Race Day Diary: My first triathlon, June 26, 2011.

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Early morning reflections: up at 5:45 am, sitting at the table of the front lawn of our cottage, staring at the calm water, sipping my first coffee. Today’s the day! at age 62, I’ll be participating in my first triathlon. I’d like to say I’m focused, confident and ready to take on the world. Truth is, I have grave doubts about the swim and keep coming back to how I’ll handle this segment of the event. Finally, I decide to focus on two goals: survive the swim and finish in two hours.

Final prep: 6:15 am. I get my bag and go over all my equipment: swim cap, goggles, towel, bike helmet, shirt, running shoes & socks. I get out the race day instructions and go over all the info. My final meal is a banana. Wife Cheryl is up and getting ready. The rest of my family support team give me a thumbs up as I go back and forth, full of nervous energy, but refuse to get out of bed this early. Who can blame them? It’s 45-minute drive to the race location, and Cheryl asks how I’m feeling. I lie and tell her I’m feeling good, that I’m just going to enjoy the whole experience.

Pre-race activities: we arrive at the race site about 8:10 am. It’s already a hive of activity and organized confusion. We get my bike and walk it to the transition zone. I get my clothes lined up beside my bike. I meet up with my triathlon buddy and mentor, Walter Noble, who will be doing the same event. Next, it’s time to get my computer timing chip and the triathlete markings on both biceps with my bib number (69) and the back of my calves (left, event = sprint triathlon ST and right, age = 62). One last bathroom break before heading back to the transition zone where my small group of family and close friends have gathered to see me off.

Countdown to race start: 9:10. I start putting on my wet suit. It’s very tight and must be pulled over my bike shorts and zipped from the back. I don’t like it but feel I have to wear it. I finally get it on and add my swim cap, which gets a few of my support team giggling. Well, I guess I do look quite ridiculous. I pull my swim goggles over my head and am ready to go. At 9:20 I decide to go down to start line. Before leaving I go around the group, getting hugs and high-fives, I turn to go and hear “what am I, chopped liver?”. In my hyper state, I completely forgot to say goodbye to wife Cheryl. As I apologize and go back for a final kiss, the group are hooting and razzing me about this oversight. I’m on the side of the river at 9:20. This is this an in-water start so I need to swim across to the startline with all the other participants. I’m completely alone now and can feel the anxiety rising as I breast stroke across.

Stage One – 500m Swim: Check out my swim style. I get across the river and tread water, concerned about how much valuable energy I am using before even starting. I see some swimmers on the side and swim over to where rocks allow us to stand. The starter advises that my age group will be the second wave so I have another 10 minutes to wait. The first wave goes out at 9:35. I move out to the open water, waiting for our turn. There are now sixty-plus swimmers in the water, all waiting for the start signal. It seems we’ve been waiting for hours. Then, the horn blows and there’s water churning and splashing everywhere. I hold back to let the others get ahead. I start swimming, trying to keep my strokes slow to maintain my breathing. I see the first buoy ahead, meaning I’m one quarter done. I’m alone in the water now. Everyone else has gone ahead. Then I see the halfway marker in the distance. I can feel my energy draining and the anxiety rising. I decide to take a rest and float on my back, trying to control my breathing. I turn around and keep swimming, finally getting to the halfway mark. I now start the long swim back. I’m having a lot of difficulty now and take another rest. As I start back once again, I hear a noise like rushing water, then I realize that the next wave of swimmers has caught up to me They’re racing past me, literally running into, and over me. I try to get to the side to get out of their way but can’t seem to make it. Panic is setting in. One of the marshals sees me in trouble and shouts” Ithink you can touch bottom”. I’m able to feel some rocks on bottom. I take a few steps forward, regaining my composure. I’m now 10 metres from the swim finish, so I fight the urge to stop and finally make it to the exit station. I’ve never been so happy to get out of the water in my life. I survived. Objective #1 achieved!

Transition #1: I’m jogging along the footpath to the transition zone, distance of about 50 metres. I’m working hard to control my breathing and maintain control after my near-death experience. I see the spinning pinwheel Cheryl has taped to the bicycle racks, making it easier to see my location in the maze of bikes and equipment. Arriving at my station, I strip off the wet suit, put on my shirt, dry my feet and put on my socks, sneakers, helmet and bib belt. I grab my bike and run to the cycle start line.

Stage Two – 26k Cycle: See me in action. As I hop on my bike my family supporters are whooping it up and shouting encouragement. I have to smile as I start pedaling. It’s nice to know they’re with me. I’ve decided to take it easy until I can get comfortable with the pedal strokes and get my breathing settled. The road is well marked and the temperature is overcast and cool. We are a long line of single file riders, with the occasional “on your left!” as a cyclist passes. The roads aren’t closed to traffic so it’s important to keep vigilant. After a long 10 km straightaway, the road turns into a series of small hills, making it difficult to maintain my pace. My legs are getting sore and I find that, every once in a while, I have to rest my legs for a few seconds. As I turn into the final leg I  find the wind is now in my face, increasing the difficulty factor. The last few kilometers have hills and I arrive at the cycle finish line pretty wiped out.

transition #2: As I arrive at the cycle finish, the marshal makes me stop and walk my bike back to its home. I take my helmet off, grab my hat, take a drink and start towards the run course. All I can think of now is getting this over with.

Stage Three – 5k Run: My legs are extremenly heavy with all the lactic acid build-up. It’s now a question of keeping my legs moving in spite of the discomfort. Once we’re past the footpath, the course leads up to a couple of short, steep hills. As I get to the top, I realize I’m out of gas. I walk for a while until I can get my breath back, then resume jogging for a while. I’m forced to repeat this for most of the run.

Finish: I can see the finish line. Then I hear a cheer as my cohort of supporters see me come around the last corner. I pick up my pace for the final push. As I run past my group who are urging on the final few steps, I hear the announcer call out my name. I break out in a wide smile knowing I’ve accomplished a great feat. I cross the finish line into Cheryl’s arms and the congratulations of my close friends. I was sure I had taken much more time than I expected. In fact, when I asked what my time was, they told me I had completed the triathlon in 2:o6. I got a message from my daughter-in-law the next morning that my offcial time was 1:56:26 (due to delayed swim start). Objective #2 achieved!

Post Script: sister-in-law Christine advised me last week she wanted to do a try-a-tri on July 30th. I’ve agreed to be her “buddy” for this event. The journey continues.

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