A Report from a First-Time ‘Almost’ Triathlete
I should have posted this a couple of weeks ago, but better late than never. A few months ago, as part of my overall effort to get back into shape, I decided to sign up for the Kokopelli Triathlon in St. George, Utah. I live in the Phoenix metro area, so its a good 7-8 hour drive to St. George. My brother, Cory, convinced me to sign up for this one, as he was going to be doing this one as well. Cory lives in Park City, UT. The event was scheduled for Saturday, September 22, 2007.
I began training for my first full triathlon. I was going to compete in the “Olympic” or “International” distance, which is a 1500 meter swim (about a mile), a 40 kilometer bike ride (about 25 miles), and a 10K run (about 6.2 miles). I’ve competed in a triathlon before, but that was as a member of a team, so I only did the 40K bike. This would be my first complete event. My last tri was also over 7 years and many pounds ago. My training was going well, except I didn’t really have enough free time to train as much as I needed/wanted to, but finishing the event wouldn’t be too hard, and as my first one getting back into shape, that was really my goal. [more]
As the day of the event approached, my family decided to accompany me, so we were going to make a weekend of it. We rented a condo to stay in, and made some arrangements. I was very excited, and getting a bit nervous as well; after all, I had spent a a lot of time preparing. I checked in the night before for the race, and was ready to go for the next morning. My brother and I had been talking about the severe weather that was forecasted to hit “sunny” St. George the next day, and how difficult the race would be in the cold, rain, and wind.
We had some difficulty getting to the race as well. Suffice it to say we were quite late, so I was scrambling in the transition area to get my things ready. The race was luckily delayed about 10 minutes because safety personnel weren’t quite in place yet.
My start was the second wave into the water, and literally 5 seconds before the gun went off, a lightning strike hit the hill across the lake…not a great way to start. We knew weather was turning out to be a factor, but at the start, it was overcast and a nice, 70 degrees or so, with 75 degree water. Good day for a tri. I got underway, and was surprised to find my stress level very high…even after starting the swim. I’ve done a few open water workouts, and felt pretty comfortable…but I guess adding in the competition stress, the sketchy weather (and waves), etc., my anxiety was much higher than anticipated. That, along with swimming being my weakest discipline, caused me to gradually become part of the last ¼ of athletes in my wave. During this time, I was surprised to find how difficult it was becoming to keep my heart rate down and relax and get into a rhythm. Again…my problem wasn’t necessarily my fitness level (although that could be better), but my stress level.
Anyway, I persevered. About 300-400 meters into the swim, the storm/microburst hit our position directly, and it became, as my brother put it, “Like ‘Victory at Sea’ out there.” High winds, waves, whitecaps, driving rain, etc. All of this, of course, added to my stress level. My thoughts started to turn toward…”Okay, Bill, just make it through the swim and you’ll be okay…” rather than, “Hey…this is fun.” Add to that…about half of the people around me that were pulling up the rear of the group started bailing. While looking up to get my orientation I was noticing that at least five-ten people were bailing out, waving their arms to be picked up by a safety boat. This didn’t help my comfort level. I knew I wasn’t going to quit, so I kept pushing, but wasn’t really having much fun or finding myself very comfortable. Sometimes, while taking a breath, I was greeting with a mouthful of wave or rain which would pull me further out of rhythm. I also found that it was very, very difficult for me to keep my orientation and continue in the right direction. This is something I’ll need to work on.
I finally started to settle down a bit, and probably 1200 meters into the swim, was grabbed on the arm by a safety kayaker mid-stroke (that was jarring, by the way…wasn’t expecting that). She informed me that the race had been canceled due to weather, and that I could catch I ride back to shore! Evidently, the roads on which we were to ride were becoming little rivers, and they never even started the wave behind me (the sprinters) because of the fear of lightning in the area, etc. A little fed up about my performance and allowing myself to be rattled by the conditions, etc., I asked if they would allow me to finish the swim portion, for my own benefit. They looked at me as if to ask, “Why would you do that…can’t you see what it’s like out here?” But they said that was fine, and as a matter of fact, many, many others decided to finish it was well (and some, like my brother who is a very strong swimmer, had already finished the swim and were in T1 when the event was canceled). So, while I did get the whole swim done (not sure of my time…but I would guess a very slow 45 minutes or so), I’m not able to say that I’ve completed a whole tri yet either. I was really disappointed. I’m sure canceling was the right call (that’s got to be a hard thing to decide as an event organizer), I just wish we would have had good weather.
In any case, I’ve got a difficult competitive open water swim under my belt, and will learn from the experience. Indeed, it is the ONLY competitive swim event I have ever done (never been a swimmer), so the experience can only help me.
I haven’t decided on which event I will do next, but I will do one. We have some coming up in Phoenix, but I’m not sure my schedule will allow me. It may be early next year before I get another chance…but I’ll try to be ready.