I was there, and it was my first race! To sum it up, it was an awesome first experience. Not really a great performance, but I finished and I had fun, which were my two goals for the day. And perhaps most importantly, I’m itching to do my next one.
How I got there
Let me take you back to March of this year. I had planned all winter on signing up for the Chaska triathlon, but when I found out it was canceled this year (due to road construction on the race course), I was a little disappointed. This is my home town and I figured it was as good of a choice as any for my first tri. A part of me was relieved, as though I was off the hook and I didn’t have to do one. It was cancelled, so I had an excuse, is what I told myself. But the other part of me knew that I needed to do one. Deep down there was an itch that needed to be scratched, I needed something to challenge myself.
I was talking to my girlfriend about all of this one day, and she blurted out that I should do the Lifetime tri. I thought about it for a minute and said, yes, I should do that. I can do that. I will do that. That was probably the moment that my resolve changed from “I’ll find one when it’s convenient… maybe” to “That’s it, I’m signing up tomorrow.” I’m not sure what it was, if it was because it was coming from her, or if there was something else that just kicked in at that moment. But it was then that the clouds cleared and I knew that I was going to become a triathlete.
Training went pretty smooth for the most part. I have a cycling background so I wasn’t worried about that, but I’ve really only started running last fall, and I hadn’t swam in nearly 15 years. I stepped up my training on those two and coming into the weeks before race day I felt pretty comfortable with everything. My training basically included spending 2-3 days per week working on each sport. Friday was usually my brick day, which was tough, but I powered through them.
As the race drew near, I thought about everything I would need on race day, how my transitions would go (I even practiced them), what I was going to do race morning, the night before, etc. I even volunteered at a couple of events to get a first hand perspective on what goes on. For anyone thinking about doing one, I think this would be the single most valuable thing you can do prior to your own race day. I was prepared as I could be which paid huge dividends on race day. My nerves were as calm as a summer breeze until about 10 seconds before my start. That lasted for about 20 seconds until I returned my focus to what I was doing at that moment.
Race Day Morning
I had everything planned out on race morning. I woke up at 3:30am, all I had to do was shower, eat breakfast, pick up my bag and go. I live about 3 miles from Lake Nokomis, and since I knew parking would be limited I decided to ride my bike there. I got to the softball fields around 4:40, just as body marking had started and the transition area was opening. Lifetime had a triathlon expo and mandatory packet pickup at the Minneapolis convention center on Friday, so that part of the gig was already taken care of. Because of the number of participants (the announcer kept saying 3,100) all of the bike racks were numbered. So I found my rack and I was early enough to get a nice end spot. I set up my transition area, found all the ins and outs and did a walk through. This is another thing that helped me out a ton. Doing a walk through and figuring out the best way to get from the “in” to my transition area and then to the “out” for both T1 and T2 was a huge. Not only did I do the walk through, but I also went over it in my head several times throughout the morning which really helped to make my transitions smooth.
The transition area closed at 6:30 (closed as in no entry unless you’re in your race) but my swim didn’t start until 9:30 so I had some time to kill. I had everything setup by 6:00 and I was ready to go. As I was walking out I realized something I had done that morning that concerned me. I remembered walking though the grass and softball fields when I got there in the early morning darkness. This shouldn’t be too alarming, but I have speedplay pedals, which are known to clog up with mud and basically make them not work. I’ve never experienced this, but I’ve heard stories, and I was a little worried. I went back and checked and sure enough they were clogged. Good thing I got there early and had extra time to take them apart and clean them! (hint, hint… get there early.)
So with everything taken care of, I watched the pros and elite do their swim start and go through T1. Wow those guys (and girls) are fast!! I had never seen a flying mount before, but those are pretty interesting too. Looks like it could hurt if things go wrong though.
I went and found my girlfriend and one of her friends who were volunteering at the finish line. I hung out there for a while and my parents showed up a little later. We all talked for a bit, I gave hugs and kisses and said “wish me luck”. This was it, I had done all the prep work I could, I had done the training, I did all my research, there was nothing more I could do, but get to the starting line.
After warming up in the water (which felt really cold, even for MN in July) I went over things one last time in my head and then they called up my age group. Men 25-29. They opted to start the age groupers at 3 second intervals rather than a wave start. I think it’s because of the number of people that were there. There would have been some age groups with a 100+ person wave start on a tiny little beach. So I was in line and we started moving. I was about in the middle, and one by one they ran into the water, until it was my turn.
1, 2, 3, Go!
I ran about 10 feet into the water and did kind of a half dive thing and realized I was still in only about 2 feet of water. I ran a little further and I could hear the guy behind me splashing and running around me and then doing his dive. I got in deeper water and started my swim. Things were going ok for a little while. If you’ve read this far you might have guessed that I went over everything and prepared myself to the max. I left one thing out though and it was about to come back to haunt me. I had swam more than the .4 mile distance several times in the pool, but until race day, I had not so much as stepped foot into open water to do any swimming. I made it to about half way out before my anxiety got the best of me. My breathing was very erratic, my form started to suffer and I felt myself begin to panic. I took a few more strokes and then went onto my back.
