Posted by: noadventure | March 28, 2010

Do a Triathlon(seriously)

I did a couple of triathlons in 2003 and 2004, but we’ll get to that later. Did you know New Orleans hosted the biggest half Ironman ever last year? Ochsner is putting it on again this year on Sunday April 18th.

See for yourself:

IRONMAN NEW ORLEANS

Maybe Lokelani McMichael will be there…

It’s a HALF Ironman so all you need to do is…

Swim 1.2 miles

Bike 56 miles

Run 13.1 miles

It’s a total of 70.3 miles in 3 different disciplines. I imagine last year’s was so popular because New Orleans lacks hills and the bikers and runners could make record times. You might want to just be a spectator on this one though until you’ve got some smaller ones under your belt. The two tris(rhymes with “eyes”) that I did were “sprint tris.” Half mile swim, 18 or so miles on the bike, and a 3.1mile(5k) on the feet. Find a local race that’s right for you.

I know, I’m totally smoking that fat guy by like 20 feet.

So here’s an article I wrote about my first triathlon experience. It obviously had a positive effect on me; maybe it’ll have a positive effect on you.

It’s a Saturday night in late September. I checked into the Ramada motel by myself. It’s just a few miles down the road from downtown Natchitoches. I anxiously flip through the 15 channels on the TV, then pop it off. Tomorrow is a big day and I still haven’t shaved my entire body yet.

Rewind back to January. It’s the middle of the winter and I’m lying on the beach in Grand Cayman. The weather is perfect for me and my gut. That’s right, I had a gut. Despite running a few miles a week and doing mild calisthenics, my otherwise skinny body was beginning to show a belly worthy of its second trimester. I ignored it in the mirror, but one day out on the dive boat in the Caymans, my younger brother saw my gut through my wetsuit. Guts don’t look good in a wetsuit.

What had become of my svelte figure? I’ve always prided myself in having a fast metabolism and in being very strong. My mind was made up; upon return to the States, the gut had to go. The running was increased to two miles per day with dedicated sit-ups, push-ups, and pull-ups to boot. The results came in a timely fashion. By May, I was comfortable with my improvement and realized that the main antagonist against my gut had been my old pal, beer.

After saying adios to the frothy lager, I became conscious of other things holding me back. I stopped eating late at night and now ate smaller portions. Then, in the beginning of July, I did what turned out to be the healthiest thing I could. I broke up with my girlfriend.

How was severing a relationship with my girl going to help me? Easily. No longer did I have to pay attention to her, talk to her, or include her opinion or thoughts into my life. I could be completely selfish and run all day if I wanted to. No more cooking for two people – my diet became the rations fit for an athlete in training.

With the freedom of not having a girlfriend anymore, I started to realize goals that I thought impossible before. Suddenly, I was doing two miles in 15 minutes and 23 pull-ups in a row. This may not sound like much to the well versed stars of track and field, but I had never competed in any type of organized sports in college, high school, or the like – save for some parentally-forced membership to soccer and baseball teams as a youngster.

One day, while reading a newspaper, I saw a triathlon advertised to take place in Natchitoches in September. The Meat Pie Tri, consisted of a ½ mile swim, a 20 mile bike ride, and a 5k run all performed in succession. I weighed the numbers and figured that this was something that I could actually complete(provided that I would come in dead last). Feeling good about my new Spartan lifestyle, I called up for more information.

A woman named Elizabeth picked up the phone. “You’ve been training since May?” she asked. I quickly made excuses, “I’ve been running consistently since May; I’ve only been training for about a month.” “There’s no choice,” she said, “you have to do it.”

I have to do it. If Elizabeth said it, it must be true. The entrance fee turned out to be around 70 bucks: this included a one day life-insurance policy(no joke) for triathletes in case I died under the strenuous rigors of the race. This is a standard practice and one can actually buy an annual triathlon policy(suggested if you do more than two races a year).

