2015 Calgary Half Ironman

If you want to hear the story of how my first triathlon went horribly bad, read on.

Last year I decided that I was going to sign up for a triathlon. Not a sprint or olympic distance triathlon, a half ironman distance. 1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21.1km run. I think they should have cameras on the people like me that have no business being in the race to watch the train wreck that is going to be there race. Because there were no cameras on me, let me tell you the story.

The swim. 47:25 (goal 45 minutes)

During the warm up I saw a decently large fish eating something in water that was about six feet deep. Insert every fear pertaining to the movie ‘Jaws’ and then go have a swim. It was a great way to get ready for the swim. I am a decent swimmer so I thought I would take a position near the front of the pack. The swim starts and now I want you to picture 200 people in wetsuits, swimming to the same place, at the same time. It only took about 100 meters from the shore and I found myself behind someone and trying to stay far enough back that I don’t touch his feet. The person behind me wasn’t as courteous. Every time he touched my feet, my heart rate would race and I froze on the spot, check and make sure that it wasn’t a great white shark, and then continue swimming. Before my heart rate would relax i would get touched again, stop, check, continue. And again. And again. Each time my heart rate would skyrocket until finally after about 50 more meters, it was going to beat out of my chest and I could swim no more. I stopped and tread water and forced everyone to swim around me while I gained my composure. Can I quit? I turned around to see another 100 people swimming at me. Swimming against the flow made me more nauseated. Can I get to one of the volunteers in a boat? Sideways didn’t seem like a good option either. So I stayed there treading water and let nearly the entire field pass me as I tried to regain my composure. Finally after 2 or 3 minutes I continued on in the race. For the next 500 meters every time I turned my head to breath I thought I saw someone beside me. Which now made my swimming stroke pull, pull, breathe, AHHHHHH!, stop, check. Pull, pull, breathe, OMG!, stop, check. Also because I hadn’t practiced seeing where I am going WHILE swimming, for the rest of the swim after 5 or so breaths, I would completely stop swimming and make sure I was on course and continue on.

Transition number one. 7:46 (Goal 4 minutes)

As I am swimming to the swim finish and my hand grazes the mud at the bottom of the lake I take a few more stokes and decide that the water is shallow enough that I can run. I stand up and promptly start to run…. and then fall completely over. My head is spinning. In an effort not to drown in a foot of water I frantically try to stand up. This seems impossible so I end up taking a knee until I feel that I could stand. It was the feeling just like when you stand up really quickly and are a little light-headed. As it turns out, if you try to stand up really quickly after 47 minutes of horizontal cardio you really really light-headed. When I am finally able to stand I start making my way to the bike. Running while taking off a wetsuit is the most awkward thing to try to do. It’s even more awkward when your head is still swimming and you’re not exactly sure which way is down. This continued as I tried to get ready for the bike. Finally, I just sat down and took some time to gather myself. After 7 whole minutes, I decided that I could probably balance on a bike and I would let the rest wear off while I was pedaling.

Bike 2:59:00 (Goal 3:00:00)

This is my strength in triathlon, and the only time during the race that I hit my goal. Actually everything went pretty well during this leg of the race. Except for going up the one hill climb and then going down it. Now I am not very good at climbing hills because I have a little more fighting against gravity than most other triathletes. So as I start to climb the hill, everyone starts passing me. EVERYONE. But usually I am able to make some of this up going down the hills. So as I crest the hill I hunker down and get ready for the decent. I passed 3 or 4 people then I came upon a woman, white knuckled and riding her brakes down the hill. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem except she was hugging the white line and there was a guard rail on the right which made passing on that side pretty sketchy. “On your left!” I yelled, but she didn’t budge. I yelled again and she didn’t move from the white line to make room to pass. With no oncoming traffic, I thought that I would pass in the traffic lane and surely anyone in a vehicle would move over into the oncoming lane to give me room. I passed the lady, and just as I do so a jacked up black pickup passes me so close that I could probably have licked his mirror. The startle of seeing a vehicle so close made me give the bike a little shake which nearly made me run into the truck. Thankfully, I was able to move over and survive to bike another day.

