In the last two years, I’ve run about 20 races, in distances from 5 kilometers to 50 miles.  I felt varying degrees of nervousness before each those races, usually proportional to the anticipated level of hurt.  Last Saturday was the most nervous I’ve every been before a race, not because it was going to be especially tough, but because I didn’t know what to expect.  Running fast and long are known variables.  Swimming, then biking, then running is terra incognito for me.

On May 26th, I joined 170 participants in the 3rd annual McMinnville Sprint Triathlon.  The month of May falls in the early part of triathlon season here, so the swimming section is done in a pool instead of a lake or river.  The advantages are that the water is warm & clear and it was comforting for me to know that if I got tired I could always hold on to the wall and catch my breath.  The disadvantage of a pool swim is that not everyone can start at the same time.  It must be organized in waves.

When I signed up for the race a few months ago, I was asked to predict my 500 yard swimming  time.  The problem was that I’d never swim 500 yards before and honestly wasn’t quite sure if I could.  So I timed myself for 100 yards, multiplied by 5, and then added a couple extra minutes.  It was pretty rough estimate.

When I showed up at the McMinnville Aquatic Center, I saw that they had put me in Wave 3(out of 5), smack dab in the middle, not the fastest or the slowest, which is exactly how I’d describe my swimming ability.  Wave 1 was for the slowest swimmers and I was surprised at just how slow they were. There were some people floating on their backs and taking long breaks after each lap.  One guy was actually walking up and down the length of the pool.  Is that legal?

Wave 2 was noticeably faster, but still in the slower end of the spectrum.  It was looking like wave 3 would be the perfect fit for me.  I shared a lane with three women about my age who all swam back in high school.  Since they were more experienced, I let them go first and then tucked in behind #3 and tried to match her pace.  While swimming I really have to stay focused on remaining calm and relaxed.  It helped having three others in the lane swimming at a similar pace.

After about 15 lengths, the first two women caught up with me.  I let them pass, preferring to follow rather than lead.  When they finished their 20th lap and hopped out of the pool, I wanted to join them, but still had two laps to go.  The pool was nearly empty by the time I finished my last lap, but nevertheless there was a big smile on my face as I crawled out of the pool.  I had managed to survive the swimming segment.

Most of the training I did for this triathlon had been focused on swimming. I hadn’t thought much about the biking, the running or the transitions between the three events.  As good as it felt to be done with the swimming, it was still quite a shock to run barefoot and dripping wet outside to the transition area.  I tried to dry off and then fumbled with my socks, shoes, shirt and helmet.  It probably only took a few minutes, but with my heart racing, it felt like half an hour.

It’s weird, just a few minutes before, I was in a pool, struggling through the water, and now I’m on a bicycle, peddling as fast as I can.  What an odd sensation.  I didn’t change out of my swimsuit(and no, it wasn’t a Speedo), so it was still soaking wet and dripping down my legs as I rode away from the transition area.  Oh well, it would dry eventually.

Cycling was the one event I didn’t practice at all. I ride my bike everyday to work (3 miles each way), but I never go very fast, unless I’m late.  I was surprised at the full spectrum of bicycles on display in the transition area.  There were tandems, recumbents, 20 year old mountain bikes, as well a bunch of those crazy hi-tech bikes Lance Armstrong uses.  I didn’t feel the need to buy a special bike just for this event, so I made due with my single-speed commuter bike.  When one of those serious tri guys would cruise by me on his $10,000 rocket ship , I felt like a soccer dad driving a minivan in the Indy 500.  But I didn’t care, I’d catch them on the run, where there are no technological advantages to be had.

The 12 miles on the bike was fun, my only worry was the possibility of getting a flat.  I didn’t bring a pump or a patch kit and wouldn’t know how to use them if I did.  Even though cycling has been my primary means of transportation for almost 20 years now , I still don’t know how to change a flat tire.  Maybe my New Year’s resolution next year should be to learn how to do some basic bicycle repair.

I finished the bike segment in just over 38 minutes.  Alright, two down, one to go.  After ditching the bike and helmet in the transition area, I was off and running.  And damn, it felt so good, so natural.  It’s like I had been struggling all morning to speak French, and then Spanish, and now finally, I could switch back to my native English.  The running segment was only 5 kilometers, so I didn’t have much time to make up for my deficiencies in the other disciplines.  There were lots of spectators on the short out-and-back course and plenty of high-fives to go around.  I was actually sad to see the finish line.

The McMinnville Triathlon was a fun, supportive, family-focused event and a wonderful introduction to the sport.  There were participants of many different ages, sizes and levels of seriousness.  I had a great time, met some nice people, and was pleased to have done relatively well(107th place in swimming, 31st in cycling, 7th in running and 28th overall).  I signed up for this race as a motivator to help reach my goal of learning to swim.  The triathlon itself was my reward for achieving that goal. I wasn’t sure what to expect beforehand, but I now know that triathlons are not for me.  I may do another one at some point in the future, but currently, running is where my real passion lies.  I wish we had the time and energy to do all the things that interest us in life, but ultimately we have to pick and choose.  And for me, right now, running is my choice.