Yesterday was a massive milestone for me, and if you’re a tl;dr kinda person, just read this. I AM A TRIATHLETE!
I’ve had this race on my calendar since last year. I don’t know how I heard about this race, but I started thinking about challenging myself with it, especially coming up against a price increase at the end of the year. I got on the race event’s Facebook page, describing my current skills, and just asked a simple question… Would I be able to finish this?
I got an amazing outpouring of support from seasoned triathletes, every one of ’em encouraging me to go for it. With that of encouragement, it wasn’t hard for me to sign up, and begin this crazy journey.
I knew I was lacking some of the gear that would make this kinda event reachable, so along the way, I bought goggles for the swim, a wetsuit, and a mount for my Garmin 920XT for my bike. Of all that, the Garmin mount will be the most useful long-term, but I kinda dig having a wetsuit. I have no idea when or how I’d use it again — maybe swimming/snorkeling in the Caribbean? Regardless, I have it, and can haul it out again for some future need.
As I mentioned here, I had a chance to meet Rich Adams, the Race Director for the event just about a month ago as I was gearing up. Putting this event together was obviously a passion of his, and his enthusiasm helped fuel me as I practiced some duathlon events to get the feel for that part of the race.
But there was also that swim.
Now, I love being in the water, and can stay in for hours. There was a lot of chatter about open water being much different that pool water, but I love being in open water. When we’re vacationing in the Caribbean, I can go out in the water and stay out until I’m a prune. But that’s a lot of bobbing up and day, laying on my back in the water and just paddling about. That’s way different than swimming for distance and a finish line. If I underestimated anything in this event, it was the swim. More on that later.
Saturday, Becky and I headed to Hollywood Casino to pick up my packet, drop off my bike, and attend the race course talk. We got there just before lunch, and the lines were long — although I’ve seen worse at other race events! To me, it seemed like there were a several stops to get your race materials, and eliminating that could be a time saver at pickup time. For example, having the race number and age tattoos already in the race envelope with the bib could save time — of course, that means that there’s a packet stuffing party for the volunteers before the packet pickup took place! 🙂
After I had my packet in hand, we drove over to Creve Coeur Lake to drop off my bike. The stands that had been constructed for the race were perfect, and my big ol’ bike fit nicely on an endcap. Mine wasn’t the only “big” bike there, but I bet if you added the width of al the skinny tires there, they wouldn’t have been as thick as my single hybrid tire thickness. Man, there were a lot of bikes!
I listened to the course talk, and soaked up everything about the event. And while I expected this to get things put into “ludicrous speed” for me, I really didn’t get too freaked out by all this talk about the race.
Sunday morning came, after only an “ok” night of sleep. As I have for the last couple of weeks, I awoke a lot, with the swim on my mind. I knew that would be my weakest element, and my brain was pounding me over it. We got up, went through my regular raceday routine, got in my wetsuit, and headed to the Lake.
We got parked, and I hauled my little bags of race stuff to my bike staging location. Then we waited. Someone suggested I should dip my toes in the water, and I was amazed at how good the water felt. The air temperature was about 55°, but the water was closer to 66°, making it very nice. I looked out at the buoys for the swim, and they didn’t seem all that far away. Some of the nerves started to fall away.
(BTW, while standing next to one of the police vehicles, a cop was walking up to it, when his phone rang — his ringtone was the theme to Hogan’s Heroes. Cracked me up!)
There was a little traffic problem getting everyone to the park, so all waves were delayed by fifteen minutes to give folks a chance to get parked and set up. No biggie. When it was time for the first start wave to go, I headed toward the starting corrals to see how it was going.
It looked like folks were having some trouble getting into the in-water starting corral, which was causing some delays between waves. My original starting time was 7:43am, moving to 7:58am with the traffic delay; as it ends up, I didn’t get in the water until 8:30am. Unfortunately, all that time gave me too much time to think about what I was getting ready to do — stupid Colin trick — and the anxiety began to build.
I slipped into the water, trying to avoid the rocks that were slowing everyone down, and got in place. I saw Becky on the shore, waved to her, and heard the countdown… and then we were off.
I knew that this swim was gonna be tough, and folks had indicated that novice swimmers should be able to knock out the 750m in about 30 minutes. I exceeded that… by a lot. I was in the water almost 54 minutes, and fighting for every meter I could get. I knew that if I needed to rest, I could just flip over on my back, and float — one of my favorite ways to relax. When you do that in an event, however, it gets folks excited, and so I had a bunch of folks in boats and paddle boards coming by to make sure I was ok. And of course, I was.
As it became clear that I was just about the last person on the swim — and I knew that from all the radio traffic I could hear — I ended up with a couple of guys in boats and boards going along with me, making sure I was ok, and giving me floating rest stop, if needed. Full disclosure — I did take them up on that twice, but mostly, I just kept moving, talking with the folks who were making sure I was fine. By this time, I was doing the breaststroke, slowly but surely, and continued to chatter as I made progress. This kept my mind off the distance and what was left. And I be lying if I said I never thought of having someone haul me to shore. This swim was the hardest single component of any race I’ve ever done, and I just tried to keep it in consumable chunks, going from buoy to buoy to buoy.
There was another swimmer — Jessica — that was also taking the course in chunks, 25m at a time, with rest stops in between. We cheered each other on, and knowing someone else was out there made it much more bearable. There was a guy named Phillip atop one of the boards that stayed with both of us most of the segment. I know he made a huge difference for both of us. But really. all the folks on the water were amazing to both of us, ensuring we were never alone, and that we’d both finish this swim.
