Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Taking on the Triathlon

"So where is the Triathlon? Right here in Fairmont Park. Wait, your going to swim in the Schuylkill? Good luck with that."

That pretty much sums up most of the conversations I had with interested friends before race day. Funny I hadn't even thought of the cleanliness of the Schuylkill (which it is clean... enough), I was too busy thinking of why I signed myself up for a .5 mile Swim, 13 mile Bike, and 3.5 mile Run and how I was going to get through it when I hadn't swam more than a few times since childhood and only had a 12 year old mountain bike to call on.

I guess I was always intrigued and a bit scared by the idea of racing Triathlons. It is a mark of a well rounded athlete and elite club for those willing to stretch their abilities across three very different athletic pursuits. Being more of a sprinting and strength athlete, endurance has clearly been outside of my comfort zone, which is also why I did it. What I learned was that like most things in life they seem scarier than they are and are completely attainable for most people.

In preparing for the big race, or the small race if you are talking to fusion client David Bishop, a veteran and now sponsored Triathlete (shown in the epic with me after finishing), I did what I always do in new endeavors, find an expert. My resident Triathlon expert, Dave, gave me the low down on how to schedule a week of training that includes swimming, biking, and running, how long to training each session, and how to start to combine the segments (called a "brick" training session). With about 7 weeks I had enough time, but I was cutting it close. All athletes have their strengths and weaknesses, thankfully most people's was also the swim. I studied Dave's Triathlon books on form, cadence, heart rate, endurance vs speed training, etc. and talked to as many people as I could getting tips here and there which all came together to educate me enough to "take on the triathlon".

For Dave, the sprint Triathlon was just a warm-up to the "big" Olympic distance event the next day, yes the next day. Dave is a Tri animal, but he wasn't the only Tri-fanatic out at this year's Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon benefiting CHOP, there is an entire community of mostly amateur Triathletes who challenge themselves to a truly balanced race event. Dave placed top 10 in both races, but I found out that he was way out numbered by men and women from their early 20's up through their 50's who just wanted to have a good day of it.

Showing up to the transition area on race day I felt like the new kid in school on the first day of classes, only I was wearing Kmart clothes. The pre-game faces were on, which is one of concentration but can easily come off as the cold shoulder in the mind of a newbie. Once I figured out where I was supposed to be, I pushed my hunk of junk passed the shiny new speedsters averting eye contact and luckily saw a few familiar faces near my parking spot that made me feel welcome.

During my short warm up run all I could think to myself was just get through the swim. The swim starts in waves and when my group was called I was happily surprised to find the water was actually warm and inviting. Just stay calm and find a nice stroke, keep it calm, keep it calm. For those who haven't swam in a Triathlon, let me just tell you, it ain't like an orderly lap pool, its every man for himself. My first stroke was good and then WAP! I was hit on the head, WAP! hit on the leg, and so on until we spaced out, but by that time I was breathing every stroke and struggling. So much for calm. Somehow on race day you find a way to keep going, which for me was switching from freestyle to every swim stroke in the book on the long leg back to shore.

The transitions are fun, like being on a NASCAR pit crew, and the cycling went off without a hitch, except for the brief moment of self consciousness upon fixing my eyes on the bulging, powerful cycling calves of the 57 year old who passed me during the second loop. Damn I hope I am rocking it at that age! By the time I reached the run, my legs were definitely feeling heavy and awkward, but after .5 mile I hit a decent stride and was shocked to find out later that I finished the 3.5 miles faster than any endurance foot race to date.

Yes, I made it! It was over and while physically my legs felt on the edge of cramping, mentally I was good to go and high on my accomplishment. As you come through the finish line volunteers place a medal around your neck, which at first I thought would just get tossed out as junk, but I picked up from all the medals being flashed well after the race that this medal is actually a badge of honor for Triathletes and finds a place to be displayed or stored in homes as a reminder of a great barrier overcome.

In retrospect, I couldn't help but notice how many parallels the Triathlon has with fusion's cross-training approach. Both are structured into three distinct segments of approximately equal length, using different equipment and requiring their own fitness skills and endurance. While the race takes about the same time to complete as a half marathon, time flies by so much faster since you are always staying keenly focused on completing the shorter segment that you are and resetting your mind set as you transition to the next segment. By the end of the entire race you are spent but not in one particular area and overall your feeling energized and proud of your accomplishment. Sound familiar??

I highly recommend this or any Triathlon (starting at sprint distances) to anyone interested in challenging themselves in new ways. Don't be intimidated as nobody racing these events is a master of all three segments, but working through the segment you are not pre-disposed to can provide more physical fitness and confidence gains than any other activity you could choose. Whether or not you choose to race a Triathlon, some other event, or embark on any personal challenge you are not great at, building up the courage to face your fears, the determination to practice consistently, and the heart to finish strong will provide you with one of life's most valuable assets, empowerment to achieve your dreams.

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