Lessons from My First Triathlon

Lessons from My First Triathlon
Courtesy of durtbagz.com

 This past Saturday, I completed my first triathlon – swim, bike, run, pain! I’ve been working toward this goal for about seven months. If you’ve read the blog, you’ll know exercise isn’t normally on my daily radar. Once upon a time in my youth, I was a hockey player at a competitive level. I still like to compete but you can’t overdo it at co-ed softball, can you? I realized on race day as I was setting up this is another kind of competition, purely internal.

I got a little arrogant thinking I look more in shape then some of these people. Perhaps I won’t be last or as bad off as I thought. We’ll get back to this observation later on…

The waves for the swim were breaking at about 1-2 foot levels and the swim was more like a washing machine than a leisurely day in the lake. As I stood on the beach, I could see whole groups getting manhandled. It was a great equalizer and my age group of “old” guys was light hearted knowing we were in for a rough start. Standing in waist high water and the waves rolling and crashing in my thoughts were – “Why the fuck am I here again? This is insane…you could be in bed!” Then the horn goes off and you try to swim normally. Perhaps sidestroke, so I can breathe – that’s important when swimming. It was a mess and sixteen minutes later I emerged, tired!

As I got on to the beach, I wanted to kill the other triathletes for running to the transition. Can’t we all just catch our breaths here? Just for a second and then jog it in? It felt like a bad high school PE day with a coach in short shorts blowing his whistle to hustle, HUSTLE! The best part are the fans on the side cheering you one. I began to think they may be the smartest ones out here!

The bike portion was a twelve mile jaunt on lake shore drive. That was actually kind of nice since it gave you room to bike. It’s also the part where I began to feel more like a weak human. I started to get passed, a lot, by people flying by. I did the bike at about a 15mph pace. Sometimes, I felt like I was standing still! My bike began to have some issues switching gears and after forty-ish minutes the chain came off. Clicking out of my shoes, hopping off, I snapped it back on. I got to the end of the bike and it was about seventy minutes after I had begun the race. Going to run three miles was the last thing I wanted to do.

Transitioning to the run from the bike is much easier than after the swim. I shed gear, put on my shoes and started off. The course was a mere 3.1 miles and it had some unnecessary elevation changes. We followed a path that took us up to the Museum of Science and Industry and then back down the lakeshore side to the finish at 63rd St beach. I ran and I walked and I cursed. With about three quarters of a mile to go, I committed to running it in. Each step that got me closer I knew I couldn’t stop and walk, but god I really wanted to walk. I could hear the cheering and the cowbells from the crowd. It didn’t matter who you were, the fans were happy to see you finish and finish I did in one hour and fifty-one minutes.

I’ll admit my immediate reaction when I crossed the line was – this fucking sucks! The pain and torture to my body were no fun. I’m aware I’m being dramatic. I joked that if asked I would say no to any future triathlons. But as my heart rate slowed, my body relaxed I wasn’t as sore as I expected I was very hungry and ready for some sleep. I’d been up since 4:30am and moving more than I ever had in a very long time. It reinforced a lesson I learned at eighteen that the mind can make the body do anything even if it doesn’t want to. It’s truly what makes some people break and others achieve.

I write this now four days later and I’m back training for the Lifetime Fitness Chicago Triathlon at the end of August. I have some expectations to do better and know I’ll approach the race a bit differently. I’ll bring less crap to transition, move faster from swim to bike and hopefully achieve the same run time if not better. I know I can do better and I plan to.

What I learned from this whole experience, was a lot of humility. Those people I saw pre-race who were older, wider, the ones I thought I could beat. They destroyed me and passed me at will. I’d like to be the one passing people in the future rather than getting lapped. We all judge and measure ourselves it’s human nature. I’ll be doing it a bit less in twenty-six days just focusing on myself and what I can do to better my race and not worry about anyone else.

Joe Campagna is the Chicago Food Snob. A former restaurant General Manager, Server and Chef you can find him on twitter @chifoodsnob. You can reach him through email at chicagofoodsnob@hotmail.com. Joe also contributes to Eater.com Chicago and mydailyfindchicago.com

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