I met Michael Alcamo when I joined The Dashing Whippets Running Team and I quickly got the memo that he convinces lots of the runners to attempt a triathlon. It wasn’t long before I was one of those runners.
I entertained the idea slightly. However despite being a certified scuba diver, I didn’t feel comfortable competing with my swimming ability, or lack thereof. I quickly made the excuse that I didn’t have swimming techniques. He kept at it at almost every conversation. He was passionate about these. An Ironman triathlon was way beyond what I imagined for myself personally, still is but you never know.
I had a bike. I loved cycling. My dad is a competitive cyclist. Maybe I have it in my DNA? Surely something Michael mentioned also. Again, worried about my swimming I decided to start adding pool time to my training schedule. I obsessively watched YouTube and Michael shared the video of the most graceful swimmer, it took my breath away:
I figured I’d try mimicking the strokes in the water myself. I mean, how difficult could this be!? I took to the pool with some past coworkers and realized my capabilities quickly. After all, all that’s required for scuba diving is treading in water and swimming the size of a football field… All requirements that didn’t scream efficiency.
One day a lifeguard on duty at the pool was bored so I convinced him to teach me techniques and he happened to also be a swimming instructor. I quickly hired him. When he gave me a demo of how he swam, it almost brought me to tears. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in life. As the months progressed I realized how much swimming affected my recovery while running. It was amazing. Still unconvinced that I was an efficient swimmer, I met a woman well into her 70s at the pool who explained that the difference between a good swimmer and a bad swimmer. She said it’s really the amount of effort that they make in the water. I took that to heart. As the weeks went by, random people started complimenting my swims. Was I that great of a swimmer? I just enjoyed it as I became more and more comfortable in the water. I still compare myself as I watched others train at the pool. My swims were certainly more seamless, well, according to my GoPro when I recorded.
I still had hopes of swimming like the guy, Shinji Takeuchi, in the video.
My swimming got so much more effortless. Still ignoring Michael’s request to do an Olympic triathlon, I signed up for more marathons and ultras in fear of venturing into tris. I was convinced I wouldn’t be ready for open water, especially since the first time I went into a pool without lanes, I got so disoriented.
Finally, last year while on vacation, I received an email from Michael showing me the Central Park triathlon. It’s a 1/4 miles swim, 12 mile bike and a 5k. It’s in a pool and around the park. All logistics that should make me feel completely comfortable. Fine, fine fine… I couldn’t get out of it. Credit card was charged. It seemed as if I could get away with it since it was for August 2nd, months after my furthest ultramarathon.
However, being the ambitious person I am. I also decided to add a marathon two weeks prior. Plenty of time to recover right?
As the months progressed I slowly added swimming back into my routine. I ensure that I could swim at least 1/4 mile in 15 minutes and it seemed like I was surpassing that even with lots of breaks in between. I’ll be ok. As the date drew closer and closer, I fell for a guy who had done a couple half ironman triathlon. I was given the opportunity to see him race out-of-town and I felt more comfortable once I realized that there were athletes of varying levels. Some were competing for the very first time. Some were doggie paddling in the way. Some looked like they had never swam before. I can so do this! I also started commuting to work, being quite lazy about my cycling training but I figured 12 miles would be a piece of cake. After all, it was the first triathlon, anything I do would be a PR.
The day of the triathlon I made it to Lasker Pool where I set up my bike, got the mandatory prep announcement and lined up to start swimming. There would be 6 lanes and we would do a serpentine route until we got to the end, back and forth across the pool. One by one, we were each called to get into the first lane. I saw a guy blatantly walking across the length (he didn’t even try to swim). I saw others swimming with their heads above the water and a woman doing breast stroke. I’d be ok. When I was called, I tried to get into rhythm. It’s a race, I couldn’t help but move a bit fast but I quickly assessed myself and slowed my pace. I’d make it up on the bike I figured. 10 minutes and 50 seconds later, I guess I predicted well I did put 11 minutes down as my time, I made it across the pool and jogged to my bike.
