Salem Triathlon Becomes (Bad For Me) Biathlon

I'm not superstitious, but the two triathlons I've attended have had bad weather and I'm thinking it's a sign to give up triathlons. The Kokopelli Triathlon last September was canceled because of a powerful thunderstorm. But I thought the Salem Spring Triathlon (what a horrible Flash website!) in June would be weather-safe when I registered for it months ago. But no.

I woke up Saturday around 5 AM and looked outside to see wet ground. I checked the KSL weather website and the radar showed a big mass of rain right over Utah Valley. It was moving, but slowly. My hope was that it would clear in time for the start of the triathlon.

I ate two bowls of Froot Loops (the breakfast of champions!) and finished getting ready. Swim stuff: wetsuit, swim goggles, towel - check. Bike stuff: shorts, FatCyclist jersey, jacket, socks, bike shoes, helmet, gloves, bottles of CarboRocket and water - check. Run stuff: running shoes, shorts - check.

I was doing this Tri with some neighbors. I saw Matt across the street at Wilkey's so I took my bike and stuff over and we loaded up. We picked up Scott and headed to Salem.

It was raining as we drove - not heavy, but a consistent drizzle. And the temperature was only 45. We parked near Salem Pond and took our gear over to the transition area. Then we waited in line for 30 minutes or more for check-in and packet pickup. Got body marked and picked up our timing chips.

All this time we were hearing rumors of changes to the event because of the weather - possibly even cancellation. The organizers made the decision to shorten the swim and cancel the bike - no change to the run. I was not happy they canceled what would surely be my only strong event. At least the swim would be shorter.

Let me pause here to explain my triathlon training (or lack thereof). I ride my bike a lot. That's all. Before the Kokopelli Tri last year I went to the pool exactly once and swam laps for 750 meters to make sure I could do it and not drown. I also ran a slow 5 k loop around the neighborhood to make sure I was capable of running that distance. I had not done any running or swimming since then. My strategy should be clear. I was hoping to just survive the swim and run, but fly on the bike - possibly passing any of my neighbors who finished ahead of me in the swim and giving myself enough of a gap that they couldn't catch me on the run. Perhaps now you better understand my bitter disappointment (that's too mild, I was ticked off) that they canceled the bike. But here I was, I'd paid my money, I might as well do it.

We got cold enough that we got into our wetsuits to stay warmer. This is June?!

The start was pushed back to 9:30. We went to the truck to get warm and load the now-useless bikes (grrr). At 9:15 we headed over to the start. The waves before us started and soon it was our turn.

Matt told me about his first triathlon and how he lined up near the front for the swim start and got beat up by all the swinging arms and kicking legs. So our plan was to hang back and let the water clear a bit before swimming. Kerry was up front and he called us forward, we shook our heads and tried to explain that it wasn't a good idea.

At the start the front swimmers took off and Matt and I waited for the water to open up and give us some space to swim before we swam out. A triathlon swim is chaos. A mass of flailing bodies trying to move in the general direction of the first turn buoy. I started with the forward crawl, but had to stop several times when I ran into someone, or they ran into me, or a wave caused me to suck in water instead of air, or just to take a look around and get my bearings. After 50 yards I gave up and switched to the back stroke. This kept my face out of the water and I breathed in less water. When I was a kid I swam backstroke in races so even though my form is off, it's still a comfortable stroke.

I would still bump into someone, or they me, at times - but it was tolerable. I'd pause every so often to make sure I was headed the right way. I got into a pretty good rhythm where I was breathing heavy but not labored and stroking at a pace I could sustain. Still, a few times I felt a little panic that I was too tired to keep going and would drown. Not a good feeling. But I pushed through these min-panics and kept going.

The first turn buoy came and went pretty easy. The stretch to the turn-around buoy seemed longer, but I made it. It was a little crowded going around it so I swung wide. Now it was the home stretch to the water exit. I plugged along and eventually I looked to the side and saw a few people standing chest deep so I stood up and touched bottom. As I waded toward shore I felt a bit dizzy and my legs felt shaky like it was suddenly unnatural to use them for walking. I'd heard that water in the ears can mess up your equilibrium. Throughout my life I've spent a lot of time in the water and never noticed this effect. But if I do another tri I may use earplugs to see if it helps. But I'm pretty sure it's just an odd effect of swimming hard for so long.

I trotted along the path to the transition area and saw some of "the gals" (wives of my neighbors). They cheered and I waved weekly. They took some photos and I can't wait to see what stage of grim death I looked like. My wife was with my two oldest daughters at a youth conference.

