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.
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.)
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!
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.
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.
photo credit: my parents. The finish!
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?
Your First Triathlon
Things I Wish I Knew as a New Triathlete
What NOT to Say on Race Morning