I can remember the first time I had heard of or seen a triathlon. It was back in my Navy days when I was stationed in San Diego, California, not long after I started running. It was the summer of 1982 on a Saturday and I was running my first or maybe second 10 continuous miles. I ran from the Navy base to Mission Beach and took the bus back to the base. In some ways, it seems like a long time ago and in other ways it could have been yesterday. The memory of that first experience of triathlon is clear in my mind.
As I ran into the park, I could hear people cheering and yelling and then I saw an area blocked off with a lot of activity going on. I was familiar with running races but this race was set up differently and had a bunch of bikes sitting around and it was close to the water’s edge. There was something else that caught my eye and that was beer at the finish line. Now I had to check it out.
I walked up into the crowd of people to get a closer look. It turns out the race was almost over with the last few racers coming through the finish line where everyone was cheering them on including the winners. The environment was so full of energy and everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun almost like they all knew each other. I started talking to some of the other spectators and found out it was a triathlon and the racers swam, rode a bike and ran. Three events in one race, setup to challenge the athletes. I wanted to ask more questions but didn’t want to seem totally clueless. Even without all the details I knew I wanted to try this out someday.
Fast forward a year or so and I was attending Navy Dive School in Coronado Island, CA. I still hadn’t done a triathlon but learned more about the sport as it was growing every year in Southern California. I was running and swimming 6 days a week for recreation and for dive school. I was pretty busy during that time being in school and working out plus I took up recreational scuba diving and was immediately hooked on the sport. Every chance I could get out with my speargun and dive gear, I took advantage of it.
As far as triathlon, well It still interested me but I didn’t have time to do everything. Then one day I saw a flyer on base for a mini triathlon. It was being put on by one of the dive instructors and held on the base. I didn’t have a bike but with it being on base and short and close and cheap, I had to do it. I started to ask around for a bike. It didn’t take long and one of my mates offered his road bike. I’m not 100% sure but I think it was a fuji 10 speed and for its time was a pretty good one. We didn’t have to wear a helmet so I was ready to roll.
The race swim took place in the channel on base and the bike and the run were on the base as well. It was a sprint of sprint races with no more than 20 people who signed up for it. Looking back on that race it was so low-key I don’t remember seeing one spectator and timing was a stopwatch and results, well who cared I didn’t win. It was a fun race and the first in my career of mid pack finishes. If I remember right I stayed out to late the night before and 1/2 of the competitors were Navy Seals. I didn’t really think I had a chance to win as I toe’d up to the start, but I was ready to give it my best effort. After that race I knew I wouldn’t take the sport up competitively, but I did know I’d probably do another race again. I still preferred spear fishing.
A few years later I did another triathlon in Guam and then again in 1995 thereabouts. It was Shu’s triathlon in St. Joseph Michigan. It was an olympic distance triathlon that was the idea of a local business owner who did an excellent job directing it. I don’t remember if the race was sanctioned or not, I know that a couple of the years though it brought in some big name triathletes such as Karen Smyers and Wendy Ingram. Shu’s Tri was always fun and well run and I was able to keep up my mid pack status. It was the last triathlon I’ve done since then until this past weekend at Reeds Lake.
Since that time I’ve been involved with Triathlon as a volunteer. I’ve worked on the swim course in a kayak, handed out water at aid stations, and became a transition coordinator for several of West Michigan’s premier triathlons. It’s a great sport, I love the high level of energy, I love watching the elite athletes race at unbelievable speeds and I love to see the age groupers exceed their expectations. Then there’s this whole economy that has built up around the sport . The one thing that never transpired is me racing in triathlon.
I have mixed emotions about competing in triathlon. I love to see people compete and have tons of respect and admiration for the age group and elite racers who put so much time and efforts into their training, yet I don’t compete myself. I sometimes think I want to, usually after working a race when I’m all pumped up, but then I think what’s the point it costs a lot of money and I’d have to spend every waking hour that I’m not working training for at best an age group trophy. I know I can do the races because I swim, I run and I ride a bike, it’s just a matter of putting them all together in one event. I could go out and finish it but definitely wouldn’t win any trophies. Even though most people can’t or won’t even try to do a triathlon, there’s something about doing one to “just finish” that leaves me feeling it’s not good enough, yet it should be.
Most of my friends who I’ve run with over the years are triathletes. Many of them are type “A” competitive people who are hyper focused on their training, their gear and their races. They even talk alike about their training, their gear and their races. In fact, as I learned from working transitions over the years that MOST triathletes sound alike when referring to their training, their gear and their races. It can be a language all of its own, I can understand it but I don’t speak it. Dont’ get me wrong it’s not a bad thing, that’s just who they are and a lot of triathletes are not only successful in triathlon but most are successful in their careers because they’re focused, driven individuals. I envy them, I love them and enjoy being around them, but now I understand it’s not me.
As I’ve stated before, I’m what the psychological world has coined as ADHD. I’m easily distracted, I have a hard time focussing on anything for a long period of time and to be competitive in triathlon I’d have to focus more on specific training throughout the entire season or even year. I don’t think I could stick with it long enough to become truly competitive. I need massive amounts of change and stimulation, things that get the adrenaline pumping, the unknown and most of all I need ADVENTURE!
To be honest to only do triathlon would bore me to the point of hating it, I mean I can’t stand running the same trail more than twice. I can’t imagine swimming, biking, running over and over again to a schedule, having to be in bed by 9 every night and up to start over again the next morning. To do all that work to say I got first in my age group for that race just for a medal or trophy. I would feel like I’m missing out on some awesome experience doing something else. It would start to become more like a second job than an adventure. No, to me racing in a triathlon is awesome only on occasion.
With a seventeen year break, doing another triathlon was sounding awesome again. It was time for me to sign up to race one of Grand Rapid’s oldest and favorite races, Rhoades Mckee Reeds Lake Duathlon/Triathlon. Several people from work do it each year and best of all sponsored by work and it’s free to employees. I know I could do it and maybe just maybe compete in it. Once I decided to sign up, I had plenty of time to train specifically for the race, I mean who needs more than 3 weeks to train right. I know I’m easily distracted, but I think I could focus on one thing for 3 weeks. I had most of the gear that was needed including a mountain bike? Yes that’s all I had to ride but at first I WANTED to ride a mountain bike. I would be different, non conforming and it would be more challenging. I pictured myself passing people on tri bikes snickering inside as I flew by them. Yes I do have an imagination and THANKS to those who talked me into borrowing my son’s tri bike! With the hills in that course, I think I’d still be out riding.
I was a little nervous the day before the race but after picking up my race packet and stopping for a microbrew I started feeling more comfortable. I got a great nights sleep and actually made it to the transition on time with even time to spare. It was going to be a good race.
I did finish the race, I felt good on the swim, I hurt some on the bike, and after a couple of miles and regaining the feeling back in my legs I was good on the run. I came across the finish line feeling really great. I had fun again participating in another triathlon, yet I did feel that sense of disappointment that I could have done better. I guess it’s human nature to finish a race and feel disappointed with the results even though I went in to just have fun and finish. Maybe that’s what keeps people coming back race after race, season after season. To make goals, succeed in them and improve. Perhaps I should “Tri” more often!!
For your next adventure give it a “Tri”