2013 was the year I dipped my toes into triathlon. I can’t point to one specific thing that triggered my interest, but a confluence of books, articles, podcasts and personal interests led me, over the past 18 months, to begin exploring longer endurance events. The interest eventually tipped over into action and led to a plan. I wasn’t quite crazy or naive enough (not to mention having enough free time) to jump right into the Iron distance events. Maybe blind madness works for some, but I’m a man that likes a plan. Testing myself against 140 is the summit and ultimate goal, this year’s marathon was part of that long term plan, but first I’d start with some sprint distance triathlons and try to figure out this new sport.
First up was my local YMCA’s event in July. This really was a perfect beginner’s triathlon: USAT sanctioned, a very manageable distance (400 yard swim, 9 mile bike and 3 mile run), very welcoming and helpful volunteers, a lake swim and a wide range of abilities.
Held at Lake Pearl in Wrentham, Massachusetts, the swim was in a (relatively murky), but warm, fresh water lake with plenty of lifeguards in kayaks along the triangle route. The transition was in a large grassy area and with a limited field there was plenty of space. The bike was a rolling course with a couple leg burning, but short hills. The run was flat with a big downhill finish.
We had perfect weather and it really was a great introduction to the sport. Everyone was happy to show me what I was doing wrong and offer some tips without being sarcastic or make me feel like an idiot. I always do a good job of that myself in those situations.
The swim, like it is for most folks, was the hardest part for me. I started in the back and on the outside and mostly stayed there, meaning I swam significantly longer, but had mostly clear water and didn’t get kicked or run over by anyone. I used a borrowed road bike and clip shoes and made it through the bike in a respectable time (I think). My Garmin had issues in multi-sport mode (since fixed with a firmware update) and I had little idea how far I’d gone, so I think I was pretty conservative. The run was by far my best part. I think a lot of people come to the sport from a cycling background and I was surprised at how many people I was able catch on the run.
Overall 24th in 1:02:21 Swim 91 10:02 Bike 41 26:17 Run 11 22:44
I’ll be interested to do this again next year with a little more experience and a lot more triathlon specific training under my belt, but for my first time out, I had a blast and was totally hooked.
Verdict: A great beginner triathlon or a nice training day. A little pricey, but I could say that about most events, I suppose.
Watch City Triathlon
The next month I unexpectedly had a free weekend and decided to take the opportunity to do another triathlon. The Witch City Triathlon in Salem offered the chance to experience an open water swim with a wetsuit, plus a step up in competition level.
I rented the wetsuit and soon learned that swimming in a suit is a little different. The added buoyancy and the full sleeved version I rented, plus just learning the basics of getting the thing on and off did not bode well for the swim. As promised, the ocean water was very cold, so despite the challenges I was very happy to have the wetsuit. The swim is actually held in a small inlet, so while you get the salt water and frigid temps, you do not have to deal with waves or currents. Open water-lite. And the thing I will remember most about this triathlon is the total meltdown I had in that water.
I’m not sure if it was the wetsuit, the temperatures, my inexperience, the race adrenaline or, more likely, a cocktail of all four, but half way through the 600 yard swim I panicked. My arms were heavy, I couldn’t catch my breath and forget stroking, I was reduced to almost doggy paddling. It was embarrasing, but a good learning experience in retrospect. I have never been so happy to get back to that sand.
The transition area was on a hillside with splotchy grass, which quickly turned to mud in my aisle. I wrestled the suit off, thew it in a heap and jumped on my borrowed bike. I didn’t think it could get worse. Wrong. Half a mile into the bike, I promptly took a wrong turn, killing all my momentum coming off a hill. At this point, I had to be close to the last one in my wave. The bike course was primarily made up of three hilly loops of a small island. By the time I hit the second and third loop, there was a lot of bike traffic and a lot of different skill levels. I’m surprised there were not more crashes. I made it through the rest of the bike without a problem. Finally making it to my strength, I hit the run and tried to make up for lost time. The run took place on part of the bike course before veering off onto a narrow nature trail before reversing and retracing your route back to the finish.
Overall 47th in 1:14:13 Swim 95 9:24 Bike 86 41:45 Run 25 20:29
If the Hock Tri hooked me on the sport, the Witch City showed just how much room for improvement there was. A nice, humbling lesson and some memories to spur those mid-winter training sessions. A worthwhile lesson to learn.
Verdict: A nice step up in competition, a challenging bike leg and a very gentle introduction to open water, this is a good beginner/intermediate triathlon. I wish the run had been a little more interesting. Well-run and friendly staff.