An Outsider’s Guide to a Triathlon

Yesterday, I finished my second Sprint Triathlon. Notice I said finished. I don’t compete in them. I participate. I have never done any competitive running or anything else quite like this and I left yesterday feeling very much like an outsider. Its okay. I don’t mind being an outsider when it comes to triathletes. I am not sure when one actually becomes a “triathlete”, but I don’t think I am there yet. I will give you my review of the event in two ways, first way is as if I was a triathlete. The second is as a normal guy trying to have fun while swimming, biking, and running for about an hour and a half.

A Sprint Triathlon.

The Triathlete’s version of a Sprint Triathlon:

I like doing sprint triathlons. They are a great training tool to get my endurance levels up to my goal of competing in the big dogs, the Olympic distance, Half-Ironman, and the coup-de gras the Ironman. I decided on this one because it fit nicely into my training regimen and felt like it would really prepare me for my bigger goals. I really tried to take it easy and let the race come to me. My nutrition plan and training plan are really starting to give me a good base to start tackling my goals for bigger and better triathlons.

The Outsiders version of a Sprint Triathlon:

Given that I have a job, 6 kids, and still want to have see those children, a sprint triathlon is about all I can train for and still hope to have enough energy during the week to see my children and wife. It is also the only distance that my body still maintains some control of its internal functions by the time I am done. I can’t imagine swimming, biking, and the running much more. I have fun at this distance, both in the training and the actually participating in, so for now Sprint Triathlons are where its at for me.

The Pre-Race Set up

The Triathlete’s version:

I like to get there as early as I can so I can get a lay of the land and set up the best spot to set up my bike and get my other equipment ready to minimize as much time in the transitions as possible. I carefully place my bike in the right position to exit the transition after the swim with perfection. I make sure to have my water bottles topped off with the latest and greatest in scientific hydration and energy boosting performance, making sure my electrolytes are never thrown off their delicate state of Utopian balance. I lay out a towel and carefully place my running shoes, bike helmet, sunglasses, and race belt in a fashion that will make my transition run like a beautiful symphony on timed precision. I put on my “tri-suit” then my wet suit. I clip my bike shoes into the bike pedals because I am adept enough to ride a bike and put shoes on at the same time. I am that good. I might go on a three mile run just to get my legs warmed up before the event. I get my body marked with my numbers so that race officials can know its me as I am swimming like a dolphin. I do some modified yoga streches designed especially for the triathlete and make sure to suck down one “Gu” energy packet 15 minutes before the swim. I spend the rest of the morning catching up with the other elite athletes and talk about training plans, the next triathlon I am going to shred, and our nutritional plans. I put my swim cap on and goggles and head down to the swim start.

The Outsiders version:

