Sunday was a big day.
Not only was it my 44th birthday and first birthday as a Dad, but it was the day when this marathoner would become a triathlete.
Jack’s Generic Triathlon or JGT as the folks at Jack & Adams refer to it, was to kick off in New Braunfels, TX at 8:00 a.m. sharp. At 8:18 I would wade into the water for the Men’s 40-44 year old age group wave along with 63 other athletes. The event called for a 500 Meter Swim, 13.8 mile bike and 3.1 mile run.
All distances I have covered time and time again during training, but never back to back to back. I was ready. I was confident.
I was also scared sh#%less standing in that water before the horn sounded. But we are getting ahead of ourselves a bit. Afterall, this is our first triathlon race report. I’m better than that. You deserve all the details.
I had an hour long drive more or less to the race site at the Texas Ski Ranch and I wanted to get there shortly after they opened the gates so I could get a good transition spot for my bike. I was hoping to be near the bike out, bike in area so I would not have to run very far in my bike shoes. This meant a 4:10 a.m. alarm clock to pack up my cooler and make my way down to New Braunfels arriving at 5:45 a.m. when the parking lot opened.
I had packed my gear the day before, everything was looking good, until I went to put my bike in the truck.
Flat back tire.
Really? Really. Not the omen I was looking for.
I quickly phoned my friend and cycling guru Ed and asked if I could swing by and try to get to the bottom of why the tire wouldn’t hold air when I pumped it. I would be racing on Ed’s Zipp carbon fiber wheels on Sunday – I didn’t want anyone touching them but him. We discovered that the stem on the back tire was bad and replaced the tube. No muss, no fuss we were back in action.
Ed gave me a few last minute tips and I was ready for the big day.
After a pretty restless night of sleep I woke to the sound of my alarm, got into my TRI gear, grabbed my bagel, power bar, bike bottle that I had filled with Gatorade and frozen the previous night and a few last minute items. I left the neighborhood and made my way down to the ski ranch. Very little traffic, no issues, arrived on-site about 5 minutes early. Perfect.
I got body marked with my Race Number 89 on both arms and my age on my left calf “44”. I had only been awake about 2 hours and already I was a year older. I was able to score a great spot, right on the end of the row for my bike very close to the exit/entrance to the bike course. I got my gear laid out according to plan and met some of the friendliest athletes I had ever met at an event before.
An entirely different vibe than a typical large running event, where there is a lot of tension and a lot of quiet runners. This was much more festive. Much more family-like if that makes sense. Everyone was there to lend a hand, give some advice and even compliment me on my transition area for being a first-timer.
Transition Area - All Set
After an hour or so it was time to get in line for the final porta-poty break and make it down to the water for the national anthem. After the announcements were made and the Star Spangled Banner was played live on Acoustic Guitar from the stage it was time for the Open Division to kick things off at 8:00 a.m. sharp.
18 minutes to go time.
O.K., here’s the part where I’m starting to feel scared to death. I know you’ve been looking forward to this.
Starting line of the Boston Marathon? Piece of cake.
First time chasing 2:59:59 at this February’s Austin Marathon? Not a problem.
But staring out at the water for those 500 Meters around the island and back to shore on the small lake. Pretty scary.
It was not the distance at all that I was worried about. I had swam 2,250 meters continuously out on the Quarry Lake on several occasions without stopping. It was the element of swimming in a crowd, throwing elbows and having other athletes literally swim over you on the way to the first buoy. It is every man for himself out there and it really lends a lot of stress to the environment.
To top things off the TX Ski Ranch lake is very shallow. Only 9-10 feet at its deepest. This means that the swimming churns up the silt bottom of the lake. The water is essentially black. you cannot see a single foot in front of your eyes under water. Every foot, arm or elbow that strikes you is a complete surprise. It is impossible to see anything coming. You are swimming entirely by feel.
Rookie in the water
I decided I would start in the middle of the pack and try to stay right there. As the horn sounded we were on our way and the chaos of the open water swim began. I fell into a pretty solid rhythm for about 30-40 meters when I could not reach out fully without hitting a swimmer in front of me.
I tried to swim slightly right or left, but there was traffic everywhere. No clean water to be found. I did the best I could to stay calm, let the swimmers go in front of me and tried again. There was a swimmer on my right that kept swimming into me angling for the buoy. We would hit arms and shoulders a half-dozen times before we reached the 200 meter mark.
I did a good job keeping my composure, never needed to break stroke and my sighting was solid, but I couldn’t really “swim” as hard as I was hoping to. I knew I was going slower than I had hoped.
We made the turn around the island and things got a bit more open. That signaled to me I had simply fallen back from the pack, but I stuck with it and kept on pulling. With about 100 meters to go I had caught up to a group of swimmers and things got congested again. I navigated to the buoys and finally saw the beach ahead of me with volunteers helping the athletes out of the water. I got to my feet and started to pull off my goggles and swim cap.
I had no idea what my time was, I only knew that it was time to get up to transition and get on that bike. Ed was there at the water exit and told me to get it in gear. It was just the jolt I needed to get moving and I started to run barefoot up into the bike area. I saw Dawn and Landry on my left as I got underway and Dawn was able to snap a quick photo.
- 11:53 Swim Time. 374th out of 626 Athletes.
