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Pre-race
On the day before the race, I left work at around 3 o’clock to drive to McKinney and pick up my race packet.  When I arrived, volunteers were setting up the bike racks and marking off the course.  I picked up my packet, which included my run and bike numbers, race instructions, a t-shirt, and some other minor freebies.  I wanted to check out the course but unfortunately the race organizers had forgotten to print maps, so I headed home.

Later that night after helping put Emma to bed, I squeezed all of my equipment into a duffel bag and went to bed early.  I slept well and woke up at 5 o’clock to eat a breakfast of Honey Nut Cheerios, a sliced banana, skim milk, and two glasses of water.  After breakfast I inflated my bike tires, installed the bike rack on my car, and racked my bike.  Even though my bike is new, I gave it a quick wipe-down and then taped an energy gel on the main tube with blue painter’s tape.  I put on some Body Glide and my triathlon suit (a black singlet, or as Debbie calls it, a “onesie”), grabbed my duffel bag, and headed out.

The roads were empty on the way to McKinney until Preston and 121, but after that I began to see cars and trucks with bikes of various shapes and sizes attached to them, all driving in the dark towards the race.  I pulled into Craig Ranch and was directed to park in a big field of prickly weeds that had died in the summer heat.  Just to be safe, I carried my bike on one shoulder and my duffel on another through the parking lot and to the street leading to the transition area.  (I later heard someone mention that her friend got a flat from a thorn in the weeds and had to change her tire before the race.)

The transition entrance had about 15 volunteers armed with thick permanent markers.  I showed one of them my number and she quickly wrote it on my shoulders and legs and put my age on my calf.  I walked to my race number’s bike rack and racked my bike with the front wheel facing outward.  I put my gloves and sunglasses inside of my helmet and balanced it between the corner of the rack and my bike seat.  Then I put my running shoes, visor, and rolled-up socks in a neat little pile on the ground next to my bike.  Finally, I had to decide what do to about my bike shoes.  I had practiced a technique earlier in the week where you clip in your shoes before the race starts, remove your feet from them, and then slip your feet in and fasten them after you start riding.  This sounds precarious but I was able to do it with 30 minutes practice on the street in front of my house.  For this race, though, I decided against it, because my bike was on a rack very close to the exit and I didn’t need to avoid running in my bike shoes for such a short distance.  I put my bike shoes on the ground and a hand towel over the top of them and headed barefoot across the transition area to the pool.

Hundreds of athletes had gathered around all four sides of the pool.  There were about 20 people swimming warm-up laps and I decided to join them.  But first I needed to pick up my timing chip and stretch a bit.  Unfortunately, the timing chip line was slow and by the time I finished stretching, the race referee told everyone to exit the pool for race announcements.  The announcements included a brief rundown of the rules; the most interesting was that “drafting” on the bike, or riding directly behind another rider to reduce your own effort, was not allowed.  This meant that you had to maintain distance between you and the rider in front and that if you wanted to pass you had to do so in 15 seconds.  Since the energy you save drafting is significant, the race referees drove up and down the bike route looking for offenders and giving them a time penalty of two minutes.  Anyway, one of the volunteers sang the national anthem (she was good but it seemed to take forever), everyone cheered, and Dr. Cooper announced the start of the race.

Swim (7 minutes 56 seconds, 235 out of 422)
The outdoor pool was beautiful, 82 degrees warm and 50 meters long, with 6 lane markers defining 7 lanes.  Each athlete swam a snake pattern: down one lane, under the lane marker, up one lane, under the lane marker, et cetera, for 7 laps (350 meters).  I had never swam under a lane marker before, but since one person entered the pool every 5 seconds and my race number was my swim position, I got to watch 334 other swimmers before it was my turn.  Most of them were kick-turning or open-turning diagonally under the rope and into the next lane, so I decided to try that as well.

Your race number (and thus starting position) was decided by the time you estimated you could swim 350 meters when you registered for the race.  I reported a slightly slower swim time (I wanted to take it easy during the first race leg), but I was amazed at how many people reported a much faster swim time than they could actually pull off.  Many early swimmers were slow, and during the first 50 swimmers there were some lanes where people ran into each other or swam 3 abreast.  Perhaps they were overconfident or wanted to start the race early before it became too hot to run?