And we both did. As I approached the shore, I heard a ton of folks calling out to me, cheering me by name — I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!!! I crawled up the sandy boat launch to get to land, saw Becky, and was checked by a medic — I think they were a little worried about me — and was cleared to continue on.
Transition was a bear. I walked to my bike, and folks were finishing the bike leg, getting ready to start their runs. That was really a punch in the gut, knowing that I still had two full segments to go. However, I marched on.
Getting out of the wetsuit wasn’t a problem — someone on the boat launch unzipped the back for me — and I got into my clothes pretty quick. I dried my feet, removing the little sand and gravel from between my toes… and then started to put on shoes and socks. I don’t know if I was just that tired, or it was just that tough, but it took me forever to get them on! I finally got my self assembled, and walked my bike to the start of the bike course — fifteen minutes in transition, some of which, I’m sure helped me regain some strength.
I started the bike course, and quietly, a guy named Chris rode up beside me. He had a volunteer shirt on, and said he was gonna ride the course with me. It’s at this point, I knew I was the last person on the sprint course. Happy to have company, I introduced myself, and started on the ride. We chit-chatted, and I was astounded that he was gonna accompany me the whole way. As it ended up, it was good that he was there.
I made a turn early on the course, and found that my left shoelace had gotten tangled up in my pedal. I hollered at Chris, and he offered to help. I stopped my bike next to a curb, and tried to put my left foot down. Since it couldn’t go down without the bike going with it, me and my trusty steed fell to the ground with a soft thud. Chris quickly came to see if I was ok. And so did a race coordinator for that intersection. And one of the police officers. And I was just laying on the ground, straddling the median, with my head in the road, bike atop me, cracking up. Only I could slo-mo wreck like that! Chris got me untangled, we all had a good laugh, and I continued on.
One of the nice things about the course was that it was generally flat, with only a few rises here and there… and it was closed to vehicular traffic. I didn’t have to worry about any cars. Chris was happy to stop along with me when I needed to drink — since I’d already proven I could wreck a bike when it wasn’t moving, I didn’t need to try to drink and ride! — and rode ahead at the intersections so we knew where to go. It was like having a personal spotter along the way. We even avoided a little black snake on the road. 🙂 And someone along the way, someone in the opposite lane hollered from a car, “You got this!” Really made my day!
I was aware that there was a car following us to ensure our safety as the roads were being reopened to traffic. We pulled over with about 2km to go, so I could refuel, and then I realized just how much the race team bent over backwards to bring the last rider home. Behind the race staff vehicle were easily twenty cars, all being held to my crazy slow cycling speed. When we pulled over, I told Chris that we should just stay on the shoulder until they all passed. Refueled, and the traffic jam gone, we headed toward the finish line for the cycling leg. I thanked Chris, and headed off to the porta-potties to take a quick break before starting the run leg.
I dropped off my bike and helmet, slathered on some sunscreen, and Chris found me, saying he’d catch up with me on the run course in just a few minutes. Whaaaat?
As it ends up, I think he was tasked with ensuring that the last guy on the course, finished. And that last guy was me.
I got on the run course, and run as fast my tired, rubbery legs would go, and once Chris caught up to me, I started walking. I was spent. However, just chit-chatting about life, the universe, and everything, made the time go by, and in no time, we’d hit the turn around, and were heading toward the finish of the event.
He told me I was gonna run the last little bit to the final timing mat, and once he said “go”, he split off, and I cruised through the finish line! There were folks cheering for me, and I quickly found Becky. I hugged her, kinda fell into her arms for a moment, and began wandering around the finishing area.
I saw Chris again, and thanked him profusely. Obviously I could do the last two legs, but having someone keep me safe while I gutted that out made sure that I did complete the last two legs. And despite anything he said about his small role in my finish, it was huge to me.
I gathered my pilsner glass, filled it with some kinda red beer, and sat on the grass while age awards were being handed out. I didn’t get one, and that’s no surprise — my award was finishing! — but it felt good to just sit on the grass and relax. For the first time in three-and-a-half hours, I wasn’t moving, and that was a good thing.
When the awards were over, I found Rich, and thanked him profusely for his work on the race, his support and the support of this team. After a big ol’ bear hug, Becky and I headed to the staging area, where there were no longer very many bikes, gathered my stuff up, and headed home.
Thinking about the race today, with a much clearer mind, I realize this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I know there’s no way I could’ve completed this without the amazing support of Rich, his staff, my dear sweet wife and so many friends. As far as I’m concerned, this was a team win!
There were definitely some takeaways:
- The best stroke for the swim leg is probably not the breaststroke.
- Tuck your shoelaces into your shoes on the ride so you don’t crash your bike while standing still.
- Transition is a great place to rest, but you’re not resting if you’re struggling to get your socks and shoes on.
- Swim shoes would be a big help if there are rocks in the swim entry zone.
- Crawling out of the exit chute for the swim is completely acceptable.
I haven’t yet decided if there’s another one of these out there for me. I loved the event, but it might be good to try something at a shorter distance. Regardless, my swimming has to get better before I can try this again. That swim sapped all my strength, and was the toughest part of the course for me mentally.
But to say it again — ’cause I’m still not believing I can say this… I AM A TRIATHLETE!!!!