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

MORE BLOGS

How to Build a Stone Wall in 14,863 Easy Steps

I realized long ago that you’re never really finished building a stone wall, even after you’ve dragged and hefted into place what seemed like the final boulder, exhaled mightily and stepped back to admire your work.

Just in Time for the Holidays: Fagin's Annual Gift Catalogue for the Discerning Outdoorsman and Outdoorswoman

How often does this happen to you: You’re merrily tearing through the woods in your four-wheeler and come to what looks like a shallow stream but turns out to be a deep, water-filled ditch, so your beloved machine sinks like a stone beneath...

Arduous Autumn

In spring we crawl out of our cocoons and celebrate bursting rejuvenation; in summer we play outside from dawn to dusk; during the dark, frigid winter we hunker down like hibernating bears – which leaves fall, when we try to set aside time...

Chain Saw? We Don't Need No Stinking Chain Saw…

So, did you hear that doctors have developed a new method of performing an appendectomy without using anesthesia? It’s exactly like the old operation, except it hurts like a son of a b.

You CAN Go Home Again: A Run Through My Old West Haven Stomping Grounds

Although for decades I’ve been living in a home surrounded by trees that is heated primarily by wood stoves, and I enjoy kayaking, mountain climbing, building stone walls, growing organic vegetables and many other active outdoor pursuits,...

Utah Rocks Part II: Kayaking Down The Colorado River

Propelled by a swift current on the Colorado River earlier this month, my son, Tom, and I gazed at red rock cliffs gleaming against an azure, near cloudless sky. The rustle of aspen and cottonwoods in a gentle breeze mingled with the rush of...

Utah Rocks: Adventures Among The Arches And The Rapids (Part I)

You know how it feels when you witness something so astonishingly exquisite and surreal it literally takes your breath away, and all you can do is gasp in amazement?

Oops. I Meant To Say, Whatever You Do, NEVER Try To Pose For A Selfie With Bear Cubs While Mama Grizzly Is Watching, And Other Corrections

• Alert readers have correctly pointed out a slight flaw in my instructions for the proper rock climbing command when you have unclipped from your rope. You should loudly announce, "Rappel off," not "On rappel."...

Use It Or Lose It: Trails Disappear If Nobody Hikes Them

Nature really hates a vacuum when it comes to paths.

Plunging Through Plum Gut And Bongo Sliding Through The Race In A Kayak: Maybe There Is Such A Thing As Too Much Fun

So a rabbi and a psychiatrist are kayaking in the ocean when a giant wave crashes over them and knocks the rabbi unconscious. The psychiatrist manages to pull the rabbi ashore, where he regains consciousness.

Once Again, Pink Gloves (Plus a Clever Signal) Help Save The Day At The Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon

"On your left!" Phil Warner shouted from the bow of a tandem kayak, racing toward a buoy during the paddle leg of last Sunday’s Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon in Lenox, Mass.

It's Swallow Time Again On The Connecticut River

Early Thursday evening was a magical time to paddle on the lower Connecticut River near Lyme.

Rocks In Their Heads Again: Another Bunch Of Idiots Knock Over An Ancient Stone Formation, This Time In Oregon

"Every now and again people do something so monumentally destructive, dimwitted and dishonorable it belongs in a class of disgracefulness normally reserved for trophy hunters ... It’s almost as if they wake up one morning and say to...