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Where I call myself a triathlete

August 15, 2011

Unlike that first marathon, I had a time that I wanted to beat here. I never admitted that time to anyone but my inner dialog, but it was there.

I kept telling people this was “only” a sprint triathlon, because that’s all it was. Why do I say this, though? Because there’s no shortage of people who associate “Iron Man” with “triathlon.” And, while I fully hope to complete an Iron Man some day1, a triathlon is simply a combination of swimming, biking, and running (almost always in that order). Perhaps running a triathlon is crazy, but a 900 yard swim followed by cycling for 16 miles, followed by running for 3 miles is a far cry from a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and then a full marathon on foot.

So, I did what preparation I could – I signed up for the Y to get access to their pool. I ran the Gettysburg Marathon on May 1 and have kept my “running legs” going, I rode #RAGBRAI, averaging 70 miles per day for a week on my bike. I didn’t swim as much as I wanted to leading up to the event3, but I figured I’d be ok.

The night before the triathlon, there was a meeting at the pool, where things would start. We picked up general information in our swag bag, and we heard some lady drone on about the charity associated with the Boiling Springs Triathlon4. The race director went over the course outline & how the course rules.

She kept on referring to the “transition area,” which is where the bike racks were . . . but I didn’t have the balls to actually ask about how the transition area worked. Everyone around me just listened intently, without a hint of question on a face around me.

I found out that I needed to be checked in by 6:55, my anticipated start time was 7:40, and that parking might be an issue. Well, no – there would be plenty of parking, but all of the guaranteed parking would be “locked in” until the end of the event, which would probably be around 12:30. Seeing as I had a gig that night, I didn’t want to take a chance . . . nevermind that I really didn’t want to sit around for a few hours.

Talking to a few other competitors entrants who were also doing their first triathlon, someone mentioned a website to look up just what to pack & what to expect. I made note to check it out and then, looking at a tiny little traffic jam on the way out of the pool parking lot, I made the decision to bike to the event the next day. Biking to the event ensured that I wouldn’t get snarled in traffic – and it would give me ample opportunity to collect my thoughts.

I got home, made myself a salad, drank a diet coke, played around on twitter as I did my research. Almost all of the guides for help with the transition areas dealt with shaving seconds off (use rubber bands to hold your pedals in place, you’ll be able to start pedaling right away, saving yourself 2-3 seconds from your final time). I, however, was not going to consider the event a success or a failure based on a few seconds, and that rubber band idea sounded like way more work than necessary.

What I did find was that it was unlikely that there would be a “changing area” for a pool triathlon – you’d be expected to complete all three events in the same general clothing (I was actually thinking about wearing a swimsuit, changing into bike shorts, and then changing into running shorts . . . without a changing area, that would have meant a whole lot of full-frontal nudity, and that might have disqualified me more than a poor swimming time). Looking through the actual course description proved just that – no changing area . . . I’d have to pick one pair of pants & stick to it . . . and I went with a very comfy pair of bib cycling shorts (the kind that go over your shoulders).

So, I pulled out all of the stuff I’d need right before I went to an early bedtime and threw it all in a plastic bag: swim cap (I barely have hair, so this wasn’t necessary for me to swim, but since it had my number on it, I had to wear it), bib shorts, cycling jersey, running jersey, cycling shoes (I chose to forego socks), Vibrams. Then, I woke up at 4:35 to start getting ready the next day.

My plan was to basically follow my pre-marathon checklist – start coffee brewing, make sure everything was ready, fuck around on facebook & twitter, eat some oatmeal and enjoy my coffee, head to the race. I loved this plan in my head.

So, I started brewing coffee & went to get my bike. In my safety check, there was a pretty constant squeak as I set the pedals revolving, so I put new oil on the chain. Then, I noticed that the front tire was a little low, so I went to put air in it. Only, the top of my presta valve came off with the pump. I had a flat. It wasn’t yet 5am. The sun wasn’t out.

