Monday, December 15, 2014

Oh Crap, I am Doing a Triathlon

This is Part IV in a multi-part series.  It is non-EVE related content, skip ahead a bit if you don't like reading this kind of thing.

Previous Entries:
  1. Self Improvement Through Threats from the Doctor
  2. Self Improvement Through Threats from the Doctor II
  3. Reactions
This is probably going to be a moderately picture heavy post, so let's start it off right with a picture of my current race bike.

2009 Bianchi Imola - Steel Frame Race Bike
Steel frame, carbon fork, rides pretty well.  Someday I'll plunk down the money for a carbon-fiber wonderbike, but this one has many miles left in it.

That out of the way, let's set the stage.

If you told me 10 years ago that I'd be doing endurance racing (and enjoying it), I'd have laughed.  At the time, my idea of a good evening was to get Chinese food delivered and then eating dinner at the PC so that I didn't have to interrupt my EVE time.  All total I'd spend 6-7 hours at the PC playing EVE and then head to bed.  My idea of exercise was mowing my postage-stamp sized lawn.

Somewhere in there (2008), I changed jobs and had time in my schedule to bike.  That got us started and we never looked back.  In 2008 we did our first organized charity ride.  Today we do them all around the state.

In 2010, my brother challenged me on a dare to complete a Sprint Tri with him.  I was a horrible runner but had always been (I thought) a competent swimmer, so I went for it.  I found that I really enjoyed the Tri.  Swim/bike/run ... in that order.  It's simple, yet challenging.

Of course, biking is my favorite sport of the 3.  I find the time on the bike therapeutic.  It's very primal - just you, the road, and the wind.  Each season, there are a handful of rides that go perfectly - you are in your optimal shape, the wind is from a decent direction, and there's very little auto traffic.  On those few rides every year, you are unstoppable.  You feel fast and powerful; the world slips past you in a mild blur, the air tastes better and your senses are sharpened.

You spend every other ride of the season chasing that feeling, trying to relive that high.

Triathlons.  Going into my sixth Tri season (2015), I continue to do triathlons because I find them mentally challenging.  As my coworkers love to point out, the individual distances for the Sprint and Olympic distances aren't that far (Sprint = 400-500m swim, ~14mi bike, 5k run).  But doing them back to back to back with no break is physically and mentally demanding.  Your leg muscles, in particular, really don't like going from the bike to the run.

So for me, the challenge is the strategy involved.  Trying not to blow up your heart rate in the first 100m of the swim, and then stoking the coals in the back section.  Maybe sandbagging a bit as the swim ends so you have gas to run up the hill to the pit (looking composed for the cameras on shore is important! hah!).  Do you push on the bike, slip past the guy in front of you, and save only a little for the run?  Or should you enjoy the ride and bet your finishing time on a solid run?  So many variables, even in a short course race.  When and how much to eat, when to drink, how much the weather will affect you, when to sandbag and hold back, when to push flat out.

Add in that the unknowns of the transitions - the time in the pit area between the swim-bike (T1) and the bike-run (T2).  Do your transitions poorly and it will cost your overall time.  Rush them, forget a piece of equipment, and perhaps suffer on the next leg of the course because of it.  But do them well, and quickly, and keep your time competitive.  Equipment placement in the pit is important, as is practicing at home in the garage to avoid the panic that fog of war will bring.

Pit Area - Before it's Full of Bikes!
My Pit Area for the Olympic race 2014

And then there's the challenges of each individual venue.  The course can by hilly.  The water can be clean or calm or murky or choppy.  The corner buoys can be hard to spot, and your internal gyroscope can send you swimming off course.  One race I got thrown mentally because I'd swam in chlorinated water for over a year and the lake water tasted like mud and engine oil.  It completely blew my focus at the start.

Half Iron Swim Start - ~150 people at once

The start of the swim itself presents its own challenges.  Sometimes it's a mass start like the picture above, and sometimes they put you in the water a few at a time.  I prefer the 2nd way better, even though it means more standing around at the start.  When 150 people go in the water at once, you're going to get kicked, smacked, and swum over.  When 5 people go in every 5 or 10 seconds, you stand a chance of coming out whole.

Sprint Tri Wave Start


Race day is an exciting day for me.  We train, we work, we scheme all for that one day to come together.  On race day we are up at maybe 5am at the hotel (or the house for a local race), eat, drink coffee, and then proceed to the venue.

Set stuff up in the pit, then banter and tell lies with (new) friends until it's time to line up for the swim.  Hopefully have time to warm up in the water before the mandatory safety meeting.  Then comes the call to line up.  There's a symbolic gunshot and the race is on.  As the line into the water continues to move; you begin to get butterflies.

Then it's your turn.  There's a surreal moment where you're told to GO! and your heart stops.  Time stands still and the world focuses on you.  Your body is in automatic mode while your brain has checked out - you jog ahead and your bare feet hit the wet sand (usually cold) and then water (usually very cold) and you're suddenly up to your knees and it's time to dive and swim.  Meanwhile your brain is still reeling at the thought OH CRAP I AM DOING A TRIATHLON.

You take a few strokes, then your training kicks in and it's just another swim.  Hopefully you can get your mental state under control -- many people freak out at the first buoy and can't shake the OH CRAP I AM DOING A TRIATHLON feeling.

The swim ends -- that's 400m for a short race or 1600m for a long race - and then it's a jog up the beach to the pit.  Strip out of the wetsuit, grab the bike and out on the course.  This event is MY event and I have to fight myself not to go all out and blow up.  The first quarter mile, you realize that you are in a skinsuit that's wet and the wind chill (even on a relatively warm day) is pretty harsh on a bike.

When you finish the bike, there's a T2 to contend with and then you're out on the run course.  For me, that means a jog-walk routine.  I am a mediocre runner, always have been, but I get through it.

And then you collect your medal and eat cookies at the reception tent.  There's a sense of relief for being done, but also a sense of satisfaction at having put in a good, clean, effort.

And respect.  I find that people in Triathlons are a good crowd.  The banter in the swim line is always friendly.  The head nods and congratulations at the finish line are heartfelt.  We are brothers and sisters in arms, defeating a common foe.  The local race that we do is very competitive in terms of overall speeds and times (and urges me to BE FASTER) but the crowd is supportive and friendly.

The overhead bins of my cubicle at work are wallpapered with ribbons, race numbers, and maps from the events I've done.  Charity rides.  I've done several Sprint distance Triathlons.  I've done two Olympic distance races, but elected to sign up for the Swim and Bike legs only ("Aquabike," they call it).  I've done one Half-Iron distance race for Aquabike (2km swim, 56mi bike) and would love to do another.

Next year, 2015, will bring more Triathlons to the cubicle bins of honor.

What's Playing:  Mad Season, Above, November Hotel

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