In any case, it was 45 minutes before I swam, so I took the time to drink 4 more cups of water, eat a energy gel, and use the restroom before I had to get in line.   Finally I was lined up to swim!  The lady in front of me seemed nervous, telling me and another guy that it was her first triathlon and that she hoped she could actually finish.  To put her at ease I told her she would do fine and joked that she could use all the extra time when she finished before me to cheer me on when I finally limped in.  She laughed a bit but still looked anxious as she jumped in the water.

I, however, was feeling calm and confident – or so I thought.  I pulled my swim cap on and put my goggles over my head, and when they called my number I jumped into the pool and started to swim.  Five seconds or so passed before I realized I forgot to pull my goggles over my eyes!  I laughed out loud underwater and rolled over on my back to empty my goggles and put them on.  I rolled back over and resumed my swim, starting a steady rhythm and quickly regaining confidence.  I reached the first wall and performed a nice open-water turn under the lane marker, which made me feel even better – until one of my goggles popped off my eye and filled with water.  D’oh!  I guess in my hurry I didn’t get them back on right.  I didn’t want to stop swimming again, so I decided to swim pirate-style with one eye closed inside my goggle (“Argh matey!”).  I passed the girl in front of me and 4 or 5 more people over the rest of the swim.  It wasn’t until my final lap that my other goggle popped off my eye and also filled with water.  I was just 30 meters or so to the finish, so I opened both eyes inside my water-filled goggles and made it to the end of the pool and out onto the deck.

Despite all of the that trouble – or possibly because of it as I couldn’t really push myself – my heart rate coming out of the pool was actually lower than I expected.  (In fact, I almost felt like the swim was a bit of a waste as it was so short.  I don’t think I would race another sprint triathlon unless it had a swim of at least ½ mile.)  One thing I forgot, however, was that without my glasses I couldn’t see to which bike rack I should run.  Luckily, a volunteer noticed the number on my arm and guided me to the correct area.  I thanked her and headed to start my first transition (called “T1”).

T1 (2 minutes 1 second, 212 out of 422)
Because I had passed people in the pool, my transition area was empty when I arrived.  I pulled off my swim cap, threw down my goggles and cap, and sat down on the curb to dry my feet and pull on my shoes.  Then I stood up next to my bike and put on my sunglasses, gloves, and helmet.  Finally, I grabbed my bike by its stem, pulled it off the rack, and jogged awkwardly in my bike shoes to the mount line.  Although in hindsight there are some things I could do to speed up my transition time, it went fine for what I had planned.

Bike (40 minutes, 196 out of 422)
I was determined to continue my modest pace throughout the bike leg to save my energy for the run.  Plus, I was unfamiliar with the course and didn’t want to make a wrong turn.  Luckily, the course had volunteers and policemen at every turn to guide us and stop traffic.  It was so cool to ride without a single stop sign or traffic light!  Throughout the race, I followed my triathlete friend Eric’s advice and kept my heart rate at or under 165 beats per minute.

At about three miles I began to pass people, and I ended up in a slightly inclined straightaway that caused me to slow my pace to keep my heart rate down.  That’s when the first person passed me, a 31-year old woman who looked far less tired than I did.  We exchanged places for the rest of the bike leg, with me leading out on downhills and straightaways and her catching back up on inclines.  It was helpful to have a competitor (called a “rabbit”) to push my pace and I ended the bike leg with my fastest average speed (18 miles per hour).

Along the way I saw a 44-year-old woman who had crashed on a turn and was limping and pushing her bike.  Because I was unfamiliar with the course, two of the turns caught me by surprise as well and I had to break quickly to avoid the curb, but since the course was two loops of a 6-mile route, I slowed down the second time around.  About halfway through the ride, I ate the energy gel I had taped on my bike, and shortly after I was passed by a 61-year-old man on an incline who flew by me effortlessly and turned to wish me good luck.  I said thanks to every volunteer or cop I saw and they all seemed to appreciate it.  And the end of the second loop, I rode to the dismount line where there were a half-dozen volunteers holding up their hands and yelling for riders to stop.  I unclipped both feet, hopped off my bike, and jogged it back to the rack and my second transition (“T2”).

