I do like to do things to get/keep myself in shape. If I'm not doing something fun or working towards a goal, working out doesn't happen. Over the past couple years (although not the past few months) I've been playing racquetball regularly, because it's fun (oh and good exercise, too). Last year, my wife and I had been meeting with a personal trainer twice a week for several months, so since I had something scheduled and two other people depending on me to be there, I was on top of it. I've done a few fitness challenges with family and coworkers, where you eat well, exercise, etc. and get points for doing good stuff (and for one challenge, you got dinged for eating bad stuff); I've won something in every challenge I've done, because I'm motivated by the challenge.
This is where triathlons attract me. I can prepare for and do something hard that's only partly running. For a lot of triathletes, the swim is what scares them most, because many of them start out as runners and move into triathlons as a way to add some low-impact cross training, which both swimming and biking are. So I'm a little backwards where I like swimming a lot better than running. Little known fact is that many of those skin and bones runner-converts you see are wearing wetsuits not as much for the cold water as for the extra buoyancy so they don't sink like rocks. I don't have that problem. Yet.
My first triathlon was one I didn't even race in. About 6 years ago, I worked on the race staff, helping set up the transition area the night before and helping with whatever they needed on race day, including sweeping up a bunch of gravel out of the road that had just barely been chip sealed and was causing problems for the bikers in the middle of the race. I actually lost 5 pounds in about a 12 hour period. Being around the race piqued my interest but not enough to do anything about it until 2009 when some family members decided to do a race here in Logan.
I had been doing some things to get in shape but didn't decide to do the race until maybe 2 months before it, which wasn't a ton of time to prepare. The swim was in a pool and the bike and run both very flat, so it was a good one to start with. I was able to swim fairly regularly at the pool on campus at lunchtime, and in the evenings, I'd pull one or two of the kids in the bike trailer up the hills above my house. Then on race day, I had a tuned up road bike, instead of my heavy, rusted mountain bike, so that made a big difference.
The distances were 500m swim, 20k (12.5 mile) bike, and 5k (3.1 mile) run. My three goals were to finish, not finish last, and finish under 90 minutes in that order.
They started us off generally in order of estimated swim time, so you just kind of found your place in the line around people who swam about the same speed as you. They started a swimmer every 15 seconds. You go down and back the length of the pool and then under the rope to the next lane and repeat until the last lane. It was hard, but the water was warm and the lanes made it easy to know where to swim even if it was a bit crowded. Then it was off to the bike. It was pretty straight forward, out and back on a straight, flat road. Until you experience the bike to run rubber legs, though, it's difficult to imagine.
By the time I got to the run, it was just hot. It was middle of July, the race had started around 9 or 9:30, but with the line for the pool, I probably didn't start until around 10, which made it about 11 by the time I got to the run. I grabbed two cups of water at the aid station, one to drink and one to dump on my head. I planned on alternating running for a minute and walking for a minute. I ended up running for 30 seconds and walking for 30 seconds. My lungs were in good shape; it was pain in my calves that knocked me out.
They give you 5 split times, for the three legs of the race and the 2 transition periods: swim, T1, bike, T2, run. They were 12:48.1 03:58.4 42:07.2 01:23.4 34:30.9 for a total of 1:34:48.0. I finished 23/24 in my age group and 96/105 out of all the men. So I finished. I didn't finish last in any of the splits or my age group, although I was very close. Ignoring my transition times, I finished the three legs in under 90 minutes, but the transitions are part of the race that some people actually spend a bit of time practicing, so I pulled in just under 95 minutes, and I was happy with that.
Last year, I planned on doing a couple races and thought I'd be in great shape since I was working regularly with my personal trainer. Then the summer came, trainer left, I overate for a week at a family reunion, overate and didn't exercise at a big work conference my first week at a new job, and had a hard time picking which race to do so my schedule didn't really get set until kind of late. On top of that, this would be an open water race with slightly longer legs (750m swim, 13.4 mile bike, and 5k run), although still a sprint, and some hills to deal with.
With everything going on, not having seen the course before race day, and not having ever swum in a wetsuit, I didn't even set a time goal.
The water was cold, and I was glad to have my wetsuit, although it still took my breath away when I put my face in the water. Next time, I'll dunk my head under the water to get over the cold shock before the race starts. Not being able to breathe as I'd gotten used to in the warm pool, I flipped over and went backstroke for a bit. I had a hard time going straight whether doing backstroke or even when I switched back to freestyle without those lines painted on the floor. They make a big difference.
The bike was hard. I'd still been training on the hills above my house on my heavy, rusty mountain bike and again had a light road bike for the race. The hill was brutal, though. It was pretty much a couple percent grade uphill for the entire first half of the bike. Once you get to the top and start coming down, it's easier, except then you get to a very steep downhill section on the way back. I didn't bring my bike computer this time, so I didn't know how fast I got up to. I can say I was going as fast as I felt comfortable going and still had a few people zoom by me.
By the time I got to the run, I just had so little left. I didn't get on a good pace, where I'd alternate running and walking for certain set times, but rather would run and walk randomly, which means I'd probably run for not as long as I should have and then walk for too long before switching back. Of course I was walking when the photographer caught me; he should have had a whistle to blow so I'd know to make it look like I was running like the wind.
About the start of mile 2, I came up on a guy in my age group (you write your age on the back of your leg), and I ran with him for a bit. I didn't know where we were compared to anyone else in our age group, so I did figure that if I beat him, I for sure wouldn't be last. We ran up and down one hill, and then on the start of mile 3, we grabbed some water at the aid station and started up another hill. At that point, I started running, and I don't know what happened to the other guy except that I was 90% sure I was in front of him. I did a little better keeping it going that last mile, knowing I was almost done, knowing that other guy wasn't too far behind me, hoping to catch up to him on the 10% chance that he did pass me at the aid station, and having had my legs recover somewhat from the bike.
My split times ended up being 21:14.773 03:35.833 53:19.650 01:58.506 36:23.496 for a total of 1:56:32.2. I ended up coming in 29/32 in my age group and 138/158 out of all the men. It was a bigger race, and while I was slower than my first race, I did beat more people than the first one.
After just talking about who I beat, keeping in mind a lot more people beat me, an interesting cultural thing I noticed about the bike and the run in both races (not much talking going on during the swim) is that if someone passes you, they give you some words of encouragement. Keep it up. You're doing great. Then if you pass someone, they give you some words of congratulations. Keep it up. You're doing great. It really is uplifting.
Of course, I had to do some comparisons between my times on the two races. Here are the split times side by side for my 2009 and 2010 races:
12:48.1 21:14.8 (14:09.9)
42:07.2 53:19.6 (45:09.2)
1:34:48.0 1:56:32.2 (1:41:16.9)
You can see I calculated an adjusted time in parentheses for the legs that were longer in the second race, as if they had been the same distance as the first one. If I'd have only gone 500m instead of 750m, I'd have still taken a little over 1 minute longer on the swim. I actually got through T1 faster the second time. The bike was quite a bit slower as well, but at that pace if I had one less mile to go, I was down to only 3 minutes slower. Given the massive hill, I thought I did well. The run was the same distance. Given my inconsistent running pattern and the hills, I was quite surprised to be less than 2 minutes slower than the first year's run. Did I mention the huge hill on the run?
While I actually finished over 20 minutes longer than the first race, adjusting for a shorter course, I'd have come in just over 6 minutes longer. It was night and day difference between the two courses in terms of difficulty, so it's hard to really compare them. The best way to compare would obviously be to run both those races again this summer. Which is why I'm naturally running a different race this year.