Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My First Triathlon: HIM

At the start of the year the endurance trade pubs are chalk full of hot new training tips, the latest gear and the most fool proof plans. It's that time to sign up for races and kick start our training. All this got me thinking about my first race. That's the beauty of our sport...all of us from pro to age grouper has had to crack the seal on that first race. And unless your name is Scott Schmeiser, a good many of those first races -- especially a first triathlon --  were clunkers.

(just kidding Scott...but seriously, you have never had a bad race, have you.)

Why I remember my first triathlon like it was......

2005 Reed's Lake Triathlon
Grand Rapids - ish, Michigan
SW: 800M
BK: 18mi
RN: 5mi

Text book for how NOT to race your first Triathlon - front to back, beginning to end...training, pre-race, transition set-up, nutrition, gear, apparel....all of it. And by the end of the race...I couldn't wait to do it all again (and again, and again, and again....)

Not much to it. I kept it simple. I didn't know any better. Typical first race stuff....road bike with all the wrong set ups like mountain bike pedals and mtn bike cycling shoes. Really standard first timer stuff. I should mention that I was wearing a tri top for the first time ever and sporting way too short "unisex" tri shorts that I suspect were really meant for chicks since the tri store I went to didn't stock any men size small. Let me paint the word picture....you have your regular bike short length tri shorts -- which 99% of all dudes thankfully wear -- then you have the old school, Dave Scott, go Speedo or go home deal -- which is cool but you gotta have a serious 'A' game to back that up. My shorts were somewhere in between, that is until the leg grippers gave up somewhere between exiting the water and mile 10 on my bike and I finished the race with full on Daisy Dukes (more like Daisy Don'ts - "my eyes! my eyes!").

I went to Reeds Lake armed with a solid running background, a fair amount of bike training but not one stroke of swim training in open water. I was supremely confident nonetheless having just swam a full 800 meters without stopping. For the first time ever. At a lap pool. The week before. When the race started I let the surge get out ahead of me then I took several high knee leaps and dove in and....SAVE ME LORD JESUS I'M GOING TO DIE IN THE WATERY DARKNESS SAVE ME LORD JESUS!!!!! Why was the water so dark?! Where was the line at the bottom of the pool?! Why did my tri top feel like a victorian corset?! I quickly unzipped my top and flipped onto my back....mind you I am all of 25 meters from the swim start. And that's the way the rest of the swim went for me. I never put my face back in the water. I breast and back stroked my way through 800 meters of this mildly pedestrian out and back course. And not the cool olympic kind of back stroke either...noooooo, I did that weird upside down tadpole survival back stroke that you see old men doing at the lap pool. 800 meters in just over 24 minutes. The whole next wave of swimmers passed and finished ahead of me as did most of the wave after that. I saw Jen as I exited the water and can specifically remember saying that I would never do that again. Ever.

Bike course was out and back -- east then west...so directly into the sun. So I ask you...what's got two thumbs and forgot his sunglasses in transition? This guy! I couldn't see anything. I carried one bottle of water and had one gel with me. I was hyperventilating from the swim and my nose was out of control with a right proper build up of post swim nasal congestion....which is the perfect time to stick an entire gel in your mouth. Unable to swallow or breath I spit out the entire gel....and by spit out I mean I gaped my mouth open to gasp some air....which went just as you would expect... an entire Clif Mocha Gel Shot splattered across the side of my face and in my ear. I spent the rest of the ride and the rest of my water showering down...spewed gel be everywhere and all over.

Determined that this race would not be a total FAIL, I did my best to hammer down during the run. But this was the first time I had ever run off the bike. Wow and wow. I somehow recovered and used the run to pick people off one at a time....just to give me some sort of satisfaction. I finished the 5 miles in a bit over 35 minutes for a 7:05/mi pace. I remember the finish being really anonymous (Jen had been cheering back on the course so was still making her way to transition) and kind of anticlimactic. Even though I totally had no idea what I was doing....I did it. I was really proud that I didn't give up. I don't think I've ever felt that satisfied with a race result.

The Triathlife would love to hear more first race stories (or any crazy race stories). C'mon...The Triathlife is a safe place to share...we promise to keep our snarky comments to a minimum;)



nicole said...

Thank you for this.

I tend to think that all triathletes besides myself totally know what they're doing, have all the right gear, and exude confidence at all times. Even now that I'm a wee bit more experienced, I still usually feel like a newb out on the course. This is a good reminder that everyone comes to triathlon from the same humble starting point. It's also a good reflection to think about how far we've come!

My first one was notable for what happened the day before the race: I got to the expo terrified about water temps, psyched myself out listening to all the other frenzied ladies, had to down nearly a full bottle of pepto to combat race nerves about said water temps and lack of a wetsuit, then noticed all the toned, tight, amazon-looking women walking around and totally freaked out at my perceived mushiness and lack of gear and preparation.

Turned out I was freaking out over nothing. The water temp was fine and my training prepared me well for the course. I finished asking "when's the next one?"

That said, if I ever become a professional triathlete (yeah right!), I'm pretty sure my only sponsor would be Pepto.

J2 said...

Thanks Nicole. Its when you stop having nerves that you should be concerned. That's when you stop feeling alive and excited to race. Its just a matter of what you do with the nerves. I've been able to control mine although I was shaking uncontrollably before IMWI;) Check out what male pro super stud Andy Potts has to do to combat panic attacks before each race (http://triathlon.competitor.com/2013/02/training/how-the-sports-best-swimmer-avoids-panic-attacks_70294):

Liz Waterstraat said...

I forgot to sign up for my first triathlon, which I had trained months for. I competed as another person. Totally illegal start into the sport. It was one of those women's races. I knew how to swim but once in the water, breaststroked the entire way. Rode a boyfriend's mountain bike. Then, stopped in T2 to brush my hair and put in a headband. An auspicious start for sure :)

J2 said...

Liz - the hairbrushing is classic!