My First (and last) Triathlon!

I’m veering away from my travel and hiking stories for a moment. I feel compelled to write about my recent triathlon experience. It was only a sprint distance, the shortest of the choices, but a challenge for me none the less.

I have numerous athletic accomplishments in soccer and hunter/jumper horseback riding, but in my mind, these accomplishments don’t compare to running a marathon or completing a triathlon because they came easy to me while long distance running, swimming, and cycling pose a greater test. I admire anyone one that can do these races…to me, they are torture! I guess I am a glutton for punishment.

I signed up for the sprint tri, a 750 meter swim, a 20K cycle, and a 5K run about 12 weeks ago and began a beginner training schedule. With all my travel, admittedly, I was not the best at following the regimen, and was most anxious about the swim. As a kid, I came in last place in every swim race at the country club. Once I thought I had a chance of winning a third place ribbon because their were only four kids racing, but I was denied! I’m not sure how much of my childhood performances were due to being the smallest person in my class through the eighth grade, or how much was due to being flat terrible at swimming and facing drowning more than once!

I tossed and turned most of the night, partly because I did not have full understanding about the transitions and partly because I was worried about waking up at 5:30. Of course the sun comes up before 5:30, so I was awake. I loaded up my gear and headed to Aurora Reservoir just before 6. I felt sorry for the driver of the overturned tractor-trailer, but was happy that it blocked both lanes of traffic just after my exit to Quincy Road. As I turned down Quincy, I looked to the north into a sky blanketed in a roll cloud. I hoped for dry weather as I pulled into the parking lot.

With my bag flung over my back and my tires aired up, I followed the more seasoned triathletes to the transition area where I attempted to pick up my packet, but had left my ID in the car! After racking my bike and dropping my gear, I retrieved my ID and got my number…69. I had this number once during the MS150 which prompted an endless number of comments over the 2 day, 150 mile ride. I wondered what I was in store for today. Amazingly, not one remark, but then again, I was in the back of the pack.

I tried my best to fit in with nervous energy swirling around inside. I slowly unpacked my bag as I inspected how others prepped their area. Their towel laid folded on the ground beneath with their bike shoes each stuffed with a sock and their running shoes. Their helmet stuffed with gloves and a pair of sunglasses hung from their bike’s handle bars. Slowly, athletes lined up for volunteers to mark their bib number on their arm and squeezed into their wet suits.

A guy on the other side of my bike rack, Paul, commented on my MS150 shirt and after chatting a bit, I admitted this was my first competition. He had competed in several Ironman’s and remarked, “The only danger is getting hooked on the sport.” I assured him that would not happen! I never got the “runner’s high” while training for a marathon…what the heck is that?!? And one duathalon was plenty for me as well. Neither one of these sports require swimming. There is a reason why a triathlon has taken me so long to check off my bucket list, and I don’t expect to check the box twice!

We were required to clear the transition area at 7, so we made our way to the sandy shore of the reservoir. I signed up for the beginner category, the last of 8 waves to swim in the 62 degree water. Each wave of swimmers could be identified by the color of the swimcaps the race provided…our group donned bright yellow. Sharon was another beginner that racked her bike near mine, so as first timers we stood on the sand watching the start and where the swimmers exited the water. It was fine for a while, but with the sun covered by the clouds the chilly morning air made us wish we were next up!

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My plan was to start in the back of the beginner swim, especially since we were swimming with men as well. I did not want anyone swimming over the top of me. The rectangular course was marked by bright yellow buoys that I attempted to spot as I swam from the start line. Once swimming, my goal was to freestyle slow and steady. Things changed quickly!! My rented wetsuit of THICK rubber was very constricting on my arms and shoulders. My arms felt pinched with every stroke. In addition, it was difficult to watch out for the pack of swimmers with my face in the water, so I resorted to breast stroke. I felt like I was hardly making headway and kept my eye on the kayaks stationed near every buoy just in case I needed to grab hold of one.

Holding on to a kayak is legal, but it seemed like cheating to me. My biggest fear of the swim portion was thinking that I couldn’t stop if I tired or I’d sink! Of course, Sharon pointed out, I could stop on the bike or the run, so why not the swim. OK, well my next goal was to not grab hold of that kayak no matter how much I wanted too! Anyone who owns a kayak should volunteer just once for a triathlon. I can’t say how much I appreciated the kayakers being there eventhough I didn’t use them, except for the advice of one who said, “blow your bubbles in the water, it will help you breath since the cold water makes it harder.” At this point, I realized I was closer to doggie paddling than breast stroking as I kept my head above the water due to my light panic feeling.

Once I rounded the farthest buoy, feeling more relaxed (that’s relative) and was on the homestretch, I decided I’d try freestyle again. Freestyle just didn’t work. I tried two strokes and a breath, five strokes and a breath and who knows what other combinations, but I always found myself stopping to see where I was, loosing all momentum. Plus, I started getting dizzy from my left ear being clogged and not being able to focus on anything in the murky water! Luckily I was aimed toward the finish line as it is very disconcerting to feel constricted in the chest with vertigo, and the flags in the distance encouraged me to breast stroke the rest of the way. Shockingly, I finished in the middle of the pack and in the time I had hoped!

As I followed the carpeted sidewalk toward my bike, I passed a station where volunteers help you strip off your wetsuit. They asked if I wanted help. With a wave, I responded “it won’t make a difference!” My transition time was almost 5 minutes…super long! Still dizzy, stripping my wetsuit off proved difficult. I opted to take my time snacking on some ShotBloks and taking a swig of water before I finally mounted my bike after several who finished the swim after me.

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The beginning of the bike course was downhill which I appreciated though all I could think of was I’d be climbing at the end of the ride. I followed the rolling hills through the Colorado prairie and was pleased to pass a handful of riders. With the hills and a headwind, I felt like my 14 mph average speed was acceptable. I finished the course in under an hour just in time for another long transition, though not quite as long at the previous one. I snacked a bit more, hydrated, wrapped up my ankle, changed shoes, and headed out for the run.
courtesy of skipix

My run turned out to be the worst segment of the race. I feared it might be tough due to the unhealed avulsion fracture in my ankle, but it turns out my left leg was the least of my concerns. It felt like my right hamstring and calf were trying to cramp, but I think it was tendonitis in my knee, something my body is prone to in distance races. So, I ran down every hill and walked up every hill and eventually crossed the finish line. It took me about 7 minutes longer than I’d hoped…YIKES!
courtesy of skipix

While my biggest goal was just to finish, an added bonus would have been to complete the competition in two hours, not counting transition time. I know the transition time is part of the race, but I never practiced it and truly cared more about being comfortable than getting a blister because I put my shoes on too quickly, so I didn’t even try to go fast in this area. I finished in 2:04. I’m certain that is slow for many triathletes, but I wasn’t last in any category or on the whole, so I’ll take it!

I ran into Paul at the finish line BBQ and recapped my performance. He said it can be normal to get vertigo since there aren’t any lines in the lake to follow! He also told me with broad shoulders and a long torso, I have a perfect body type for swimming…could have fooled me! I’m not sure I will be practicing anymore to find out. I’m pleased to be finished and feel accomplished that I did it. I have a high respect for anyone who can complete a triathlon, especially the longer distances. I think I will stick to more fun activities…like hiking! ETB



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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

5 thoughts on “My First (and last) Triathlon!

  1. Congrats on checking this one off your list. I thought I might want to try a sprint someday, but I may just changed my mind! 🙂

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