My Foray Into The World Of Triathlon

Quantico TriathlonOn Sunday, I swam, cycled, and ran in succession.  I am now officially a Triathlete.  That and 50 cents will buy you a bad cup of coffee.

Here’s how it happened:

The forecast for rain did not disappoint.  I drove to Quantico Marine Corps Base in a pre-dawn deluge.  I unloaded my bike, set up my wares in the Transition Area, got my timing chip (which I attached to my ankle) and got “body marked” (with my bib number on both arms and my age on my calf) all in a pouring ran.  I then took out a Hefty Bag, ripped holes for my head and arms, and waited patiently for the race to start while the rain continued.  It was 65 degrees.  Yippee.

Despite the crummy weather, the mood at the Inaugural Quantico Sprint Triathlon was very upbeat.  The Marines know how to put on a good show and we were treated to loud music with a Marine Corps theme (it’s hard for this old officer not to get a little pumped up when this is playing).  A Color Guard was there and a chaplain gave an invocation.  Naturally, almost no mention was made of the rain.  Marines are cool like that.

We were assigned a bib number based on our estimated swim time.  I found myself in the middle of the pack with 172.  Swimmers would enter the pool at ten seconds intervals, meaning I had another 30 minutes after the official start to enjoy the weather with my new-found friends.  This was the first triathlon for a lot of us so we compared notes on what we should be doing.  Most people around me were worried about the bike portion.  Since I was the only one crazy enough to have logged a lot of cycling hours in the rain I imparted my wisdom, which boiled down to “Don’t worry – you and your bike are waterproof.  Just slow down on turns and hit your brakes early to burn off the water,” and everyone was suitably impressed.

As the bib numbers in the water approached 70, I realized I was way too far back in the line.  The folks in the water seemed to be at my ability.  Sure enough, when I jumped in the water (which was refreshingly warm at 83 degrees) I quickly began passing people.  This is not ideal in a pool swim and there is a little etiquette involved.  You have to tap the person in front of you on the ankle and patiently wait for him to cling to the lane divider or the wall of the pool then you pass.  I did this about six times, meaning I was passing people who entered the water a minute ahead of me.  My estimate for my swim time was eleven minutes.  As it turned out, I finished in 8:30.

I pulled myself out of the pool, suggested to the official that if he wanted to warm up he should jump in the water (which he was thoroughly amused with) then jogged through a nearby parking lot which served as the Transition Area.  I found my bike, put on my helmet, realized I hadn’t put on my jersey yet, took off my helmet, THEN put on my jersey, clear glasses, socks, shoes and finally my helmet.  I grabbed my bike off the rack and made my way gingerly to the mount/dismount point.  There are several ways to get yourself disqualified in a triathlon.  Two of them are handing your bike with your helmet off or unbuckled and getting on/off your bike on the wrong side of the mount/dismount line.  I was careful to follow the rules and went slow so I didn’t trip over myself while running in my shoes.

(Cool triathletes will run in bare feet with their shoes already clipped into their bike.  I took a more conservative approach and simply put my shoes on before I left the transition area)

So now I was cycling.  This is something I am comfortable with and I immediately began passing even MORE people.  What I didn’t realize at that point was my low estimate of my swimming pace put me with a group of athletes who were generally not at my ability level.  I therefore was not passed by a single person in ANY of the three events.  While this did great things for my self-esteem, it probably hurt my overall time because there was no one to really push me.

Around Mile 4, we hit the large hill on Purvis Road.  Many riders had dismounted and were walking their bikes to the top.  Others pushed on gamely.  I zipped by them and then enjoyed the steep descent to Horner Road, being careful to slow enough at the sharp turn on the bottom  so I could keep my wheels on the pavement.  The rest of the course was very flat and I reeled in another five or six riders by the time I pulled into the Transition Area to get ready for the run.