After I got all my gear on, I got on my bike and started pedaling. I immediately realized that something was wrong. My seat felt loosened. It wasn’t like that when I first cycled over to the pool. My boyfriend was cheering on the sidelines telling me that my swimming looked good. I thanked him but shouted that there was something wrong with my seat. I cycled most of Harlem hill and got off to check. It was definitely loose. I couldn’t fix it. I’d have to make do. I got back on. I started balancing the seat all the way around the park. It definitely felt uncomfortable. I assume I’d deal with the aftermath of the pain later, like tomorrow when my crutch gets all sore. I pedaled strong regardless cringing each time I went over a bump. The last thing I’d want is for the seat to fall off and be impaled by the bike frame (can you imagine?) As I climbed I tried to keep up 20 mph and climbed to 35 on the flats. As I rounded the corner going back to the pool to make the full lap, I saw a group of cyclist in front of me, unable to pass, I slowed down and as soon as there was a clearing, a cyclist cut in front of me barely a foot ahead. “Asshole!” I screamed out.
As we came around the corner, a police car was parked on the side and the slow down signs were on the path. I silently wished he had ran into the car. I know, I know.
I didn’t see my bf anywhere but as I came up Harlem hill for the second time, I heard his voice encouraging me on. I told him that there was something wrong with my bike. I pedaled on and did the last lap of the park once more. Climbing as best I could and when I made it back to transition 2, my bike seat fell off completely. People gasped and I was simply relieved. I parked the bike and started making my way out realizing that I had my helmet on. I quickly tossed it at the gate and continued on my strongest activity: the run. I’d never been so proud of wearing my teams’ singlet because immediately there were cheers and people who were familiar with me, called out my name.
Bricks. Well, that’s what they felt like. Every step was agony. I made it up almost midway Harlem hill and quickly settled into a speedwalk. I had to keep pushing. I attempted to jog once more and each step felt challenging. I can’t believe people enjoy this form of torture. I quickly chuckled to myself and imagined that they probably would think marathons and ultras are insane. After all, this triathlon should be over in an hour and a half (the goal that I gave myself). I came to the halfway point and noticed I could potentially do this in less than half an hour. I wasn’t really going at that slow of a pace after all. Besides the quick walks to ease the pain developing on my calves, the sprints weren’t that bad. I was still moving at sub 8s. It still felt like agony and I still reminded myself I didn’t quite train for this. I had ran a marathon two weeks prior for goodness sakes! I came back to Harlem hill and heard my friend Sharon call out, she was pacing one of her teammates. It was great to see her but I had to relieve my legs again and started speed walking for the last time. I couldn’t allow myself to walk down Harlem Hill could I? I’m a better downhill runner. Good thing I hadn’t continued walking. I ran as best as I could and I saw my bf again. He was cheering and I told him that he couldn’t pace me as much as he wanted to, it’s not allowed. I fought through the last meters because I knew the end was close. I made it back to the pool and circled coming in, according to my Garmin, at 1:25:37 unofficial.
Wow I had made my goal! I was slightly hoping it was a bit off (as in, I made it faster than that time) when they called the awards later. I jumped into the pool and waded around a bit before heading over to the bike where I saw my bf. He congratulated me and I joined him for another mile, he had a training run that day. He acknowledged that I just did a triathlon and didn’t need to join him but I insisted. After all, it would be an hour before they called the winners. When I got back, I hadn’t placed but I realized that my time was actually pretty close to 3rd in my age group.
A few hours later, Michael posted to my wall that I had been too modest in my announcement of completing. Despite my broken seat, I placed 5th out of 17 in my age group and I ran the fastest (25:32—I was a Dashing Whippet after all—well, I love running).
I hadn’t even noticed that I was that close. My official time was 1:25:39. 4th place had been 1:25:29 and 3rd 1:25:07. Of course the competitive part in me has kicked myself for the past few days about the time of the race where I hopped off my bike, or when I stopped to walk instead of run. However, I’m reminding myself that my projected time had been a 1:30:00 goal which I had surpassed and this is my first triathlon, I had no real transition experience and I felt strong!
I’m now a triathlete!