It all started innocently enough

author : brumby11
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An impending baby inspires a father to become fit, along the way discovering world of triathlon

It all started innocently enough… with a pregnancy. (Not mine. My wife’s.) And a funny thing happens when you find out you’re going to have a son: you aspire to be the father that a son would want to have. 

Along the way a series of factors conspire against laziness and apathy and, suddenly, you’re a triathlete. At the end of 2009, I discovered that I was going be a dad again and that got me started. 

  • First, I knew that I needed to lose 30 pounds. There's no hiding from the truth when it stares you in the mirror. 
      
  • Second, I decided I should get more life insurance. I knew from the last time around that being sub-192 lbs would get me into the low risk class for my height, resulting in a lower premium. Over 20 years or so, that adds up. 
      
  • Third, my wife, bless her soul, was going to bed early to rest and recover from her days, leaving me to my own devices in the evenings.  As a result I had time to kill and the historical choices for evening solo time had always been bad: work or TV. 

The gym alternative

So I hit the gym. And I hit the salad bar at lunch.  And I hit the scales.  Pretty soon, I had some momentum and felt like I was on a good path to get the weight off.  At the same time, after few weeks I wanted to mix up the workout routine. The elliptical and stationary bike can get a bit boring after a while.  I always knew that swimming was good, and although I wasn’t historically a great swimmer, I threw that into the mix.  Then I dusted off the road bike in the garage and hit the road on the weekends, with permission from the boss, of course.  I started to wonder where all this was going, and on a whim ordered a book from Amazon called "Slow fat triathlete" by Jayne Williams.

For a bloke who has historically been neither fast nor skinny, this was a great starting point. The book demystified the sport, made everything seem achievable, and made me realize that the only thing preventing me from being a triathlete was, well, me.  On top of that, I had a couple of colleagues from work who were avid triathletes – they inspired me.  Along the way, the wonders of modern medical technology told us that our new baby would be a boy.  As one of three boys, and with two daughters already, news of a boy had a real effect on me.  Somehow, I felt like being a father should be different for a son than for daughters.  Now the rational part of me says that there is no real reason that this should be so, but some other part of me wanted to be a different kind of dad.  I wanted to be more athletic, to be the dad who did stuff instead of just watched stuff.  Irrational as it is, I wanted to be able to keep up with my son and be part of his athletic life as much as any other, despite him not being born yet. (Now I realize I want to share that with my daughters, too.)

So now I was committed to triathlon.  I bought another book – "Triathlon 101" by John Mora.  I started running, which progressively required some new running shoes, tights (I know, I know), reflective gear and a head-lamp for my late evening workouts. That was one compromise that I needed to make to fit my new vice in with everything else.  I also borrowed a bike trainer from my mate Samir.  I found BeginnerTriathlete.com and read a lot of great information and advice as well stories from other first-timers. 

I logged my workouts and my weight on the site's Training Log.  And then I signed up for my first triathlon. The Ice-Breaker triathlon is a sprint triathlon at Granite Bay, near Folsom in California.  I planned a whole family weekend around the mid-April event, booked a hotel, and convinced my wife and girls to get up early to watch the event.  I even planned to catch up with some old friends in Folsom the night before. 

Not in the cards

Ultimately it was not to be. Training hard combined with the germ-du-jour from my daughter’s preschool had me sick as a dog in the days leading up to the event. Although I was bitterly disappointed, I had to bail out. Not to be deterred, I signed up a second time for my first triathlon – a month later was the Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon.  Although I was unhappy to wait another month for my first tri, the extra training would come in handy. This sprint was on the long side, and the extra month would help me deliver on the additional 1/4 mi swim, 4 mi bike and 1 mi run over the previous event.

In the lead-up to the race, I did all the right things.  I prepared checklists, developed a race plan, made sure I had all my gear.  I practiced transitions in the living room, with coaching from my daughters.  I did a couple of brick workouts.  I even went for my first open-water swim at Aquatic Park in the San Francisco Bay.  I'm very glad I did that. Although the wetsuit keeps the body relatively warm, experiencing the face-freeze and associated debilitating shock from swimming in cold water like that for the first time was something I was glad to do before the race.  And all this happened under the eyes of my ever-patient and increasingly pregnant wife.

