How I Tackled my First Triathalon
Ten years of competitive swimming seemed to be enough. Tack on one more year of post-grad swimming and starting a career with a local healthcare company, and I figured my competitive sports days were over. “What do I do now?” Well, after gaining 25lbs, I decided I’d play recreational basketball. I liked playing basketball, but that didn’t mean I was good at it. I rolled my ankle the first morning; ‘fish out of water’ was an understatement.
Ego bruised and ankle out of commission, I sat on the sidelines next to a coworker who noticed my swim bag. “You’re a swimmer?” “Yeah I swam through college.” “That’s great man, you ever thought about triathlon?” “That’s where you swim, bike, and run all in one race right?” “Exactly!”
I faintly remembered watching a video of a triathlon on YouTube, thinking I would never, ever, do something that extreme.
Three weeks later I had bought a bike, new running shoes, and registered for my first triathlon. The competitive athlete in me just couldn’t let go. Being without a coach or guidance for the first time in ten years seemed foreign, but I planned my running and biking workouts with help from online forums and friend’s advice. It can’t be that hard, right? I already know how to swim really well. How wrong I was…
4:00am- No way, I haven’t woken up this early in over two years
4:10am- I paid too much money not to do this, gotta get out of bed.
4:15am- It wasn’t that much money….
4:20am- Alright, i’m up!
4:50am- Driving to the race course I take a gel* at the recommendation of my training partner.
*For anyone not privy to the delicious confusion that is consuming a ‘gel’, it is a small packet of what can best be described as goop designed to provide the athlete with a boost of energy. Any attempt at flavor (I use the word ‘flavor’ very lightly) ranges from citrus or coffee, all the way to vanilla and caramel. All of that would be manageable, but it’s the texture that gets you: I don’t know whether to swallow or chew, and it feels like melted gummy bears….but worse.
5:30am- Set up my gear in the transition area. This is the marked area with bike racks where athletes stash all the equipment needed for all three sports. This is also about the time I realize it’s about 47 degrees out and the sun hasn’t come up…..and I’ll be jumping in a lake in two hours…..
6:45am- Put on wetsuit.
6:46am- Realize I’m putting on wetsuit backward. Fix that.
7:05am- Stand outside the water because it’s too cold to even dip a toe
7:10am- Yeah, still not getting in.
7:12am- Maybe just my lower body?
7:15am- We’re just going to let this be a surprise.
7:30am- I was ‘lucky’ enough to be in the first group of people starting. I thought this would give me an advantage over everyone else having been a swimmer for so long. Again, I was so wrong.
8:00am- Coming out of the water I realized a couple things: 1. I’m not in great swim shape anymore, and 2. Open water swimming is completely different. It was like trying to participate in American Gladiator, underwater, with zero visibility.
8:05am- Start the bike. Feeling alright, and switching from swimming to biking was actually a nice change of pace.
8:20am- HOW MANY HILLS CAN THERE REALLY BE?
8:40am- We do this TWICE?
9:00am- Oh thank you this bike stuff is over.
9:02am- … but I still have to run a 10k.
9:05am- Start the run. Hobbling behind an older gentleman and thought I could get my legs under me for a mile or so by running slower…until he starts to pull away….and now he’s gone….
9:10am- Was that a girl that just passed me?
9:15am- Was that a kid that just passed me?
9:30am- Was that the same girl that just passed me again?
9:40am- Getting closer to the finish, my body seems to decide it’s done, as in done-done. Done doing anything. My first-hand experience came with one mere mile to go.
9:50am- Legs-“Yeah we’re done.” Me– “But guys, we’re so close” Legs – “Don’t care.”
At 9:52am I crossed the finish line of my first triathlon. Two hours and 21 minutes after starting this thing, I was lying on my back, unable to move, and feeling more accomplished than I had felt in a long, long time. The early morning, freezing cold water, unforgiving hills, brutal sun, and intense pain that I experienced all day were completely washed away by the overwhelming sense of accomplishment pulsing through my body. Triathlon had sparked something in me that had gone dormant since the heart of my swimming career.
Three years later and I’ve completed five Ironman 70.3 events, five Olympic distance triathlons, and countless sprint triathlons. That one rolled ankle lead me to the next greatest passion in my life.
My first triathlon was my greatest triathlon. It was the beginning of my new life.
Chad is an elite level age-group triathlete, former collegiate club swimmer, and athletic coach that lives and trains in Kansas City, MO.