My First Tri: Sept 1995

Fifteen years ago my boyfriend Ken (now husband) suggested we train for a sprint triathlon. He’d done one already. He’d signed up after hearing a radio ad, he thought it sounded cool. Already a fit college-level athlete I said, sure, let’s do it.

We’d race weeks later at the Devil’s Challenge, a sprint triathlon held at Devil’s Lake State Park, Baraboo, Wis. Back then we mailed our registrations, no online signup. We didn’t officially train. I didn’t read triathlon books, blogs or forums or think much about race day. To train we pumped up our tires and wiped the bike frames with Pledge.

Race day arrived; it was also my birthday. Ken picked me up while it was dark and moments later he was on his knee proposing—I said yes! I’d have a funny combination of nerves and extreme joy fueling me through my first triathlon. We raced together to celebrate our engagement and our families came to cheer. To me their support meant “we love you and believe in you.”

Race registration was easy and getting body-marked was cool! The cute volunteer wrote my race number in black Sharpie on my arm, quad and calf. I now love the smell of Sharpie on race morning! photo credit: my parents. I pieced 2 pictures together, we were in different waves.

I wore a two-piece Speedo for the swim. I stretched a little on shore, but didn’t get in the water until it was time for my wave to start. I started in the back of my group of swimmers and eased into the water, taking my time walking out a bit feeling the mucky mud under my feet. Once I felt it was deep enough I did five strokes of freestyle, forgot to breathe, swallowed water and then switched to the breast-stroke for good.

Before I’d reached the first buoy I ran into a whole pack of ladies floating on their backs. I heard a confident woman saying, “If you need a break, just flip over and rest.” I kept going wondering when the next wave of swimmers would catch me. (Waves typically start every 1-3 minutes depending on the event size.)

I caught some swimmers and the rest caught me. I was surprised to learn swimming is a contact sport. Other athletes passed, kicked and scratched me and I drank lake water, icky. The swim was a quarter mile but it felt longer. To my right I could see volunteer kayakers and lifeguards lining the outside of the course.

My goggles fogged up and one side leaked, so I swam with one eye shut. Doing the breast-stroke was slower than freestyle, but it was easy for me to keep the course markers in sight. I was almost to that turn buoy, finally, then a short stretch to shore. Ken was waiting for me by the shore (he was in an earlier swim wave), so we could do the rest of the race together.

Like a toddler learning to walk, I stumbled to my feet across the rocky shallows. Ken and I went to our bike stall (the race didn’t have bike racks back then so we had parking spots for our transition areas.)

I whipped on a cotton t-shirt and pulled on spandex shorts over my wet swimsuit, snapped my helmet, put on socks and tennis shoes and we were ready, quick transition. My swim + transition 1 (T1) together took 10 minutes, 12 seconds. photo credit: my parents. T2!

Then Ken and I were off for a 15-mile bike on country roads outside the State Park. This old course took us on some busier roads and threw in a few climbs. Not far into my bike segment we heard a woman moaning. We couldn’t see her yet but her bellow echoed up the valley. When we passed by it looked like she’d broken her arm or elbow. How awful, I bit my lip and felt like crying.

Some of the bike miles were boring. Rowing gave me strong legs and helped condition my bottom to sitting, but my bike seat was uncomfortable. Remember, I didn't train! Fortunately, the weather was sunny yet cool, a gorgeous day for racing.

Ken encouraged me up the last long and steady climb into the State Park. I got a glimpse of what he’d be like down the road as my labor coach. His coaching style worked for me, it was easy to respond but what I really needed was a lesson on shifting and climbing.

Many athletes walked their bikes up that hill, but we kept going. I wasn’t going much faster than the walkers; I expected they might pass me later on. Then we had a short curvy downhill on our way to transition 2 (T2). I rode the brakes most of the way down. Again, since there were no bike racks, we got off our bikes, laid them down, took off our helmets and left for the run. Our 15-mile bike and transition took 1:02:44.

The 3.2-mile run was partly off-road on a State Park trail with ups and downs and weird tree branches, stones and railroad tracks to cross. The rest of the route was on walking paths or roads. As a rower, I could run, even during the last segment of a triathlon I didn’t properly train for.

Back then I was faster than Ken so I led the run segment. We passed more people on the run than on the bike, which was fun. And the other athletes were nice, even when being passed. That impressed me, what a cool sport. Triathlon’s easy camaraderie and sense of fun had me at hello—I’d be back to race again.

There was water setup like a Kool-Aid stand at the turnaround and we grabbed a paper cup. The run doubled back, we were almost done! I was most comfortable on the run, I liked being on my feet, it felt sturdier. Sure, I could easily have a Bella moment and trip, but the danger seemed less threatening on the run vs. the bike or swim.
photo credit: my parents. The finish!

The finish chute was on grass, nice and safe. We held hands and crossed together. Our run time was 30:53 and the race overall took 1:43:49. An incredible day, my birthday, a proposal and my first triathlon! What next? I could do anything.

photo credit: my parents. We went out to lunch to celebrate my birthday, the race and our engagement. I had a special tri-theme cake. I ordered a plain chef salad & I remember the waitress asking, "you don't want no meat?" It still makes me laugh.

Questions for You:
- Do you like Sharpie smell?
- What was the easiest part of your first tri?
- Link me to your "first tri" post or race report, I'd love to read it.


Jen said...

Thank you for sharing this. I am beginning my Tri journey, but I am going to train and read everything I need too... I loved your experience.

ShirleyPerly said...

Great first tri report! Without a doubt running was the easiest leg for me on my first tri (I did it after having run ~30 marathons). But the swim nearly did me in. I've never been so terrified of drowning or getting eaten by an alligator. One of these days I should write up that experience as finishing that race was the day I decided I really needed to learn to swim!

Judy said...

I love first time stories and it makes me want to try one - of course I need to learn how to ride a real bike. I never did learn about "speeds" on bikes. So deprived! :)

Donna said...

I'm such a nerd... I love race reports. :) Especially first time attempts!

I do, indeed, love the smell of Sharpie (and neoprene) in the early morning when the sun is just coming up.

I've really been enjoying your blog. Thanks for all the inspiration! Here's a link to my first:

T said...

What an awesome story!!

Here I've been thinking of skipping out this race season. I get tired of doing them alone. But... race reports are always so inspiring!

Thank you for sharing.

Sara Cox Landolt said...

Jen - that's so nice, thanks for your encouragement.

ShirleyPerly - alligators ... now that'd be a mental challenge! Do write it up!

Judy - Thanks! I hope you'll go for it & let me know how it goes!

Donna - I think I'm a race report nerd too. :-) Thanks for sharing your story/link!!

Sara Cox Landolt said...

"T" I forgot to respond!
Thanks for reading and responding to this post! I hope your racing season is memorable! Best to you!

joannc1972 said...

Great first-tri story. Reminds me of my first...back around 1987 when the first local races were starting in my area. They still had changing rooms back then! LOL. Ours began with laps in the pool using total elapsed time. I was among the first to sign up, so I was in the first wave in the pool. But I'm so slow, I was among the last to finish (even then). Can't remember race distances, but I think I still place in my age group (LOL)!

Sara Cox Landolt said...

joannc1972 - thanks for stopping by and for reading my race report. :-) I bet you have some great stories as well! I remember another event had an outside changing tent & the race announcer warned/reminded athletes not to walk around naked. Oh my! Much better options today. Have a great season!