Triathlon Saga Part 3: Revenge of the Cold

Triathlon Coaster ImagesI decided I wanted to do a triathlon a few months ago. I began training for it and did what I could to prepare myself. I set dates when I needed to have equipment by so that I could work towards competing in an official event. I really enjoyed the training and have found a love for endurance exercise. I immersed myself in the life of an endurance athlete preparing for an upcoming competition. I wasn’t sure when or the exact distance, but I was going to do a triathlon. I dropped some weight and got familiar with swimming and cycling.

Sign for Capt Hirams Resort and River ChallengeEarlier this month, while going for a morning swim, I noticed that the water was pretty cold. I thought about it and quickly realized I couldn’t wait any longer to compete in a triathlon. Every day from now till March or April will just get colder, and there will probably be fewer and fewer triathlons to compete in. Therefore, I picked a beginner triathlon less than two weeks out and signed up. The race was Capt Hiram’s River Challenge in Sebastian, Florida, that took place last weekend on 11/17. It is a sprint triathlon, which is ¼ mile swim, 12-mile bike, and 3.1-mile run. My goal was to avoid competing in my first triathlon, including swimming, then biking wet, in the cold of winter weather. Of course, you can only hope for the best and plan for the worst.

Triathlon Race bag and bib numberThe triathlon requires a lot of equipment and setup, so you need to be at the race early before the start. I was fortunate enough to get some time off of work on Saturday and got a room near the completely booked Capt Hiram’s Resort where the race took place. My fiance Kim and I packed everything up ahead of time so we could leave right after work. We took the front tire off the bike and put it in the trunk along with my transition bag and headed for Sebastian. It took us about an hour and 30 minutes to get to Capt Hiram’s on Saturday night. I got my pre-race bag and my race numbers for the bike, my helmet, and my shirt. I scoped out the water to try and shake off some of my uncertainty. It didn’t look like much, and I felt like this actually might be doable. Then we headed to our hotel a few minutes down the road to check-in. Once we checked into the hotel and dropped off our bags, we headed to a local Italian restaurant for some pre-race carbs.

Capt Hirams Resort on Google MapsWhen we stepped into the reasonably small restaurant, everyone inside turned and stared at us. We were the youngest people in the room. The wait was going to be at least 15 minutes on top of a sizeable to-go order for a nearby arcade that had dominated the kitchen. We noticed that no one in the restaurant even had any food on their plates yet. Since I was on a tight schedule, I decided to go elsewhere. I had been carb-loading for a few days already, but the dinner before the race is still relevant, and you definitely don’t want anything that will make you sick. I settled for a sub(lots of bread) at a nearby chain-restaurant.

I walked a little afterward to try and stay calm and burn some more time until bedtime. Then we headed back to the hotel for the night. I set out my clothes and numbers to wear to the race before getting ready for bed. This was my second travel race adventure, and once again, the hotel ended up being an obstacle. I definitely had pre-race nerves going into my first triathlon and was already worried about sleeping. The experience at the hotel ended up being one of the worst I have ever had. I have stayed at hotels at music festivals, brewery events, hockey games, and comic book conventions, yet none of them were as loud or disruptive as this one was the night before the race. There were rooms full of wrestling kids, constant banging, and a crying baby for most of the night. I didn’t get a lot of sleep, but I did get somewhere around 4 hours.

Bike helmet with triathlon number on frontWhen I woke up at 5:30, I was so excited I completely forgot about the terrible night I just had and instantly jumped into race mode. I put on my triathlon shorts and a hoodie and prepared my pre-race breakfast. It was about two hours before the race start, so the water and food timing was excellent. I stuck with the same meal I usually have before a race that I’ve adopted from Kim. I spread some peanut butter on half of a plain bagel and put slices of banana on top. I also drank at least a full bottle of water for a little pre-race hydration. After eating, I used the foam roller, which I didn’t forget this time, and went through all my usual run and swim warmups. I grabbed my prerace drink mixture, which consists of dextrose, aminos, and caffeine, and headed to the race a little before 6am.