T2 (2 minutes 17 seconds, 339 out of 422)
I racked my bike and sat down on the curb to take off my bike shoes.  I rolled on my socks and was about to put on my shoes when I realized I had put one sock on with the heel at the top of my foot.  D’oh!  I pulled it back off my foot, turned it outside in, flipped it over, and pulled it back on.  Then I pulled on my shoes and tied them, which took longer than I would have liked.  (Next time I’ll pre-tie my shoes and just slip them on.)  I took off my helmet and tossed it down, left the sunglasses on my face, put on my visor, and started jogging towards the run exit.

Run (30 minutes 33 seconds, 266 out of 422)
Running immediately after a hard bike ride is a funny feeling.  Your legs are used to moving in controlled circles; now you’re asking them to move laterally and they don’t want to oblige.  It doesn’t hurt but it definitely feels awkward.  (Try it sometime: ride fairly hard for 30 minutes on the exercise cycle and then immediately jog on the treadmill for 15 minutes.  Be careful not to stumble!)  By the end of the first half-mile my legs felt great and my energy level was high, so I picked up my pace to 10 minutes per mile and began to pass people.  One person I passed was walking and leaning over as if he had stomach cramps, but when I passed him he looked more tired than ill.

I remembered reading that it was easy to get overheated coming off the bike in hot weather because you lose your source of natural air conditioning at the same time that you increase your effort.  So I took more advice from Eric and walked through both of the water stations, grabbing two cups of water, drinking one, and pouring the other on my head.  This helped a lot, as the first two miles was a slow incline with no shade.  My heart rate stayed above 170 beats per minute for the entire run and by the first mile I was sweating a lot.

All of the run volunteers were focused on keeping us moving, giving us words of encouragement as we passed.  But one volunteer in particular was more fired up than the rest.  She was sitting in a lawn chair on a street corner, but unlike the other volunteers, when you got about 50 yards away, she started clapping and screaming at you to keep going, pick up the pace, drop the hammer, push yourself, et cetera.  Whoa!  Maybe she was a spin instructor like Debbie?  Anyway, I thanked her for encouraging me to keep up my 10-minute pace right when I was feeling like slowing down.

After the 2-mile point, the route turned onto a path through some shady trees on a surface made of track material.  It felt great to get a break from the sun and the concrete, and after another half-mile I reached the end of the slow incline I had been on for almost the entire run route.  A volunteer there told me it was all downhill from then on, and as I turned the corner I saw the finish-line banners and picked up the pace to 8 minutes per mile.  But when I got to the base of the descent, I realized I miscalculated the route and actually had to run another quarter-mile around the fence of a park, through a gate, and across the park on a winding path to the finish line.  8 minutes per mile is a very fast pace for me, and I was tiring quickly but determined to finish without slowing down.  I saw a 12-year old boy ahead of me, and by maintaining my pace I actually passed him about 50 yards from the finish line.  Most of the crowd was cheering him on, and even though I barked, “Great race little man!” to him as I went by, I immediately became the bad guy.  I heard one man yell, “Don’t let him pass you!  Catch him!  Catch him!” but I did manage to finish ahead of him.

As I crossed the finish line some people did cheer for me (“Way to go 335!”) and two volunteers came up to me to take off my timing chip, hand me a cold water, and squeeze a wet washcloth on my neck.  That’s when I saw Joanne and Emma and jogged over to them.  Emma looked reluctant to hug me as I was breathing heavy and sweating everywhere, but I knelt down and she ran up, gave me a big hug, and then made a face and said, “Daddy, you are all wet!”

Final Result: 1 hour 22 minutes 50 seconds, 235 out of 422
Thanks to everyone who has supported me as I’ve droned on about triathlon – especially Joanne who not only had to deal with me disappearing for 90-minute runs and bike rides, but then had to suffer through all of my heart rate and GPS data on her laptop.  I have registered for the U.S. Open Triathlon on October 5th in Dallas and you’re invited to come see if I can make it across the finish line!

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Milestones

  • Highest weight: 228 pounds
  • Lowest weight: 187 pounds
  • Current weight: 216 pounds
  • Started training: March 17, 2008
  • First Sprint: June 26, 2008
  • First Olympic: May 17, 2009
  • First Half: TBD 2011
  • Longest swim: 2.05 miles
  • Longest bike: 63.57 miles
  • Longest run: 13.33 miles

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