Transition number two. 3:17 (Goal 2:30)

Your brain doesn’t work so good after 4 hours of cardio. I took my shoes off while on the bike, pedaling on top of the shoes that are still attached. I get to where my stuff is, take off my helmet and put my running shoes on and start to run out of the transition area and into the run. I get just to the end and start to slow down to a stop. I had that sinking feeling that I forgot something. I forgot all the food in my bag that I wanted to take with me on the run. So I turned around and went back to my bag, and loaded up the food that I had ready, and left again. It’s just never a good feeling when your running against the flow during a race.

Run 2:43:44 (Goal 2:15:00)

Did you know that you should train to run? I didn’t and it showed. After 7km I hit the wall and died. Unable to continue running because of the complete lack of fitness I had to run/walk the remaining 14km and it took two whole hours. Do you know what it’s like to not have anything left in the tank, and still have two hours ahead of you? I do, and it’s the worst experience of my life. The people at Ironman know this, and that’s where they get you. To have a laugh, they put a turnaround at 10km, so your as far from the start as the finish. If you want to quit, you have to walk your butt back anyways, so you may as well try to ‘race.’ At around kilometer 12 I got passed by a guy that according to his leg was in the 60-64 age group. I yelled at him “your over 60 and kicking my ass!” Around kilometer 15 while I was attempting to jog, I got passed by a guy walking. Walking! It was then clear to me that I was doing a lot of bouncing up and down without a lot of forward motion.

In total, I completed the race in 6:41:16 and finished 736 out of 898 finishers. As I crossed the finish line I was hooked. I became a finisher. I became a triathlete. I became Superman… almost.

The Guy in the Spandex Shorts

I’m sure that in my youth I would have said, “men shouldn’t wear spandex.” When I did see one of these crazy guys I would think to myself “why would they wear THAT in public??? Are they just trying to look ridiculous and make me uncomfortable??? I do not need to see that bulge…” Nobody wants to see the guy in the spandex shorts. As it turns out many years later I started in cycling and learned of the very serious and very painful problem of chaffing. I took to the google-sphere to find a solution to this. Quickly I learned that spandex shorts is the one tried and true method to completely eliminate this problem.

I didn’t immediately go out and buy spandex shorts. I had to do some serious self-convincing that I needed them. That the pain of chaffing was greater than the pain of ridicule and social anxiety that came with wearing such clothes. I told myself that most of my cycling is done solo, and nobody will really ever see me. With those thoughts in my head I went off and bought my first pair of spandex shorts.

My first ride I decided to wear these under a pair of regular shorts. I didn’t want anyone to see me because I am a man and men do not wear spandex. They worked great and I had no chaffing at all! Cycling shorts even have a pad in them to help with soreness on the rear end. These were the best thing ever for cycling and made riding much more enjoyable. After a few rides I decided that I could go out without second regular pair of shorts on top. There I was riding around town in spandex for the world to see.

Then I met another cyclist who became my good friend, Brad. Brad and I decided to go for a ride together one day where we met at his house. I went to his house and I stood on his doorstep in skin tight cycling jersey and spandex shorts. I rang his doorbell feeling very exposed. He opened the door and stood opposite me outfitted in the exact same type of clothes. It was as awkward as a swimming pool men’s change room. Though, at the same time it was a relief that he was wearing it too, just like when you go to a party under-dressed and meet someone that did the same.

A few months later Brad and I went on a long bike trip from around Banff. We decided to stop at a coffee shop with a long line in Lake Louise for a bite to eat. As I stood there, I began daydreaming and looking around. My gaze went to a pair of shoes and I thought to myself that those are odd shoes. Mindlessly my gaze went up to see that the man wearing those shoes was in spandex shorts! Shocked and snapping back to reality I wanted to see the face of the man who would have the audacity to wear such a thing in a public coffee shop. It was my friend Brad! Quickly, I looked down to see that I was wearing the exact same thing. It felt like that nightmare where you go to work and forgot to put pants on. Now I was standing in this coffee shop with everything out there for the world to see.

It took a few seconds, but after the shock wore off and I realized that I do have at least something on, I understood. I understood all the men I had seen in my life wearing spandex. These people aren’t trying to show off their stuff, instead it was (hopefully) out of necessity just like me. I had turned into the guy in the spandex shorts, and it was OK. I have since become more secure in my training and the need for proper attire that I have bought many pairs of spandex running shorts and even a speedo. Though, I am not quite ready to be the guy in the speedo.