Eric had made it out of the water first and was changing for the run when I got there. I set to work getting out of my wetsuit, but he was gone half a minute later. I had trouble with my shirt (FatCyclist jersey) - I had pinned my number through front and back - duh. Matt helped me with it (thanks man!). I put on my socks and shoes next, but Scott had dressed faster and was already off. It was a slow transition, but I was finally off and running.

I could see Scott up ahead and hoped I could catch him. I did so when he stopped to walk, but he started running again when I caught up to him. Evidently that energy drink he had wasn't sitting to well and he had a nasty stomach ache. We ran together for two block or so then he said his stomach was hurting again and he was going to walk. I kept running - it actually felt more like jogging.

There was a gentle incline for 3-4 blocks and I was amazed how much I could feel it. I loped along trying to keep the pace up but not wanting to burn out on this hill. It was more flat for the next few blocks and I went a bit faster. Then it was downhill and I tried to push the speed, but found it hard to really let loose and I didn't want to slap the feet so hard I'd get shin splints (something that usually afflicts me when I run).

The course jogged a few blocks and then suddenly I could see the pond. It was a big boost to know that I was close to the finish. The course follows a road that goes around the southern tip of the pond. I picked up the pace a bit here, but pulled back when I saw a short but steep hill at the southern tip. I started up it and was amazed at how much of a drag it felt. I thought about walking it, but I had been running the whole way and I wanted to be able to say I at least ran the whole thing. I trudged up the hill and was breathing pretty hard at the top - like when I've done a short climb at a bike race. I motored down the other side of the hill and pushed to keep the pace up for the finish. The finish was on the top of a short grassy knoll. That last little up on the grass hurt, but I chugged on. The cheers from the gals and the crowd, and the encouragements from the announcer on the PA system, helped. I gave one last push to cross the finish strong.

I was handed a water bottle and took some drinks from it. I grabbed one cup of water along the run, but had a hard time drinking it and almost gagged. I gathered some food - orange slices, mini cinnamon rolls, trail mix - and wandered over to the finish to see the other guys come in. I missed Scott while I was grazing, but saw Matt and Kerry come in. I could feel my thigh and calf muscles tightening up. I stretched them a bit - it hurt and I don't think it helped much.

Eric checked the results. He made 12th and I took 14th, out of 22 finishers. Not bad, I guess. According to the results, the swim took me 12 and a half minutes - sure seemed a lot longer. The transition took me 5 minutes - wow, that's slow. And the run took 25 and a half minutes.

We stood around chatting for a while then made a plan to go eat at Cracker Barrel on the way home. I had the meatloaf, yum.

I felt pretty good for the rest of the day. My legs hurt some, but it was tolerable.

Overall it was a good experience. I was bummed about the cancellation of the bike portion. But I was happy to prove I could do the (shortened) swim and run. Even though I seem to be triathlon cursed, I may try another one since I'd like to see how I'd do with all three events. I may try the XTERRA Sport race near Ogden - it sounds like fun to mountain bike and trail run. Maybe it's just my bad luck, but I'm leery of these organized triathlons because it doesn't take much to mess up one event and they cost considerably more than most road or mountain bike races.

Update: My legs (mostly quads and calves) were painfully stiff and sore Sunday and Monday. Going down stairs was the worst and I'd grip the handrail tight and lower myself down each stair. By Tuesday it was mostly gone and Wednesday the soreness was all gone.


j_e said...

I may do the XTerra tri as well. But it is on the same day at Stage 6 of the Tour of Utah so my schedule may be a little busy.

I'll have to borrow a mtb for that race, though.

Sounds like you're having no luck at all with the tris. Mother Nature just isn't your friend.

j_e said...

I forgot to add ...

Where are the self portrait pictures?

Miles said...

I've had the same feeling coming out of the swim at the jordanelle tri. I let out the biggest belch of my life--even bigger than the ones we tried to conjure up in high school. I couldn't even stand--I fell over a couple of times.

Nice job. - I enjoyed your post.


MOCougFan said...

I gave this a Tri once. Hated the swim. Will never do it again. I'm sticking to the bike. Nice write up tho.

Andy H. said...

I've thought about doing the Xterra tri as well but the $75 entry fee, trying to find/buy a large enough wetsuit and the MTB being a point to point hill climb all scare me away.

mark said...

Nice writeup Kris. I'm not feeling particularly encouraged to do a tri, though. Oh, and for what it's worth, what you ended up doing was a duathlon. Biathlon is cross country skiing and shooting (or in some cases MTB riding or running and shooting, but shooting is always the second event of a biathlon).

Judi said...

Xterra races may be more your style. I'd try one if I rode mntn bikes.

Seems you should get some $$ back for not being able to bike! I would have been pissed.

Good job on the 2 disciplines you hate the most.