My First Triathlon: Pleasanton

author : drunkpeter
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I signed up for a Sprint in July, an Olympic distance in September, and the Alcatraz tri in October. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it all the way.

I decided that it was time to set myself a new physical goal - it had been a long time since I had accomplished an athletic task. I played basketball and ran track in high school, and I've done a number of century bike rides. Now, at 30 years old, I realized that I missed the feeling of crossing a finish line, of feeling proud to get to the end. I've never been an elite athlete by any means, but I have always done well enough to feel good about myself.

The choice was this: a marathon, a triathlon, or the Mount Whitney bike race. After a few days, I decided that running was too monotonous, and I've already done a lot of biking. Plus, I'm a terrible swimmer, so a new skill would be fun to work on. So I got on the web, and I signed up for a Sprint in July, an Olympic distance in September, and the Alcatraz tri in October. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it all the way.

Did I say I was a terrible swimmer? I mean it. I tried out for water polo when I was a freshman in high school, and nearly drowned. At age 14, I had vowed never to get in a pool for any competitive sport again. Needless to say, this was the big mental hurdle from the beginning.

I read as much as I could online about swimming - keep your head down, keep your feet up, take long strokes, touch your thighs, pivot your shoulders, slice down into the water, ect. I was a bit overwhelmed. Luckily, I was able to ask a few experienced swimmers at my gym to critique my form and that helped. After about 20 trips to the pool, I was able to complete 2 kilometers with not much of a problem. I was still nervous though, since I had read so many horror stories about the dreaded open-water swim. Apparently, some people panic on the first time out. I decided to get some practice in early. I had bought a wetsuit (as I was signed up for a tri in 55-60 degree water), and I took it to the beach. I looked a bit foolish walking around the beach in a full wetsuit, among all the families and sunbathers. But heck, if I can walk around the gym pool in a Speedo, I can hit the beach in a wetsuit.

The first open water swim really helped me out. I learned to adapt quickly to waves and lack of lane lines. I was also able to get used to the salt, and the spots of warmer vs. colder water. I only did two open water practices, but it helped.

Next was the biking. I have been an avid biker for years, so I knew that this would be my strong suit. My bike's head tube had cracked last year, so I had to get a new bike. What the heck, I figured I’d go all out and get a tri bike. I found a used Cervelo online, and I snatched it up for a great price. Getting used to the aero position took me a while, but after four rides, I was pretty comfortable.

OK, the part I have come to dread the most is the run. Who knew I was so out of shape? The swimming turned out to be easy, and the biking was a given. I guess most triathletes start out as runners, and take that part for granted. I, on the other hand, had a terrible time with it! First was the IT band problems in the left knee, and then the sore patella in the right knee. Then the shin splints. Jeez, I could barely make it a mile before my heart burst out of my chest. This was going to be hard. I started with a few laps around the local high school track, and then I tried running downtown. After a few weeks, it started to look OK - I could run for 30 minutes without stopping, my breathing was under control... it was fine, except for that IT band.

The answer to my knee problems came in the form of a re-injured cervical disk. I had ruptured a disk in my back when I was 17, and it came back with a vengeance in the beginning of May. Darn it, just as I was getting in shape, I was laid up entirely for 6 weeks, and my first tri was in July. The longer I was in bed, the more I thought I'd have to cancel all 3 of my events. It couldn't hurt that bad and be better in time to compete, could it?

Slowly I got better and better until I was able to get on my feet and move around all day. By June 15, I was able to swim, then a few days later take a quick jog, and then a week later I was back on my new bike. That gave me one month to prepare for my first sprint.

Flash forward to last weekend. I was in the second wave - rested, strong, and feeling confident. I had triple checked my equipment list, I had my bucket of water, and of course, my girlfriend snapping pictures every time I turned around.

As for the race itself, I have a few thoughts on that. The exhilaration of hitting the water was fantastic. I started at the rear of my wave as I didn't want to get in the way. Next thing I knew, I was around the first buoy, and pretty far up in the pack. About 3/4 of the way through, I realized that although I had done many bike-to-run brick training sessions, I had never done any swim-to-bike bricks. I had better slow down, or I'd be too worn out to make it up the beach. I finished the swim with a nice even stroke, and came out of the water in passable shape.

T1 took a while - I ended up not having a place to rack my bike, since the race was so crowded, so I had more prep work to do than just grab and go.

As I had expected, the bike was pretty much a breeze - my strongest event by far. I was passed by 3 people, but I passed about 20, so I started the run in pretty good position.

After I got my shoes on, I took a moment to thank myself for the bike-to-run bricks I had done. I was able to hit my stride within about a quarter mile. Remember though, I'm not much of a runner, so my stride was not all that hot. Regardless, I was able to zone out a bit, and kept telling myself to be as Zen as possible - the run would be over soon.

I felt such a feeling of elation when I came around the bend to the home stretch - I could see the finish banner about a quarter mile away. At last, the finish was right in front of me! The feeling of crossing the line was fantastic! Within five minutes, I was thinking about my next tri, and how I'd have to train to prepare for it.

I'm glad I decided to do the triathlon instead of the marathon or the bike ride. I'm fighting the urge to sign up for one more in November - I don't want to overdo it. That's fine though, since I feel like I'm pretty much hooked on this. I have next year, and the year after, and the year after that.

The big decision will come this winter. Ironman?

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date: July 30, 2006

drunkpeter