Baby’s first triathlon

“How are you feeling now, man? You getting nervous yet?”

My buddy, who I had met just two days before at a swim clinic, clearly was. It was five minutes to the start of the Daybreak Triathlon and he was bouncing up and down and grinning madly.

“Naah,” I said, “I’m fine. We’re gonna kill it.”I really wasn’t worried. I probably should have been. My knee was all buggered up from a hockey accident Tuesday. I hadn’t trained in any way since then. I was facing a whole bunch of unknowns in my first tri. But I felt nothing but calm. I think I used up all my worrying over the previous several days.

“OK, man, good luck!” he said. Being younger, he got to start in the first wave and he disappeared down the ramp to the frigid water.

Ten minutes later I was in that water and I was right on the edge of a full blown panic attack. The 58 degree water had shut down all my brain function. I had no idea where I was going, couldn’t see the next buoy, couldn’t breathe. My heart was pounding way too fast. I thought all the hours in the pool and the openwater clinic I took had prepared me for this. I couldn’t have been wronger. This was terrifying and I was on the verge of freakout.

I have no idea what kept me going. Pure dumbass stubborn, I guess. I sighted on the herd of swimmers ahead, hoping they knew where they were going. All those little nuances of stroke I’ve been working on in the pool? Forget that. Just anything that moves me forward. I inelegantly flailed my way around the course, struggling to control my breathing, wandering repeatedly way off track. As a measure of how muddled my thinking was I had a little debate with myself as to whether a triangle course had two or three buoys to round, and I concluded two must be the proper answer. Then I began to panic, because I’d rounded two and I ought be at the end but I wasn’t.

Eventually I made it, somehow. As I came up the ramp out of the water a volunteer grabbed my arm. “Walk this bit! It’s slippery!” he kept urgently telling me, and I couldn’t figure out what he meant; I was in ankle-deep water, I surely wasn’t going to swim it! I only realized what he meant moments later when a woman came running by me, already stripping off her wetsuit. Oh! He meant walk instead of RUN! Like *that* was an option. I was so disoriented and wrung out that walking was a serious effort. I plodded back to the transition area, head down.

The weather forecast had called for rain, wind and temperatures in the 50s, and I knew I’d be cold getting out of the water, so I had brought a great deal of bike clothing. Even though it was in fact sunny and windless I was in no condition to change my plan, so I put it all on, save only the tights. Struggling into all that kit with hands frozen like claws was a slow-motion nightmare. I though I managed pretty well, but the race results show that it took me over seven minutes to get changed into bike kit – third slowest of the ~200 people there, and one of them was a one-legged man who had to attach his prosthetic leg! I had planned on eating here, but my stomach was a knot. Gatorade and Gu would have to get the job done.

Then off on the bike. I’d been worried that my knee would be unable to do the job, but it didn’t hurt at all. The familiar problem of riding a bike was an enormous relief after the crazy scary weird of swimming and I rode for about half-an-hour on pure autopilot while my brain thawed. Finally, somewhere near the little town of Herriman, a woman blew by me. Like everyone, she had her age written on her left calf. 58!! I was being dropped by a 58 year old woman? That woke me up and I began riding in earnest. The rest of the ride was actually fun, and before I knew it I was back at the transition switching to the run. I tried eating again, but managed only one Fig Newton.

While my knee had tolerated the bike pretty well, it turned out it didn’t care for running at all. I made it 50 yards before I had to stop and put on the brace I’d mercifully had the sense to grab as I left the transition zone. That got things back under control.

The run was in two laps. I took the first at an easy pace, smiling and saying hi to everyone, just trying to nurse my knee along. My Spongebob jersey got a lot of cheers from the spectators, which picked me up quite a bit. After one lap I realized I was going to make it. I was going to get there now even if I had to crawl it. So perversely I kicked up the pace, concentrating on the people ahead of me, slowly picking off one after another. It was hard. I wasn’t smiling and waving any more. Pure dumbass stubborn came out again, and I was at max effort when I crossed the finish line.

It’s like a switch flipped in my mind, from “This hurts!” to “I made it!”. Grimace to grin in 0.1 seconds. Because you know what? I made it!

It turns out I was 12th of 14 in my age group, in 2:48. So I nominally made my goal, which was “Finish, preferably not DFL.” But I was slow as hell on the bike, and the run was nearly ten minutes off my record for the distance. And the swim, well, it was as pure a disaster as it could be without having to be rescued.

So I’m sure the next one is going to be *much* better.

Finishing the swim.

Finishing the swim.

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