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First Race, Last Place: Dan’s First Triathlon

August 1, 2011
In the Spring of 2008, a friend and I were discussing sports and ways to stay competitive at an age where team sports have passed us by. We came upon the topic of triathlon and its degree of difficulty. Neither of us had ever competed in a triathlon and at the time I actually tried to avoid running long distances, I had never swam laps or for distance and I didn’t own a bike. Knowing my competitive nature he dared me to compete and finish a triathlon. We looked up a race and saw from the day we spoke there was 10 days until an Olympic distance triathlon (swim .9 mile, bike 24.7 miles and run 6.2 miles). He said he had a friend that owned a bike (little did I know it was touring bike and way too small for me, but I didn’t know any better). I signed up, telling him, “How hard can this be?” I swam twice before the race, rode the bike one time and ran three times.

I got to the race the morning of and noticed all of these people with these beautiful bikes and equipment. I pulled my red cruiser out of the car and walked to transition to rack it. I didn’t understand why people were pumping up their tires, filling up water bottles and riding and running BEFORE the race. It seemed silly to me to waste valuable energy before the race started. I didn’t understand the importance of hydration or fueling during the race or what lactic acid or threshold meant- I found out very quickly.

I walked to the beach for the start of the race and remember thinking, “wow, .9 mile is a far way to swim”. After the National anthem and a few of the first waves going off, it was M30-34. It was a beach start, the horn sounded and we were off. Now, if you have never competed in a triathlon it is hard to describe your first experience – the closest thing to describing it would be “a washing machine effect”. People are swimming over you, kicking you, pulling you and you may get anxiety or hyperventilate if you get caught up in what others are doing and don’t race your own race. I felt good and went out as fast as I could-I assure you that is not what you want unless you are a seasoned triathlete. Halfway through the swim I realized I need to pace myself or I was going to need to rest on one of the lifeguard’s surfboard. I kept going (or thrashing around as I am sure what it looked like) until I reached the final turn and relished the fact that I finally had the ocean current with me. I reached the beach, stood up, and wondered why my legs felt like cement bricks. I decided that I needed to walk to transition, take some water from the aid station and prepare for my bike ride.

I put on my helmet sleeveless shirt and a pair of shorts. I didn’t understand why everyone else was wearing spandex shorts or what I realize now were triathlon shorts. I hopped on the cruiser and away I went, feeling okay. It was a two loop course of 12.35 miles along scenic A1A and the beach. As I was riding what I thought was an okay speed (no idea how fast but probably 13 MPH) I realized everyone was passing me and the worst part was that they weren’t even pedaling, they were coasting by me. I kept thinking to myself how in the world are people passing me without pedaling? I realized now, there is a big difference between a 700 X 23 tire and a 26” inch wheel with tread. As a came to the turn of the halfway point, I remember thinking to myself, “I should just act like this was my second loop and get off this bike”, not wanting to cheat, I made the turn for the second loop with much trepidation. As I was riding for what seemed like eternity, (by myself because it seemed as though everyone had passed me, but I refused to think I was last) I noticed in the distance another rider about a mile ahead of me. I told myself that no matter how bad my legs hurt that I was going to try and catch that person. I pedaled hard, but ultimately could not catch them. I pulled into transition two, got off my bike and almost fell down. I made it to my rack, put the bike on the rack (which I wanted to throw in the ocean) and ran (who am I kidding), walked out to start my “run”. (After the race I was informed, as only close friends would, they were picking up the bike cones behind me)

The course was a two-loop run course, I kept telling myself, only 1.5 miles each way (twice). I had used too much energy on the bike that running was very difficult (this is where I learned about lactic acid). I told myself that I could run, to stop being a wimp, that it was all in my head, to keep me going. I finally resorted to the fact that I needed to walk/run. I started doing a 4/2 minute run/walk, which quickly turned into a 3/2, then 2/2 and finally came to a screeching halt when I was running power line poles along the route. I had passed one person on the run, but on the second loop was passed – one that I couldn’t overcome. I came across the line, my legs immediately seized up since I had not eaten and drank minimally throughout the race (except one cup of water after the swim, one swig of water on the bike and one cup at each 1.5 mile turn on the run). I couldn’t walk, I had to lay on the ground, did that ever feel good. My first race, I finished dead last, but I FINISHED and officially became a “triathlete”.

When I eventually made it back to my car, I said, “I am never doing that again”. That thought resonated with me for about 10 miles in the car until I turned to my wife and said, “I know I can do better next time”. She laughed at me and shook her head. Triathletes are a rare breed, you have to have a little bit of crazy mixed in with mental toughness and desire. So, four triathlon seasons ago that is how I became a triathlete – a route I would not recommend to others, but a sport I would recommend to all. The sport is an addiction, an obsession and a lifestyle. Once you have experienced the camaraderie, commitment and pageantry you will wonder how you lived without the sport and why it took you so long to get involved with it. Enjoy the road ahead, it will be difficult, it will test your toughness, but crossing a finish line and knowing you are now part of an elite community is an experience that will live with you forever.

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