I am not 100% sure what prompted me to decide I wanted to compete in a triathlon; but sometime around last year I googled Boston Triathlon and came across The Boston Tri. I had just missed the event by a week. Regardless, I wouldn’t have been able to compete with no training–so my goal was to spend the entire next year preparing for my first triathlon.
Throughout the following fall, winter and spring I swam 3-4 times a week. This was an excellent use of my time as I was also plagued by a myriad of running related injuries (all of them). Swimming was also a great way to avoid the bitter, harsh winter we endured here in New England.
Up to this point I hadn’t really invested too much in the way of gear–save a swim cap and googles. But on the heels of Summer it was clear I needed a few crucial things necessary for competing in a triathlon; namely… a bike (cha-ching). Oh, and a wet suit (cha-ching), a tri-suit (cha-ching) and a whole bunch of other crap (cha-ching). Some people have said, “you don’t need all of those things,” but I contend, formally now and by affidavit later, “I need all of the things.”
And so, the real training began, e.g. a few long rides on the bike and lots of open water swims.
The biggest and most helpful piece of advice I’ve been given, and that I would gladly pass along to any new triathlete, is this: if you’ve never competed in a triathlon a modicum of open water swimming experience is a must. [Read about my first open water swim here]. OWS is an entirely different beast than the confines of a pool. It’s taken me many outings but, oddly, swimming in open water has made me a better swimmer. Even in the pool my swimming has become more relaxed which in turn has also made me faster.
Because life is full of surprises I ended up experiencing my first triathlon ahead of schedule.
A few weeks ago my friend Maartje suggested I run The Capitol City Triathlon in Concord, New Hampshire. It was spur of the moment, but after researching the race, it seemed like a more perfect first triathlon–this is to say, way fewer participants and a shorter swim replete with a beginner wave.
Just so there’s no confusion, triathlons come in several distances: sprint, olympic/international, half Ironman and full Ironman. The sprint distance is as implicit as it sounds and each leg of the race can vary depending on the course. For example, The Capitol City sprint triathlon is 1/3 mile swim, a 15 mile ride followed by a 5k run. In comparison the Boston Tri, also a sprint, is a 1/2 mile swim, a 9 mile ride and a 4 mile run. The Olympic/International distance is always a 1.5k swim, a 40k ride and a 10k run. And then there’s the Ironman–which is some crazy fucking shit: a 2.4 mile swim (What??) a 112 mile ride followed by a 26.2 mile run–a full marathon. (To expedite this paragraph a half Ironman needs no further explanation.) So if you see a sticker on a car that reads 70.3 or 140.6 this is basically the equivalent of “let’s all put our dicks on the table.”
The first part of a triathlon is setting up your gear in the transition area. This in itself requires some strategy and forethought. I should mention that during a triathlon times are given not only for the respective swim, bike and run, but also for the transition time between the swim and the bike, and the transition time from the bike into the run. As you can imagine, being efficient and well-prepared in the transition area can shave off serious minutes. For example, I left the laces in my running shoes tied in THREE KNOTS. So while I transitioned from the bike to the run I spent a full two minutes just trying to undo a total of SIX KNOTS. Lesson learned.
The most nerve wracking part of the race was the anticipation of getting into the water while standing around in a wet suit. Every time the announcer abruptly screamed into the microphone I could feel an intense injection of cortisol race through my system. This is not a good feeling especially at the start of a swim.
My stomach also felt weird. Peeing in a wet suit is encouraged. Pooping in a wet suit–not so much. I debated for a few minutes if I should hit the port-a-john before my wave. The race had already begun and my group was two starts away. I figured I had four minutes to make this happen. Of course, I don’t need to tell you the logistics of getting out of a wet suit and a tri suit to take a poop. You are probably thinking, “why didn’t you poop before the race?” I did; however, this was an emergency nervous poop.
Unfortunately in triathlons there is no award or time given for the transition from poop to swim, because for this specific transition: nailed it. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was running to the swim start while zipping up. I am very, very glad I did not try and hold it in.
There were maybe 20 people in the men’s beginner wave. I remember thinking how far 1/3 mile looks when you are eye-level with the water. 1/3 of a mile looks like infinity miles–like one can see the curvature of the Earth. I mostly just didn’t want to get that dreaded sinking panicky feeling.
I started with a crawl and tried to get my face down… but I just couldn’t get relaxed enough. The first leg of the swim was along the shore of the Merrimack River and then took a right out into the middle of the river. As I was taking the turn around the first buoy either the current or the wind blew this enormous inflated over-sized donut of a buoy into my head. I’m not sure how this happened, but then my leg got caught in the buoy’s rope. So there I am trying to push this thing away from me totally unaware that I am smashing it back into some other poor soul trying to get around the same buoy.
There were only two or so kayaks in the water–but I remember thinking, “OK, if I get into trouble, there is nooooo way that kayak is getting over here anytime soon”. My strategy for staying calm was to just think about getting to the next buoy… and then the next buoy. By the home stretch I was feeling more confident and able to get my face down and swim a little more efficiently. My last timed 1/3 of a mile in the pool was 13 minutes flat. My first triathlon 1/3 swim was 13:30. So, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected.
The biking is probably the part I have worked on the least. I felt I rode fairly aggressively and was able to catch up with some of the previous waves. The hills on this course were brutal–but I suppose to be expected in New Hampshire.
By the time I returned to the transition area for the run I was feeling really good, tired but good. And yes, running after all of the above was tough, especially the knot untying, but I ended up pulling out a 23 minute 5k–nowhere near my PR.
So… let me say this. Even though this was
only a sprint triathlon it was certainly one of the toughest races of my life. It’s also something I’ve worked fairly hard at so it’s a nice reward to know that I was able to do it. I finished 68th overall with a swim just below average, a ride just above average and a run far above average.
Next week is the Boston Tri where the start waves will be five times as large with a total field of over 600 people. It will also be in the ocean. So, I wish I could say I am ready or that this previous success somehow mitigates any anxiety–but truthfully I am just as on edge. I’ll be in a regular starting wave with a bunch of fast mother fucking 40-year olds. Seriously, what is up with that? Look at these results… of the top ten finishers, SIX are dudes over 40.
Wish me luck and that I don’t have another nervous poop emergency.
PS You can see me at the 2:00 mark on the left side of the frame with a green swim cap and a long-sleeved wetsuit. Not pooping.