The Tale of the Journey to My First Triathlon

author : davewg
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My journey began after visiting a friend in the hospital after his wife had just had twins. I noticed immediately that he looked great. He had easily lost 30 pounds since the last time I had seen him.

My journey to my first triathlon began after visiting a friend in the hospital after his wife had just had twins. I noticed immediately that he looked great. He had easily lost 30 pounds since the last time I had seen him. I asked him what he had been up to. He told me that he had been doing triathlons for a while. This really sparked my interest. Triathlons had never been on my radar screen before. I had always been a good athlete. I had played competitive basketball since I was in the 5th grade (I am 31 now), ran here and there a little, but that was about it. Playing basketball led to surgery to repair a torn ACL in 2002, but still I returned from that to play again. From 2003 until the summer of 2005 I played basketball in the mornings 3 days a week with a great group of guys. But eventually people quit showing up to play and I was left with a dilemma; what do I do now?

Where To Start?

After my conversation with my friend about triathlons I went home and began reading about triathlons on the internet. I had no idea that they were this popular. There were a ton of websites dedicated to training, nutrition, coaching techniques, etc...Through my searches I found this website. I read everything I could on the subject. I looked at all the training programs. I read all the first timer articles (all 34 of them) and laughed so hard at some of them I almost cried. September 1, 2005 I embarked on my journey to become a triathlete.

 

I set my first goal; the FloraBama Mullet Man Triathlon on April 22, 2006. I first started with running. I spent the entire month of September getting into running shape. My first run I could only manage 1.5 miles. I was persistent and gradually added a few more minutes each week. Running was hell. I had always hated running, so if I could conquer it first the rest would be easy, right? I was wrong, but I will get to that in a minute. Running got better and before long I was running 3-4 miles pretty easily.

 

In early October 2005 I decided to get a bike. I hadn't ridden a bike since my Schwinn BMX bike when I was kid. I started doing research online and found that there were so many bikes to choose from. Mountain bikes, road bikes, triathlon bikes, and a million different manufactures of each kind. Some were $300, others were $2000 (and I was poor). So I chose economy over really cool and went with a Mercier Galaxy AL road bike (eBay $359.00 special) and was actually pleasantly surprised. I got a lot of bike and performance for the money, and based on the number of people I passed on the bike portion of the triathlon I made a wise decision.

  

Riding a bike was a lot more fun than running, but it was still a challenge. I live in downtown Montgomery, AL which is not really bike friendly. I had to settle for zipping through neighborhoods in the beginning of my riding. I also had to get used to sitting on a bike seat again too. My tail section went numb on many occasions getting used to it. The bike also seems to be the most expensive overall. You don't just need a bike; you need a bike, a helmet, water bottle cage and water bottles, shoes, pedals, spare tubes, a pump, cycling shorts (preferably padded), etc...It seems the list is never-ending. I still need a vehicle bike rack, trainer, and cycling tights for the winter; those things are just going to have to wait.

In November 2005 I joined my local YMCA to start swimming. Remember, I said the run would be the most difficult thing to conquer…I was wrong. The first time I went swimming I thought I was going to drown. I thought that I was in decent shape from running and cycling for a couple months, but I wasn't in swimming shape yet. One thing I learned from training for a triathlon is that you have to be persistent. I didn't get out of shape overnight so I couldn’t expect to get in shape overnight either. Swimming was slow and I spent the first few weeks just trying to catch my breath. I finally broke down and bought the Total Immersion book by Terry Laughlin. Best thing I ever did. Before long I was swimming much better. To this day I am still not a super fast swimmer, but I feel like I am improving every week and I am much more confident and comfortable in the water.

As winter moved in, I started spinning classes at the YMCA to keep myself in cycling shape. I continued the juggling of all three disciplines all the way until April. This task is tough in and of itself. I have wife, three young girls (age six and under), a Doberman, a house I am remodeling, two jobs, and now I was training for a triathlon. Most everyone that I work with thought I was insane. I am insane but that is not the point. I wanted to prove that, even with a hectic lifestyle, it is still possible to train for and complete a triathlon. So many people live life making excuses and I didn't want to be like that.

Which finally brings me to the event itself: the FloraBama Mullet Man Triathlon in Perdido Key, FL/Orange Beach, AL. It was sprint triathlon consisting of a 0.25 mile swim, 18 mile bike, and a 4 mile run. Good distances for me to begin my triathlon career. The same friend who introduced me to triathlons was planning on doing it with me, but unfortunately he was not able to make it. Which meant I was going solo on this one.

