Nothing to be scared of here

Ok, so I’m still working on my full race report from my Very First Triathlon … I know you are anxiously awaiting all those minor details that probably no one cares about unless they are crazy enough to think these things are fun …

But while I’m getting all the other stuff together, I wanted to talk about something more general regarding triathlons. There seems to be something very intimidating about them. I know I felt it before Saturday – I am an ok runner, a slow cyclist and don’t even get me started on swimming. So am I going to look like a fish out of water compared to all these elite athletes who excel in all of the sports?

Not to worry. Truly.

Now, I can’t speak for those that were in the front of the pack. There may be a much more competitive angle up there. But in my group, everyone was scared. Everyone.

Here’s how it works (for the pool swims like the one I did anyway):

When you sign up, you have to fill out how fast you swim 300 meters (or 100 meters, or 500 meters, or whatever they ask you.) You make your best guess at how fast you will be, and then the race directors put you in order – fastest to slowest. It’s that simple. My number was 88 – which means that, according to me, I’m the 88th slowest swimmer in the race.

Since I’d never done competitive swimming before, this was a hard guess for me to make. Many guess wrong (including me; I underestimated myself). But on race day, I found myself surrounded by the 87th slowest swimmer, the 89th slowest swimmer, and others near our numbers.

And this race began so much differently than any running race (for one, we were in the pool. Duh.) But there was no start gun and no mass charge through the water (although open water swims are like this). No, this was one at a time. Which meant I had to wait for 87 swimmers to get in the water before I could. Which meant there was a lot of time to kill.

This was a good thing, in my opinion. It gave me the chance to make new friends! And these friends were crucial – these were the people that were going to be my peers in the water. These were the people I could potentially upset if I did something wrong. These were the people that could laugh at me and say to their friends later, “Man, there was this one girl; she was just thrashing around as if she’d never seen a pool before …”

But it turns out – these people were as scared as I was. It was a first triathlon for almost all of us. In fact, conversation as we waited was often something like this:

Guy in front of me: “If I get tired, I’m just going to walk along the bottom; that’s how bad of a swimmer I am.”
Me: “I think it’s against the rules to touch the bottom of the pool.”
Guy behind me: “Are you serious? Is that really true?”
Me: “I dunno – that’s just what I heard, but I can’t remember where. Trust me, I really have no clue what I am talking about …”

(Turns out I was right. Jeff said officials were yelling at people not to walk on the bottom. Glad I didn’t give misinformation!)

The great thing about all that uncertainty is that I truly didn’t feel nervous by the time I got to the water. If I screwed up, well, these guys probably wouldn’t know any different anyway! I knew I certainly wasn’t going to be checking out their form and criticizing anything …

As it turns out – I was actually able to pass two people. I never in a million years thought that I would do that. And I should have passed two more. This is why it’s not good to seed yourself improperly – I said it would take me 8.5 minutes to swim 300 meters, and it actually only took me 7 mins and 9 seconds. And had I passed everyone I should have passed, I would have been much faster than that – I felt like I was crawling behind them the last half of the swim portion.)

And lest I sound like I’m bragging for all those swimmers I bested, not to worry. I saw them later on the course – when they left me in the dust on the bikes. Turnabout is fair play!

So, if you’re intimidated to try a triathlon, don’t be. Truly. There are those that do this every weekend and know every rule and technique, and there are those who are good at one sport and bad at the rest – and there are those who will be slow at all three. The point is – it’s fun. It really, really is. I look forward to the next one – maybe I’ll get to see my old swimming buddies – but next time, I’ll be slightly ahead of them in line. It’s only fair, of course – will give me a head start before they smoke me on the bike.