400 meter pool swim, 10 mile bike, 5k run
Long story short, someone bet me that I wouldn’t actually do a triathlon, and stoked the fires just enough for me to find the next race and register for it. The 2014 Carmel Swim Club Sprint Triathlon was just 8 weeks away, and I hadn’t swam in close to 20 years, I had never cycled, and although I had pretty much a lifetime of running for other athletic reasons, running just for running was never something I enjoyed. In summary, a perfect recipe for a triathlete! In truth, I was just getting back in shape from a three-year injury induced break from exercise and I needed a challenge to keep motivated. Training for three sports seemed like a great way to spend my time and avoid some of my other favorite things, pizza and beer! Armed with the internet, a hand me down bike, and a little bit of determination, I set off on a quest to become a “triathlete.” This is the race report however, so let’s just get to the race!
Prior to the race starting, I was nervous. I mean really nervous. My stomach was in knots, my adrenaline was flowing, and I was filled with self-doubt. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I could do it or that I wasn’t in shape; it was just the same feeling I used to have when getting on the starting block at a swim meet. “Swimmers, take your mark!” Those four words used to absolutely haunt me, then you hit the cold water and are released and the competitor takes over. This feeling, at least for me, was very unique to swimming and I rarely recall it during my other athletic endeavors. So with my first race being in my hometown and swimming in my high school’s pool, I felt comfortable in the water immediately. I started behind a very athletic-looking young man, who was clearly more confident (and much skinnier) than I was, and I told myself to catch up with and draft him as soon as possible. Well, he was certainly confident, and his first two lengths were blazing fast. Much faster than I anticipated.I knew that we were moving fairly quickly, which I was fine with as I was just hanging off his hip and cruising. Lap 6 was the end of the day for that guy, as I finally made the pass and pushed pretty hard to the end, and the last I saw of that guy was him bent over with his hands over his head as I exited the transition area. A slow jog from the pool to the transition area added some unwanted seconds for a 6:36 official time (top 20 overall).
I had read numerous articles about practicing transitions, so I spent a good amount of time going through transitions. One thing I completely forgot to do was practice running with my bike. I had literally never, ever, run with my bike before this moment. T1 was going great, got to my rack, put on my helmet and glasses, slipped on my socks and running shoes (hand-me-down bike with toe clips), and grabbed my bike all with no problems. I started to run with the bike, but with not knowing how to do it, I just grabbed it by the handlebars and started running. Immediately I knew this was no good. The regular pedal crashed into my calf on each step, actually drawing blood. I tried carrying it over my shoulder and that was terrible. I looked around and saw a guy holding his bike by the seat and thought, “Let’s do that!” I made it about 20 yards before my front wheel jackknifed and my bike and I literally did a somersault, with my aerobar caps shooting off into the grass. That sucked. I pick up the bike, exit the transition area, and a volunteer comes running up with my caps and tells me that they have to be in the bars. I put the caps in, frustrations mounting, and hop on the bike. T1 time: 1:08.
The first thing I noticed when I hopped on my bike, after replacing the bar-caps, was that the pedals didn’t work. I remember dropping some blasphemy as I looked down at the chain, which was not on. Hopped off the bike, put the chain back on the front chain ring somewhat easily. “Success!”…I thought. This particular race has a big downhill to start the bike, as I got back on the bike and started to pedal down the hill to make up for the previous two blunders, the pedals still didn’t work. I pulled over…again…and looked down to see the chain off the rear cassette as well. Expletives were flowing freely, and I just happened to be stopped in front of a crowd (sorry children). Put the chain back on, and was finally ready to start the bike leg. Naturally I’m extremely competitive, and I had a goal time in mind that after falling down and flipping my bike, losing the end caps, and fixing the chain twice, I figured I had better push it a little harder to make up, and set out pushing my legs about as hard as I could. During a long, steady climb towards the beginning, I went hammering past a guy on a much nicer bike and he actually told me “you better take it a little easier, still a ways to go.” I did not listen, because I am dumb, and he passed me at the end of the bike and I was mad. One thing with triathlon that is weird about being a good swimmer, but an average cyclist, and a bad runner is that you rarely get to pass people once you leave the water. You’ll always have the people that start in the front for some reason even though they should be in the back, and others that overestimate their swimming ability, and then the group of strong triathletes overall, but not strong swimmers. This is a blog topic I will certainly get into. In this race, I felt like I was having a decent ride as this course was pretty flat, and at 225lbs I can do alright on the flats and can definitely pass the 75lb 13-years olds that can swim and run really fast! I felt like everything was back on track and going well...then I had my first bike wreck.
