As part of my ‘anniversary’ year, I’ve been trying all sorts of new things. 2014 started off with a (indoor, thankfully) rowing competition. Following that, came the Empire State Building Run-Up, then the Toastmasters International Speech Contest, and recently, the Assault on Mt. Mitchell. It’s been a busy year. One of my other bucket list items was to complete a triathlon. I didn’t go all-out for an Ironman event (like my friends David Goad and Eric Gelber). I set a more modest goal of completing a ‘Sprint’ triathlon. That’s a 750 yard swim, an 18 mile bike ride, and a 5K run. Sounds simple enough, right?
What makes it a bit harder, is that you have to do all three back to back. AND….you have to swim in a lake. A cold one. VERY early in the morning. To get ready, let’s rewind back to January of this year. I had already decided that I wanted to take on some new physical challenges, and having done a number of running and biking events, a triathlon was a natural progression. I could swim, but I was never serious about it. If I got out on the other side of the pool, I considered that a success. SO….while I was confident I could to the bike and run, with swimming, I needed a little help.
Enter the DC Tri Club. There are lots of resources out there for budding triathletes, from websites like BeginnerTriathlete.com, to highly organized programs with lots of individual support. The DC Tri Club’s New Triathlete program seemed like the sweet spot for me – structured enough for training and support…but flexible and affordable enough to fit my schedule. On a snowy January day (my 53rd birthday, as it turned out), I sat in a DC public library meeting room with 200 other prospective triathletes.
They explained everything, made it seem accessible (and achievable), so I signed up. Knowing that swimming was the big hurdle for me, I signed up for the beginner swim clinic. Fortunately, I was more ‘intermediate’ than true ‘beginner’, but the great instructors worked with swimmers of all levels, and I slowly built up my laps, from 10 the first time out, to 20…then one day, I swam a half mile. A few weeks later, I swam a full mile…then a mile and a half. The Tri Club put on running and biking clinics too, but forunately, I was already good on that front, so I could practice and build up my mileage on my own.
Swimming in a pool was one thing….but we had to swim in open water, too. COLD open water. One of the pieces of equipment I needed was a wetsuit. I got lots of good advice (and discounts!) from DC Tri, and one day, my new XTERRA wetsuit arrived in the mail. I got it out…and thought – I’m supposed to fit in THIS? I read the instructions, then started stuffing myself into the suit. I got it all the way on….and tried to zip it up. I thought – did I gain weight or something? It turns out, it’s SUPPOSED to be hard to zip up….and there’s a trick to doing it. I still felt like I was stuffed in a duffle bag…but at least it fit.
In May, I got to try my first open water clinic – with a water temp of 62 degrees……Lake Anna was a bit chilly – but the really cool thing about a wetsuit is that once you get wet…..you don’t get cold. It really works to keep you warm. AND….it floats! Despite being a bit restrictive on my stroke, I could float easily in the suit, and it made my first practice triathlon much less of a scary thing. Again, kudos to DC Tri Cub and Tuan Nguyen for organizing the Peasantman triathlon. It helped get us ready for the ‘real’ thing…and helped support a good cause.
Just a little under two weeks before my first REAL triathlon, I rode in The Assault on Mt. Mitchell. It was a challenging event, and I wrote more than enough about that earlier. This was relatively easy in comparison…but still challenging. With all my preparation complete, it was a short taper down to make sure I was rested and ready for the real thing…then a 4- hour drive up to Northern Pennsylvania.
Until I signed up for this event, I never knew there was an actual town called “Jim Thorpe”, Pennsylvania. It’s a neat little place, and the town was very welcoming to the large crowd of prospective triathletes who crowded into Antonio’s restaurant for the pre-race spaghetti dinner. After getting a full load of carbohydrates, it was off to bed to get some sleep before the 5AM wake-up.
I think I slept…I must have, because I remember parts of dreaming…..but I also remember turning over a lot, because my mind was racing well before post time. My alarm went off, got up, dressed, grabbed some food and hauled all my equipment down to the car. At the start, I got my race number marked on my arm…and my age on the back of my leg. I was wondering if they were also going to post dental records in case I didn’t make it through the race.
About half an hour before start, I squeezed into my wetsuit, and walked down to the beach. The water was a balmy 64 degrees. It was pretty cold..but that didn’t stop some athletes from swimming without a wetsuit. I was glad I had mine. Once I got through the sensation of cold water pouring into the suit, it actually felt OK. I did some warm-up, and got ready for the start. This was a ‘swimming’ start, which meant we swam out to the middle of the lake, and treaded water until the horn went off. That made for less jostling and bumping on the start, although I swam over a couple people…and a couple bumped in to me. No harm, no foul. While visibility was a bit of an issue, I just followed the swim caps in front of me and 20 minutes later, I was running out of the lake to my first transition.
Wetsuit off (which was easier than getting it on), then on with the bike shoes, gloves, helmet and glasses….and it was on with the bike leg. According to one person, there was 900 feet of climbing on the route…which I thought would be a piece of cake. Turned out, it was a VERY hilly ride, with at least 10 hills over a 10% grade…with a couple topping out at 16%. More than a few riders had to get off and walk their bikes up the hills. I was lucky to have my triple crank with a fairly low granny gear…which made climbs tough…but still do-able.
Other than the climbs, the ride was pretty….and uneventful. Came in for Transition #2…….racked the bike…off with the road shoes, on with the running shoes, and swapped the helmet for a hat…..and off for the run. On my practice tri, I had a really hard time switching to running, and had to walk a lot. This time, I felt slow….but I could actually run. We had a lot of shade, not too many hills, and a beautiful view running over the dam and looking out towards the mountains. Mile 1 went by…then 2….where they were playing Pharrell’s “Happy” (which must be this generation’s “Celebration”). It’s going to get played to death, I’m afraid. Back to the lake for mile 3…..and turned the corner for the finish. Heard my name on the PA…..saw my daughter at the finish line….and I was done!
So….another ‘bucket list’ item checked off. I’ll be doing another tri in the fall….but then I’ll have to decide if I want to do more of this…or something else. I’m absolutely glad I did it, and as a result have more confidence that I can attempt other things, too. If you’ve thought about doing a tri…..get with a club, start a training program and get started. There were athletes of all shapes, sizes and abilities. If we can do it….I bet you can, too.