My First Tri: Chisago Lakes 2006

author : TriSquirrel
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A description of my experiences during my first triathlon. It was a great experience. I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been.

I am now a triathlete.

I did it. I completed my first Triathlon: The 1st Annual Chisago Lakes Triathlon. I did the sprint race, a ¼ mile swim, 20.5 mile bike, and 3.2 mile run. They also ran a Half-Ironman (HIM) triathlon at the same time (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run).

Race prep
My compatriots (Mark, Joe, and Julie) and I arrived shortly after 6:00 a.m. We found our location in the transition area. We had pre-assigned positions based on bib number, which was nice. We racked our bikes, unloaded our stuff, and headed to get marked. A girl with a black marker scrawled my number, 283, on both of my arms and my leg. “I have been marked by these people,” I thought, “I am now part of their tribe.” We then moved on to pick up our chips. I had read numerous stories of how people lost their chip at some point during their race. So, despite the fact that the strap appeared to be in perfect working order, I added a bit of athletic tape to secure it in place. After all, if I was going to do this, I wanted my time to be recorded.

We went back to our transition area and began to set-up. I had made a careful list the night before detailing each stage and transition, and the items I would need for each. I laid everything out as best I could without trying to take up too much room for those around me. I made sure everything was accessible and ready to be grabbed in the transition. Since I didn’t want any pre-race jitters to cause me to forget anything for the swim, I wrapped my goggles around my wrist and stuffed my swim cap under the leg of my shorts. The event organizer was on a bull-horn welcoming everyone. There was a lengthy line for the porta-potties. So, I decided to skip that for now.

Our little group chatted and joked as we set up. We talked with those around us. I know it has been said before, but triathletes are some of the nicest people around. They are very pleasant and helpful. Someone had tied a pink boa to the tree next to our rack. This made it easy to remember where we were racked. As the man with the bull horn announced that the transition area would be closing, we took our last drinks and headed for the beach.

At this point, I should make note of two things: the weather and the location of the transition area. First, the weather: We were in the middle of a major heat wave. The temperature was expected to exceed 100 degrees that day. As we hit the beach it was probably already close to 80. Luckily it was overcast in the early morning. I felt really sorry for those people doing the HIM. Those of us running the Sprint would be done before it got too hot. But, those HIM-ers were really in for it. In addition to the heat, they were predicting strong winds. As we left the transition area, there was already a stiff breeze. Now for the position of the transition area: It was at the top of a hill. Make a note of this, as it will play a prominent role throughout the event.

Getting swim-ready

We arrived at the beach and started to group up in our waves. Mark, Joe and I were in the sixth wave and Julie was in the seventh. Waves one through five were all HIM-ers. We were in the first sprint wave of the first Chisago Lakes Triathlon. How in the world did a rookie like me end up in this wave? They sent the first five waves and then waited to let those in the HIM get a head start. There we stood knee deep in the lake, which, by the way, was a lovely shade of green. In addition, that stiff breeze was blowing in toward shore, making the water a bit choppy.

Our countdown commenced, the horn sounded, and our wave of fifty people was off. I ran for a little bit and then dove in to start my swim. I settled in toward the back of our wave. Then, after about four or five strokes, I was hit by the first wave of water. I coughed. I sputtered. I may have swallowed a bass. I kept swimming. Then another wave hit me. This was not going to be fun. I kept going and tried to take in as little of the lake water as I could. Then I started to hear the churning behind me. That would be the seventh wave about to run me over. Actually, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I got bumped a bit. But, I made way for the faster swimmers as best I could.

 

The turn-around marker was still a ways off. I was certain I was going to have a slow swim time. Then from behind me a lady started calling for the lifeguard. I swam on. Then another person behind me called for the lifeguard. I swam on. My swim wasn’t going as well as I had expected, the water was rough, and I was struggling, but I was not about to throw in the towel.

I made it to the turn-around marker and discovered a new problem. The wind had blown the marker toward shore, which meant that I had to try to make the turn and not get tangled in the marker’s rope. It caused me a little problem at first. But then I just grabbed the rope and threw myself over and around it as best I could in the water. I was now headed for shore. I passed a lifeguard on a boogie board who asked if I needed help. Did I look like I was doing that badly? “No,” I said and kept going.

 

The swim back was much easier going with the waves. I then focused in on the swim finish line. “Swim. Swim. The swim finish line hasn’t gotten that much closer. Back to work. I’m getting close. I see people ahead of me starting to stand up. Nope, I’m not there yet. Keep swimming. I think I’m there.” Finally, I stood up and began to plod out of the water. That swim was harder then I was expecting.

The first transition

Remember the location of the transition area? I now had to jog/walk up the winding path to get back to the transition area. Whoever decided to put the transition area up there should be beaten. I tried to move as quickly up the hill as I could. The supporters who showed up were great—they cheered on everyone: lots of clapping and encouragement.

 

I met Mark going up the hill, which made me feel pretty good because he didn’t beat me out of the water by that much. We commented on the difficulty of the swim as we got into the transition area. I dried off a little. Threw on my shirt. Got into my socks and shoes. I made sure I put my helmet on before I even touched my bike. Julie came into the transition area as Mark and I unracked our bikes and headed out. Joe had already arrived and left. We jogged our bikes to the mount area and headed off.