My muscles felt fatigued, I could hardly catch my breath, and things just didn’t feel right. I can’t really pin point what it was, or why it was happening. Like I said I had swam the distance before, the only variable is that I was swimming in open water. Which turns out to be a pretty big variable. I finished the rest of the swim alternating between freestyle and back stroke, until I could touch bottom and then I kind of waded and then ran when I could and headed up the beach.
That was it, as much as it sucked, as slow as it felt, the hard part (the part I feared the most) was over. Now I could get down to business. As I was running up the beach and through the transition area, my muscles were tired, I felt I didn’t have any energy; it was all I could do to just maintain a jog to my bike. But here is where my prep paid off. I wiped off my feet, threw my shoes, sunglasses, and helmet on, grabbed a squirt of Gatorade and I was off. Running out of the transition I was wondering how I was going to keep going. My muscles were still tired I could barely jog, I thought this was going to be bad. Then I hopped on my bike and it’s like I was given a fresh set of muscles. I started down the road and I felt great. As I was settling into my aero bars I hear “GO MARK!!” I look over and see my Mom screaming and waving. I love my Mom.
As I settled down into a rhythm I was feeling great. A complete 180 from how I felt running up the beach. The course is pretty much flat so I knew it would go fairly quick. This may sound weird, but as I headed north to go along the river I was pleased to find that we were going into the wind. This meant that I could push a little harder now and the trip back south (on the other side of the river) would be a breeze, which it was.
Even though it was nearly 50 minutes, it seemed to pass by super fast. I was in a good rhythm, I had a good pace, I spent way more time passing than being passed. This was fun!
I choked down a clif bar on the way out and finished off my gel flask on the way back, my water was empty, and I was just about there. As I came down Cedar about to turn on to Nokomis Pkwy about 1/4 mile from the finish, I saw a guy in front of me start to unbuckle his shoes. Now, conventional wisdom says “don’t try anything new on race day, stick with what you practiced and what you know works.” But something in me felt like being a little daring. I reached down, unbuckled and slipped my heels out. Looking back, this probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but luckily I was coordinated enough to pull off the stunt. It made running through the transition area much easier than running with bike shoes, and I think it was a risk that paid off.
My T2 took a little longer because I put on socks before my running shoes, which ate up some time. But I’ve never ran without socks and I really didn’t want to risk it now. I sipped some more Gatorade, put on my hat and I was off.
The run was ok. I think I could have eeked out a lot more, but my muscles were tired and I’m not a great runner to begin with. My plan was to walk (rather than run) through the aid stations if I needed to catch my breath. The first one was just out of transition so I decided to run through that one. As I approached the end of my first mile I developed a mild stomach cramp but pushed through it. My muscles were still tired, and I felt like I was barely maintaining a jog. People were passing me left and right. I remembered that my goals were to finish and have fun. I knew at this point that I would finish, but I decided to slow it down and take in the whole experience. I walked for a little bit and soaked it in for a minute. Then I started running again.
I walked through the remaining two aid stations, and then I could hear the crowd at the finish. It was all I could do to keep from stopping to walk again, but I kept telling myself that I was just about done and the pain is only temporary. I passed one lady who was 89 years old, I gave her a “hang in there” and I realized how fortunate I am to even be out here right now. It was thoughts like these that kept me going for that last mile or so.
As I rounded the last corner and could see the finish I wondered if I would be running when I crossed it. Then something happened in the last 100 yards. I have no idea what it was, but all of a sudden the pain went away. There was no fatigue, there was not doubt, my muscles didn’t feel tired. I stepped it up to almost a sprint and it felt great. I was running, taking in the whole experience, the crowd, the noise, everything. I heard a “Go Mark, Go!!” and looked over to see my Mom waving again. I love my Mom. I crossed the finish line and I was done. I did it! I am a triathlete.
It was an overwhelming experience. I felt a huge rush of emotions like I’ve never felt before. All the training, all the preparation, all the… everything, came to this moment, and I had finished. I met my goal. I went and found my girlfriend at the finish line refreshment area and gave her a big hug and a kiss.
Sorry for the length, but I just started typing and it all just kind of came out. My next one is in August in Duluth at the Brewhouse Triathlon. I’m really looking forward to that one, as well as a full season next year. I’d like to do an Olympic next spring and depending on how well I feel, maybe a half next fall.
Here’s the results from Saturday.
Finish Time: 1:44:01
Category place: 67 out of 93 Men 25-29 finishers
Overall Place: 576 out of 1134 Short Course finishers
Swim .4 miles
category place: 80
category place: 15
Bike 15 miles
Pace: 18.6 mph
category place: 30
category place: 45
Run 3 mile
category place: 82
Last edited by Scrappy Dingo; 07-17-07 at 10:50 AM.
Hey Scrappy, that's a great story. That's the kind of detail I like to read in a personal race account. And I think you answered one of my questions. I figured they would have a staged start but I didn't know for sure. Thanks a lot man, and congrats.