So I finally had my day of reckoning and I wanted to recap the entire experience, but its grown too long. We are splitting it into three features now so you can experience each along with me. And now presenting our first installment, the morning of and the swim…
The 2015 Portland Triathlon fell on my 40th birthday, September 20th, and so several months back I thought what better way to spend it than to run my first triathlon. As the day approached, I became more and more nervous about my decision and I would say the week leading up to it was one of the most nerve-racking of my life. For that final week, I definitely tapered a bit and while I still got a couple of rides in and some runs in of varying lengths, I tried to keep it mellow and just make sure my body was ready. Mentally, I was exhausting myself because of the nerves and most nights were fairly sleep deprived. This is not an unusual thing for me in that I’m usually pretty nervous before most big race events, but this took it to a whole new level.
At 5 o’clock on Sunday the 20th I woke up and got my things together, filled the water bottles, and mixed in my Vega Sport Sustain. Next, I had a quick breakfast of a peanut butter and jelly, basic, but it’s my normal pre-game routine. I did one final sweep, put the bike on the car, and headed out. when I got to the race, the first thing I needed to do was get numbered, so I rolled up my sleeves and pants and of the volunteers inked my number on both arms and my left calf and then put my age on my right. It was the first time seeing that number, 40, in such vivid detail. I then made my way to my transition area and took note of my surroundings. It was still dark at 5:45am, so I had to use my little keychain flashlight to set up my area laying everything out the way I had practiced. The St. John’s bridge loomed over our heads in the darkness with little traces of light just starting to hit the top of its spires. The scene was surreal, very different from a bike race or a road race as it was filled with people nervously planning out their areas, vying for position on the rack, determining what layers to leave on or off until we got closer to the start.
Setting Up Transition
Soon the sunrise came and illuminated the transition area making the ground sparkle with the morning dew. I took notice of the ground under my bare feet and noted that it was soft and we would be transitioning in this murky sludge. I started lathering on the Body Glide in those sensitive spots where the wetsuit hits and then quickly ran through my transition checklist a couple more times nervously. I placed my Rudy Wingspan TT helmet between my bars with my Genetyk sunglasses inside, arms pointed upwards. I checked my Giro bike shoes and tucked my socks in (yes, I wear socks) and placed them in front of my running shoes, Hoka Clifton 2s. I placed a towel in front of everything because I knew my feet would be wet and dirty after transition and I wanted to quickly get them cleaned off to get the socks on. I then started with the wetsuit, it’s a Zoot Z Force 3.0 which I highly recommend as you look like a badass in it. All of this sits on top of my TMAT Pro transition mat in super bright green, so I wouldn’t miss it. My bike, the Argon 18 E116 was hung to the right armed with my ISM PR 2.0 saddle and my XLAB Torpedo 50.
Before I knew it, I was walking toward the edge of the Willamette river. I would say at this point my nerves had calmed a bit, I internally felt ready to get going and get it over with. I had come this far and the only real fear I felt was around getting a flat during the bike leg, so I was in a good place as I entered my wave.
And So It Begins
We all donned the silver race caps that marked our age group, 35 to 44, and this is the first time I took note of my competitors. The mix of men in my wave really ran the gamut. It was a lot of super-in-shape people mixed with other weekend warriors who were doing this for the first time. There were folks that traveled from across the country which made it very real all of a sudden. Pre-race instructions came frequently over a megaphone from a slightly humorous coordinator who tried to make us all relax and feel better by getting a laugh… It wasn’t helping. Slowly we moved down the boat ramp, my TYR goggles found their way into position, and last-minute swim checks were made. Like a herd of cattle we made our way to the water’s edge and I had my first realization that there were a lot of people in my wave both in front of and behind me. I don’t really remember how our wave got started, but I do remember getting into the water and getting onto my belly and swimming as quickly as possible. The course took us one hundred meters out before we made a left and swam upstream to the farthest buoy before making our way back. Those first hundred meters were met with something I was a bit unprepared for and that came in the form of limbs hitting me from the front, side, and behind. If you have ever felt claustrophobic, this was an extreme sense of it. That faded quickly though and it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it might as we separated quickly. What came next almost destroyed me though. As we rounded the buoy, I tried settling into my cadence and attempted to find my pace, but every breath I took was met the churn of the water. It felt like I was thrown into a washing machine, so any rhythm I tried to find was lost almost instantly. Panic set in and a bit of desperation and I realized I needed to find a way out. I cut hard to the right and angled into deeper water and found an open lane. This became my saving grace.
Once I found my own route, I found my zone. I immediately was cutting through the water at a solid pace and then started noticing the other caps around me. I was knocking off folks in my wave left and right and soon found myself amidst the wave in front of me. This was a kick I hadn’t anticipated and gave me a bit of an adrenaline burst. I found myself rounding the halfway buoy feeling full of energy. The field had opened and I was passing people and I felt comfortable. When I saw the leg of the St John’s Bridge, I knew I only had about 250 meters to go and I dug in hard. When I finished, a wave of joy went through and drive me toward the transition area. My time for the swim was 22:13, my pace about 1:29/100yds, almost 25 seconds faster than my normal pace. I barely remember coming out of the water, but I got a photo that captured it and I love it.
Stay tuned for part two, the ride…