How can something that hurts so much be so FUN? My first triathlon was this past weekend and I have to say, I am hooked! Up until three months ago, I had never competitively swum, biked, or run. I have always been athletic, playing baseball, wakeboarding, playing basketball, lifting weights, etc...but I never had any significant cardio work or endurance training. I got bored with lifting weights. I had been doing the same ole thing for years...back/bis, chest/tris, legs, shoulders...I looked like I was in excellent shape, but that was far from the truth. Good metabolism was to thank for the looks, but get out on a bike, or on a run with my sister (who just had her second child), and I was toast! The last time I ran with my sister (before I started training), I had to peel off after 30 minutes while she continued on for another 30! In the pool, I couldn't even swim 50 yards without being completely winded and full of pool water that I had inhaled on the way down and back.For the past three months I have been on the bike three times a week, in the pool three times a week, and in my running shoes three times a week. Nine individual workouts every week, consistently for three months. It’s awesome to look back on, as I charted every workout. Towards the end of the training, I almost said, "Screw this...why am I doing this? This is ridiculous!" I have to admit the training was exhausting from time to time, and towards the end was a bit boring. I wish I would have had a group or at least another person to train with. I think that would have helped. Signing up in advance for the event helped, as that served as my motivation. I bought a book, Your First Triathlon by Joe Friel, and wrote the date of the event on the front cover in big black permanent ink. I marked the event date on my Outlook calendar and not a day went by that I didn't think of that date. The book, by the way, was excellent. It contained many helpful tips on diet, training, and event details. My training in the pool was a work in progress. Like I mentioned, I started out swimming only 50 yards at a time. In the beginning I would swim with training paddles and a float between my legs. I found that this was easier for me because the float kept my body at the top of the water, so even though I wasn't kicking, it was much easier. Without the float and the paddles, I struggled to stay on top of the water. It was like I was fighting the water! I knew that in a triathlon I would not be able to use a float and paddles, so I figured I should start practicing without. Over time, I got better and better. The key for me was learning to relax in the water. Once I figured that out, I was fine. I was always so darn tense in the water. If you can stay relaxed, even when pushing yourself and getting tired, you can kick butt in the swim. I can almost fall asleep swimming now, I get so relaxed. To help me relax, I'll even close my eyes in the pool from time to time, knowing how many pulls will get me from one side to the other. In three months I have gone from struggling through a 50-yard freestyle to being able to swim a mile during a 35-minute workout! I am really happy with my swimming progress, but I know there is a lot of room for improvement.Training on the bike started on the stationary bike at the gym, as I didn't have a bike. Eventually I talked my father into "loaning" me his $1200 mountain bike. I put a set of street slicks on it and went with it. I always felt like the bike would be the easiest part of the tri, and the part that I would do the best on. How hard is riding a bike? Not very hard, but riding at 20-25 miles per hour, sustained for 15 miles, I soon realized was hard! Towards the beginning of my training I would just ride as hard as I could and wouldn't really pay attention to my average speed. Once I figured out what that average speed needed to be, that's what I started paying attention to. I wanted to get as close to 20 mph average as often as possible...but it never happened. The closest I came was race day (19.4), which I will talk more about later. Most of my rides were in the 17-19 mph range depending on the terrain of the ride. The bike you ride definitely makes a difference.
Like I said, I started on a Trek mountain bike with street tires. I really didn't want to invest a grand or two in a new street bike not knowing whether or not this would be my first and last tri ever, so I went with what I had. Two weeks before the race I found out that my aunt had a new Specialized street bike that she just doesn't ride. She let me borrow it for the remainder of my training and the race. Not only was I able to increase my average speed, I looked the part. There were some people on mountain bikes race day, but NONE of them passed me, and believe me, I got passed a lot! Everybody who passed me was on sweeeeeet road bikes. Most of them just whizzed right by me, like they were on a freakin’ motorcycle or something! Those were the riders that averaged more like 25 mph. Anyway, my advice to any other first timers would be to do what I did, go with what you have. If you know somebody who will loan you a road bike, jump on it, it will help. Bike training, of the three events, was the most boring for me, I think in large part due to the length of the rides. I would be gone for an hour, hour and a half - by myself. Again, I wish I would have had a few riding buddies to train with.Running. Oh boy. I really don't like to run. Well, I do like to run, but not for more than 100 yards at a time. Running around the bases, from one end of the court to the other...that kind of running is okay. Running to get somewhere way off in the distance - not so fun. My training started out on the treadmill, mostly because it was easier. Wouldn't it be nice if the ground ran with you outside! After talking to a lot of people about running, I learned that running on the treadmill and running outdoors was completely different. This is SO true. I started running outside as often as possible, and tried to run on hilly courses, too. Although they kicked my rear and slowed my times, I found that flat or nearly flat runs became a walk in the park. Three weeks before my race, I sprained my ankle pretty badly running on a trail.