I get there early as I can because I haven’t ever been to this race before and I am nervous about getting lost before the race begins. I pick up my packet and look through the bag to see if there are any cool things I can give to my kids after the race is over. I get my bike out of the back of the truck, hoping that I haven’t broken anything since I don’t have a bike rack to properly place it on. I remove the pine needles and leaves that have blown into the chain on the way to the race. I grab my old rugby bag full of all my stuff since I don’t have a “tri-bucket” to carry it all in. This seems not to be the norm. The triathletes all have buckets, the 5 gallon kind you get at Home depot. This makes sense, since you can stuff all your things in it and use it as a sit as well. I make a mental note of this and remind myself to wash out that old bucket in the garage that is full of old dry wall putty for the next race. I, after all, should probably look the part. I pump up my tires full of air and head over to put my bike in the transition area on the racks and set up for the race. This part reminds me of junior high PE class where you shared the locker room with High School guys. I have no idea what I should really be doing. I don’t have a pre-race plan, nor do I have a routine. This is only my second one. Should I put on my wet-suit now? Wait till the pre-race meeting? Do I eat my granola bar now? I bought a couple of those “Gu” things. Should I take that now? You don’t “eat those things. You ingest them. (Imagine a concentrated can of fruit punch juice you get at the grocery store in those cardboard tubes, now concentrate that to about an ounce, add some more sugar, and throw in some molasses. That’s about the taste and consistency of those things.) I start looking around trying to do what everyone else is doing around me. Where’s my towel? Dang it, I forgot one. Mental note for next time. I grab and old shirt and lay it down under my bike. I set my shoes out wondering if they are in the optimum position for quick transition. I don’t know, I guess on the ground, next to my bike, side by side will have to do. No other sport can make you question if you have placed your shoes correctly, but I do. I perfectly lay out my race belt with my number across my shoes, unclipping it like I see others doing. I put my helmet on my bike and put my sunglasses close by. I put on the $50 wetsuit I bought and quicly notice that it is not one of the 2 brands that everyone else is wearing. Mine is more of a surfer’s wet-suit. Theirs’ is specifically designed for triathlons. I wonder if this will have any impact when I get to the water. There’s resembles Batman’s wonder suit with its plastic-graphite type covering. My looks like neoprene. Will I sink because of this? Will this affect my time? Should I even wear it? I am wearing it. This will be my first time actually swimming in it. I guess putting it on at home and running around the house while trying to take it off may not have been the best game day practice. Oh well. Should still be fun. I get my body marked with my race number so that EMT can identify me should I start to sink in my non-triathlon swim suit. I spend the rest of the time thinking about running to get warmed up, do a couple of meaningless stretches, and get my swim cap and goggles on. Now when was the last time I did an open water swim?

The Swim:

The Triathlete Version

I get down to the water and make sure that I am properly warmed up. I edge close to the front so as not to swim more then I have to. Every second counts when you are trying to make it up there on the podium. This 600m loop looks easy. I should be in and out in under 7 minutes easy.

The Outsiders Version:

I’m not sinking! This wet-suit is actually helping me float. I love this thing. I am never doing a triathlon in which I can’t wear this. Okay so now let’s check out this swim. WOW! 600m in the water looks WAY LONGER then 12 laps in the YMCA pool. Okay. I have done 3 times this distance in the pool. I can do this. Now how am I going to avoid getting kicked in the face by all these other swimmers? I developed a strategy for this. By being in the front at the start, I assured my self that I would not get kicked in the face. All the fast swimmers where gone before I knew it and all I had to worry about was the guys coming up from behind me. They had to worry about a foot to the face, not I. It also helped that I kept forgetting to spot the buoys. So instead of swimming in a nice oval loop keeping the buoys to my left. I swam in a zig-zag pattern around the buoys finding myself slowly edging to the right and having to correct myself every couple of strokes. I blame the wet-suit for reason still unknown to me or the wet-suit. It just sounds like a good excuse. About a 100m into the swim my only goal is to get out of the water as soon as possible while still finishing the swim. There is no nice controlled rhythm to my strokes. I just want to get over with the swim. Swimming 600m at the YMCA is so much more enjoyable right now. Maybe it’s because I know that if I need to take a break there is always a pool side 2 ft to my left. Maybe it’s because I only see 25m of my swim at a time. Maybe it’s because my only competition is the purple-hairs doing arthritis water-aerobics one lane over. Whatever the reason I have come to realize that a 600m open swim is nothing like a 600m pool swim. There is no other way to train for this but to find some open water and practice. Mental note. I get out of the water and start heading up to the Transition area where I will be shaving off seconds of my time because of all my pre-race preparations. However when I get out of the water I am so dizzy I can barely think. My body is so depleted of oxygen at this point, I can hardly move my legs and think. This makes me mad. I am in better shape then this. What in the world is going on. This is where I find out one of the big differences in my wetsuit. My wetsuit has a double Velcro patch in the back that protect the zippered back from coming down. While the tri-suits only have one little patch. This make is very hard to run to the transition, undo the Velcro, and start getting the wet-suit off. I look like a seal trying to get a bumble bee off his back while running. Throw in some dizziness and you’ll get the picture.

The Transition:

The Triathlete version:

I make my way up to T1 (that’s the first of two transitions for the lay person). My wet suits is mostly off by the time I get up there. I grab my bike, put on my helmet on sunglass and am on the bike in less than a minute. I can probably still shave some time next time. Maybe I’ll swim with my helmet on.

