The race is held in Lake Shawnee Park in Topeka. There is a 400 acre lake, campground, marina, golf course, beach and miles of beautiful trails; a little slice of country, right in the city.
Being a rookie, I arrived early on race day, not knowing what to expect.
Step 1 - get my body markings done. Apparently, they need to write your race number in permanent marker on different body parts; probably so they can easily identify the body should I drown.
Step 2 - park my bike in the transition area. They have some special racks for mountain bikes with wider grooves for the larger tires. These racks are all the way in the back of the transition area. I guess it's not enough of a disadvantage that I'm riding a slow 'comfort bike', they need to make me go all the way to the back to make the transition to run!
Step 3 - well, there is nothing else to do, I'll just go get a look at the swim area.
We make our way down to the beach and watch some of the other athletes warming up in the lake. Me, I prefer to save my energy; I'll just watch. Guys are coming out of the water and commenting that the temperature isn't too bad. Being a bit of a wimp when it comes to cold, I'm vary of what's "not too bad." Then I look and see other guys in wetsuits and become even more alarmed. I don't even dare go feel the water, I might be inclined to panic. Actually, the water temp is somewhere in the mid 70's, but in my mind, that sounds cold.
After a stroll around the area, it's time to head to the start. I make my way to the very back of the pack. There are 3 different heats and I'm in the second, but I figure who cares, I just want to be in the back and not in any ones way. A couple of ladies tell me that I should be in one of the heats in front of them. How would they know, I must look like an experienced tri-athlete! I'm politely told, "Uh sir, all the women are in the last heat."
In the words of Homer Simpson, "Doh"
So, to the back of the second heat I go, not to worry though, there's a minute or so of time between each heat. I can still lag to the back of my group and keep my flailing arms from injuring anyone.
The moment of truth has come and into the water we go. Wow, first thought, the water's not bad! What the heck was I worried about? In no time, I get into a groove and the swim starts off very well. Within the first 100 yards, I've already changed my normal breathing pattern. I've worked on this over and over in the pool, always taking a breathe every three strokes. I don't know if it's because I'm racing, but I feel the need to breathe every two strokes now. Doesn't seem to make much difference, I'm still breathing comfortably. With the exception of going a bit off course now and then, the swimming goes off without a hitch. The shore is near, the water is now only waist deep, so I stand up proud with my arms extended to the sky as if I won the lottery. My biggest fear is now behind me.
After throwing on a fresh shirt, socks and shoes, I'm ready to take the bike ride. I know my bike is not designed for road racing, but it's all I have and I'm not going to spend hundreds of dollars, OK, probably thousands, on a new race bike unless I find the desire to continue doing these races. I'll have to work harder than most just to keep an average speed. A few miles into the bike course, I come across a sign that reads Turn Ahead. It's the race organization's familiar logo, but when I come to the next crossroad, no volunteers, no police guards, nothing. "Wow, do I turn or not", I wondered to myself. Off in the distance straight ahead I see another biker, so I must keep going. It seems too soon to turn anyway, based on what I remember seeing on the course map.
After another mile or so, I see more signs, this time though, there are volunteers and police all making sure you make the turn. Ah, I did the right thing, now feeling much more at ease. However, apparently not everyone made the same decision at the first sign. I later find out that 20 people were disqualified. I assume they had all cut the course and made that turn, which actually was the turn for the shorter race that was running simultaneously. Very unfortunate. Somehow I feel the race committee messed up on this one.
Somewhere about halfway through the bike course, a van pulls up beside me with the windows down and the man inside tells me he is with the medical staff and that I was one of the last riders, so he would be following behind me; don't be alarmed. Gee, that sure was a boost to my ego! How demoralizing.
My legs hold together and I finish the bike portion in what felt like good time, relatively speaking. As was the case last year when I tried my first Duathlon, I did not pass one single soul on the bike. I really didn't expect to anyway. Now comes what I'm best at; running. I'll make up some ground here. Well, so I thought.
It's around 9:30 am now and the sun is beginning to heat up. The humidity this time of year is also pretty high, so the final leg will not be easy. My legs at this point feel like rubber and my shoes feel like lead. Sweat is pouring from body like a leaky faucet. I'll have to go slow and easy if I want to finish this race. Fortunately, there are aid stations every mile on the run course and each one them has GU. I think I stopped at every single station and by the third, was drinking one cup and pouring another over my head.
The run portion of the course is one loop around the entire lake. It is a very pretty setting and the natural beauty keeps me from focusing too much on how tired I am. After .6 mile swimming, 20 miles biking and 7 miles running, I'm beat. I see the finish line ahead, pick up my pace as much as my body allows and cross the finish line with a hidden joy packed somewhere behind my grimacing face. The running today has been tougher than I imagined; where I thought I'd do my best, I struggled the most. OK, some of that is just because the running is the last event, but I still expected to do better.
So, on this day I became a Tri-athlete. Will I ever do another? I'm not sure yet, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but I don't exactly feel the need to do it again. I think my next focus may become an Ultra marathon, as I am eyeing a 50K this fall.
Next up; the Okoboji Marathon in July.