Reflections on my First Tri

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Aunt and Nephew do their first Sprint Triathlon together

My first tri was a great aunt-nephew bonding experience.  I’m in New York, he’s in Boston.  I’m a 51-year-old writer and fitness pro, he’s a busy 17-year-old high school senior.  In June I suggest we do our first triathlon together and chose the September Hyannis Sprint  as the perfect ‘starter’ tri: beautiful spot, not too many people (1000 max.), plenty of time to train, and most crucially, manageable.  Yes – we still had to negotiate three sports in a row, an ocean swim with bodies all around us (no-joke proprioception), and the newness of ‘the transition’.  But it was doable, with the swim a sober ¼ mile, the cycle 10 miles, and a 3.5 mile run.

We were not doing this for speed, or placement, or even ranking.  Our goal was to race together, to complete the event with reasonable efficiency and without injury; to have fun.

Jeremy is athletic and on the track team so running is his strong point.  He cycles.  Like most triathletes swimming is his weak link so I advised him to practice, and we worked out how many laps equaled ¼ mile in his local pool.  I, on the other hand, am a strong swimmer, and with my non-slick hybrid bike enter gung-ho into a training schedule, swimming or biking or running each day, with twice/weekly strength training focused on tri-specific movement, and a day for rest and recovery.  I bow once again to the genius of Joe Friel.

I dive deeper into food and fuel.  I discover glucose-filled dates as natural energy and coconut oil as lubrication with its medium-chain, quickly-digestible triglycerides.  I buy an even bigger tub of protein powder.  I wonder about alcohol and its effect on my training. 

Week five I go overboard and hurt myself, I think, during an endorphin-rush-run when I launch into speed/lateral drills and backward jogging. The knee pain is intense and it hurts to walk.  The orthopedist did his manipulations, took x-rays, said it didn’t seem serious and nothing obvious was broken.  Yes, it could be a meniscal tear and one could MRI it but we agreed it could also be inflammation, so I stopped running, swam and cycled with care, and monitored how I felt.  

Two weeks before the race Jeremy and I do practice ocean swims. I bring him a new pair of good goggles to replace his cheapo pair. We wear (borrowed) wetsuits for the first time, the water is 63 degrees and bloody freezing, but after the initial shock it’s great to swim and feel the challenge
of the current.  We are seriously pumped.

One week before the race I nervously do my first run in five weeks - a three-miler – to be sure that I can.  It feels good to pound the pavement again.  Nothing hurts.  I am thrilled.  I thank the Fitness God for muscle memory.

The night before the race we pick up our packets, and organize that Jeremy will swim with my age wave, #11, which I take as a good-luck sign and which he is perfectly happy to do.  We eat a carbohydrate-loaded pasta dinner with vegetables and protein.  I read that several Ironmen drink beer the night before their race, so I have wine with dinner.

Before we go to our respective bedrooms, Jeremy turns to me with a fist pump and says “Let’s do this!”

Race Day!   Up at 5:15 am.  It’s dark outside as we eat our no-fat, complex carb breakfast.  As I get a cup of coffee Jeremy yells “Don’t drink coffee!  You have to be natural!”  I tell the young whippersnapper to relax.

We load up the car. I am using my sister’s road bike which I have not trained on but have ridden in the past.  The weather is perfect, seventy degrees and not a cloud in the sky.   We approach the transition area and the excitement is palpable.  All these athletes!  So many shapes and sizes!  So much energy!

As it happens, this triathlon took place one day before the ten-year anniversary of 9/11.  Imagine 950 athletes on a sun-filled beach observing a moment of silence in memorial and then singing the national anthem.  It was beautiful: living proof that multisport is a universal pursuit transcending age, gender, race and culture.

3-2-1 GO!     

The Swim.  As we run into the water my plan is to stay at the back on the inside; Jeremy is staying back/outside.  The water is cold but not freezing and I tell myself, again, to relax and breathe easy. 

I’m thinking pace, not speed.  I’m doing my freestyle with long strokes and feeling good as I round the first buoy.  No one has kicked me yet.  I sense an open space and turn over for three or four backstrokes.  I turn back, round the second buoy and head for shore.  I get out of the water, exhilarated.  My sister shouts “Great Job!” and takes my photograph.

Transition 1. My knees buckle a bit as I run on sand to the transition area.  (Jeremy’s bike is in a different place and we’d agreed to meet at the entrance to the bike/run.)  Wetsuit comes off, shorts and sneaks on, tank top, helmet.  I see Jeremy waiting for me and we head out of the transition area.

The Bike.  I start pedaling, excited to be on the second leg of the race.  I soon become aware that I am not at all ‘one’ with my bicycle, and feel for the first time how important one’s bicycle is in triathlon.  (I make a mental note for future reference.)  After ten minutes I sense a bit of muscle fatigue and I slow down. The ride is beautiful – through the woods, along the water, past green rolling-hill golf courses. I say hello to the policemen pointing us onwards.  Jeremy and I are totally present as we alternate one in front, one in back.  A 78-year-old woman cycles by.  I love fitness.

Transition 2. Nice and easy, I put the bike away, remove my helmet, run to meet Jeremy, and we’re on our way.

The Run.  I am pleasantly surprised at how strong I feel at the start of the run.  Jeremy interestingly is feeling his legs and is tired. But he gets his groove on and suggests I lengthen my stride and lift my knees a bit which I do, keeping to his pace. 

It’s very warm out but I’m liking the sweat and notice how good it feels to just be using my legs.  With a ½ mile to go I feel winded and stop for twenty seconds but snap out of it as I dig deep and push it out heading to the finish.

Jeremy has given me strict instructions that we are to raise our arms in the air as we cross the finish line, which we do, with high-fives, hugs, and a great sense of accomplishment. We’re feeling our athleticism and loving that we did this, our first triathlon, together.  It’s a day we will always remember.      

Anne Etra    www.etrawords.com   

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date: November 21, 2011

etra77