As I approached the turn-around point on my bike, I had come up on another rider and I was in that grey zone of do I pass or slow way down. Obviously, I opted for the pass. I was currently in the drafting zone and couldn’t stay there any longer so I told her I was coming by on her left and she agreed to let me by. The problem came that both of us thought the turn-around was going to be at the next roundabout in about 100 yards, however it was actually just around a cone in the middle of the street in about 10 yards. I slowed down as much as I could, but as I was side-by-side with the other rider, we were both far too wide and as we turned sharply to avoid hitting the parked police car, I hit the loose road gravel in the center of the road and down I went…hard. My bike didn’t go too far, and I didn’t actually hurt, so I got back on the bike, cursed myself for being so stupid, and started hammering again to get back up to speed. It probably took about a minute before the pain set in. At first I noticed some blood dripping down my hand, then I took a closer look and saw my knuckle. My actual knuckle. As in the bone. Then came the pain in my actual hand. I have broken 7 bones in my hand before, and I was pretty sure that I had just broken the 8th. This really made me angry, and actually gave me some pretty good inspiration for the remainder of the race. The rest of the bike was pretty standard for me—injured, bleeding, decent amount of pain, swearing—basically sums up my entire athletic career. I definitely gassed towards the end. One final insult to my inaugural triathlon bike leg was that I again failed at running with my bike and wrecked it again in T2 (my caps!!!!!!). Bike Time: 31:21
I remember my legs actually feeling pretty alright all things considering, although this course started out up a steep hill, which is not my forte at all and my legs felt like anchors when I reached the top. As mentioned before, my triathlon experiences are somewhat unique, and also somewhat disheartening. I usually exit the water with the leaders, get passed by the really good cyclists, and then get passed by the really good-to-average-runners. Getting passed on the run is the worst, and that’s all I get being a slower runner. My only solace is judging those that pass me by how much I think they weigh, and since most of them are skinny, it gives me a little relief that they aren’t in my group. It is a bizarre feeling though when a senior citizen goes zipping by you, but great for you Grandpa! My first real thought during this run came about a mile in when I told myself “this is by far the worst idea you’ve ever had.” The best thing about this run course is that it isn’t an “out-and-back” course, which is just really boring in my mind. Running through neighborhoods in central Indiana is already one of the most boring activities in the world, so at least there was some variety to this one. From mile 1 to mile 2, I felt terrible. At mile 2 I finally hit the water table, and a couple shots of water plus some encouragement from the volunteers made a huge difference, plus I was almost done! I was negative splitting the run and coming up on the finish, feeling pretty good, then a large man went flying by me. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I thought. This guy was definitely in my group. I immediately upped my effort. I chased this guy for about 30 seconds and realized there was no way I could keep up with him, and I knew I had been beat. You’d think I wouldn’t care about winning with this being my first ever triathlon, however as my family and friends will tell you, I always care about winning. That’s another topic for another day. Despite the discomfort I was feeling, I tried to finish the last few meters strong. I heard a very loud, very distinguishable voice shout “COME ON MIKE!!!!!!” (shout out to CrossFit Thrive) as I was rounding the final hill before the downhill finish and that was all I needed to pick up the stride and get down that hill as fast as I could. My goal time was 1:10, the race clock said 1:07, and I was fired up! I finished with nothing at all left in the tank and the complete satisfaction of being finished in my mind, and also the vomit rising in my throat. I was now a triathlete. Run Time: 23:52.
Final Time: 1:04:08. 2nd Place Clydesdale (I was right, that guy was in my group and beat me by 40 seconds). Official results here.
My wife asked me “How was it?” I replied “It sucked. Big time. I could have done better. Let’s do it again.” I will explore that sentiment in the blog, but I’m sure you’ve all had that same thought.
Despite a broken hand, bloody knuckles, missing end-caps, and a calamity of errors, I had lost 30 lbs, got into shape, discovered a new passion, won a bet, accomplished some goals, and even got a plaque for 2nd place. I’d call that a success!