Changing a flat, in the dark, sucks. I pulled out my trusty LL-Bean baseball cap with the LED lights, and got it done (though it took me almost 20 minutes, which is way more time than I’m used to a flat taking me). The clock was pushing 5:30. And with the start line measuring 8 miles from my house, combined with the fact that I wanted to give myself a full hour to get there (my plans had me riding at a ridiculously slow pace, so as to not actually tire myself on a ride that didn’t count), I picked things up.

Instead of enjoying my coffee, I poured it into one of my bike’s water bottles, along with some cream and sugar, and drank it along the way. I skipped breakfast. Holding a plastic bag containing a bunch of random stuff as I rode, I left for the start. I might have given myself an hour to get there, but it took me barely thirty minutes . . . flat roads and long legs that are used to cycling dictated the pace.

I got there with plenty of time to kill.

I checked in, got my chip, had a very nice lady draw my #25 on my arm and my leg, and did what I do best5. There were some people who I had met the night before, and a few others who were eavesdropping on the “triathlon newbie” conversation who introduced themselves to me. I chatted for awhile until my number was called.

For most any triathlon, there are two times that matter. The first is the overall time – and you must complete the triathlon within that time in order to ensure that there is adequate support (e.g. water stations). Most any endurance event has this cut-off, and, in the events I’ve participated in, this cut-off is usually pretty lax. The race volunteers aren’t “on a clock.” They’re there because they legitimately want to help the participants get to the finish line. So, if that means that they need to sit at a station for another half-hour to make sure that people coming through have what they need, so be it. But, in reading around, that swimming cut-off is different.

First, swimming requires lifeguards, and those lifeguards may, in fact, be “on the clock.” But, especially for a pool triathlon, you can only have so many people in the water at the same time . . . suddenly, that “you must be done in x time” means something, because if you take too long, you’re holding up other runners.

Since we were all individually chipped for this event, and, as such, had our individual times, this didn’t matter quite as much as previous runnings of the triathlon, where they would have heats (so everybody had to be out of the water before the next heat would start, and that meant they’d actually tell people to leave the pool). When one person finished their swim and left the pool, someone else crosses the start line, and that’s when their time starts.

When the first ten swimmers hit the pool, I started getting myself ready – I’d hit the water once the 16th person finished. I put my cap on. I took my cycling jersey off. I went to put my goggles on . . . only to find that I forgot my goggles.


I’m not sure my goggles would have helped, though.

I, intentionally, didn’t look at the clock when I entered the water. The temperature outside was downright chilly, but the water was actually nice. I started swimming & immediately knew I was in trouble. The Boiling Springs pool is a lap pool without lane markers. In addition to keeping people in their lanes, lane markers actually absorb some of the waves created by people swimming.

Without goggles, I couldn’t see too well. With the choppy water, my breathing was affected. It seemed that every time I turned my head for a sip of air, I got a gulp of pool water.

I made the decision to switch from the forward-crawl to the backstroke. I knew I’d be slower, but I knew I’d be able to see and be less-frustrated.

And, I was pretty sure I could backstroke half-mile in half-an-hour.

I anchored my sight (this certainly cost me some time, as the proper backstroke technique would have you looking straight up) to a fence post one way and my lane spotter the other way, and just went at it. Tired, I finished the swim. I think I was well-short of 30 minutes. They didn’t stop me from getting on my bike, so I’m crossing my fingers that I made the cut.

I took just a minute to get myself ready for the bike portion. I ran my fingers down my shorts to get rid of any excess water, put my jersey on, put my cycling shoes on, put my helmet on, walked my bike to the start, and mounted.

The cycling was two-laps of an 8 mile loop, across roads that I ride all of the time. Discouraging was the fact that the biggest climb of the ride was located right at the beginning. Seriously – I was barely on my saddle and I went into granny gear.

Still, it wasn’t a big climb (just a steep one), and one I got to the top, I was off.

For anyone who has not ridden around Boiling Springs, it’s really a beautiful area, and this ride was a beautiful ride. I went hard, but not to the point of exhaustion, passing a few riders along the way. The second lap was just like the first – granny gear & then I turned on the jets. As I write this, the splits haven’t been posted yet, but I’m quite eager to see my time for the cycling portion.