Anthony struggling with the bike in the cold and rainIt was still dark and about 55 degrees outside at this point. I knew it was going to be cold, but it was one of the coldest days so far this year. I signed up for this triathlon last minute to try to avoid this weather. A few minutes later, when I got out of the car at the race parking lot, it was raining. In the 55 degrees rain, in my triathlon shorts, I put the tire on my bike and checked the air pressure. I had Kim stay in the car with the heat on because it really was uncomfortable. My cold fingers struggled with attaching the bike pump to the tires. Eventually, I got the bike ready, grabbed my transition bag, and headed over to check-in. There was a small line, but it seemed to go by fast. I didn’t notice when, but at some point, thankfully, the rain stopped.

Waiting in line to check in for Capt Hirams River ChallengeI pulled off my sweatshirt so the volunteer could write my race number on both of my arms in marker. She also wrote my age on my calf, above where I attached the timing band. I really had my hands full with a bag, a bike, and some extras, but spectators aren’t allowed in the transition area, so I just had to keep making trips in and out. In the future, I will be more prepared for this and pretend I will be on my own with no extra bags or hands. I found my spot and set up the bike on the rack. I pulled out my bike and run gear and strategically placed it on a towel underneath the bike. As I worked, another racer began asking me questions about my bike choice. I really just wanted to focus on getting ready. I don’t know too much about the bike, and it’s just an everyday road bike, so I honestly just nodded and agreed with him until he went away. During this time, I drank my pre-race mixture so it would kick in during the race. When I was done setting up, my space looked like a little shrine to exercise with all my equipment neatly placed on my beach towel worship map. I had about fifteen minutes left until the 7:30 start time when I left the transition area for the starting line.

Anthony putting on swim cap before starting triathlonOn the way there, I put on my first swim cap. They give you this at the race to identify your starting wave and probably to help spot you during the swim. I didn’t mind the swim cap because it kept my head warm as I waited in the cold. I took off my hoodie and stood over on the beach area, along with all the other racers. While I waited there, everyone pretty much just stared at each other and shivered. In the future, I will bring a disposable blanket to stay more comfortable. I tried to warm up a little bit, but there wasn’t much space, and I felt like everyone was watching me. I felt a bit better after the pre-race directions that walked us through the racecourse and told us how things will go. I have never even watched a triathlon, so it was reassuring to have someone tell me how everything was going to play out and also that we were going to be okay. I pulled on my goggles and nose clip and stood in the water. The water was a lot warmer than I expected and definitely warmer than outside. A sense of relief washed over me about jumping in for the swim. I stepped out of the water and lined up along the water’s edge with the first wave. The horn sounded, and my first triathlon began.

Anthony and the first wave swimmingI ran into the water pretty confidently and was happy to dive in and start swimming. I tried not to push too hard and end up swimming on top of anyone else. I just wanted to get through it without incident. I had trained for much longer distances, but the swim on the open water felt different. I know I was doing the front crawl differently than usual, with my head up, because I wanted to keep an eye out for the course and other swimmers. I don’t know if my body wasn’t waking up or if the cold was really affecting me, but I quickly began to doubt myself. I never was afraid of sharks, but for the first time, I can remember I was nervous about having trouble in the water. I decided to slow down a little and just focus on my form to make sure I completed the swim. I felt a bit better when I passed the buoys and knew I was headed back towards shore. When it got shallow enough, I stood up, and the whole world was tilted. I felt a little nauseous, as well, but continue to wade through the water. I was struggling with my equilibrium as I attempted to head up concrete stairs and through the narrow designated path for racers. It felt like I was playing Dizzy Bat and had just spun around for a solid minute before trying to complete the simple task. Luckily, I didn’t have that far to go and made it back to my bike.

