My First Triathlon

One advantage of competing on a team is that when accounting for a mediocre performance you can always throw one of your comrades under the bus – sometimes literally!

Ha, ha! That’s a joke.

But it does help to spread the blame, however subtly:

“Well, we would have done better, except our swimmer developed a cramp.”

“Next time we’ll line up a runner who doesn’t crap out on the hills.”

“We were right up with the leaders when our bicyclist got a flat.” (Actually, that really happened to a teammates on a relay team I competed on years ago, but that’s a whole other story).

However, when going solo there’s nowhere to hide and you’re forced to offer sappy excuses to save face, including the lamest of all: “I was just using it as a training run.”

I’ve competed as both an individual and on teams in countless races in various sports, including running, kayaking, canoeing and cross-country skiing, and even have entered such oddball contests as wood-splitting and ax-throwing at a logging festival, but for one reason or another never got around to racing in a triathlon – until last Sunday.

My buddies Spy and Mary persuaded me to join them at the seventh annual Ocean State YMCA Triathlon in Westerly, R.I. which begins with a half-mile swim in the Atlantic Ocean near Misquamicut State Beach, followed by a 16-mile bike ride and finishing with a 3-mile run. As far as triathlons go, this is fairly moderate; by contrast an Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and full 26.2-mile marathon.

For true masochists there are double-Ironmans and even quadruple Ironmans.

As my father used to say, “I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.” (Or was it the other way around?)

Anyway, there I was with more than 150 other wetsuit-clad swimmers, staring at 4-foot crashing waves while waiting for the start, and wondering if I hadn’t gotten in over my head – literally as well as figuratively.

“Blaaaat!” The horn sounded, and we were off.

In low tide we floundered like beached porpoises until finally punching through breaking surf, and then began thrashing toward the first of three orange buoys marking the course.

Someone kicked me in the face; another smacked me in the ribs. The start was more like a rugby scrum than a swimming race. Soon, though, I was stroking steadily and surged past the first buoy. Peering over my shoulder I was pleased to see I wasn’t in last place, but probably where I belonged in the middle of the pack.

A little more than a quarter-hour later I tumbled to shore and then tried to peel off the wetsuit while running, which is as clumsy a maneuver as it sounds.

If I ever compete in a triathlon again I’ll have to practice my transitions. Serious racers can switch from one event to another in seconds; I could have finished the first seven chapters of “War and Peace” in the time it took me to slip on my riding shorts, socks and shoes, and guzzle a liter or so of water.

I am not a fast bike rider – never have been, never will be – and let’s just say I managed to finish the second leg without resorting to training wheels. I kept pace with a guy in a tie-died T-shirt while men and women in Lycra whizzed past.

I managed to redeem myself marginally in the run and accomplished the same two goals I have in every race: 1) finish; and 2) have a smile on my face.

Spy and Mary were cheering at the finish line, and after refueling with bananas and bagels we grabbed boogie boards and headed toward the surf.

We made one short detour to the awards ceremony, where Spy’s team won first place, and Mary also copped a gold medal in her division.

I was about to leave when the announcer called my name. Somehow I had earned the bronze medal for a third-place finish in my division.

I’ve learned this much about competition: It always pays to enter a race with a lot of divisions. Next time I’ll try to find one with a kayaking-mandolinist-organic gardener division.

“Well, we all picked up some hardware!” I gushed as Spy, Mary and I loped through the sand. “Makes it all worthwhile.”








Reader Comments


Autumn Berries: A Succulent Reward During A Long Bike Ride

While biking through the hills and along the shore of Mystic and Stonington the other day with my friend Spyros "Spy" Barres and son Tom, I began to regret that I neglected to bring along a water bottle.

The Rites – And Wrongs – Of Autumn

It’s finally happened: I’ve grown so accustomed to the roar of the leaf blower that I now longer recoil and curse at the first sonic blast of fall, but simply shake my head and sigh.

Privacy/Preservation: The Roads Not Taken At Fishers Island And Other Enclaves

Imagine strolling to the tip of one of Connecticut’s most magnificent natural habitats, Bluff Point Coastal Reserve in Groton, and instead of gazing at tidal marshes, salt ponds and sweeping, unspoiled view of Fishers Island Sound,...

Part II: Serenity, Solitude And Soggy Socks In The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

When we last left Tom and Steve, they were paddling through muck and mire (though mostly sparkling water) in northeastern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Here is the second and final installment describing...

Serenity, Solitude And Soggy Socks In The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Gusty blasts that shook our tent during the night blew away thick clouds and rain showers, bringing morning sunshine that sparkled on Cherokee Lake when my son Tom and I crawled from sleeping bags last week.

The Continental Divide Trail: 'Overall It's Amazing, But You Have To Be OK With Getting Lost'

After tramping more than a month some 700 miles along the fabled Continental Divide Trail, Mystic native Hilary Sueoka and her boyfriend, Dan Stedman, who started hiking April 22 at the U.S.-Mexican border, finally rambled from the...

The Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon: Racing Is The Easy Part.

By the time Phil Warner and I hit the water in his lightning-fast tandem kayak last Sunday for our team’s leg in the Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon in Lenox, Mass., we had already spent a good part of the morning lugging gear...

There’s No Accounting For Taste When It Comes To Favorite Mountains, Or Tacos

En route to a hiking expedition in Nepal’s Himalayas a number of years ago, my wife and I took a detour to India and spent a day bouncing along on a bus from New Delhi to Agra to tour the Taj Mahal.

Mount McKinley Renamed Denali: Better Than Mount Reagan

Three cheers for the Obama Administration’s decision this week to officially restore the name of North America’s tallest mountain to Denali, which is what early inhabitants called the 20,310-foot peak in the Alaska Range.

The Endless Summer: Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Remember when you were a kid how your mom wouldn’t let you have ice cream every day even though nothing in the world tasted better on a hot day than a double scoop of butter crunch?