(Photo of Paul Goodrow and Kayla Bruce – 2015 SO TRI participants, with their age group medals, at last year’s Milton Try-a-Tri)
We had been running and cycling for a year or so when a friend suggested we look at doing a triathlon. Start at the bottom of the ladder – a “try a tri” – and work our way up. He was a good swimmer, so he took to the sport easily. Me – not so much!
I hadn’t done any real swimming in five decades, but how hard could it be? I was in good shape! A few laps in the pool and I should be able to handle a 375 meter swim no problem. Hah!! 15 meters into the first lap and I went anaerobic. It was death just to get to the wall. But I persevered – even though I spent more time standing at the end of a lap trying to catch my breath than I did actually swimming. But a year later I was able to do 20 lengths of a 25 meter pool, and ready to tackle the open water.
Now, experienced triathletes will tell you that open water swimming is very different from doing laps in a pool. But while you’re trying to just learn how to breathe and be comfortable in the water, you tend to ignore all the advice about how to swim in a straight line and how to be comfortable with lots of people around you.
My very first open water swim, ever, was in a small lake 2 days before my race. There were 3 things I noticed right away. 1) There were no straight lines painted on the bottom of the lake – you need to lift your head (contrary to what the swimming lessons taught), and “sight” a distant object. 2) There was no wall every 25 meters for comfort (or cheating). 3) The lake was deeper than 4 feet!! I could hardly go 50 meters without hyperventilating. And wander all over the place!! With a little practice, my breathing became manageable, if not real comfortable. But sighting and direction were still something a challenge.
Now picture the start of a triathlon swim. There are 50 or more people standing on a beach staring at a marker buoy some distance out in the water. This is the buoy where everyone will need to turn. Then a horn goes off and everyone sprints into the water, all 50+ swimmers focusing and trying converge on a single point. And me not able to swim in a straight line.
Needless to say, what goes on in the water, stays in the water. My right brain kept saying that the bum I’d just grabbed felt really nice. Then it started to wonder if was a girl or a guy! It threw my rhythm completely off! My left brain kept trying to get me re-focused on the swim mechanics (these internal “conversations” would emerge a number of times in the race). After a bit I decided to find some more open water, but I ended up wide and long of each of the turn buoys. The last turn buoy I lost completely. I couldn’t see it anywhere. I thought I’d entered the Twilight Zone. Finally, I turned completely around and there it was – 20 meters behind me. I’m sure I turned the 375 meter course into 500 meters or more!
After the swim, you run to the spot where you’ve parked your bike and other gear – the “transition”. Well this was also an adventure. I tugged off my wetsuit, quickly and easily like I’d practiced, but when I reached for my socks that I had carefully placed in my bike shoes, they were gone. So the internal conversation went like:
– “Who stole my socks?”
– “Who would want to steal your socks?”
– “But my socks aren’t here”
– “Well, where did you put your socks”
– “In my shoes, right in front of me”
– “Clearly, you put them somewhere else”
– “But where?”
– “Why don’t we go check your bag?” (the bag where all my non-race clothes were)
– “But it’s way over by the fence”
– “It’s that or blisters”
So, I found my bag (at the bottom of a pile) and start tossing jeans and sweats and stuff out and I find ONE sock.
– “Yeah, mystery solved”
– “Well, half the mystery solved”
– “Shit! Where could the other one be?”
– “Maybe it got stuck to the stuff you’ve just been throwing around”
– “That doesn’t make sense”
So, I start throwing my stuff around again and there was the other sock, stuck to my jeans. Off I went on the bike, an extra 2 minutes (a huge amount of time) wasted and more than a little pissed.
And had my best bike ride EVER.
Because I was in the last wave (swimmers get sent off in groups or waves), all the really fast riders were long gone. I passed everyone I saw and wasn’t passed myself. Toward the end of this segment, I spotted a guy also passing everyone, but I was gaining on him. He had ALL the gear, Cervelo bike, time trial wheels, aero bars and helmet, everything. The internal conversation…..
– “Let’s smoke this guy”
– “Careful, we still need lots of energy for the run portion”
– “Yeah, but wouldn’t it be cool to whip his $5,000 bike ass!”
-“ But what would we really gain?”
I startled him when I pulled up beside him on a rise – he obviously wasn’t expecting to be passed. He looked over, and I know he noticed I was riding a measly hybrid. Then, as I pulled away, he caught my age on my calf. It was all too much and he screamed “What the …..!!” My highlight of the entire race!!
The run portion started off with 2 hills – just what my heart wanted at this stage. When I saw my cardiologist for a check-up a couple of weeks before the race, I got a green light as long as I didn’t “red line the motor” for long periods of time. So, I looked at my Garmin at the top of the second hill and it’s
– “We need to walk”
– “Ah shit. Do we have to? That bike guy might catch us”
– “It’s only for a few seconds. And besides, what are the alternatives?”
– “Ah shit!”
So I forced myself to walk, breathe, calm down and be patient. Heart rate drops like a stone (good heart) and I’m off again. But I need to make up for lost time. Of course I do.
About a kilometer from the finish, guess who pulls up beside me? So I let it out a notch. He does too. No sweat, I still have another gear. He does too. So we turn the corner toward the finish in what passes for an all-out sprint. I’ve got him by half a meter.
– “Shouldn’t we be checking the heart monitor?”
– “Shut up”
– “I mean seriously, we’re probably way over the limit”
– “I mean seriously, shut the ….. up”
He packed it in about 50 meters to go. It didn’t kill me, and so of course it made me stronger.
And I was third in my age group. With the 19th fastest (of 179) bike segment overall.
And it was all so good.
Couldn’t wait to do the next one.