This past weekend I did my first triathlon. The Born to Tri in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Actually, it was a sprint Triathlon, which is shorter than an olympic one. For instance, the New York City Triathlon is 1 mile swimming, 24 miles biking and a 10K run, whereas the Born To Tri is 1/3 mile swimming, 12 miles biking and a 5K run. It was a great experience, although I broke no records.
I didn't really train for this competition. I figured it was short enough to do without any training, and I really just wanted to do it for the fun of it. That and to see what it was like with the notion of one day doing a standard length triathlon. The verdict? The swimming was really, really hard. I would definitely not be able to do an olympic length tri without some serious training involved.
A few days before the race I did a full dress rehearsal in Brooklyn. I swam in the Red Hook public pool, biked through Brooklyn and ran around Prospect Park. It went great and I felt very confident about the upcoming Saturday. However, the pool did not prepare me at all for the actual event, which took place in the Atlantic Ocean. Whoa boy! I felt like it was a life or death situation. I was basically swimming (if you can call it that) for my life. My goal? To not drown. First of all, there were 375 people all swimming at once. Many people, like me, were complete amateurs. Everyone was kicking each other, splashing around like fish caught in a net. You could not escape the human onslaught. It was total confusion. Secondly, the ocean is rough. I mean, it doesn't seem that way when you're just hanging out on a relaxing summer beach day, wading around. But try to do a consistent stroke in a straight line, and it's a different story.
Let me clarify that I do not know how to swim. I can float, keep my head above the water, and move ahead in one general direction. But I've never taken swim lessons and I don't know what I'm doing. Clearly a handicap. Now throw a person with that limited amount of skill in the Atlantic with almost 400 people kicking him in the face, and you've got trouble. Amidst all this chaos, I was trying to keep sight of the buoys, which was the course to follow. Because of the tides, a lot of us kept getting dragged towards shore, leading to rougher waters. Every time I neared the next buoy I had to swim further out to sea just to get around it. I kept accidentally swallowing salt water (not too much, nothing dangerous), making it hard to breathe. There were only 2 safety people in jet skis watching over the whole thing. When I finally made it around the last buoy and headed towards shore my leg muscles were aching. Not helping was the riptide, which at times made me feel like I was swimming in place. Not a good feeling when you're already exhausted. When my feet were eventually able to touch the bottom I was in heaven.
After that everything else went like clockwork. Transitioning wasn't that difficult, since I was basically wearing the same thing throughout; just some tri-shorts and threw on the same shoes/shirt for the rest. Most of the people had really pro bikes. All I had was my single speed urban bike with a steel frame. Not ideal for racing. I was jealous of all the other peoples gear. I'd be riding along and hear what sounded like a car approaching me from behind. Then the cyclist would whizz by me like a tornado. I wasn't so bad though, I passed a bunch of people. We biked through a really nice neighborhood too, with mansions and sports cars in the driveways.
The last bit was the run. 5K is not bad, so it was a pretty chill ending. However, it was starting to get hot and the run was mostly on the boardwalk with no protection from the sun. I was sweating it out for sure. Also, the course kept psyching you out. You'd think you were at the end when you'd turn the corner of some building only to see it continue ahead. It did that like 3 times. Still, when I finally reached the finish line I felt like I could have kept running. The friend I went with beat me by a few minutes. He's a much more experienced swimmer and was ahead of me from the start. After the race we were treated to medals, bananas and oranges. Mission accomplished! And no drowning competitors!