ChelanMan, Chelan, WA – 07/18/2010
(Since this was my first tri ever, it’s a little extra long. Enjoy!)
Back in December, 2009, I took the suggestion of a personal trainer at the gym and started training for a triathlon. He figured I’d be ready for a sprint distance by July, 2010, so I looked online for a race around then, and found ChelanMan.
I didn’t have a specific training plan starting out. I knew I could run the 5K, and I figured I’d be able to swim 800 meters, but I didn’t even own a bicycle yet. Turns out, the swimming is what I really struggled with.
I swam a bit as a kid, but just playing around in the pool. I never realized there was so much technique involved. I also never realized that spending so much time out of the water would infect me with a primal fear of putting my face down in the water. When I started swimming at the pool, I struggled just to make a couple strokes without feeling like I was drowning. I was finally able to make myself do it, but with the side effect of involuntarily screaming underwater on every exhale. Fortunately, this only lasted a few swim sessions until I acclimated. I still don’t feel at home in the water, but I’m confident I’m not going to drown.
I didn’t buy a bicycle until May. Up until then, I took a few spin classes at the gym, which, by the way, are REALLY REALLY HARD. Fun, but absolutely exhausting. When I was finally ready to make a purchase, it ended up being a Cannondale Synapse 7, which I got a great deal on at Kirkland Bicycle
May was also Bike to Work Month, so I suddenly had a crash course (with a fortunate lack of actual crashes) in how to ride a road bike, as this was my first. I rode every single work day that month, rain or shine, and took the long way home most days to extend my training.
Aside from the biking, I was generally just trying to swim or run a little further or faster each time. I also started doing “brick workouts”, where you do one thing right after the other (swim -> bike or bike -> run). This not only lets you practice changing in and out of gear, but more importantly, it gets you used to the feeling of shifting from one repetitive motion into another. It’s very odd, and definitely takes some getting used to.
I wanted to give myself lots of time on either side of the race, both for figuring out what to do and where to go, and because I didn’t know how destroyed I might be afterwards. So with the race on Sunday, Matt and I arrived Friday, and checked in to the Midtowner Motel. Cheap, clean, a mini-fridge, and just a mile or so from the race. Perfect!
We went to Lakeside Park so I could register and check out the swim course. While waiting in line, I had a nice conversation with a guy who was doing the half-iron distance the next day. It seems to be a rule that triathletes are friendly, happy people, and always ready to talk about the sport.
After getting my registration packet, ChelanMan tshirt and whatnot, Matt and I had a delicious dinner at Marcelas Cocina Mexicana. Then we went back to the motel room and watched some SpongeBob while I put my race number on my bike:
Another advantage to arriving so early was that we’d get to watch the half-iron distance race on Saturday.
Matt was a sport and let me wake him up crazy early for something I just wanted to watch, so we were there for the 7am start. The lake seemed pretty smooth, but the swim start was anything but! Arms and legs thrashing, the water churning and bubbling, and the crowd, yelling and cheering like crazy. Awesome! Just a couple minutes in, one of the support craft hit the beach with a gal who’d had to quit. She looked totally devastated, and my heart went out to her, wishing luck in coming back to try again next year (they don’t let you back in once they’ve pulled you out).
We watched as the swimmers faded to little dots nearly a half mile away, then went and found a good spot on the grass above the bike corral to watch the transitions while playing a little Scrabble.
I was able to watch a variety of techniques for getting out of a wetsuit (best: remove cap and goggles and hold in hand as you strip to the waist, letting them go to get trapped in the arm, push the suit down past your knees, then step on the loose bits with one leg while pulling the other one out, all without falling over). I was also able to admire some truly spectacular specimens of human. These people were all lean muscle, and after having swum 1.2 miles, were sprinting out of the water to their bikes, changing gear, then sprinting up the hill with their bikes to the mounting area, which some even did without stopping. Ouch!
We stuck around to watch all the swimmers transition, then left to get some lunch and do some shopping for Matt (how does a person come to a lake without any shorts to wear? honestly…). Later I went for a final jog, and then we took my bike to the park to put it in the corral. We went to Westside Pizza for dinner, where I had a massive serving of penne sausage marinara. Tasty, though not the best ever (and loaded with cheese, which I pushed to the side). Matt’s pizza looked a lot better.
Race day! I made myself a turkey sandwich for breakfast, showered, and triple checked that I had all my gear. I was a little nervous, but mostly excited and confident. I was sure I could handle the distances, but as it was my first tri, I was mentally prepared for everything to go horribly wrong, and determined to have fun no matter what.