My First 100km+ Bike Ride

I am an idiot. I have spent some time writing in a journal and I find it really help sort my thoughts out for the day. Now that I have spent a little time writing about my experiences in triathlon, I really lack the ability to make any even decent decisions. I am relatively new to the sport, and I am bound to make some of the ‘newbie’ mistakes. But my first 100+km ride didn’t have any good decisions. Actually, if I wanted to try to kill someone on a bicycle, I would make them do exactly what I did how I did it.

The first thing that I messed up was getting it into my head that I should ride over 100 km in the first place . I don’t know how or why this got into my head. In 2012, previous to this first ride I had completed exactly six 20 km rides. Only six, and each one took me about an hour to complete. Not only did they take an hour, but a hard-working hour. Think sweating and panting. So after riding a total of 120 km, broken up by six different days I planned on a 100 km ride. Actually I planned on cycling from my house to a friend’s house in Medicine Hat, which was 140 km away. At this point you can see that there is clearly something wrong in my brain. I’m not thinking it’s just a loose wire, it seems more like somebody uploaded a virus into the mainframe.

The second fairly large mistake I made was that I was expecting this ride to take about 6 hours. This was because in my one hour rides I averaged around 23km/h. Being decent at math I figured 140km divided by 23km/h gets you pretty darn close to 6 hours. I thought I was really smart to figure that out. What I didn’t figure out at that time was that 23 km/h for six hours isn’t, and wasn’t, sustainable. The good news is that after this ride was completed I learned that nugget of knowledge. The bad news was that it came to me after being on the bike for six hours and only having completed 118 km.

Being on the bike for 6 hours is still a tough time. But because of what I know now about food, salt, and water needs, I know some of the logistics that would go into a long ride. I did not know any these things in 2012. I took enough food and water for what I know today to be enough for a 2 hour ride. Suddenly my math skills for a 6 hour ride don’t seem all that impressive. So as you can imagine about 3 hours and 70 km into the ride I start to die. Good news is that 15 km away is Ralston, and I can stop at a gas station and re-fuel. The bad news is that the gas station is 100 meters off the highway, and an extra left turn, so I thought it was best not to stop in. I kept going for another two whole kilometers before I hit the wall and had to stop.

Hitting the wall in cycling has a name. It’s called ‘bonking’ and it is the worst feeling that you can have without actually breaking something in your body. Imagine the feeling of being awake for 3 days straight, then add jumping up and belly flopping onto the concrete, and then add being given a shot of adrenaline. You’re exhausted you’re sore, and you’re hearts pounding, and I was still 65 km away from my goal. As I stop, another cyclist is coming towards me on the other side of the highway. He continues on past me for a few minutes and turns around crosses the highway and passes me on his way back to Medicine Hat. Bonk or no bonk, the race is now on.

I hop back on my bike but not to head back to the gas station. In the now 30 degree heat, dazed and confused, I decided that I am in a race with this guy back to Medicine hat whether he knows it or not. He starts about 200 meters ahead of me, and it seems like the road ahead is just a series of small valleys and hills. I get to the top of the first hill, and he has increased to about 300 meters ahead. I descend down the hill and catch up to about 250. At the second hill he is about 350 meters ahead and again after descending I catch up a little to about 300 meters. This continues on and he continues to pull away. On every hill I work harder and harder to try to catch up until I use every ounce of energy I have left. After about 15 kilometers of this he gets out of sight. I lost this race and now I am nowhere near that gas station.

I’ve hit the wall, I’m in the middle of nowhere, I have no water, no food, and a cell phone. What do I do? I kept going. At least what I lack in intelligence I made up for in determination. Ahead another series of small hills each slightly higher than the last. I kept thinking at the top of the hill, “I’ll see the town of Redcliff, and I’ll stop there.” But it seems that the joke was on me as every hill I climbed revealed just another hill. Upon seeing this I kept saying to myself “I can only do ONE more.” It seemed like forever that this series repeated, until finally I could see a straight shot to the town of Redcliff. 5k out I stopped, called my friend and asked her to meet me there instead.

That day I rode a total of 117.9 km in 5:27 minutes and I learned a lot. I learned I slow down as rides get longer. I learned that I need to take more food and more water. I learned that I should stop when I am tired and refuel. I learned that 100km is long way when you’re not in an air-conditioned car listening to the oldies. But unfortunately, in my next rides I make most of these mistakes again. So I guess I didn’t learn much. Hey, at least I didn’t die.