Once again, I needed to be careful with what I was doing.  Most importantly I needed to remember to get my running bib out of my bag of stuff.  This bib is attached to a very thin and elastic belt which goes around the runner’s waist.  The bib isn’t necessary on the bike because the athlete’s number is on the helmet and the bike.  Neither of these items go on the run, so you kinda need to remember your running bib or you’ll be DQ’d.

The rain had lessened to a mere sprinkle at this point, so things were looking up.  The running leg was only three miles long on a very flat course, so I was hopeful I could manage it.  I wondered how I would do without my calf sleeves, which have become something of a security blanket for me while running.  Sure enough, my right calf almost immediately felt a little tight.  I dialed back my pace for a few hundred yards and everything seemed to sort itself out.  I then got back to the business of passing people.  My achievement here wasn’t quite as glorious – I managed to get past about five people over the entire event.  Again, nobody passed me.

26:36 later, I crossed the finish line.  There was music and a PA announcer shouting my name and home town to the crowd.  It was a pretty cool feeling to cross under the balloon arch that the Marine Corps Marathon brings out to all their events.  Like I said, the Marines know how to put on a good show.  I got my finisher’s coin, some watermelon, water, and other goodies and enjoyed the after-party in the finishing area.  Since everyone was soaking wet and it was still sprinkling, most people didn’t stay very long.  I was like most people and beat a retreat to the warmth and dry of my car.

I ended up with a finishing time of 69:03, good enough to earn my 72nd place out of 248 athletes.  I could have shaved a few minutes in my transition areas had I been more practiced (fishing stuff out of a hug zip lock bag slowed me down as well) and I believe that I may have pushed myself harder had I been paired with athletes of my ability – that’s my own fault for being way too conservative on my swim time.  Still, it was a nice first effort.

I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  The race organizers were absolutely perfect in almost every way.  They went to great lengths to make everyone feel comfortable, answered every question, and put on a well organized, friendly, and fun event.  I hope they run this event again in 2014.  I definitely want to add it to my list of events I return to each year.

Its hard for me to believe this is my last cycling event of the season.  Complaining about the cold weather and getting ready for my first event doesn’t seem that long ago.  Time to get ready for the Army Ten Miler and the Marine Corps Marathon this October.  Gulp.


19 thoughts on “My Foray Into The World Of Triathlon

  1. Well done! Congratulations on becoming a triathlete. One thing missing are some photos of the glorious event, though I imagine they are few with the weather and all. So the big question – will you do it again?

    • Runners, mostly. It seems that most triathletes are runners who have decided to take up cycling and swimming. A large minority are cyclists and a very small few are primarily swimmers. The runners seem to be “fair weather cyclists,” without a lot of experience riding at night or in inclement conditions. At least that was the case with my little group in the middle of the pack.

  2. Fun post to read, thanks, and good for you! Congratulations on a super first event, and for having the gumption to take one on. And not being bummed by the rain, not getting hypothermia, and managing all those transitions.

    Though 50 cents will not get you even a bad cup of coffee in my area, and though I cannot imagine any circumstances that could entice me into running or swimming, I do like the idea of a big boost to self-esteem. The closest I get to that is consistently being first in my age group. Not because I have underestimated my ability, but because I am the only one in my age group, so alas, I am also last.

    • Suze, if you find yourself to be so exceptional that you are the only person in your age group to even make the attempt at an event, then you are a HUGE winner. Period.

    • There’s no comparison in the level of organization, but then again my fee for the triathlon was more than three times the fee for the century ride. I guess you get what you pay for.

  3. Nice job! Sounds like a nice boost of confidence to be able to pass folks and not get passed. I imagine there will be more triathlons in your future!

    • Thanks, Nene. I absolutely hope to do so more next year. I’m definitely hooked on sprint triathlons and am wondering about the Olympic Distance (0.9 mile swim, 25 mile bike, and 6 mile run). That swim distance probably means an open water swim and that probably means a wet suit, so that will be a big decision!

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