So, when is running a marathon not enough? How about four races in four consecutive days, as in the Dopey Challenge? Well, some say us, runners are sick in the head for the miles we put in. Folks may be right, but why stop at just running when there are other equally crazy sports we dive into? Well, I decided to find out how crazy I really am, by running, swimming and biking, too. That's right, I'm now and honest to god, triathlete.
Earlier this month, I embarked on a "gym triathlon" at my local YMCA. "What is a gym triathlon?" you may ask. To be honest, I had no idea either when I signed up. Basically, a gym triathlon is all housed within the facilities and participants are timed as they move across disciplines. It was 10 minutes in the pool, 30 minutes on spin bikes, ending with a 20 minute run on the treadmill. Since this was to be my first attempt at multi-sport racing, I didn't mind the format of the race, since it would be a good set of training wheels for the real deal, one day.
Honestly, I had no idea about how to go about training for this. Running was no problem, but the swimming intimidated me. I did my best to read as much as I could on preparation, gear and strategy. But, most of it flew out the window the second I jumped into the pool. Swimming with a lane mate, who was considerably older and larger than I, was the first challenge. Dolled up in jammers, swim cap and goggles, I must have looked the part as my lane mate said he'd do my best to stay out of my way.
Once the whistle, I was literally and figuratively in the "deep end." My lack of swim training showed quickly as I must have made it one half lap with my optimal freestyle stroke, until gasping for air. Ten minutes felt like ten days as I sloshed around the pool like a cat in a bathtub, surely a great site for the tens of people watching. Finally, the whistle blew and I had completed my comedic pool routine. We had five minutes to change into our dry gear and then onto the spin bikes.
The organizers had moved the spin bikes outside to take in the fresh air, unfortunately the temperature was about 82 degrees, so any hope of cooling off was immediately lost. This part of the race was treated as a spin class, and they had the spin instructor lead it. Let me just say, if this is how all spin classes are, then I want no part of them. While her enthusiasm was inspiring, the mix of stereotypical music mixed with her generic inspirational yammering really turned me off. Luckily, I had my headphones and settled into my own groove.
Following the bikes, we then made our way to the treadmills. I knew my position on the leader board wasn't good by peering over to other competitors' bikes and the swimming fiasco, but I knew I'd make up ground on the run section. Grabbing a treadmill by a fan, I cranked through the 20 minute time at about a 7:04 pace per mile, eclipsing the other competitors and giving me the stage win. Unfortunately, my swim dragged my overall score too far down to get me on the podium. Overall, I finished 6th out of 15 competitors, and I know if I could have swam better I would have placed.
The experience of a triathlon is tough to describe without actually doing one. I wasn't sure what to expect, but now that I have one under my belt, I have a frame of reference. Regardless of the distance, triathlons aren't easy. Not only the physical capacity, but also the mental facet is tricky, as you have to figure out how much energy you can exert across disciplines to make it to the end. I could tell most of the competitors in my race had not thought about it, as the majority of them had nothing left when we came to the run. I was the opposite, with not knowing how much to give to the swim and bike, so I had too much energy left at the run.
Overall, I really enjoyed the experience and look forward to a "real" triathlon in open water and real distances to cover. Of course, allowing me to use floaties on the swim would be greatly appreciated.