I didn’t know what to expect at my first triathlon, but I managed to meet my two primary goals:
1. I didn’t drown.
2. I didn’t come in last.
Not quite, anyway. My sidestroke proved steady enough to take me 500 meters around Fox Island’s Bowman Lake without faltering, but it was just as slow as I feared. Only three people emerged from the lake after I did, and all three of them eventually blew by me during the 12-mile bike segment.
The last three miles or so I had a sheriff’s deputy motorcycle escort as I furiously pedaled in some unknown yet inefficient gear, the last stragglers disappearing into the distance. By the time I got back to Fox Island, they were completely out of view.
Still, I felt great as I ditched my bike and ran out of the transition area. I’d endured swimming. I’d endured cycling. For the time being, I was enduring the weird post-cycling thigh tightness that makes your legs feel like concrete posts. But I knew from (a very little bit of) experience that this feeling would pass. And it would pass just as quickly, maybe even more so, if I kept up a steady pace.
I got a little energy boost when I passed Ben finishing his 5K as I was heading out. He gave me a high five and a huge grin and said something I couldn‘t hear but assumed was encouraging.
And I was encouraged. I had a feeling not everybody in this race likes to run as much as I do, and I found two such somebodies shortly after I left the park and headed out on Yohne Road. I felt bad about passing them, because people are so supportive of each other in an event like this. Still, this was the only segment in which I don’t feel completely inept, so I wanted to enjoy it, and I did, knowing that we’d only be heading out a mile and a half or so before the turnaround.
It was already getting hot on the pavement, but there was shade on the north side of the road. I turned back into the park, and up ahead saw a genial guy I’d already encountered several times during this event. He was struggling, but not so much that he wasn’t going to finish.
“C’mon,” I said. “You don’t want me to beat you.”
“There’s not a lot I can do about it at this point,” he puffed good-naturedly. We looped around the transition area side by side, then he fell back as we hit the trail heading to the beach.
“Go ahead,” he said. “As long as I make 2 hours, I’ll be happy.”
“You think we might?” I asked. I had no idea of the time. Earlier, as I’d struggled to get more speed out of my bike — my feet were already flying off the pedals, and with no more gears at my disposal, I fantasized about beating the fender with a horse whip — I‘d started to wonder if this race might wind up taking me closer to three hours.
But as the finish-line clock came into view, I saw he was right: It had just ticked past 1:58. I’d finish a bit ahead, but we’d both made our goal.
Here’s the funny thing. You think a triathlon is like the toughest endurance sport on earth, and surely an Ironman is exactly that. But two hours of swimming, biking and running isn’t as hard on your body as two hours of running — especially if you employ a less arduous stroke than the crawl.
And I never would have known that if I hadn’t tried it.
The thing is, I wouldn’t have tried it if it hadn’t been for two people who wound up not being able to participate themselves: My friend Tinea and my sister Traci.
Tinea was the one who whipped up a groundswell of enthusiasm for this event that sucked me in, and who showed up to offer support even after she threw her back out earlier this week.
And Traci dove headfirst into triathlon training with me even though she knew it was unlikely her schedule would permit her to participate.
This race wound up being a great fit for Ben, as a cross country and swim team guy who loves going on long bike rides. I expect he’ll like it even better as he gets older and figures out how to afford an expensive road bike.
It’s more of a stretch for me, especially given my preference for secondhand clothing and gear. (All of my race clothes except my sports bra came from Goodwill, while my bike was a garage sale hand-me-down from my 13-year-old niece.)
But I can already see how this sport can be addictive. Even before we loaded our gear, Ben and I were already comparing notes on how we could improve our performance next time.
Hopefully Tinea and Traci will be able to join in on that one — along with a few other people who might not have realized just how doable a “sprint triathlon” really is.