Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Runner Tries to Tri by Dave Munger

It’s the sort of thought that crops up in every runner’s mind at one point or another: Why not try a triathlon? After all, you can already do the hard part, right? For me it happened this winter as I was rehabbing from an injured glute. I was already swimming and biking as part of the rehab; why not see what I could do in a triathlon?

I decided to sign up for two: a "practice" sprint tri in May, and an olympic tri for my "real" one in July. A couple days ago I completed triathlon number 1, a race in the Charleston Sprint Triathlon series. Here’s how it went.

One thing that’s pretty intimidating about a triathlon from a runner’s perspective is the vast array of gear that is necessary — even if you’re going "bare bones" like I was. You’ve got to have a tri suit, one you can wear for the swim, bike, and run. You need a bike, of course, but also biking shoes (ideally "tri bike shoes," designed to be put on and removed quickly), and some system for laying out your gear. You can even buy a "tri mat" specifically for this purpose. I chose to use an "old towel." There are specialized tri racing flats (I used my regular flats, sacrificing 15 or 20 seconds because I had to manually tie them and arrange their floppy tongues as I slid them on).

When I showed up for the race, I didn’t know the most basic things, like where to put my bike and how to get from the swim finish to the bike start. I had only learned how to operate my GPS in "tri mode" a couple weeks before. But there were other newbies around, and I listened to them as they asked veterans the same questions I would have asked, and so I figured out basically what to do. I chatted with another veteran and told him I was mostly a runner and this was my first tri. He said he knew I’d do great.

Before I knew it, the elites were in the water. My group would be starting about 20 minutes later. That 20 minutes flew by, and soon I was in the water waiting for my group’s start announcement. One cool thing about tris is that everyone’s age gets written on their body in permanent ink; it’s easy to see who’s in your age group. My group (age 45-49) started together, all wearing white swim caps (that’s me in the blue top):

This race was a 600-yard swim, a 12-mile ride, an a 5k run. Swimming was my weakest discipline, so I mainly wanted to not finish last in my age group. I was surprised to find that I was in the middle of the pack. Since my training swims were 1000 to 1500 meters, this one went by quickly, and soon I was out of the water and on my way to the bike. After fumbling with my shoes and helmet, I ran to the bike start and clumsily hopped on. No flying mount for me; it took a few seconds to clip in, but soon, I was off, flying down the road, even passing a few cyclists along the way. I was cooking! Or so I thought, until a cyclist who wasn’t even in the race passed me like I was standing still!

I was still feeling the lingering effects of my glute injury so I didn’t want to push too hard on the ride. I could feel the strain on my legs every time I tried to pick up the pace, so I backed off but tried not to go embarrassingly slow. There were a few tight turns, but fortunately this race had plenty of volunteers to let you know when a dangerous corner was coming up, so they were no problem. Then a guy in my age group passed me. This meant war! But I sized him up and decided that he didn’t really have a runner’s build, so I eased off again and waited for my moment to pass him back during the run. The end of the ride came quickly; I slammed on the brakes and narrowly avoided crashing in to the woman ahead of me. I hopped of the bike and tried to shuffle to the bike rack as quickly as possible in my cycling shoes:

As I struggled to lace up my racing flats, the veteran I’d been chatting with before the race showed up and said "go get’em — this is your strength!" I was trying to figure out if he was already finished (he was in a group ahead of me) or I’d caught up with him. No time for that; I finished lacing up, grabbed my running hat and race belt, and headed out for the run:

Soon I was passing runner after runner. Many were even walking. I was going slower than I was used to running in a 5k, but it was all I could do on my injured glute; it was motivating to seek-and-destroy the other runners, but depressing that I wasn’t hitting the kind of pace I was used to doing pre-injury.

As expected, I passed the guy in my age group who had passed me on the ride. I passed a couple other guys in my group, too. It was frustrating to not be able to run as fast as I had before my injury, but kind of neat to be doing so well compared to many others.

Soon I was headed for the finish line:

It wasn’t quite as fast as I’d hoped to go in my "dream scenario" but it wasn’t bad either; I ended up fifth out of fifteen in my age group, many of whom had much slicker gear and tri-gizmos than I did. The other participants were friendly and supportive, and the overall vibe was fun.

I’m still not sure I’m sold on tris; I definitely don’t think I like them as much as road racing, but I’ll probably throw one into my schedule every now and then, even after I’m fully recovered from my injury. Maybe you should, too!

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