The Transition & Pre Race (Start Time: 7:30Am)
I got to the triathlon at about 6:15 am on April 22, 2006. I got body marked and then set out to find a good place to set up my transition. I decided to stay to the far right and picked a rack that would be easy to find and get to after the swim. I made a good choice. I set everything up by watching what everyone else was doing. At about 6:45 when I was done setting up my transition area, my wife took my empty bag and left to go back to the hotel to pickup the kids and my parents. I stretched and then decided to walk around a little to kill some time. I ate a granola bar and sipped some Gatorade.

 

At about 7:05 I decided to make a final pit stop at the Port-O-Potty. This is where things got interesting. As I was standing in line I suddenly realized, "Holy $%#@!, I don't have my goggles." I had left my goggles in my bag. I thought to myself  "don't panic, go to the Port-O-Potty and then find a phone." Well, there was no phone at the FloraBama lounge. I went across the street to a bar and it was closed. The Waffle house next door had no pay phone. Then out of the blue I see a guy standing at the end of the Waffle House entryway with a cell phone. He looks confused like he has no idea why he is standing there with his cell phone (I think maybe he was an angel). I run up to him and ask if there are any public phones anywhere close by. He says, "not that I know of," and then just hands me his phone. I called my wife, no answer. I called my mom's cell and got her. I explain my dire circumstances and tell her I will wait by the road so that they can hand me my goggles as they drive by. With very little time to spare they arrive with the goggles and I proceed to the beach because I am in the 2nd wave to start and we are getting close.

The Swim
As I was walking down the beach to the start I saw the first wave go into the water. I had three minutes until my start. I hadn't really paid attention to the water due to my goggles episode, so when I turned to go into the water to wet my head and put on my swim cap I took my first look. The water was non-triumphant. The waves were terrible and I stood there in awe as I watched the first wave of triathletes fight their way into the water. This did not look fun. I ran over and mingled into the next wave. I made my way towards the back right of the group to stay out of the way of the initial onslaught. Then we were off. The water was a chilly 71 degrees, but because of adrenaline and stupidity I barely noticed. I was in the last 15-20 people of my wave to reach the first buoy. One guy started yelling, "Are we actually moving anywhere or just treading water?" I have the internal body temperature of a furnace, so my goggles quickly fogged up.

 

Waves were coming over the top of us and I just told myself to survive and get to the bike. My swim form went out the window. Three strokes, breathe, three strokes, breathe, happened maybe twice on the whole swim. About halfway through the swim, a large wave came and deposited another swimmer directly on top of me. We did the usual, "Are you ok?" to each other and kept going. I started singing that song that Dory from Finding Nemo sang, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming." My goggles were so fogged up that all I could see was an occasional bobbing head in the distance. I followed the bobbing heads to the end. My wife and parents were glad to see me come out of the water in one piece. My swim time: not worth mentioning. Off to the bike.

The Bike
I made my way up the beach into the sandy and rocky transition area. I took my time and made sure I had everything and then set out. The bike was great. With the beachside condos and hotels blocking the cross wind, I was able to get going pretty good. The only hill was the bridge that goes from Perdido Key Island into Orange Beach, AL; the rest of the ride was flat and fast.

 

I passed more than passed me on the bike. I tried to have fun by waving at people and by saying encouraging words to everyone cycling. I came up on a guy with a 31 on his left calf and said, "Hello there fellow 31 year old." He looked at me like I just spoke Greek and said, "Huh?" I said, "You are 31 years old also." Again, he looked at me like "why are you talking to me?" So I passed him and kept going. It was a beautiful day and I tried to have fun. It wasn't like I was vying for a top 3 finish in my age group so I tried to soak everything in and really enjoy the event. I did. I was so proud of my $359.00 eBay special bike. It held up well. In what seemed like no time at all I finished the 18 miles and was back at the transition.

The Run
The bike to run transition went a lot quicker. I shed all my bike gear and headed out for the run. I ran about 25 feet and realized I didn't have my number belt on and had to run back and put it on. Then I was off. My legs and body started feeling heavy but I plugged along determined not to walk. Just before the turnaround I came up on a really fit, tan looking guy who was walking. As I ran by him I said, "At least we're not running in the sand." Next thing I know he starts running and comes up beside me. He thanked me for speaking to him and decided that if I could run at the current pace he would stay with me to the end. We exchanged names (his name was Chris), and then spent the final two miles talking to one another. We kept each other going. He was tired. I was tired. But we never gave up.

 

As I neared the finish line I spotted my wife with her camera, and my Dad with his camcorder. I was all smiles. I couldn't believe that I was finally done. All those months of training had finally paid off. I was now a triathlete. My wife said she was so proud that she almost started crying. I can't wait to do the next one. I am hooked. Oh, and of course, the next day the water was pristine. Little sixiinch waves lapping on the shore. You know it had to be that way :)

-David

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date: June 5, 2006

davewg