It is probably a good thing that I swam without my watch as I had no idea how fast my swim was. Or how slow I guess I should say. I was hoping to get out of the water in 11 minutes or less. I was out in 11:53. I was in 374th place out of the water. Man did I have some work to do.
I found my bike with no trouble at all. I got on my socks and shoes. Strapped my Garmin on my wrist. Turned on my bike computer, put on my glasses and helmet and tucked my gels into my shorts.
I pulled the bike down and ran out onto the bike course. All in 1 minute and 52 seconds. I was hoping to be out in 2 minutes or less. Just about spot on perfect.
I made it to the mount line, threw my leg over the bike, clipped in and started hammering away. The course was straight uphill out of the ski ranch and I could see a ton of cyclists up ahead of me. It was time to make up some time on the swimmers.
I flew through the gears and powered to the top, flying by numerous athletes on the way up. I was looking at their calves as I passed them, searching for my competitors from the 40-44 age group. The first three miles flew by on the bike as I was recovered now from the swim and starting to churn those leg muscles as hard as I could go.
It seemed like I was gobbling up the course in big chunks, riding in the passing lane mile after mile chipping away at the leaders.
A 3:00 minute mile on the bike is equivilant to riding 20 miles per hour. My opening 7 miles were at 2:49, 2:32, 2:34, 2:27, 2:49, 2:28, 2:23 before we hit the second major hill on the course. It would be uphill for the next several miles and my splits were: 3:33, 3:22, 3:19, 3:35, 3:12 until we reached the final pinacle of the course for a hard right turn back downhill to the ski ranch.
I hammered away at the pedals and covered the final mile in 1:57, well over 30 miles per hour hitting a new top speed for me of 36.9 at one point.
I hit the dismount line and felt like I had put together a very solid bike.
My time was 39:17 – the 36th fastest time of all the competitors, averaging 21.1 mph.
I ran back into the transition area, racked my bike and Ed told me that I was in about 12th place in my age group. I had made up a lot of time from the swim, but the run course was not going to be long enough for me to catch the really top age-groupers. I switched into my run shoes, got a quick sip of gatorade, snapped on my bib number belt and hit the course.
Transition time of 1:08. Very solid.
Finally, the run. I felt strong heading out, I just needed to get my legs back under me and lengthen out my stride. After a short run through a field at the Ski Ranch, we made it onto the road of the run course. An out and back with a turnaround at the top of a small hill. Straight shot, only one turn and plenty runners up ahead to reel in.
I was hoping to run 3:15 half miles which would put me right at 6:30 pace. Not my typical 5K pace, which is closer to 6:10, but I don’t usually warm up with a 500 Meter Swim and 13.8 mile bike ride before a 5K. The sun was high in the sky as it was now close to 9:30 in the morning, the temperature was pushing 90 degrees and I was feeling it. I just focused on the runners ahead of me and picked them off one by one.
My first four half-mile splits were: 3:02, 3:11, 3:13, 3:19. I was just about where I wanted to be with one mile to go.
I hit the final water station and poured the cup over my head to cool me off. There was one more small hill to get up and over and then the race was all but over. Mile 2.5 came in at 3:16. Time to go.
I hit the last turn and sped around the lake. I could feel a runner on my left shoulder, no clue at all what age group he was in, but it was time to go into my kick anyway. Might as well do it now I thought.
Finally, something I know how to do
His footsteps fell away and I closed with a final 1/2 mile in 3:08.
My total run time was 19:11. The fastest overall run time in the 40-44 age group and the 6th fastest time of any competitor.
After making my way through the chute I found Ed, Tiffany, Dawn and Landry. The post-race party of hamburgers, New Belgium beer and various other drinks and snacks was getting underway. One of the most festive post-race events I have ever been a part of.
They posted results after a half-hour or so and I learned my fate.
Total Time of: 1:13:23
8th place Men 40-44
38th place overall
I left the water in 374th place and caught all but 37 competitors.
I would like to say that I was disappointed in my swim time and that I should have done better, but honestly, the number I had in my mind before the race started was 1:15:00.
If I could finish my first TRI in 1:15 or better, I was going to call that a win. A big win.
Having better more experienced triathletes beat me on Sunday was supposed to happen. There would have been something seriously wrong if I found myself on the podium (1st, 2nd or 3rd) in my first event in my age group.
I learned quite a few lessons on Sunday. Lessons that are going to pay huge dividends when I show up for my next event of this kind. The first is that I simply need to keep swimming. A lot. I have a lot of room for improvement, and just like running, it is going to take hard work and dedication to get there. There are no short cuts or magic beans from a bean stalk that are going to help me.
I have to do it. Nobody else.
I also learned that we’re pretty dangerous when it comes down to the bike and the run. If we continue to work on the bike and continue to focus on our speed work and hill training, the sky is the limit for us.
Lastly, I learned that being a 44 year-old new Dad is a pretty amazing gig.
I’ve got a beautiful, loving, understanding and amazing wife who follows me through all this craziness through thick and thin. Never asking me why I choose to do these somewhat crazy things. I think she knows why I do it better than I do.
I’ve also got the absolute coolest 11 month old little girl who thinks I’m pretty amazing whether I am racing or I’m making funny faces at her at the dinner table.
No matter what, fast or slow, with those two ladies, it’s impossible for me to lose.
Oh yeah, and I learned that I’m a triathlete today.
Pretty darn good birthday if you ask me.