At 8:59 a.m. this past Mother’s Day, I was standing on the beach at Lake Anna in Spotsylvania, VA, surrounded by dozens of other men who, like me, were wearing black wet suits and purple swim caps. I stared at my waterproof Timex. The digital seconds passed by. I nervously pressed my goggles hard against my face to make sure they were secure. At 9 a.m. sharp, a loud horn blared, quickly followed by a mad splash into the cool water. My second-ever triathlon had begun. There was no time to enjoy the pristine spring weather. I had 750 meters to swim, 15.5 miles to bike and 5 kilometers to run.
Thirteen minutes after the horn, I was crawling out of the murky water, having splashed my way around the two large buoys marking the open water course. I glanced down at my watch as I hit the beach. Nearly three minutes faster than last year’s time. Hours in the pool refining my freestyle form had paid off. I was energized.
It took me three minutes to jog to my bike, unzip my wet suit, throw on a shirt, sip some water, stash a sugary goo pack in my shorts, fumble with the Velcro on my bike shoes, run to the bike start and start pedaling. After climbing up a short but pesky hill at the beginning of the bike section, I was on my way. I had been up since 4:30 a.m. and now I was settling into a scenic, 48-minute bike ride. Trees and rolling farmland zipped by as I dipped my head and steadily pushed and pulled on the pedals.
At the end of the bike course, I started to notice my legs were stiffening. I slipped my feet out of my bike shoes, hopped down and jogged to my changing station. I hoisted my bike onto the metal rack and gulped a bit of water. I crammed on race sneakers with elastic laces (I didn’t have to tie them, which saved precious seconds.) The transition took me only one minute. Soon, I was hurrying up that same pesky hill to start the run.
I could tell right away that my legs didn’t feel as if they were in cement like last year. But the speedier swim and ever-so-slightly faster bike ride had taken a toll. The sun felt hotter than it actually was. I was drained. I managed to pick off a number of people, but about two miles in I felt a sensation I knew all too well: My body urging me to stop. Ignoring it was tough.
But I pushed on, always picking a point ahead to reach. I broke the run into small parts. Little goals to keep my mind occupied. Just make it to the next tree, I thought. I found some relief as I turned off the paved black roadway to a heavily wooded trail. I was thrilled to feel the shade of the trees. Not much race was left. Finally, after 21 minutes, I emerged from the forest to see the finish line ahead. I completed the race after a grueling one hour, 27 minutes and 17 seconds. Faster than last year. A major goal reached.
Sweat was pouring off me. My body was burning up. I dipped a towel into ice water and draped it over my head. Soon after, I found out I was in 100th place out of 586 triathletes.
It was the culmination of months of difficult winter training, all of it detailed in a training log on my iPad. I even tracked aches and pains, hoping to preemptively cure nagging physical anomalies before they turned into full-blown injuries.
All that training improved my time by three minutes. A 3% improvement from last year. At first, I was disappointed that I hadn’t shattered last year’s time. All that training for a measly three minutes? And my run was even slightly slower than the year before.
Days after, the joy of accomplishment started to sink in. I realized how tough it is to train for such a long race. I thought about how I needed to log more bike miles, re-dedicate myself to a more nutritious diet, build a better training regimen. I pored over the results spreadsheet looking for ways to shave off more time.
I was already planning my strategy for next year