If you have started to read this, and were expecting one of my regular posts describing a newly discovered slime mold or lichen, you may be disappointed. Instead I have decided to write a little about my first sprint triathlon.
What is a sprint triathlon? Most people are familiar with the Ironman Triathlon which is a competitive race consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and a full marathon (26.2 mile run). Although there are many variations of a sprint triathlon, it is essentially a race requiring less endurance but more speed than an ironman, since the distance of each stage of the race is substantially less.
Before I continue, I should address the question that may be on the minds of many: Why would anyone want to do a triathlon, no matter what the distance, and what kind of person would actually pay money to do such a thing?
I really can’t answer this question for anyone but myself. I’m sure there are many motivations among those that subject themselves to such a rediculous activity. In my case, it just seemed to be a natural progression.
Swimming has been part of my weekly routine for about twenty years, putting in a mile, 2 to 3 times a week, whenever I have access to a local pool. Because swimming is such a low impact exercise, it causes very little joint strain. Many active people switch from running to swimming as they get older for this reason. It is also an excellent activity to promote cardiovascular fitness.
I have also been riding bikes for a number of years. I didn’t set out to be a cyclist. It was a slow process. At first I rode the short distance to work and back each day. Then I added some milage to my afternoon ride home. In 1992, I became bold enough to participate in a the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic (STP), a 200 mile ride between the two cities. The next year I added the “Tour de Blast”, which has evolved into a 82 mile ride into the Mount St. Helens blast zone, with over 6,200 feet of elevation gain. Each year I try to add something to my cycling that makes me a stronger rider.
The benefits of cycling are many. Cycling builds muscle tone throughout the body, not just the legs. It also improves stamina, is a good cardiovascular exercise, improves heart health, and reduces stress.
For years I was ready to participate in two thirds of a triathlon. I hadn’t ran since the early eighties, and really didn’t have much desire to start up again.
When my youngest son entered high school, he became interested in cross-country running (through no coaxing on my part). I took up running again about a year and a half ago just so he had someone to train with in the off-season (and to see if my old legs could still handle it).
To be honest, it has not been easy. Although, at times, I still think I am 20 years old, my legs don’t waste any time reminding me that I’m not. Most days, some amount of pain comes with every step, but even so, I love to get out and run.
Like swimming and cycling, running has a long list of health benefits associated with it. But due to the constant pounding that occurs during a run, some people are plagued with injuries. With a moderate amount of running, combined with other activity, you can avoid injury while reaping the benefits of the activity. There is also an added advantage to this weight-bearing form of exercise that is not provided by either swimming or cycling. A reasonable amount of running actually builds bone density, strengthening the bones, which is important when you are not twenty anymore.
So when I realized I had achieved a small amount of proficiency in the final ingredient of the triathlon, I started to think that maybe I could actually compete in one of these events some day.
Shortly after this revelation, I found out that a triathlon was set to be held in our community in several months. I adjusted my training to prepare, working on two of the events on most days, and resting one day a week to keep my sanity.
The day of the race was overcast, but not cold, with the sun shinning through the cloud cover at times. Instead of the disorderly open-water swim associated with many triathlons, this swim was conducted in a heated swimming pool in heats of 12 people at a time.
I felt good after the 500 yard swim, but four competitors had already left the building and headed for the transition area. I had a towel on hand because I figured it would be difficult to put socks on wet feet, but I never anticipated the amount of effort it would take to put on a snug jersey that had gotten soaked from my flip turn splash. It seems to be a full 45 seconds of struggle before I was able to get it situated.
Next it was on to the transition area to start the bike stage of the race. Before this event I had never raced on a bike. And in practice, I had never went immediately from one stage to another. But the switch to the bike felt good and I quickly found my cadence. The eleven mile course was a flat “there and back” with a bit of a headwind after the turn around. But all went fairly well, and I made it back to the transition area without getting a flat tire, which was one of my biggest fears.
After a quick transition, I headed out on the run. The course was one lap around Lake Sacajawea, which many consider to be the jewel of the community. The run itself was my BIGGEST fear. I was concerned that after the bike stage, my legs would be so tired they would feel like rubber.
Surprisingly, it was worse then I imagined. But I had put too much into this to give up now. I had to give every last ounce I had into making it to the end of the race with a respectable finish. I only had 3.6 miles to go. At this point it was just a matter of taking one stride at a time and hoping I could keep it going. After about a mile I loosened up slightly, and I was able to pick up the pace. Before long the finish line was within sight, and I would have started my kick, if I had anything left, but I had to settle for maintaining my current pace to the finish line.
So now that I have finished the triathlon, what is there to say? Would I do it again? In a heart beat! Would I recommend it to others? I would say everyone can identify a goal and work towards it. It doesn’t have to be a triathlon or a marathon. It can be anything you have a passion for. Will it be hard? Most likely. Anything worth attaining requires diligence and sacrifice. But you will be rewarded by knowing you set a goal and took the steps to reach it.
I have purposely omitted my personal split times and places. They are important only to me. Yes, I could have done better, but I felt I didn’t hold back, either in the race or my training leading up to the triathlon. So in my mind, I did achieve my goal.
I hope the words above inspire someone to take on a difficult challenge, prepare for it and then find a way to succeed. Good luck!
Photos from The Nutty Triathlon FaceBook Page