The Outsider’s Version:

Okay, here I come. The clock is ticking. I find my spot. Sit down because I can barely stand and rip off my wetsuit at the same time. I put on my bike shoes, grab my helmet, put on my sunglasses. I start prancing out of the transitions area pushing my bike with me till I get to the road. I hop on and start coasting as I get clipped in to the bike. This of course is what I think I did. I am still kind of dizzy at this point so I am not really sure. As I rolled away I kept having that feeling that I had forgotten something really important. I hope not.

The Bike Ride:

The Triathlete Version

I have no idea what they are thinking. They are too fast, too far ahead of me, and I don’t care what they are thinking at this time. They probably are thinking about their speed, their cadence, their hydration strategy, and keeping in the most aerodynamic tuck as they speed through the next 14 miles. I don’t care what they are thinking anymore. By this time I only care about having fun and not dying.

The Outsider’s Version:

“Lieutenant Dan, you ain’t got no legs.” That’s what I keep saying to myself as I start off. Where are my legs? I know I can go faster than this. What is going on? I start to get my legs back around mile 4, good thing because that ‘s when the hills start coming at us. Those weren’t fun. I muscled my way up the hills. Shifting every two seconds trying to find the balance between power and ease of pedal stroke. At one point on the ride, as I am going up a hill, I want to jump off the bike so bad. The only thing keeping me on and not jumping off and pushing is 1. my pride and 2. more importantly that I do not have the agility to rip my feet out of my pedals, jump off my bike, stabilize myself in these crazy shoes without first falling on my face. My only option is to keep peddling and grumbling. The bike ride is fun except for the demoralizing fact that I pass no one. I am only getting passed. I actually did pass this one guy going down hill only to be passed by him on the next up hill. Mental note. I pull my bike back in the park and already start to see the front-runners finishing up the run. That will make you feel good. People are already finished while you still have 3 miles to go.

Transition 2.

I put the bike up. Slip on my race belt and race shoes. It is at this point that I realize I hung my wet-suit up over my running shoes and now my shoes are full of water. In all truth, I don’t think this really affected me. I just figure I can use the as an excuse later on if I need to.

The Run

I start the run the same way I started the bike. Where are my legs? I shuffle my feet for the first mile, looking like one of those Mall-walkers, knowing that I will get them back. At this point I realize that I am not going to reach my goal. My only goal was to get better times than my first tri. I can tell from the bike ride that is not going to happen. There weren’t hills on my first tri. So I take the run easy. Not worrying about my personal best. I have fun with it and try to finish with as much dignity as I can. My legs come back to me through the end of the first mile and I just enjoy the rest of the run. I don’t get passed. I pass a few. And finish the tri.

It is only 10am. At least I can say that was a good morning workout. Now I can go get a Chick-fil-A biscuit to celebrate! Dang it. Its Sunday. Mental note: Only do Saturday triathlons from now on.


About Todd Van Dyke

Father, Husband, Son, and most of all lover of Christ.
This entry was posted in triathalons, trying to be funny. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to An Outsider’s Guide to a Triathlon

  1. Mark Klepper says:

    I really enjoy reading your posts. My wife wants to participate in her first sprint Tri in August. I’m not sure whether or not I will have her read this before that. :)

  2. "Ironman" Anthony says:

    I like the guys who write Ironman in front of their name on the application so that they will look more official in the printed results. Now that’s true triathlete preparation.

    Your analysis of the course was correct when you said, “The only flat part was the swim.”

  3. Lisa says:

    Hilarious! This confirms my decision NOT to do the Triathalon here in Winona, which is called, “Trinona.” Catchy. May you always be an Outsider. :)

    • Lisa,
      I will not carry the guilt around knowing I kept you from your dream! You must do the Trinona. They are really fun. There are lots of outsiders at most Tri’s. You won’t be the only one. Just look for the people like me that are standing around watching what everyone else is doing. Its a sure sign.

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