Everything was done. The wheels were set in motion. The only thing that was going to stop me now was myself. With two weeks until the race, I increased training. The only thing I didn’t focus on was the biking event, since I had been told by several veterans that tri-virgins always have trouble with the swim.

A week before the event, I decided to start bike training. One 20 mile bike ride later, my groin was so sore that I couldn’t ride for two days. I decided to forgo the cycling altogether and just go for it on race day.

With 4 days left to go, I stopped all exercise. I didn’t want to risk a knee injury that would prevent me from participating. With all the extra training free time I had before the race, I decided to tell everyone I knew about the triathlon(I was proud of myself and I thought it made good conversation).

At a family wedding on the Friday before the race(which took place that Sunday), I told my cousin about my involvement in the triathlon. “What kind of bike do you have?” he asked curiously. “A mountain bike,” I replied innocently. He shook his head, “You’re going to get smoked. All those guys will be on tri-bikes and road bikes.” I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a tri-specific bike. He saved my life by offering me his road bike for the weekend. I gladly accepted.

Fast forward to the night before the race. I had checked in earlier in cozy downtown Natchitoches at the tri-booth. I met Elizabeth, a fit, attractive, mid-thirties athlete with short brown hair. She gave me my race number and a gift bag with all kinds of promo-items including a free pair of tri-socks(yeah, right – I’ll really use these). The booth was surrounded by cheerful, body-fat depraved, shaven-limbed guys who really love wearing Lycra and other clinging synthetic polymers. The guys sized me up when I approached the booth. Not wanting to think about the race, I opted to test out my cousin’s bike for the first time in the parking lot of the Ramada. He was right. It was much faster than my mountain bike.

Should I shave my body? A friend told me it would really make a big difference in the swimming. Why not? I jumped in the shower and lathered up. A word to the wise: if you are a male, do not ever shave your armpits(the discomfort is not worth the added water speed). The legs and arms weren’t bad at all, but my legs were now more sensitive to the cold than they had ever been.

Freshly shorn, I laid down on the cheap, itchy comforter of the hotel bed and tried to watch the LSU game on TV. The starched bed linens were extra irritating on my bare skin. Without much else to do, I planned a strategy. People told me to pace myself, and that’s what I’m going to do. I had practiced my swim strokes with technique, cupping the water and placing my feet on top of each other to reduce drag. Except for the biking, I was pretty much ready. I ate my spinach salad I brought from home and went to bed.

Half past five. Time to get up and burn 4000 calories. It’s still dark and I’m loading the bike into the back of my 4Runner when I see people in the parking lot doing the same. They nod their acknowledgment of me as a fellow racer. When I get to the location, a race official checks me in and paints my number on my arms and thighs. Of course, they do this to identify you and record your time. They also paint your age on the back of you left calf. There are different age groups in competition and my birthday two days before put me into the 25-35 pack.

I stashed my borrowed bike and my gear in the transition station and choked down a power bar. There is a cluster of ten port-a-lets and a dozen racers in line to use them. Since everyone hydrates so much before the race, and know one wants to go during the race, some people get out of the john just to get back in line in two minutes. The nervousness doesn’t help either.

Someone yells over a bullhorn that it’s time for the first group(25-35 year olds) to get to their places in the water. We put on our silver swim caps that were given to us at check-in(silver indicates our age group) and get in the water. The green caps are waiting on the shore, anxious to see us off. I jumped into the water of the Cane River Lake with 50 or so other guys and we waited for the trigger to be pulled. I’m really doing this. This is really going to happen.

Get ready, get set…BLAM! The race is on. My immediate instinct is to swim as fast as I can and I darted out with the rest of the swim stars to the front of the pack. After about 40 yards I remembered the whole “pace yourself” thing. I slowed it down a bit, but realized I was still going strong with the forerunners of the race. Then the fatigue set in and I thought, “What the hell are you doing?” One half mile(or 800 meters) of swimming is farther than you think it is.