Unfinished business

Race weekend came, and I had tapered well and carbo loaded.  I went to the expo the afternoon before to pick up my packet and catch the race briefing.  The race briefing was helpful – mainly for the lack of surprises.  Most of the information was stuff I already knew, or had assumed, but it was  good to have it affirmed.  Nevertheless, there were some new tidbits about race numbers and course setup that were helpful for a newbie like me. 

One thing that made me proud was grabbing a large T-shirt instead of the traditional XL. The morning of the race I was up at 4:40.  Having pre-packed the car, I quickly prepared my food and hit the road. I ate a bagel with Vegemite (don’t ask, it’s an Aussie thing), banana, coffee and water in the car on the way down there.  I also planned on a Cytomax during transition setup. 

I parked and joined the group of folks pedaling their gear-bags from their cars to the transition zone and felt the air of quiet anticipation.   I was at the transition zone shortly after it opened at 5:30.  Set up my gear, got my chip, got marked and then mingled a little with the folks in transition.  In the lead-up to the event, I had joined the Silicon Valley Triathlon Club, where one of my co-workers is a member.  Due to my odd-timed training habits, I had not yet been to any club trainings or meetings, so it was good to meet some people, and talking was especially nice to calm the nerves.

Pretty soon, after standing in a long conga line for the porta-potties, it was time to hit the water.  I was nervous, I must say.  After watching the Pro/Elites start, I got in the water and swam around a bit to get acclimated.  Luckily the water in Lake Uvas was not as cold as the bay, so I was fine, and making a few strokes helped ease the nerves.  I kept an eye on the next two or three waves to get a sense for the start and then got in position.  I figured that the outside was the best spot for me, a couple of people back from the front of the pack. It would make it only a few feet farther to the first turn and I was sure to avoid the meelee.

Ready to start

The countdown started.  Five, Four, Three, Two, One, GO! So I started swimming.  No massive surge of adrenalin, no angels singing, just swimming.  But it did feel good to be underway.  Not a marathon swim, but quite nice, around a peninsula in the lake.  This meant that all buoys were on the left and you often couldn’t see the rest of the course until you rounded each buoy on the way around the spit of land.  The biggest issue I had was not having a line on the bottom to follow, and so I often found myself prairie-dogging to see where I was headed and adjusting course.  This was the only real problem with my swim I think,  wasting a couple of precious seconds each time.  About half way or so, I started being passed by the leaders from the wave behind.  By this time I was swimming happily on the race line – of course, so were they, so they swam over the top of me, and I caught a few legs and arms along the way.  No biggie.  I was gratified that about this same time I started passing a few laggards in the wave ahead, so I wasn’t totally demoralized by this.  I figured this is about where I’d be.  Luckily for me, there was another guy with a gold cap like mine who was swimming about the same pace.  It was good to have a direct competitor at this point, and pace with him to the finish and up the boat ramp.

T1 was a focus in, well, being focused.  There were people cheering on the way out of the water, I think.  But I was more concerned about trying to emulate what I had seen in the many YouTube transition videos:  wetsuit half-off out of the water, pulling the cap and googles into the sleeve and leave them there; keep moving;  find the bike;  keep moving; stomp wetsuit off; don’t fall over; dry your feet… kinda; lament the amount of grit on the ground in this parking lot-cum-transition zone, and try to quickly remove as much as you can; wonder what it would take for them to street-sweep prior to the race; socks on damp feet; shoes on, buckles clipped; move faster; helmet on and clipped; glasses on; bike in hand; no time for drink, the bottle’s in the cage on the bike; move faster; tapdance quickly out of transition in the clip shoes; mount up; don’t fall over, lots of people are watching; clip in, pedal; clip the other shoe… no, do it properly; go Go GO.

Steady bike

Once I was off, the bike felt good.  I spun up quickly and got into a good rhythm. I peeked at my watch and did a little mental math – I figured that I was maybe a little behind where I wanted to be, time-wise.  My legs felt good and so I opened it up a little, and I found that I was moving a bit faster than the other traffic which was nice.  I was careful not to open up too much, as I knew that there were five miles to traverse with no bike at the end of this thing and needed to keep a bit in reserve.  

