8.13.2006

2006 Naperville Sprint Triathlon

SWIM 400 METERS - BIKE 20 KILOMETERS - RUN 5 KILOMETERS

Not only did I have no idea what I was getting into on race day, but also I had no idea how this one competition would forever alter my life afterwards. Going into it, I could not have been more poorly prepared from both a training and equipment standpoint. Nevertheless, I was pumped and thrilled to be taking on a new challenge.

When I was home from Boston College for the summer, I missed the competitive environment I was immersed in while rowing for Boston College Crew. During my internship that summer, I worked with a guy who had also rowed in college and competed in a few triathlons to keep in shape. I researched triathlons online and immediately felt sucked into the energy surrounding them. In particular, I was captured by an article I read on the IRONMAN (see my web page for more info). Following this, I searched for triathlons in my area that summer and, to my surprise, found one taking place in my hometown of Naperville, IL. I signed up that instant.

How do I prepare for a triathlon? I had no idea, and at the time I didn't care. In the moment I assumed that my rowing form and stamina would translate into each component of a triathlon: swim, bike and run. Let's just say that wasn't totally accurate. However, the mental toughness and endurance I acquired rowing did serve as a great help. So, in preparation for my first triathlon, I ran. That was what I was doing anyway to stay in shape for rowing, so I continued that. I knew the run would be my strength - or so I thought. Now what about the bike? Well, that was a bit more challenging. The only bike I owned was the mountain bike I received when I was nine. Let's just say it wasn't a very good fit. On top of that, a nine year old's mountain bike (good fit or not) is not a proper triathlon vehicle. A week before the race, I put some semi-road bike tires on it and changed the seat to something a bit more streamlined. It would have to do. And the swim? Forget about it! I didn't know what I was doing when it came to proper swimming technique, so I skipped swim preparation all together.

Then it was race day. The tri shorts I invested in when I bought the new tires and seat for my bike almost made me feel as though I fit in with the rest of the crowd. Then again, the crowd was not that intimidating. After all, this was the Naperville Sprint Triathlon. Not too many professionals journey far and wide for this particular event. Don't get me wrong though - there were plenty of contenders with beautifully expensive tri bikes and outfits to match. But that didn't intimidate me. I love the feeling of being the underdog. It fuels me. And I felt like the total underdog in this. The ability to prove people wrong gets my adrenaline going. Below is the course map:
SWIM: 400 meters
When it was my turn to hit the pool water I raced in at full speed. Those with me did a slight jog to the water. I remember thinking, "Why aren't they racing to the water? This is a race!" As soon as the water reached my knees I dove head first and attempted to begin swimming freestyle. That didn't happen so much. Quickly things got ugly as I resorted to "doggie paddle" and an assortment of wild strokes that I invented on the spot. This suddenly went from being about "winning" to being about "surviving" - disaster #1. Of course, it was only 400 meters, so I survived. Unfortunately, my crude swimming stroke zapped me of far more energy than a swim of that length should have, particularly for someone as in shape as I was.

TRANSITION #1
Now that I was back on the mainland, I was ready to tear things up. I do well in the water in a racing shell, but not left to my own devices. Quickly my mind shifted back from "survival" mode to "winning" mode. In transition, I grabbed my USA bike shirt with my race number already affixed by way of four safety pins and tried to pull it on over my head - disaster #2. The race number tore out of the safety pins as I struggled to pull the shirt on. I stopped and had to reattach the number with the safety pins. This took several minutes. My blood was boiling. I was furious!

BIKE: 20 kilometers
Finally, I hopped on my nine year old kid's mountain bike and took off. Two minutes into the bike, my shoe laces wrapped around the right pedal and yanked my body to the right throwing the bike (and me) to the ground - disaster #3. After freeing my tangled right foot, I got back on the bike and rode off like a bat out of hell. Unfortunately, the very nature of my bike would not allow me to go very fast. I kept it in the highest gear the whole time, pedaling at a cadence of something like 1000 revolutions per minute - and everyone still passed me. My frustrations continued.

TRANSITION #2
As I approached the end of the bike course, I hopped off of my bike and experienced my first case of "brick legs." The feeling was rather amazing. It was quite difficult to coordinate my leg movements when I first got off the bike. Still, I was thrilled to be entering the portion of the race that I believed to be my strongest: the run.

RUN: 5 kilometers
Once my bike was stowed, I dashed away eager for the run. As mentioned, running was something I did on a regular basis, so I expected to excel in this area. However, the "brick legs" feeling never seemed to fully go away until about two miles into the run. On top of that, a terrible cramp had set in early. I remember almost relishing the pain and focusing intently on it. A lot of people like to avoid pain, ignore it and not think about it - not me. I face the pain head on and turn it into fuel. And that's just what I did here. I get angry with the pain and I extract energy from it. For the last mile I absolutely bolted. I passed so many people all the way through the finish line. I was proud to have finished strong, but mad at my time. I came into the race hoping to finish in 1:15:00, but when I looked at my watch I saw 1:20:43 - motivation to get back to work and bust my tail ready to take this on next year.

SUMMARY
I was hooked. There was no backing away now. I wanted to compete in triathlons the rest of my life. I wanted to become a proficient swimmer, a strong cyclist and improve my running. The task ahead filled me with enormous excitement. I couldn't wait to get started preparing for my life as a triathlete.

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