Sunday, February 17, 2013

When running isn't enough...there's Triathlon

I love running.  Now that I’ve discovered the joy attached to a good (and even not so good) run, I expect I’ll always love putting my shoes on and running out the door.  Even when I am 90. Because running when I am 90 would be awesome. Or even 100-something like the world’s oldest marathoner.

But the truth is running is just about putting one step in front of the other, and then repeating it….sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes for a short distance, sometimes for a long one. Sure you can learn to be a better runner, or learn to run for longer periods of time…but in the end, the principle is the same. Left. Right. Repeat.

So, when you love running, but want a bit more of a challenge (or in my case something to keep me busy learning stuff for years to come), what do you do?

Fortunately, someone came up with a sport for that. It’s called Triathlon.

I’ll admit it - almost as soon as I realized I enjoyed running, my thoughts turned to triathlon as a potential new challenge.

My brother and his friends have been doing triathlon for years, so I knew what the sport was – even if the idea of ever doing it myself would’ve made me laugh up until recently. Truth is, I vaguely remember my brother once suggesting I enter a local tri. It was a few years ago now – and I am pretty sure my answer was along the lines of “Heck, no!”

My how times change.

Getting Ready for my First Triathlon

Originally, I’d planned to enter a triathlon in 2013. Since 2012 was about running, I figured I’d make 2013 about triathlon.

My tentative plan was accelerated when my brother convinced me that I should do the Loaring Triathlon in the summer of 2012. His friends James (a former pro triathlete and current tri coach) and Charlotte (owner of Loaring Physiotherapy  - a great multifaceted physio business in Windsor) put on the triathlon every couple of years. They’d be hosting the race in 2012, but not 2013.

So I signed up. In fact, one of my other brothers agreed to enter it as well (as his first triathlon) so it turned out to be another family affair – just like the Sporting Life 10k.

Of course, after I signed up I remembered that I’d never been on any kind of bike before…nor had I swam in open water since I was a kid at camp back in the 90s.

But hey, I had six weeks or so to get ready. No problem, right?

For the swim, I think I made it to the pool twice before the actual triathlon. I kind of made the assumption that I could wing my way through 400 meters based on the whole “I already know how to swim,” mentality. Not that I’d been swimming regularly in 10 years (just a minor detail, right?).

I was a bit concerned about having to swim in open water (the triathlon was in Lake Erie) - so I tried valiantly to swim outside before the tri. The challenge is the only body of water I had available to me was Lake Ontario. And you know something about Lake Ontario? It is darned cold - especially in June and July.

Seriously, the first time I went, I was barely able to dunk myself in the water. The second time, my calves cramped up from the cold the instant I hit the water. I gave up after that. Well prepared, that was me.

I did a bit better getting ready for the bike leg.

First, I borrowed my old boss’s mountain bike. I started in an empty church parking lot, with the assistance of my friend Chris (different from Trainer Chris) to make sure I didn’t kill myself. That went well, so I started riding on my own every weekend.  Eventually, I worked my way up to riding the Don Valley Park Trail (a path that has no cars) from my house down to the water and back (about 40k). I wasn’t going fast…but hey, I could do it!

I borrowed my brother’s girlfriend’s mountain bike for the actual race. So I didn’t have to go in blind, my brother and I got together the day beforehand and I tried the bike out. I had no idea how to use the gears (they twisted…which was nothing I’d seen before), but since I didn’t fall off, I figured I’d be fine. The joy of Essex County: it’s flat. I just left the bike in the same gear the whole time.

The run was my strong suit (which is funny since I’d just learned to run). I even managed to run off the bike 4-5 times before the triathlon, which I am sure was a good thing.

The Race
I showed up on race day quite nervous.
Fortunately, when my brother said it was small – he meant it. I think there were about 25-30 women in the beginner wave (which was separate from the men’s beginner wave). But for a small race, it was very well organized – well laid out, lots of people, easy instructions. The organizers made it very easy for me as a beginner not to feel overwhelmed. Plus I had almost my entire family there to cheer me on. I was definitely lucky to have that kind of support (the joy of doing my first triathlon 15 minutes away from my parents' house).

And the race was awesome. It was a million degrees (over 100F I believe), but it was sunny and Lake Erie (unlike Lake Ontario) was like a bathtub.

The Swim (400 meters) was more challenging than I expected. I really had no idea how to deal with current or anything of that nature. I felt like I was going obscenely slow the whole time and the rolling water (which was very mild) were still disorienting. Even still, I managed to finish in the middle of the pack.

Transitioning from Swim to Bike (known as T1) would have been easier if I’d thought to actually untie my running shoes beforehand. Oops. I also lost a bit of time looking for my socks before I realized I didn't bring them with me. Oops again. Ah well - no big deal. I got on my way soon enough.
The Bike (11k) was great. The roads were nice and flat and there was plenty of room. Beforehand, I had these visions of millions of bikers who would run me off the road (silly, I know)…but that wasn’t the case at all. It was very spread out. People gave everyone lots of space (which is required since you can’t ride in a group during a triathlon anyways) and lots of warning when passing.

On my mountain bike, I was pretty much tootling around compared to people on road and triathlon bikes. I felt like I was working far harder and not going anywhere close to fast (it could have been the gear I was in, too). So I got passed….a lot. Probably half of the people behind me on the swim, plus some fast guys in the men’s wave blew by me. But I was having fun, it was sunny and really – life was good!
Picture #1: Loaring Triathlon - Bike Leg

The transition from Bike to Run (T2) was pretty easy. Since I had my running shoes on already, all I had to do was leave my bike and helmet in the right spot. Easy as pie.

The Run (2.5k or so) was the best part. It was scorching out, but I made decent time anyways. All the running I did after biking must have helped. I passed a bunch of people who had passed me on the bike, which was a great feeling.

The Aftermath

Crossing the Finish Line was amazing. I think I felt more proud of finishing that beginner triathlon than even finishing my first 10k. Me - the non-athlete - swam, biked, and ran in a single race. How cool is that?
Picture #2: Loaring Beginner Triathlon - Crossing the Finish Line

I knew as soon as I crossed the finish line that I wanted to do more triathlons. And I wanted to get a real bike (and learn to ride it) so I could go faster. And I wanted to get more swimming in open water so I wouldn’t be so disoriented. And.. And… And…
Yes, I was caught by lure of triathlon: hook, line and sinker. It was just so much fun: challenging and energizing all at the same time.
Really, if you haven't done one - I highly recommend doing a try-a-tri (or beginner tri, or super-sprint). Just be warned: one will be just enough to wet your appetite.

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