Now, my bike is nothing fancy; just a Specialized road bike. It has no aero bits or anything like that. So it felt nice to pass a few folks with similar numbers on their calves riding shiny tri-bikes.  About 1/3 of the way through the ride, a guy passed me from the AG below me, and then I caught up to him on the next uphill.  So he became my pace-guy for the ride. I never caught him again, but I kept him in my sights the whole ride.

Halfway through the ride, the course headed downhill a bit, and there were some tight corners.  These were a bit tough as I was nervous and probably took them a bit cautiously – likely the psychological result of a spill I took on a ride a few years ago, hitting some death pebbles taking a corner on a country road in the (for me) prematurely-ended Wine Country Century.  I definitely have to work on building my confidence descending and cornering.

Then at about the 3/4 mark, a steepish but short uphill sorted us all out.  I was happy to stay out of the uber-granny-gear, although in retrospect this was a small mental victory and likely made no real difference.  It was cool to see some of the better athletes from subsequent age-groups power up the hill on their shiny toys.   In the end, the hill was not a huge deal, nobody walking their bikes or anything like that.  Just a nice bit of variation in an otherwise picturesque and fairly fast-moving course.

Before I knew it I was in transition again: quick dismount at the big white line; more tapdancing back to the rack; hang up the bike; bike shoes and helmet off; running shoes on; thank god for Yankz!; grab race belt and gel; still early and overcast, no sun, leave the hat behind; presto changeo; Run (sort-of).

Pounding the pavement

As usual, the first half-mile felt like wading through progressively thinning molasses. It was no worse than a brick; totally expected.  All things considered, I felt fine, and it was nice to ramp up to a comfortable sustainable pace.  Just as on the bike, I passed a few, was passed by a few.  It was fun and somewhat energizing to see the stronger athletes on the home stretch of this flat-to-undulating out-and-back course.  One thing I learned at the first aid-station:  drinking Gatorade on the move can be a messy and potentially sticky experience.  I have to work on that.

About a mile and a half into it, I was inching up on a guy whose calf told me he was in my bracket.  So I inched towards him, made my pass, and then began inching away from him.  It felt good to pass someone in the run and pick up a placing.  Of course, doing this so early was a mistake,  as I found out later.  In about the fourth mile, I was passed by a pack of faster runners.  It took me a bit to realize it, but my friend had slipped past me in the pack by putting on a little burst.  By the time I figured this out, he was enough ahead of me that I wasn’t able to immediately match him.  And so I saw him inch away from me, thinking “I’ll just put on a spurt towards the end and catch him again."

Of course you know how this ends.  I never caught him.  But in the process I did manage to reel in another guy in my bracket during the last 1/2 mile, which was nice.  I ran down the chute and crossed the line feeling pretty bloody good about the whole affair.

How did I do?  Well, the goal was to finish. 

CHECK. 

Timewise?  I had set myself an overall time goal reflecting on solid training pace each individual legs. And I beat it.  I felt good about that. I discovered afterwards that I had hit my stretch goal of finishing in the top two-thirds of my bracket.  Just missed my super stretch goal of finishing in the top half…  34 out of 64.  Not too shabby for a first timer.   I also deduced that the guy who I lost out to on the run is the same guy who I had been shoulder to shoulder with on the swim.  Based on the times, he was probably just beyond my sight the entire ride, then I caught him in T2 and on the run, only to ultimately lose out to the superior race strategy on the day.  I have to tip my hat to that,  but I’ll be ready next time.  And even if I’m not, it will be a fun race.  

EPILOGUE:  two more triathlons in 2010, including an Olympic distance and another sprint - some decent performances and some injuries along the way.  Then with the birth of our son, I regret to say that I kinda fell off the wagon. I put back on more than half the weight I had lost and fell out of the exercise habit with trying to balance the demands of a newborn, my family and a solid job.  Well it’s 2011 now and I’m back in the swing, getting back to my fighting weight and preparing for this triathlon season.  I want to be healthy and fit and I want triathlon to be part of that.  Hopefully in a year or two my daughters will do their first Tri-for-Kids.  And before too long there will be a jogging stroller for me to push my son (I think they make an IronMan one, don’t they?) And now the money saved on life insurance premiums can pay for a nice new tri-bike. Right, honey?
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date: April 27, 2011

brumby11