Have you read the book or seen the movie The Hunger Games? (If your answer is no, what are you waiting for?!) Before the Games begin, the tributes circle the Cornucopia before they charge toward its center to grab gear.
As I wiggled my toes in the Jamesville Beach sand and waited to begin my first-ever triathlon, I couldn’t help but feel like protagonist Katniss Everdeen. In the Games, Katniss faces opponents who look extremely intimidating and boast much more experience. By no means do triathletes “fight to the death,” but I definitely felt scared, vulnerable, and completely out of my league. And I wore my hair in a French braid a la Katniss, so the comparison is somewhat valid. I wondered if the CNY Triathlon Club summer training series would begin like this. (Fast-forward to 2:10)
Thankfully, it did not, and I can say I completed (and survived!) my first triathlon! But let’s back up a bit.
Before heading to Jamesville Beach for the training session, I fueled up with a Chobani yogurt.
I also had a couple handfuls of (unfrozen) grapes.
CNY Triathlon Club Summer Training Series
I arrived at Jamesville Beach promptly at 5 p.m. First, I set up my bike and gear in the transition area. I made sure to do my homework beforehand, so I didn’t give myself away as a newbie immediately: I knew each athlete gets the space immediately in front of their bicycle to put their gear; I brought a towel to dry off and wipe my feet clean after the swim; and, I strategically placed my bike facing the direction of the ride, so I just had to slide the seat off and under the supporting pole, and I would be good to go.
After setting everything up and checking it twice, I signed in and received my number.
At this point, I told the check-in volunteers this was my first training series and first-ever triathlon. The two were super excited and told me I would most likely be swimming with someone named Jim, but I wasn’t sure if I should seek him out immediately or wait until we were down at the lake. I figured there would be other newbies, so I decided to hold off until the participants went to the shore.
Before I knew it, everyone wiggled into their wetsuits, assembled their swim caps and goggles, and headed down to the lake. This is when I was hoping there would be an announcement for rookies—something along the lines of “if this is your first triathlon, come over here and …”—but no dice; I would be braving the swim solo.
As the serious triathletes toed the shore, I overheard two girls talking strategy alongside me, so I jumped into the conversation. The first girl said she’s done three triathlons, and she cannot do the front crawl the entire time (which made me feel so much better!); yesterday evening was the other girl’s first time swimming in a lake, ever. We introduced ourselves and waited until the final wave to enter the water. (Before going into the lake, volunteers manning the swim checked off which numbers went into the lake; and as the athletes exited, the volunteers noted which numbers came out. This system places safety first and establishes an accurate way to track who’s in and who’s out of the water.)
The 400m swim epitomized touch-and-go. It was a triangular course, and I used the two buoys as visual mini-goals—first swim to the orange buoy, then swim to the white and orange buoy. Since I opted to swim with the final wave, there weren’t a ton of athletes, which meant virtually no kicking, splashing, or elbowing. In an effort to conserve energy (and simply survive the swim), I alternated between the front crawl, the breaststroke, and the approach stroke. When I hit the halfway mark, my wetsuit became a physical and mental challenge. Although I tried it on earlier, I did not swim an extended distance. Also, as a jet ski wetsuit that didn’t fit me perfectly, the buoyancy factor was nonexistent; I could feel the suit filling up with water and dragging me down. What’s more, some of the expert swimmers had completed the 400m-route once and started to pass me on their second lap. I was totally out of my mental game, but plugged on. Although there were several lifeguards stationed around the course in kayaks, I told myself not finishing was not an option. (As I exited the water, one of the volunteers even said my wetsuit was too big and was definitely dragging me down. Wetsuit shopping is definitely on this weekend’s agenda!)
Back at the transition area, I stripped off my wetsuit, dried off, drank a little water, and prepped for the bike portion. Although transitions are crucial during triathlons—a quick and efficient one can place distance between competitors while an inefficient period can break a race plan—no one seemed to be worried about T1 (transition one, meaning swim to bike) times, which was fine by me.
On the bike course, a ton of people passed me—which wasn’t surprising—but I was really happy with the level of encouragement. Before making a move, each cyclist said “on your left,” and after I said thanks for the heads up, almost everyone said nice job or keep up the good work.
If encouragement was the highpoint, then shifting was the definitive low-point. I picked up my bike literally four hours prior to the training series, and even though Jim showed me how to change gears, I was far from being a master. During the 10-mile course, I felt like I never got into a grove because I couldn’t find a comfortable and efficient gear. That’s totally my fault, and I will be sure to practice riding and shifting a ton before next week’s session.
After the out-and-back ride, I arrived back at the transition area, dismounted my bike, and got ready for the run. Honestly, I debated whether or not I should even do the run—I was beat, I wasn’t 100 percent sure of the route, and it didn’t seem like anyone else was heading out to run—so I hung out in T2 (transition two, meaning bike to run) for five minutes. I told myself I had come this far—both literally and metaphorically—and I didn’t want to wuss. Besides, running is my favorite! Before setting out, I asked one of the volunteers for directions; I still wasn’t completely sure where I was going, but I figured the cones and arrows would show me the way.
Whether you call it “brick,” “jello,” or “goop,” my legs felt like all of the above during the first mile. The sensation was unbelievable. It was similar to how I feel at the tail end of a 10-mile run, but it was definitely its own entity. Luckily, running is the one portion of triathloning that I have somewhat under control, so I knew if I ran through it, the feeling would subside.
During the run, I caught up to another athlete who was also completing his first triathlon. We ran 6.5 miles together, and it was nice to have both moral support and a conversation going. We talked a lot about our training—he used to be a competitive swimmer—and our families—he’s originally from Albania and moved to the Syracuse area with his wife and kids. The only bad part about two newbs running together is we weren’t 100 percent sure where we were going. Case and point: As we reentered the park’s parameters, one of the volunteers drove up to us and said we had been totally off course—we actually ran part of the Syracuse Ironman 70.3 route. Whoops! I felt terrible—people were worried, and we kept everyone waiting—and before next week’s session, I will memorize the correct running course.
Tina at Carrots ‘N’ Cake posted this quotation, and it’s applicable to my experience.
“It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun.”
Was every second and every minute of this triathlon training session fun? Absolutely not. Did every second and every minute provide a new challenge? Absolutely. Did I have fun pushing my limits and establishing new ones? Absolutely. Will I be back next week? Absolutely.