Biking

We slowly started off. Volunteers cheered us on and warned us of sharp turns ahead. Finally we were up on the road. I settled into my cadence and Mark pulled ahead. I started to hear the familiar “on your left.” But then I heard a new sound. A whirring noise. Then suddenly, in a flash, I was blown away by one of the lead HIM-ers. Wow! Those people are machines. I was going at what I thought was a pretty good pace. Those people passed me like I was standing still. It was amazing. I maintained my cadence and kept riding along through the countryside. Finally, the five-mile marker. I was feeling pretty good. We went through a small town where some people turned out to cheer us on. One lady was calling out, “You look good! You’re doing great! You look … hot.”

Then came the scariest part of the race for me. I was peddling along in my zone, when I was passed by this lady. As she pulled in front of me, she started to look over her shoulder. She is probably less than a foot from where the pavement drops off onto the gravel shoulder. She moved closer to the edge. I could see it coming. Sure enough, she slipped off the edge and onto the gravel. She looked as if she was about to go down, which is not good. And, she was right in front of me, which is not good for me. I pictured myself running right over the top of her, doing a header over my handlebars, and flying into the ditch. Fortunately, she managed to pull it back up on the pavement and keep going. I moved a little further away from the edge myself.

I was now on the back stretch of the bike route for the sprint. I passed Joe. I greeted him, gave a few words of encouragement, and continued on. I knew he would catch me on the run, so I didn’t feel bad about leaving him behind. I passed the ten-mile marker. I was half-way home. My toes were starting to go numb.

Now, all the way along this back stretch, there had been this strong crosswind coming from an odd angle. I had been thinking, “I can’t wait until that final turn because I think the wind will be better after the turn”. Well, I made the turn and discovered just how wrong I was. I was now riding into a direct head wind. In addition, I knew from reviewing the elevation charts on the event web site that the worst hills were yet to come. All down the final stretch, I was playing cat-and-mouse with another rider. I passed her on the uphills and she passed me on the down hills. Then I saw “the hill” ahead. Ugh! My hands were starting to go numb.

Shortly after I made it up the most punishing hill, I had a very amazing thought. I thought to myself, “next year, I’ll need to do a bit more intensive training.” Wow. I was already thinking about next year. I knew at that point I was going to make it.

I passed the 50-mile marker for the HIM course. Six miles to go. Then, the happiest sight of my life: the city limits sign. We weaved off the road and back into the park. The volunteers and supporters were there again to cheer us on. I dismounted my bike. Note to self: next year slow down just a bit more when you dismount. Trying to dismount with wobbly legs is a bit challenging. But, I did manage to stay up on my feet and jog my bike back to the rack.

The final leg

I was off on the run. I grabbed a drink as I exited the transition area. I jogged. I walked. I jogged. As I rounded the last curve in the park, on the right side of the path were a group of spectators giving encouragement. On the left was a participant on his knees throwing up. I was happy that I didn’t feel that bad. A volunteer warned me of uneven footing ahead as we left the park and headed out on the run. I took his warning as a command to walk. I was out on the road. I jogged. I walked. I jogged. So much for my master plan to jog the first mile, walk a stretch, and then jog the rest. The sun had now fully come out for the run and I was very pleased as we turned onto the big straightaway to see all the shade from the trees.

I reached the first water station. I grabbed the water, took a quick drink, and dumped the rest over my head. Wow, I felt rejuvenated. I started to jog again. I met Mark as he was heading back on the run. He had a good lead on me. I reached the next water station. Again I drank a little and dumped the rest on my head to revive myself.

 

As I headed back on the straightaway, I met Julie. I had a little lead on her. I hadn’t seen Joe. He should have been catching up with me. As if on cue, Joe pulled up from behind and greeted me. We chatted a little bit, then I let him pull ahead as I slowed for the final water station. This time I didn’t drink. I took the whole cup and poured it down the neck hole of my shirt. That did it. I suddenly felt refreshed and took off again. I managed to pass Joe, who pulled up to walk again. I jogged on for a bit, and then slowed to a walk. A runner passed me and told me that I was almost there. These triathletes are great. I went back to jogging and walking. I entered the park and picked up my jog pace a bit.

The finishline!

This was it. I once again remind you of the layout of the transition area/finish line. Yes, the finish line is at the top of the hill. A beating is too good for the person who placed the transition area/finish line at the top of the hill. As I slowed to a walk at the bottom of the hill, Joe passed me for the final time. Then I began to climb as quickly as I could up the winding path to the top of the hill. The crowd was cheering everyone on. I could see it. I could see the finish line. I heard them call out my name to announce my arrival. I crossed the finish line. I had done it.

 

A young volunteer came out to remove my chip. She was struggling to get the athletic tape off. I apologized and helped her as best I could. I stumbled out of the finish area and met up with my friends where we exchanged laughs and war stories like seasoned veterans. We picked up our official results and split times. I was quite happy with my results: 2 hours and 14 minutes. My swim time was good, despite my fears. My run time was right where I had been training. We cheered on some others as they finished. Just after we finished, the HIM-ers were hitting their second transition. I watched some of them take off on their run. They are machines.

It was a great experience. I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been. I’m already planning on next year. As a matter of fact I’m going to run tonight. I have to be ready for the 2nd Annual Chisago Lakes Triathlon.

Dan

a/k/a TriSquirrel

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date: December 31, 2006

TriSquirrel