Anthony transitioning from swim to bike gearI took off my swim gear and began to dry off. I put on my shirt and sat down to switch the rest of my outfit. I was still recovering my balance, so I figured sitting would be smart, and it did help. I took a little extra time to dry my feet and wipe off the sand before putting on my shoes since I only have running shoes and wouldn’t be switching again. I put on my helmet and sunglasses before standing up and grabbing the bike. As I walked my bike out of the transition area, I looked at the giant race clock and saw it had already been more than 13 minutes. I spotted Kim in the crowd taking my picture, and it honestly helped ease my nerves as I hopped on my bike.

River challenge transition area filled with bikesI thought I would be uncomfortable and unusually cold going from the swim to the bike, but I felt fine. Maybe it was my adrenaline, but I seemed to dry off quickly and really just focused on the ride. My bike training was my weakest because of time and logistics, and I knew that going into the race. As much as I tried to push, not only did the bike feel hard, but everyone seemed to be passing me. The bike ride was on the road, and there were cars during some portions, they didn’t get in the way too much, but they did keep me wary. I groaned when I realized we were only about halfway through. It also didn’t help that I recognized multiple places from our drive around town and my research for places to eat. The wind was in our face as we headed back to the transition area. This was the low point of the race for me. I felt like I didn’t have any more gas, and I was struggling against the strong cold winds. I was happy that I chose to wear a shirt, as many participants do not. Finally, we turned down toward the water and rode along the beach for the final leg of the bike. I knew the transition area wasn’t too much further and did enjoy the sight of the water beside us. The crowd was cheering us on as we came into the finish and transition area. I definitely felt their energy along with some relief that I completed the bike.

Anthony finishing the run portion of triathlonI quickly swapped my helmet for my running hat, grabbed a quick drink, and headed off on the run. This transition took me less than a minute. As soon as I started running, I noticed that my feet felt funny. It felt like I was running on pegs or that something was in my shoe. I even stopped to check and make sure my socks hadn’t slipped down into my shoes. I had practiced going from bike to run multiple times during my training, but this was new. I’m guessing it had to do with the cold weather since I didn’t train in it at all, but it was distracting. The feeling finally went away after about the first mile. This was around the time I felt really warmed up. Suddenly I realized I was in my element doing what I enjoyed and picked up the pace. I pushed the rest of the run, and it was my turn to pass all those bikers who had left me behind. I really enjoyed the last two miles of the race and tried to share some of my motivation with the runners coming the other way.

Anthony after crossing the finish at triathlonAs I came to the finish, I felt a sense of pride because I finally knew that I was, for sure, going to finish. I crossed the line and got my medal so I would have something to prove that I completed a triathlon. By this time, I was hot, and I didn’t even need a sweatshirt, which I was thankful for. I grabbed my transition bag and gear and packed it up in the car. Afterward, you really want to pack up your bike and be done with everything while you are still feeling a little boost from the race. Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take your bike until the last person finishes. I’m not sure if this is every triathlon or just Capt Hiram’s, which is a little smaller of an event. As I waited around, I felt good, but the excitement kind of had to wait until I got everything settled and could really relax. Once the last racer did finish, I quickly put the bike away and headed to victory breakfast. Although this wasn’t my favorite part, it was one of them.

Breakfast on table after the triathlonNow that I’ve done a triathlon, I think doing another will be a lot easier. It’s still scary, though, because there’ll always be some unknown. I can’t say I immediately wanted to do it again after I finished. If I do another, I will train a lot harder on the bike and try to find somewhere to practice swimming in a larger body of water. I’m going to wait until it gets warm to even think about signing up, though. For now, I’m just satisfied that I accomplished my goal, but I still can’t really believe I did. A year ago, I never would have thought that I would even attempt a triathlon. I’m happy I did because it taught me a lesson. When it comes down to it, you just have to pick a goal, start working towards it, and don’t stop even if it seems impossible, and eventually, you will get there.

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