I finished up, put my bike back. I took off my helmet, shoes, and bike jersey, put on my running shirt, and then I took my time putting on my Vibrams (if you don’t take your time, you end up with your pinky toes trying to fit into the “ring-toe” slot, and that gets uncomfortable after awhile). Before I knew it, I was running . . . right up that same climb that I had to invoke my “granny gear” on the bike.

After swimming, and cycling, then running up a steep incline, it took me a little longer to “find my stride” than normal. Typically, when I run, I start out questioning why I’m running. “This is stupid.” “Who’s going to know if you start to walk?” “Why am I doing this again?” At the beginning of every run, I deal with the “bad John” on my shoulder, whispering these seeds of doubt in my ear. But, then I hit some point & he shuts up – I just keep running. The run goes from “stupid” to “not so bad” to “downright enjoyable.”

It wasn’t until the two-mile mark that “downright enjoyable” point here . . . just, with the swim moving about the water trying not to drown, and the cycling, and the nasty hill at the start of the run, I couldn’t find “my speed.” I tried going faster, I tried going slower . . . but, I eventually did find it, and I finished strong.

I honestly didn’t know what I’d have in the tank at the end of the run. I’ve never done this before – I mean, sure I’ve run to the gym, and then swam, and then cycled, and then ran back from the gym . . . but there wasn’t a crowd there. When there’s nobody there to cheer you on, when there’s nobody doing the same tasks as you . . . you’re only “racing” yourself, and it’s a completely separate thing than race event day.

When I knew I was approaching the finish line, I sprinted. I crossed the finish line strong. In fact, I wish I had pushed myself harder through the entire run, with how much juice I had left in my tank. The clock read something like 2:37:41, but that was from the actual start of the event, and I didn’t know what it read when I crossed the start mat. But, with an anticipated start time of 7:40, and the clock starting at 6:55, I should be able to subtract 45 minutes from that time.

Later in the day, The Boiling Springs Triathlon Website showed the initial results, without splits. My time was 1:52:00. As I write this, I have that same website open in another window, hitting refresh often, hoping to catch the details of each leg.

That time I told myself I wanted to beat? It was 2 hours. I beat it by 8 minutes. And I couldn’t be more ecstatic.

After catching my breath, drinking some water, and eating a banana, I got back to my bike and worked my way back home – a leisurely ride.

Back at the house, I had to prepare for a gig with my band, Landslide, so there wasn’t too much time for me to do anything but I did take just a minute to embrace the fact that I was, now, a fucking triathlete.

1 Note the difference between compete and complete2 here. The only competition I’m in is the one with myself, and maybe the water.
2 The difference is the letter “l”
3 I’m beyond tempted to use the word “race” instead of “event” here, but I did not treat this like a race.
4 I don’t mean to sound heartless here – but I know I do. See, the Boiling Springs Triathlon is associated with Project Share, which is a very worthy cause . . . but we were there to find out about the course & the rules. When the person talking about the charity continued speaking for 20 minutes, going over the stories of individual families and why we should be proud to swim or run for them . . . well, it didn’t work.
5 Masturbate Talk with new people.
  1. Wow! Congrats! On footnote #5.

    I guess the whole triathlete thing is cool too! But nothing beats (har har) being the best mastu….errrr, small talker.

    • Oh, Pop – I’d never claim to be the best masturbator, just that I masturbate better than I do anything else!

  2. I love your race wrap ups because they are so thorough. I swear mine are like child birth because I forget soon after I finish. I’ve always wondered how the pool swim worked as I have only done open water. I assumed it would be easier since you didn’t have dozens of elbows and feet on top of you, but it sounds like you were getting plenty of water intake and there is really no way to train for that.

    And the morning flat had to suck ass. Conceptually I know how to change one, but in practice on a race I’d just say fuck it.

    Congrats, Triathlete.

    • Yeah, that water intake was really, really rough. I knew that swimming was going to be my weak leg, but the fact that I couldn’t breathe was really killer. I know triathletes who turn their whole body up to breathe, and I think I need to start employing that, especially if I start open-water triathlons.