The race course was half off-road, so I figured I should train off-road to get used to the terrain. The first off-road run I did, bam - man down. I really though I had a broken ankle. The pain was unbearable the first night. The doctor gave me an ankle brace and said to take a few days off and ease back into things. I kind of followed his advice...two days later I took a little jog. It felt sooo much better in just two days. Four days after the injury I was able to run at probably 90%, although if I turned it from side to side it still hurt a bit, so I knew it wasn’t 100% healed. It was feeling so good that I decided to run a few times without the brace. Stupid. Six days before the race, bam, man down again. Same exact thing, except this time, I think it was worse. The pain was worse, the swelling was worse, and a few days later, it was all yellow, black, purple, and blue. This was very frustrating, but there was no way in he** I wasn't going to race. I rested it and iced it every day three or four times a day the week prior to the race. I did everything I could to let it get better, but race morning it was still swollen and did not feel that great. The night before the race I went really early to pick up my packet and walked around the event site. I had already been there one time about a month ago, when I rode the bike course and ran the run, so I had some idea of what to expect. When my dad and I arrived, we got out of the car the same time as a mother and her daughter who were there to scout the course out as well. They were really helpful and gave me advice on how to set up and go through the transition. The daughter, who was only 13, was competing. The mother was just there to watch, but looked like she could have entered if she wanted to - she was in great shape herself. The daughter said that her goal was to finish the race in 1.5 hours - that was my goal as well! Nice to know my competition was a 13-year-old girl! Going to the race site the day before and the month before was very helpful. I felt like I knew where I was going, which was a big mental boost race-day. Race morning, while others were all over the place trying to figure things out, I was chillin’ out on the grass with my wife stretching out. I would highly encourage first timers to get course knowledge before race day - it WILL help you. I won't say that I wasn't nervous, because I WAS! I got there 1.5 hours early thinking that I would be one of the first people there - not so much! I was probably one of the last people to arrive! I started to panic a bit and rushed down to the transition area to pick up my timing chip and set up. I did that with ease and had nothing to do for about an hour before the race began. So for about 45 minutes I just hung out with my wife, watched what others were doing, stretched a bit, and got more and more nervous. I decided to swim with my big tie-up ankle brace on. I thought about trying to put it on in transition, but figured it would just take too long. It ended up being no problem at all - I couldn't even tell I had it on in the water. About 15 minutes prior to start I got in the water and did about a 200 yard warm-up.
Then it was race time. I was so nervous during the national anthem, I couldn’t stop shaking! I started towards the back of the pack following the advice of other first-timers. Honestly, I wish I would have got towards the front. There were so many people stopping in front of me and swimmers slower than me, I found it very difficult to get by them all. I think no matter where you start there is going to be some rough stuff at the start - just expect it. My advice would be to get as close to the front and center as possible, unless you know you are just downright slow. By doing that, it becomes other swimmers’ problem to get by you, not yours to get by them. Just about the entire 750m I was passing people. It was tough and took a lot of extra energy to do. I think I underestimated my swimming ability. Oh well, it was my first time - I had NO idea. I made it through the swim in 17 minutes, but felt like I could have done much better had I used a better strategy at the beginning.My T1 went well. I had the second bike rack, which was really nice. I only had to run about twenty feet (with my bike) to exit transition. Others towards the back had to run up a hill with their bikes about 50 yards. I strapped on the helmet, put on my glasses, and slid into my Velcro bike shoes - no socks. I had socks set out and rolled ready to go, but decided it would take to long. My T1 was 1:25 - I thought that was good for first time, but there were many others who did much better.Then I was away on the bike, and feeling good at this point. About a quarter of a mile into the bike, I went over a speed bump and my chain popped off. AAAgh! I jumped off and was able to get it back on in about 30 seconds. This was the best part of the event. I had so much fun racing with other people on the course, even if they were passing me. It was very motivating to get passed: It made me want to push harder. I was doing well, averaging just over 20 mph, exactly where I thought I would be and where I wanted to be. Coming off of the nicest downhill slope on the course and heading into the steepest hill on the course, my chain fell off again!! This time I was downshifting to prepare for the hill and think I just tried to pop through too many gears at one time. This time it wasn't a quick 30 second fix, because the chain got jammed! I had to turn the bike over and mess with it for a couple of minutes. I was soooo irritated. Not only was I losing valuable time, it killed any momentum I had going into that big hill!! Other than the two chain incidents, the bike went really well and was very enjoyable. I even had a couple of nice conversations with other riders along the way. And dang, there were some REALLY fast people out there! I swear I was being passed by motorcycles - all I heard was zzzzzzzip! My average speed was up over 19 and I finished the bike in just over 47 minutes.T2 went well, too...I wish I would have used quick-tie laces, but I didn't have any trouble getting laced up or getting my number on. Although I did almost take off with my helmet on…how funny would that have been!Right out of the transition there was a slight hill. Good gosh, I felt like Sponge Bob from the waist down running that first half mile. The course was two laps. The first lap I ran a bit gingerly on my ankle, because the last thing I wanted to do was hit a stump and not be able to finish. I came out of the first lap feeling good, not very winded or tired at all, and decided to turn it up a notch. (My brother later told me that I looked like an old man coming out of the first lap). My second loop, which was 1.5 miles, was far better. I finished really strong and had plenty of gas crossing the finish line. In hindsight, I would have pushed much harder in the beginning of the run. I think in the back of my head I was always wondering how much juice I had left in the tank. I didn't want to run out of steam before the end. My 5k was 26 minutes flat...really good for me, all things considered. Again, a little different strategy and I think I would have been maybe a minute or two faster. I think my best 5k time prior to race day was around 27 minutes - so I beat that by a good minute!My time was 1hour and 33 minutes...my goal was to be between 1:30 - 1:45, so I am very happy with the way things turned out overall. Not only was my time good in my eyes, I had a blast! What a way to get in shape. I am going to shoot for another sprint this season and see how training goes over the winter. Maybe next year I will step up and tri an Olympic! It was a very competitive group of people, but for the most part it seemed like everybody was competing against themselves. The mother I met the day before was even cheering for me during the race! Her daughter finished up with about the same exact time I had…I think I beat her by about 12 seconds! Good job, I beat a 13 year old girl!! No really, she was unbelievable and will be a force to be reckoned with in a few years!