Lessons (blunders) on My First Olympic Triathalon

You probably shouldn’t have done that, said my triathalon coach. It was two weeks before my race and I wanted to make sure I could finish.

Some people take a while to recover. It can take 2 weeks, maybe even longer if you aren’t in shape, she went on.

I protested the implication I was out of shape.

Well, you haven’t had much time on the bike. And you haven’t been consistent with your training.

Okay that last comment definitely hurt.

In order to compensate for my undisciplined training, I did the entire distance of the olympic triathalon two weeks prior to the actual race. I swam one mile without any problem. Biking 25 miles right after made me tired but I still had gas in the tank. Then I ran the most excruciating 6 miles of my life. My legs could barely carry me. But I persevered. No water breaks or aid stations or drinking fountains along the way.

I finished but I also felt feverish. The next day I went on a run. Thirty seconds into my run my legs start burning with pain. This wasn’t normal.

After sharing the experience with triathalon coach Lauren, she gave me that honest feedback. It was too much too late before the race.  I took the remaining time prior to the race to rest up.

What Happened On Race Day

Race day came. I set my alarm for 4:00am for breakfast. I woke up to my wife telling me, Hey aren’t you supposed to be up? It was 5:00am, an hour late to getting started. My alarm never went off. I had set my alarm for 4:00am for weekdays and it was a Sunday.

Having rushed through breakfast and getting out of the house I arrived at the race. I was clearly the new guy. I didn’t have a running belt so had to figure out how to tack my running bib onto the front of my bike jersey. Which is tricky if your jersey unzips in the front. I asked around what to do with the sticker with my number on it. It was for my bike helmet apparently.

How Not to Get Kicked in the Face

All my swimming was done in a clear chlorine-smelling pool where I had my own lane. An open water swim was different. Fifty guys stood shoulder to shoulder on the beach and after the count down they clawed their way through the water. When you’re around that many people it’s hard not to get hit and it’s hard not to hit anyone else. For me, I just didn’t want to get kicked in the face.

At one point, one swimmer said to me, Hey, Hey! I looked up to see what she wanted, Quit swimming into me! I apologized and went on.

It seemed like a long time but I finally was able to complete the swim. Emerging from the water I jogged over to my bike. I couldn’t seem to unzip my wetsuit from the back. A friendly competitor unzipped it for me.

Trouble in Transition

When I got to the transition area I ran into a bit of trouble. Upon putting my jersey on my zipper broke. It partially zipped but unzipped from the bottom making the zipping unsecured. I unzipped my jersey and tried to zip it up again. No success. I tried again. The zipper completely broke off from the jersey. I again tried to remedy this. No success. Flustered, I threw the zipper aside and took the bike to the mounting area. I would later find out that I had spent 2-3 times longer than anyone else in transition.

How Not to Ride a Bike

Five minutes into the bike ride I realize I completely forgot to put on my helmet. This can disqualify you. But there’s no way I’m going back just to put on my helmet. Forging ahead one of the bikers yells in my direction, Helmet! I’m hoping by ignoring him no one else will notice.

Finally I finish the bike ride and it’s time to run. This is the part I’m dreading. My legs ache but they still have some gas in the tank. I pass a few people. But the majority are passing me.

I find that talking to people helps me stay motivated. Specifically encouraging other runners keeps me motivated. It gets my mind off the personal pain. It gives a mild dopamine rush giving a sense of euphoria. I decide to encourage every runner as I’m able.

Beating Others and Getting Beat

Finally I have one more mile to go. One hundred yards up ahead there’s a college-aged Asian woman I have a chance to pass up before getting to the finish line. I pass her up giving her words of encouragement at the same time. Up ahead I see the finish line marked by an inflatable black arch. I cross the finish line to be greeted by my supportive wife.

Good job, baby you did it! She squeals.

You just got beat by a 68 year old woman 15 minutes ago, she says next.

It doesn’t matter.

I finished.

And I feel great.


Lessons learned

1. A community keeps you from making too many mistakes.

Every endeavor has pitfalls.  I’m thankful for a gentlemen who commented on my swimming early on in my training. Even though he didn’t know me, he was kind enough to pull me aside and tell me that he could tell I was training for something. However, I had some significant technique problems. He invited me to a swimming master class. This eventually lead me to Lauren who essentially became my coach for swimming and ultimately my triathlon. Lauren helped me to know how much I didn’t know. I had significant gaps in knowledge (and technique) when it came to swimming. The training I had with her was invaluable. In listening to her advice, she set me up to succeed.

2. Mistakes are okay and part of the process of entering something new.

What counts is the ability to learn and adapt in order to achieve greater success. The ability to laugh at one’s mistakes, to provide forgiveness and grace to yourself, is an all important aspect.

3. There will always be people who are better than you.

Even people that wouldn’t seem to be. Like a 68 year-old woman.

4. Give and it will be given to you.

The tortuous 6-mile run seemed to be mostly a battle of the mind. Everything within you wants to stop. But you have to put one foot in front of the other. When I began to encourage others and people encouraged me, something happened. I forgot the pain for a few seconds and actually felt a little more gas in the tank.

Every race I’ve done has provided me life lessons. Maybe, I’ll be crazy enough to do another one again.


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