So I became a triathlete over the weekend. No big deal.
No, seriously, it’s not a big deal – it was merely a mini-triathlon. Held indoors. At a fitness club. A mile from my house. On a sunny Sunday. I could go on …
There wasn’t so much as an entry fee, even though all participants received two pieces of swag: a water bottle (one of those cool hard-plastic ones that are very popular with the ladies) and new, old t-shirts that had been printed up for previous events (mine was from 2009). For the record, I’ve already broken in both. Love free stuff.
The distances of his pretend triathlon: a 0.2-mile swim, a 1.5-mile run and a 5-mile bike. See? I told you it was mini. In fact, it’s not even long enough to be considered a full workout by a true triathlete. Still, it turned out to be more difficult than I expected. Turns out the brevity (probably) worked against me, as I didn’t really have to pace myself and got suckered into being (semi) competitive. And that is one of roughly 47 reasons why I’ll never be a real endurance athlete: I’m not disciplined enough to stick to a race strategy over a few minutes let alone a few hours.
I only signed up about 10 days beforehand and largely for the sake of blogging; I did no extra training. I run that distance almost daily, but hadn’t been on a bike since last summer and haven’t really ever swam. Unless you count being forced to attend swimming lessons as a youth (or “ute,” if you prefer, East Coasters.)
The field consisted of 22 brave souls, warriors, really, spread out into six groups – two per activity. We were instructed to take as much time as we needed during the race (“it’s just for fun”) and between events; the clock would stop while we switched gear. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have laughed at that; it may have angered the triathlon gods.
Anyway, I was assigned to the bike, first, and wound up next to a reader, Charles, who is slightly younger than me and actively trains for this stuff. That turned out to be a blessing and a curse. It gave me reason to try harder, triggering a competitive reflex I wasn’t sure still existed. The peer pressure helped me on the recumbent bike (that is, if it’s possible to fare well on that awkward contraption) and on the track – I went all “Talladega Nights” the last couple laps. That’s right, I tried drafting in a windless building, further proof that brains malfunction during distance events.
But it was a different – and far sadder – story in the pool. Charles, a high school and (for a time) college swimmer, lapped me seemingly over and over. No hyperbole, either. He beat me by more than 3 minutes over 10 laps.
Turns out the elementary backstroke wasn’t built for speed.
Yes, the wheels fell off that badly. It’s not that I don’t know how to swim; rather, I was gassed at that point, literally out of breathe. And, news flash, swimming is an anaerobic activity. I needed air, and the only way to get it without stopping was to get my face out of the water. For eight laps, I did the triathlon equivalent of the walk of shame. It was all I could to avoid sinking like a stone.
It’s no wonder why real triathlons start with swimming. I also deduced that these multi-sport competitions genuinely have an extra degree of difficulty over single-discipline events. Switching activities was killer. You’re already fatigued, or at least less than fresh, yet you suddenly have to execute a whole new game plan. On the track, for example, I started too fast. It took me probably half the required distance to find the appropriate pace and to get back into the zoned-out groove that’s crucial in any long race. (Or am I alone in seeing it that way? I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that my mind is more jittery than it should be.)
My final time: 32 minutes, 8 seconds. I found out the next day that was good enough for second place. In a sawed-off event. Indoors. You know the rest.
Shortly after the finish, a couple of triathlete friends encouraged me to try a longer race – there’s a sprint triathlon coming up this weekend in Brookings. Frankly, that’s not going to happen soon and maybe ever. However, I wouldn’t be opposed to doing the mini-tri again next year (after all, it was a good workout in a short amount of time), and am considering doing a charity 10K next month as a test run for a possible half marathon in September.
I continue to be more of a dabbler than a diehard when it comes to adult athletics. That probably means I haven’t found my calling yet. Or maybe I’m afraid of commitment. I’m cool with it, either way. Another new experience under the belt.