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  • I was up early: 4am. Everything I needed was laid out for the event: bike, shoes (running and biking), nutrition (gels, beans, and gatorade), wetsuit, biking/running kit, iPod, and a towel. I placed the bike on my rack and everything else into the jeep before pouring a bowl of cereal into a big cup to eat on the way. It would take me about an hour to get there. Winneconne, for the 2011 Oshkosh Olympic and Sprint Triathlon.

    It was exhilarating pulling into town and seeing all of the athletes making their way to the park. All of them smiling, knowing that they’re all a little bit crazy. I parked and joined the throng, making my way to the registration booth to receive my timing chip, number, goodie-bag, and a t-shirt. I would be in Wave 15.

    I made it to my spot in the transition area, placed my bike on the rack, and looked around to see how everyone else had laid out their gear. After replicating their technique, I got a look around. It was a beautiful day. The sun had risen and it was warm, not hot. We also had gotten a reprieve from the high humidity which pounded us for the past week.

    I decided to take a walk down to the lake…that dreaded lake. This is the reason I’ve only done duathlons (run-bike-run) for the past two years. I was early enough to check out the water, so I headed back to the transition area, grabbed my wetsuit, and went back. I got both legs into the suit before realizing I was putting it on backwards…restart.

    The water was nice. I went out and swam for about 5 minutes, making sure that freestyle worked in open water as well as it had in the local pool. Once I was sure that swimming was swimming, I made my way back in, dried off, and walked around the park. There were people of all shapes and sizes. There were also brothers and sisters, triathlon clubs, and super-freaks. The latter group were my competition. My goal was to complete the sprint triathlon before any of the olympic distance triathletes finished (I know…lofty goal!).

    As we moved closer to start time I went back to the transition area once more to make sure I had everything in order. Things were, so I said goodbye and had another one of the athletes take a picture of me before the start, just so if anything went wrong there was proof that I was there.

    I was in WAVE 15, so there would be a wait. I started conversations with people around me and everyone was super-encouraging, which is a common occurrence at these events. If you’ve never done an event like this, it truly is amazing how nice everyone is. Whether it be a triathlon, duathlon, or your local 5k, the people are the same.

    WAVE 15, STEP UP TO THE LINE!

    Those words reverberated through my body, sending a chill up my spine and forming a pit in my stomach causing nausea not felt since that mistral event at sea on the LaSalle back in 2000. This was it, my biggest fear, face-to-face.

    Regarding the water and my earlier allusion, I have never been a strong swimmer. I actually failed a swimming course at the Academy. But the water was warm, I had done the lap work, paid the registration fee, and had no where to run. As I was instructed by some triathlon veterans, I stayed back and waited for the hard swimmers to go ahead.

    I got started and was making some pretty good headway…or so I thought. It seems that I had drifted away from the buoys and was off by myself a bit…not good. I certainly didn’t want to waste precious energy going sideways so I altered my course and got back with everyone else, thinking why doesn’t this have nice lines at the bottom to keep me straight like the pool. I was also getting used to the continuous swim. I had done the distance and with no problem, only 25 yards at a time.
    After a few strokes I felt someone hitting my leg, then I got kicked in the midsection and realized I had just swam over another athlete…and paid the price. Needless to say, for someone with a fear of swimming in open water, this was disconcerting. It was hard enough to keep pushing, I didn’t need others kicking and knocking me out of rhythm. I was unprepared for it…and I was told that it would be impossible to prepare…so, on I went.

    At the half-way mark I thought I’d break for 15 seconds, but there was a problem: I couldn’t touch the bottom. So I got on my back and did the elementary backstroke for a while. I knew that it wouldn’t be long before I could touch bottom so I punched it out, put my feet down which calmed my nerves (because I knew I wouldn’t drown), and finished up. I immediately began to unzip the wetsuit and made my way to transition (YES!).

    After taking a gel and fluid, putting on socks, shoes, and my jersey, I was off. The cycling stage was fun. I felt re-energized after the first five miles and decided to kick into gear. It was a fast course and the wind wasn’t too bad. I began to notice that I was passing quite a number of people, which only moved me to push a little harder. When it came time to make the final turn back into town I was confused. There was a cop holding traffic and telling us which way to go, but one of the riders went in a different direction and threw me off. I stopped to get things straight. It seems that the rider who went a different direction wasn’t even a participant in the event. He was just riding! Fortunately, I didn’t lose too much time and made my way in. Looking at my watch, I was making excellent time and my mind started to prepare for the run. At about this time I heard the distinct sound of blades coming up from behind…and here they were: the super-freaks from the olympic distance. I was cruising at about 23 mph and they passed me going about 30 mph of more…WOW! I had no worries, though. We would end up getting into transition at about the same time and I’d be running a 5k while they were running 10. I pushed into transition, saw my family and said a quick hi, changed shoes, took another gel, and started the run.

    Oh my! My legs were like rubber. I knew this would happen from the numerous bricks and duathlons I’ve completed, but it still messed with my head. For the first mile and a half I continued to hydrate and took another gel. The rubber-legs began to dissipate, but like peeling an onion, once that feeling was gone, I had a side-stitch and my right quad was tweaking. This was the wall. I looked at my watch and told myself to suck it up. I stopped and chose the song Going the Distance from the Rocky soundtrack on my iPod…and placed it on repeat. I started running again and was in another dimension. I don’t remember much except increasing my stride length and cadence. By the time I saw the sign for the finish I was in full sprint. My wife showed me the video she took of my daughter, Joelle, trying to give me a high-five and my running right past her. I said that I really didn’t see anything except “Finish.” I crossed the line, took water, and realized I had made it…I AM A TRIATHLETE!

    Looking back, after the swim it was all pomp. For me, it was always about the water. I learned a lot and had a great day. My 5k time was the 2nd best I’ve had (even running 5k’s alone). I beat my goal by 7 minutes. I have a new confidence and it has already shown itself on my rides and runs since Sunday (yes, I’m back at it). I am definitely looking forward to the next event with some new knowledge and an excitement that it can be done.

    Hopefully, my story has been a little interesting. If you’ve been curious about triathlons and whether or not it’s for you, give it a shot. My fitness level is where it hasn’t been for years and I’m leading an active life. Next year, I'm trying a half-iron. You’ll meet some great people and also see the sunrise for the first time in a while (for all you nocturnals out there).
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