At the halfway point I felt good and I switched up my strokes now and then. This is going to work out. I noticed that there were a few green caps around me towards the end of the swim. Some of them were women. It was a hostile takeover that transcended sex and age-group; I continued on harder. I was relieved to see 19:08 on the race clock when I got out of the water. Winded and pumped up with adrenaline and lactic acid, I made my way to the bike transition area with the help of cheers from spectators.

Now my mind was in a surreal state of numbness. I had made it through the swim(which everyone said was going to be the hardest) with relative ease. I jumped on the bike and started the second leg of the race. Right out of the transition area was a large hill that I had to go up to get to the main road. Crank-crank-crank-crank-crank. I’m cruising. I’m alone. During the swim, I was surrounded by people flailing about in the muddy Louisiana water. Now I was alone on a 20 mile bike ride without a racer in sight.

Wait a second. I just got passed. It’s ok. It’s just one guy. Minutes passed and I’ve been pedaling well.  I looked down at the digital speedometer and it read 19m/hr. I had a good pace and I felt… damn, someone just passed me again. There went another one. Each time a cyclist passed me, I glanced down at their age painted on their left calf. Forty-two, thirty-eight, fifty-six! Some of these guys were double my age and they were killing me. Note to self: you should have ridden the bike more often when preparing for this thing, genius.

Halfway through the biking leg, I realized that it’s raining. It had been raining all morning and I remembered being concerned about it before the race began, but for the last half hour or so I’ve only been focused on moving forward. I wiggled my toes in my soaked sneaker. My feet were waterlogged in my cotton socks. I wished I would have worn the special synthetic tri-socks they gave me the day before.

After being passed by about 40 people, I came to the end of the 20 miler, back into the transition area. I saw 1:29:35 on the race clock and knew I was still in the game. I got off the bike and someone handed me a paper cup filled with Gatorade. I tried to drink while running and ended up pouring half of the sticky fluid down my chest. “Must run,” I thought.

The first few steps in my watery squish-shoes were bizarre. My initial want after riding for that period of time on a bike is to get off and stretch, but in the triathlon, this is not an option. I kept on putting one weary foot in front of the other until I was running at a brisk pace. Now it was I who was doing the passing. I saw the first racer who had stopped running and started walking. She was crying, probably half from the injury that caused her to stop running and half from the devastation of knowing that she wouldn’t finish with her best time. I moved along and stayed focus on my run.

Is this the end? Could it be over so quickly? I continued to pass people and ran against my aching body’s will. It would be so easy to slow down and walk, but I told myself that there wasn’t much longer to go. There would be beer and meat pies for everyone… and a rainbow at the end of this rainy morning.

One hour, fifty nine minutes, and seven seconds after I had started the race, I finished it, shattering my goal of completing in two hours. I slowed my run to a labored amble and went immediately for the Gatorade/water booth that was replenishing the electrolytes of so many racers. I took a few bites of jambalaya, then strolled down to the pier where the race had started and did a celebratory back flip into the Cane River Lake.

The race was over and I was in need of the beer and meat pies I had promised myself. I joined my fellow racers in the post-race chit chat and found that I had trouble sitting down and getting up, and even more trouble finishing even half of my 20 ounce beer. What happened? The hour plus on the bike can explain the soreness in my groin, but being unable to finish the beer was mysterious. On one hand, I felt like my body was rejecting it because I had just pushed myself so hard that I could only ingest water. On the other hand, I felt like I was subconsciously preparing for the next tri already and I had mentally told myself to put the beer down.

As I drove home in the rain, I thought about whether or not I would do this ever again. “It’s not important to think about it now,” I told myself, “you’ve done one already and that’s a great accomplishment.” But the competitive spirit keeps stirring inside me and pushes me to move forward. Will I do another triathlon? Yes. Will I shave my armpits or wear cotton socks? No.

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