So yesterday marked my first ever Triathlon. I spent the last few months trying to prepare for this event. I have been working with an awesome training group and have asked numerous questions of them (and everyone else I know that had some experience). The great folks at Element Cycling and Multisport had some excellent advice for me. The most important of which was not to worry about it and just have fun.
There are a bunch of people there all getting ready and, quite truly, nobody gives a shit what you are doing. Each competitor is concerned with their own preparations and is getting ready for their own struggles. That did not stop me from surveying the land though. There were participants of all ages, shapes and sizes. Some looked like they really knew what they were doing. Some looked like they were completely out of their element. I probably fell somewhere in between as I had no clue what I was doing but, I was definitely outfitted to look the part.
I was reminded of being told, by more than one person, that “you are going to have plenty of things go wrong on your first race.” So, with that in mind and nerves mounting, I get ready for my race to begin. Cam gave me solid advice that, if the water is cold, I should try to get in before the start so I could get over the shock of the temperature. When your body hits the water the cold forces you to try to hyperventilate but, the constrictive nature of the wetsuit overrides your body from letting you.
This picture is me standing in the water after doing a swim out to the 125m buoy trying to “warm up” as per Cam’s advice. Let’s be clear here, I use quotes around the words warm up because this is in no way what you are actually doing. The phrase “freezing my balls to the point of turning them into tiny little whiskey rocks” would be much more accurate. At 16 degrees, it is hardly what a sane person would call “swimming temperature.”
Time to get out of the water and head to the start line. I stand there waiting for the horn to go off and thoughts are running through my head. A list of rules for myself:
1) Don’t die.
2) If you do manage to follow rule 1, finish the race.
Amendment to rule 2) In one piece.
3) Don’t pee in the wetsuit – I want my deposit back.
4) Do everyone that has supported me, and myself, proud.
5) Because I am competitive, compete!
6) Have fun!
7) DON’T DIE!!!
If you are going to go on an adventure like this for yourself, please feel free to use this list of rules.
We are off. I make my way into the water swiftly all excited to get going. I am doing awesome. (The course is 2 triangular laps of 375m with each side of the triangle being about 125m.) I am in about 4th place at the first buoy. That is me in the black cap at the top right. That’s when it happened exactly as Cam said it would. My breath was gone. The cold had caught up to me and I really started struggling. I just could not get enough air in my lungs. I kept trying to freestyle but, I just couldn’t breathe. Cam said that people get the feeling that they want the wetsuit off and I knew exactly what he was talking about. It was like he was in my mind. I just wanted out of it. At the 150m point of a race that was 25.75km, I honestly thought I was going to have to quit.
Because I had been told what was going to happen, I was prepared. I calmed down and did what I could to keep moving. I switched to the breast stroke for a while. At least I was moving forward. My pace slowed right down and I started to drop positions but, I was still going. I managed to get through it, alternating between freestyle and breast stroke until I made the last turn for the shore. That’s when I started to figure some things out. I usually breathe out under water and inhale as I come up but, I was so cold I was forgetting everything I knew. I was trying to breathe out and in every time I came out of the water which was making it impossible to get enough air into my lungs. I got my shit together and started doing what I was supposed to. My last 125m was somewhat better and I was back in the game.
I came out of the water in 16th place (out of 45) at a decent time for me, especially with all the challenges I had.
Off to the transition. I definitely need to work on this as I lost a ton of time here. I wouldn’t doubt if my first transition was the slowest of all the athletes. Partly because I was new to this but, also because I didn’t really care that I was slow. I really took my time with everything. It was a little ridiculous. I think exhaustion from the swim overtook me and I became worried about the most minuscule things. I spent a lot of time trying to clean my feet of the dirt from the run between the water and transition area (who cares how clean your feet are idiot, get your ass moving).
On to the bike. My whole thought during the end of the painful swim was to get some air back on the bike. I hopped on and started pumping those legs. I started to really get into a groove. The course was 2 laps of a 10km loop. It was pretty straight forward. No turns other than at the turn arounds. A slight hill when heading west, which also happened to be into the wind. Going east was awesome though because it was slightly down hill with the wind at your back for the most part. My ride was feeling great. My Felt AR5 smoothly handling the road. Through the first 7.5km I had passed about 6 people. I was feeling fantastic. Legs were good, lungs were good, LIFE was good. That’s when the problem happened. I took a turn and my bike computer started catching the magnet on the spoke. It was making a thump every time it caught the computer module. Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump…
(In hindsight, I have realized that my brain was either slightly frozen from the cold water or my fatigue had reached some kind of molecular level that it caused the synapses in my brain to slow enough that I thought this would be a good idea.)
I needed to fix the problem so, I reached down to adjust the computer sensor catching my fingers in the spokes in the process.
SON OF A BITCH!!!
It hurt like hell but, there was no time for pain. I was on a mission. Back on to the aero bars and back to moving those tires. “Wait a minute. Why do my fingers feel wet? Oh, no big deal, they are just bleeding.” I inspect them a little closer to see that I had ripped a good chunk of my index finger open. And, due to the obviously extreme speed I am capable of riding at, the wind is blowing plasma all over my right hand and every other place on the right side of my body, bike, water bottle, shoes… you get the picture. It was actually probably good that I was racing at the time because I think the adrenalin helped to curb some of the pain I was feeling.
“Come on Holcek, use the pain to fuel you! You’re a beast!”
I continue to make up some ground, passing a few more along the way, and roll into the transition feeling like a champ. At this point, I knew I had tape under my seat that Cam had put there for tricky situations like this one. I was thinking it would be a great idea to use it as a band aid. Problem is, in the heat of the moment, I couldn’t actually get it out and I killed more time in the second transition (I really need to work on these). My brother captured a great video of me acting like a babbling idiot instead of actually racing. I was focused on getting my socks on without getting blood on them. I swear, my brain must have shut down at some point during the swim due to lack of oxygen because I just can’t explain things any other way.
I’m off and, quite literally, running.
I head out of the transition area and make my way to the run course. Two laps consisting of 2 loops each. As I run up the first straight away, it becomes apparent that I have overestimated my need for fluids. I can feel liquid sloshing around in my belly and am slightly on the bloated side. This, coupled with the fact that my calves are very tight and I feel like they are on the verge of cramping, is not doing anything to install confidence in the next 5km of the race.
I keep my legs moving. This is a mantra that I have managed to keep throughout my training. “Just keep your legs moving.” After the first kilometre or so, I look down at my watch and see that I am actually making decent time. Even with all of the discomfort, I am doing it. As the run gets further along, I start to actually feel better. I make the final turn and over the last kilometre and, I just remember thinking about how awesome it is that I am finishing it.
One of the best things about the whole day was the fact that I had my family there cheering me on. It felt amazing to hear their support and encouragement throughout the event.
As well, I managed to finish all the of the goals I set for myself. I lived through it. I finished it in, mostly, one piece. I didn’t pee in the wetsuit. I feel like I did my supporters proud and, I know I was proud of myself. I felt like I competed (although I will do better in the future). I had an amazing time! Again, I didn’t die! I finished in 17th place and raised $6000 (highest total raised) for an amazing cause.
Now it’s back to training and using all of what I learned to get better. I am really looking forward to my next race.