      The morning flat was not fun, but it wasn’t as bad as it might have been. But, I didn’t have my tire all of the way on when I first went to inflate, which meant I nearly had a second flat with a pinched tube. Fortunately, I realized something was wrong in time.

  3. Val permalink

    Congrats!! I know the feeling of accomplishment after crossing the finish line and hearing that last chip beep. It’s very satisfying. Happy that you beat your timeframe too!

    Ny patents both work for Ironman. From the admin side, if you can’t finish a leg in the allotted time, you won’t be able to finish the race safely.

    Have you seen an ironman in person? If not, I highly recommend going to see it. Very emotional. Very motivating. Amazing.


    • Looking at the cutoffs for other sprint triathlons, I think the swim cutoff for this one was actually shorter than most – proportionally, it was certainly a faster cut-off than the official Iron Man swim cut-off.

      I do think I’m going to have to head up to Lake Placid this year to watch the Iron Man . . . there is a 1/2 Iron Man very close to me at the end of the month that I was hoping to do (I’m not ready with the swim yet), but I might go watch it.

  4. I’m exhausted for you. And beyond impressed. Way to go!

  5. Congratulations. It always feels good to accomplish a goal (even it was a secret goal).

    • Thank you. When I saw the time on the clock and realized it was meaningless, I actually was really nervous about my self-imposed goal. Figuring out I beat it was such a relief.

  6. Great race report!! Love reading other race stories – gets me fired up to get back to training.

    • It’s a BIG part of why I do them – and, whenever I’m dragging in my training for my next big event, I look back on how much fun I had the last time, or the first time, I did something. It always works to get at least one additional workout in.

  7. Laura permalink

    Very cool John! I never thought there would be a Batzer triathlete. We’re a pretty lazy bunch…congratulations to you.

    • It wasn’t too long ago that I think I was the laziest of a pretty lazy bunch 🙂

  8. Dude, why am I not getting your posts?
    I so needed to read this and will need to read this again, as you know.

    And yes, the pre-event anxiety has set in. Its gonna be a LONG 6 weeks.

    • How the heck did you end up back in my spam folder? I thought we had that all figured out.

      As far as why you’re not getting my posts, I don’t know. I know I got a “subscribe” notification from you a long time ago (like, the day I started this blog), but then I just got another one from you . . . and I don’t see anything from the first.

  9. Craig just did his first sprint tri! And he ended up having to do it on his own…using our backyard pool…due to being called away by clients the night he was supposed to do it.

    • That’s really cool. I’ve had to hold my own event, between bike rides and runs, by myself because of stupid work commitments plenty of times. I don’t know if I’d have been able to get myself to do a triathlon, though – because, when I’m in a backyard pool, I concentrate a lot more on floating & wondering where my next beer will come from than in actually swimming for distance.

  10. That’s awesome that you beat your goal time!

    Biking home after it was all over? Wow. I would be dead on the ground.

    • Well, to be fair, I finished. I sat down. I had two bottles of water. I had a bagel with cream cheese. I talked with finishers. I listened to the live music. I had a banana. I had some more water. I walked about to make sure my legs were ok. I talked with more people. Then, I biked home. I used to bike to/from work, and that was a hilly 20 mile ride, each way. Those rides were harder to complete than the ride back home – I had a great big smile on my face.

  11. This is fabulous…

    And now you have me questioning my “I’d do a tri if it weren’t for the swim and the bike” philosophy.

    Because I’m proud of you and also jealous.

    Good show. And under two hours?


    • You could do a tri . . . honestly, I’m dead certain of it. I’m certainly going to get better at swimming before my next one, and I’d change my approach just a little. Assuming that I’m a better swimmer by the time I do my next one, my approach would be a little different. I’d get my heart rate up before entering the pool, so that I wouldn’t even be tempted to “start out strong.” I’d just do a leisurely swim, keeping a constant pace (I probably started at a 30:00/mile pace, which was double the average speed of the whole swim), be less-pokey during the transitions (seriously, I came in dead last in the second transition, and near there for the first), and push myself a little more during the run (I could easily have chopped off at least a minute per mile).

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