We walked the 4 blocks from the motel to the bus that was shuttling athletes to the park. I was started to zone out, focusing on the steps I had left to accomplish before the race started (prep my transition area, pee, get my body markings, pee, etc). I got it all ready to go, then donned my wetsuit and went into the warm-up area. It’s important to get the wetsuit wet as soon as possible, because otherwise it’ll fill up with sweat and then just sticks everywhere. You also need to get your heart rate up so your body is ready for the chaos at the start, or else you’re likely to panic and/or hyperventilate.
Then it was time to pose a bit…
Soon enough, it was time to race! I set myself towards the back of the pack, as I had no idea how fast I was compared to others and didn’t want to be in the way. The air was electric, and there were big grins all around. What made it all the more exciting was looking out on the lake, we could see the strong wind had kicked up three foot swells! The gun went off, and out we went!
It was just as nuts as I thought it was going to be, and I ended up being a lot faster than I thought. I kept coming up on people’s feet, so I had to slow down and do some breaststroke to look for a way around them, then continue on. There were bright neon, course marking lines under the water that I found especially helpful. Here I am, about 3/4 of the way through the half mile swim (thanks to Matt for the pics, of course):
I donned my bike gear and headed up the hill to the mounting area. I mounted fine (no leaping for me), and took off, but something seemed wrong. After the first block I pulled over and found my rear tire to be completely flat! What the heck!?! I had, of course, checked my tired the night before, and they were fine. I had not, however, checked them in the morning. Crap! Even better was that I hadn’t ever changed a bicycle tire. I had the tools and the basic idea, but I knew this was going to take some time.
I heard plenty of consoling comments from other riders as they zoomed past, like “Oh no, not already.” Some spectators even offered to help, but that could get me disqualified. I managed to get my spare tube on, but the rim tape had shifted and was covering the hole for the stem. I managed to punch through it, but I think doing so damaged the stem such that the mini-pump I had ended up ripping the stem right off. Crap!
By then a race volunteer had stopped to help me, and he said it was alright for me to use the spare tube offered up by a spectator (who also had a full pump). We got that in and started pumping, and then BAM! the tube popped. Crap!
At this point I was out of tubes, so I had to walk my bike back down to the corral and the race mechanic. He expertly removed the blown tube and searched the tire and rim for problems. Finding nothing he put a new tube in (the fourth, now), which also popped! He checked the tire again, and this time found a little tear that the tubes were poking through, allowing them to pop.
Luckily, he had one last spare tire. He put it on with yet another new tube, pumped it up, and lo’, I was ready to go! After 45 minutes of rest I was fully recovered from the swim, and ready to kick some ass. I expressed my undying gratitude to the mechanic, ran back up the hill and took off.
I now I had a great time passing all sorts of people that I had beaten out of the water, as well as the ‘try-a-tri’ group that had started the swim long after the sprint group. I made some pretty good time, and had a great time doing it.
I finished, dismounted, rolled back down to transition, switched into my running shoes, and headed back out, yelling to Matt that I’d had four flats on the bike.
And now came the pain. It was about 90 degrees and humid, and my legs felt like jello. I was totally exhausted, and didn’t think running a 5K sounded like any kind of fun at all. Then I noticed the age marked on the calf of the man in front of me. 70.
I told myself that all I had to do was keep up with this guy, and I’d be fine. After the first half mile, my legs finally starting feeling pretty good again, so I opened it up and passed him, but not without a serious mental nod in his direction. That’s just awesome.
I was very thankful for the volunteers out there, armed not only with water but big water cannons, which I gleefully asked them to douse me with at every aid station. Even then, it was still incredibly hot.
By the halfway point I was feeling so good I was surprised I was half done already. I swung around the barrel and headed back towards the park, high-fiving a buddy of mine that was there doing the try-a-tri (and that I was very happy to see hadn’t passed me during my bike drama!).
Brutally, there’s a little hill just before the final 100 feet to the finish. I managed to take it at a run, though, and even had a little gas left for a bit of a sprint across the line. I finished! Woo!! I got my medal, turned in my timing chip, and posed for the victory shot:
We packed up and took the gear back to the motel. I took a quick shower, then we headed out for some FOOD. We started at BC MacDonald’s, then migrated to Cantina Caverna, where I had Pina Coladas for the next 8 hours. This was my other big mistake that day, as a couple days later I came down with a monster cold that knocked me out for almost a week (which is apparently pretty common if you drink heavily after a big sporting event). Ah well, it was still a dang tasty way to celebrate!
I was officially a triathlete, and I couldn’t wait to do it all over again!
swim: 20:27.9 / bike: 1:26:22.0 / run: 30:24.5
(distances were: .5 / 13.1 / 3.1 miles)
placed: 23/23 in my division, 325/338 overall.
So, dead last, and yet not quite dead last! Woo!