Against my better judgment I signed up for the Shawnee Mission Park Triathlon about a month ago. Why against my better judgment? Well, because I'm about as graceful in the water as I am smooth with the ladies - that's to say; not so good.
The long course, the one I chose, was a .6 mile swim (1000 meters), 18 mile bike ride and 4.5 mile run. The bike and the run, no problemo. The swim, big problemo.
I've been trying to train for the swim at the pool but haven't had much success. I think I need a swimming lesson or something. I just don't keep good form in the water which leads to me getting tired which ruins my form more, etc. A bad cycle. The only thing I really had going for me was that I can sidestroke for a long time, an ability I picked up several years ago when I used to go to the gym with a co-worker who also happened to be a former SEAL. See, we'd do laps in the pool, mostly sidestroke, I'd go down and back, he'd go down, hop out, do 10 push-ups, get back in, swim to the other side, do 10 more push-ups...all before I made it down and back once. Discouraging.
I got up around 4:30, ate, took my time getting ready, etc. I made it to the park about an hour before my 7:10 start. I was pretty impressed with the organization. Everything ran smoothly at the race - I got my chip easily, got body marked quickly, had a lot of time to hang out and look at the water and think about how far I had to swim. Dammit.
I found Jon shortly before I had to get to the beach for my start. He did the short course and didn't end up starting till 8:10, pretty late. We chatted for a bit, he was nice enough to reply to my fears about the swim with a reassuring "yeah, that's a really long swim". Thanks dude.
To start the race you had to swim from the boat dock over to the beach, perhaps a 200 yard swim. Well, this was it, let's see how I felt. I walked down to the beach, put the goggles and swim cap on, and headed out into the water. It was a very nice 80 degrees, even at 7 in the morning. This might not be that bad.
I started out with a slow freestyle, keeping my head above water the entire time. I made it about 100 yards before I got pretty tired and switched to the sidestroke. Not a good sign. That's 1/10 the distance I was going to swim for the race. I rolled over to my back a few times just to relax on the way over there. That's the one way I'm actually fairly buoyant, as long as I keep kicking, that is.
I got to the beach without drowning and found all the other folks with similarly colored swim caps as me. They were all talking and laughing and having a generally fantastic time. They were old pros at this. I was scared.
My strategy was simple. Start slow, stay slow, swim near the buoys so I could grab onto them if I needed. I decided once I was in the water that the sidestroke was the only way I was going to finish this. Screw trying to freestyle it.
After being herded like cattle out of the water and into a swim corral we were ready to go. Right before we started the lady asked "who's a first timer?" I slowly raised my hand with a few other people. The guy behind me in the water moved in front of me before I got my hand back down. Comforting.
Shortly after, we were off. The pack moved out pretty quickly relative to me and a few other stragglers. I stayed right, did some freestyle swimming, but mostly stuck to the sidestroke. I made it from the beach back to the boatdock...barely. I was dying already and needed something to grab onto to rest. Apparently nobody figured that someone would need a rest so early and didn't put anything out to help folks. I embarrassingly swam near the dock, where people were standing, and grabbed on, taking a few seconds break. Oh well.
My goals for the swim quickly became to make it from buoy to buoy. I stuck to the sidestroke and took a rest almost every buoy for the first three or four. Then I oddly got really comfortable in the water and was able to start skipping every other buoy. I don't know what clicked, but something did. I just felt better.
Now, that doesn't mean I was swimming like I knew what I was doing. See, there's divers in the water with nice orange floaty things looking to help out folks like me. Apparently I looked or sounded like I needed help...I got asked 5 times if I wanted a rest from one of the divers. While it was really nice of them it was also a bit embarrassing.
Anyways, I kept going, sticking to my every-other buoy strategy. Perhaps halfway through the course I started to get passed from people in the heat behind me. They looked fast. Shortly after that, I started to get passed by people from the heat behind them. Super.
I kept at it. After a while I noticed there was a couple of people in my heat back with me in the water. What?!?! What are these people doing here? I thought I was the only horrible swimmer. Wow. I might actually beat some people in my heat out of the water.
And I did. I think I beat four green caps out of the water. I did not expect that at all.
I ran up the hill, dried myself off, put my bike jersey and shoes on, and was off. I was hoping to make up time on the bike considering how long the swim took.
I didn't do very bad on the bike. I got passed by a few folks but not many. I was doing most of the passing. Especially on the uphills. Apparently I can climb. No idea why or how.
My other advantage was the downhills. I don't know if people were scared of them or what but nobody was going as fast as I was down those things. I love them. I like the speed, it feels good. I also like the momentum you can carry for part of the next hill.
I ended up averaging 19.3mph on the bike course. That matches my record from the airport one day. That's personally impressive when you consider how much hillier the park is compared to the airport.
On the last lap I had some wonderful momentum going up this really bad hill. I was about to pass a guy on a mountain bike, on his left, when all of a sudden he took a hard left right into my way. The only way I could keep from hitting him was to swerve over into the running course, almost hitting a female runner. I almost fell off the bike and I did completely stop. On an uphill, a bad uphill, in a lower gear than I could easily start up again in. It kinda pissed me off, but it's not like there's a lot I could have done. I guess it would have been worse if I would have wrecked.
I finished the bike and got into my running shoes. Ah, it felt good to be on the last leg of the race. I got going and felt like I was forgetting something but I wasn't sure what. Hmm. About .25 miles into the run I looked at the person in front of me, noticed their number, and realized I had forgotten to put mine on. Dammit. I briefly considered going back then realized that was stupid. I had my number written on me in four places, and I had a timing chip on. No way anyone would care.
I guess I didn't stretch well because almost immediately the muscles on top of my shins got real tight. It made the running uncomfortable. At the second water stop I walked for a few feet just so I could do little circles in the air with my feet. I had to get those muscles loosened up. Actually, running uphill helped them, so I looked forward to that.
I didn't get passed on the run, not even by the short-course folks. Again, I did a lot of passing. Especially on the hills, that felt good.
Surprisingly I feel like I'd want to do another tri. I need to do something about my swimming, it's horrible. But, I had a lot of fun. We'll see.