
I was tired and a little beat-up, but the feeling of accomplishment took the sting out of all that. Well, until I saw the results, that is.
Out of the 371 participants that actually finished the race, my official ranking was a very sad 328. I don't know how many didn't finish it...could've been another 50 people or more based on what I've heard today, but I'm obviously not real happy with my performance. First time, though....screw it.
I'll definitely be more prepared next time. Maybe I'll train for a little 10k run or something to keep in shape while I decide how I want to proceed from here. The only thing I do know is that I could've done much better...and I will next time.