I am tired.
The Brickman’s is a good triathlon for beginners because the swim leg is only 250 yards, inside a pool, and the bike and run legs are mostly flat. I received the announcement for the race two months ago. Starting “off the couch,” I wouldn’t even have considered racing in it if the swim leg was a full half-mile. There wouldn’t have been enough time to train up to full strength. I found a training program to get from couch to triathlon in nine weeks, so I started in week two and got my butt in gear.
Check-in started at 6:30 a.m., with welcome to the racers at 7:45 and start at 8:00. My wife and I woke up at 5:30, got on the road at six, arrived just as registration was opening. I assumed correctly that as a new guy I’d be walking around in circles trying to get my head on straight with registration and setting up my bike and equipment in the transition area.
Lesson #1: If you’re a newbie, leave yourself time. Lots of time. You have enough to worry about with the race without adding stress over just finding your way around on top of that. With time, you can take your time getting set up and you won’t be stressing out about anything but the race.
I actually wasn’t that stressed out about the race, today. That’s because I was completely stressed out about it last night. I couldn’t fall asleep and I woke up twice, including laying in bed wide awake for what felt like an hour before my alarm went off.
Lesson #2: Unless your race is happening somewhere that you can walk around in bare feet, you’ll need two pairs of shoes: your running shoes, which you’ll leave in the transition area, and whatever you wear for everything else. I figured this one out while boiling over with stress last night. Keep in mind that I only have sneakers and shoes for work, so I walked into the gym wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and my nice shiny work shoes.
I was one of the first people in the locker room at Y. I changed into my swim trunks, still in the same T-shirt, then moved over to the pool. It was about 7:00 and I was the first one there besides the lifeguards. Me? Really? I killed time talking to them about the race, then went back to the locker room and did sun salutations in a part of the room that no one was using. As the locker room filled up I moved back to the pool, which also started to get activity as people found their way over. Some jumped in and started warming up. As more people arrived, I tried to get an idea of how many would be in the race and where I’d be seeded. It looked like we had somewhere between 100 and 150 people. Some people were marked with numbers close to mine, who looked like they were in far better shape, so I didn’t know what to think.
At 7:45 the room was packed with racers, a few of their friends, and lifeguards. The race director greeted us. He went through how the lap structure of all three legs would work. Then he asked us to move to the far side of the pool and sort ourselves by number. He asked for a show of hands: “Where are the four-minute people?” Most of them were together, but a few were scattered elsewhere in the line. “Okay, sort yourselves out so that you’re all together. Five-minute people?” Ditto. “Six?” At this point we got the idea of what we had to do and we reshuffled ourselves so that we were closer to people of the same ability. I was sorted into the seven-minute group, but I knew I could do it in closer to six minutes if I had a good day, so I dared to go closer to the front of the group. I could also blow it, get hung up in the lane lines, or who knew what.
The race began. It’s an honest-to-God honor to watch skilled swimmers. Their movements are fluid and effortless. They cruise up and down the lanes. It doesn’t look like they’re working. The four-minute racers and the early five-minute racers looked like they’d been practicing swimming this way. No one passed anyone because they were just that good. The later five-minute racers and the six-minute racers started bunching up as people passed each other going both up and down the lanes. People started getting hung up in the lane lines. The later six-minute racers and the seven-minute racers (ahem) started getting nervous, but then we saw that the field was starting to spread back out. That’s because none of us had the speed to pass anybody. Which was fine by me.
I took the swim leg out too fast, and didn’t settle into a groove until about halfway through. I had one good lane change and otherwise mangled them. Except for scraping my back and getting sloppy push-offs from the wall, I did fine. I was grateful to be doing my first tri swimming inside a pool, where I didn’t have to worry about being swum over and the distance was short enough to manage. I climbed out of the pool and waved to my wife as I ran to the transition area.
Lesson #2: I wanted to wear a T-shirt under a long-sleeved top for the bike leg because the morning felt chilly. I pinned my number to my shirt without thinking. The number had to visible throughout the race, so once I started getting dressed in the transition area I realized my mistake. I didn’t feel like taking the number off and pinning it again so I headed out without the long-sleeved top.
I tried not to take the bike leg out too fast. If you’re new, excited, and feeling good after the swim leg, good luck with that. I did what I could to settle down and pushed the pace here and there because it was too darned fun not to. The bike leg was mostly flat with a few easy hills. Some sections of the road were under construction, but I thought it was a good taste of real life on an average road. I felt embarrassed that I was surprised by the ruts and potholes. That’s what I get for doing most of my training on a stationary bike.
Lesson #3: Eat your carbohydrates. About halfway into the bike leg I started feeling loopy. My first thought was, “And there goes my glucose level.” I slowed down and focused on breathing, trying to give my body a chance to build energy faster, but I knew that was a warning sign for the run leg. I had plenty of fruit and pasta the day before but could have had more.
I took the run leg out a bit fast, because even though I was starting to feel dizzy, I felt stronger than I had in some of my workouts. That didn’t last, and I settled in to a steady pace that I knew I could hold. It’s smart and it works. It’s frustrating and not as much fun as running fast. It feels better than stopping to walk because I ran too fast. Steady pace wins.
Lesson #4: Hydrate. I saw many people with water bottles in the transition area or in racks on their bikes. I didn’t, and during the run leg I started to cramp up. If they hadn’t been handing out water, it could have been really bad. I skipped breakfast and didn’t drink water before the race because I didn’t want to be holding back having to go while I needed my energy for the race. That may have been a bad idea, but I think if I’d swigged a few gulps of water in transition I would have felt okay.
Lesson #5: If it’s a sunny day, wear a light shirt. I wore a black shirt because it was only a three-mile race and the temperature wouldn’t get really warm until later. Valid thoughts, but this is an endurance race. You want to make your life as easy on yourself as you can. If the race had been much longer, I would have taken my shirt off so that I could stop baking in it.
At one point during the last mile I was almost in tears—not because I felt tired, but because we all have bad memories and emotions that we’d rather forget stored in our muscles. When your body is squeezed out like a rag, it’s easier to let those feelings out than it is to waste the energy and the tension to keep them bottled up. I had a moment like that. I experienced it, let it go, moved on, and felt glad that I had the courage to handle it the way I did. It was a beautiful day and I was almost there. Let’s finish this thing.
So I did. I don’t know what my time was yet because of the rolling start. As a newbie, the time doesn’t matter to me. It was all about the finish. I feel proud that I did it. I trained up, even with a busy job and a commitment to blogging and writing. My wife’s support meant to the world to me. Every clap, every cheer keeps you going. Having it coming from that someone who makes the sun rise and set for you reminds you why you’re there.
Good race 🙂 .