It's a very slow process - two steps forward, one step back - but I'm inching in the right direction. - Rob Reiner

April 07, 2011

Throwback Thursday – My First Triathlon

Since I wasn’t blogging back then, and because I couldn’t think of another topic, I thought I’d tell a little tale about my first Triathlon experience.  Here goes:

In 2009, I completed my first two big racing events.  I completed a half marathon in Lincoln, NE and one in Kansas City, MO.  I LOVED the racing experience.  I was totally hooked.  I also realized, I wasn’t so hooked on the actual “running” thing.  Unlike my husband Jim, I didn’t live to run, I ran because I wanted to enjoy the race experience.  So, I started toying with the idea of triathlon because it wasn’t just running.  I wish I could say I was a strong biker or swimmer, so it just seemed natural, but that wasn’t the case.  I owned a hybrid bike, but the tires were literally dry rotted.  I hadn’t even sat my butt on it in probably 10 years.  I absolutely loved the water, but I had never actually been a swimmer – no lessons or understanding of technique.  But what the heck, why couldn't I bike, swim and run?  I started doing some Internet research and found a decent size Women’s Sprint Triathlon in the area and I went to their website from time to time and just “thought” about doing it.

For Christmas in 2009, Jim bought me “Triathlon Training for Dummies”.  I thought it was great.  I read it cover to cover.  I kept thinking to myself, I can do this.  A sprint will probably take me under 2 hours, and a half marathon took me almost 3 hours – so from an endurance perspective I know I can do this.  So, I signed up – now I was committed.  I took a beginner’s orientation clinic which was a big help.  They talked about transition, and biking form, we even got to get in the pool and have our stroke (or lack thereof) analyzed.  At that clinic I won an entrance into another triathlon in the fall.  What??  I haven’t even done 1 triathlon, now I’m signed up for two!  After that class I went and purchased a new road bike – an introductory level bike.  I was SCARED to death on the bike.  I would ride around my neighborhood a few miles and just knew I was going to crash and die.  I finally ventured out to a little local trail, but I hated to ride to it because I had to ride on a real road, and cross a real street with a traffic light.  I was literally petrified every second on the bike. 

In the summer, I ran across a Triathlon 101 class.  It was an all women’s class.  You got to swim (in a lake), bike, and run in almost every class – as a group.  My confidence on the bike improved tremendously.  I was finally feeling more comfortable in open water – although my swim stroke was still completely awful.  I also realized, I am truly the world’s slowest runner – generally finishing last in class on the run portions of our workouts.  The class was awesome.  I met some awesome women and fellow triathletes.  I didn't feel so all alone anymore.

The triathlon finally arrived.  I had a goal time of 1 hour and 45 minutes.  I arrived in the wee hours of the morning – around 5:00 am.  The triathlon was an hour from my house, so this meant getting up at around 2:45 am and leaving by 4:00 am.  It was a very, very early morning indeed.  On the drive there I was certain that the car was on fire.  I kept smelling something weird and asking Jim over and over – do you smell that – what is that – is the car of fire?  I think he seriously wanted to kill me.  I was just a bundle of nerves, the smallest thing a distraction.

I arrived and got my transition area set up.  The swim started in waves based on your anticipated swim time.  I was one of the later groups to go.  Standing in line waiting for the race to start was brutal.  I was so nervous I thought I might throw up.  Finally the whistle blew and it was my turn to jump in the water.  With each stroke the nerves went away.  The swim was hard; it was only 500 meters, but it took a lot out of me.  I don’t even remember all the details now.  It was kind of  blur after it started.  I somehow managed to get out of the water and on my bike.  The bike portion went pretty well.  I even passed some people – wahoo – go me.  I came back for the final leg.  I was TIRED, but I was ready to get the run completed.  I ran out of the transition area, and literally was stopped in my tracks.  My left calf cramped up so bad I couldn’t run, heck I couldn’t walk.  I had to stop and stretch it out.  I ended up having to walk/run the 3.1 mile run portion of the triathlon and my calf would continue to give me pain for the rest of the summer.  But in the end, I finished with a smile on my face and my official time was 1:37:38.  I beat my goal time by several minutes and I was officially a TRIATHLETE.  I still finished pretty low in the "leader board", but that was ok.  It was a great experience.  Later that summer I completed two more Sprint Triathlons.  Not too bad for a beginner.  This year in September I will complete my first Olympic Distance Triathlon and I can’t wait!

Official Times:
Swim - 500 Meters - 14:51
Bike - 10 Miles - 38:23
Run - 3.1 (5K) - 40:06
Total Time:  1:37:38

Arriving bright and early - but all smiles!

A friend I met in Tri 101

Looking nervous preparing for the swim

Really looking nervous - waiting to get in the lake

T1 - I made it out of the water alive

Done!!  So relieved and happy!

First Tri complete - still all smiles!
Question:  Do any of you ever deal with calf cramping after the bike?  In all three triathlons last summer my calves cramped up from the bike to run transition.  I never could figure out exactly what was causing it. 


  1. Thanks for sharing this story. It made me think of back in the day..... and yes, calf cramping after the bike is common. As your race distances get longer, you'll practice more bricks and get "used" to the dead legs. It takes me about 1/2 mile to get my legs under me usually.

  2. i LOVE tri stories!!! i totally know what you mean now about being just a runner isnt enough anymore. i CRAVE triathlon now!!!! i have problems with foot cramping after swimming and after biking. wondering if i need more electrolytes or if its just my muscles/tendons getting used to the transitions in sports. when is your first tri this season????

  3. Dang sexy ... you really ROCK A SHOWER CAP!!!

  4. That was a great story. I did 2 tri's last year and my swim was a crazy mess! CRAZY MESS! I got trampled in the water and wanted to die! We have a lot in common because I too was a nervous wreck! I just knew I was gonna lose it!

    You're way cool! You tell a tale as if you're timid but in actuality you're extremely brave!

  5. Great story. Awesomeness.

    Calf cramping could not only be the dead leg of going from bike to run, but also a lack of electrolytes on your part. In a sprint it is tough to get in nutrition but maybe practice a 1/4 banana before going on the run. That should help.

  6. I loved hearing this!! I signed up and trained for a half marathon this time last year but ended up having the swine flu the week of so couldn't do it!!

  7. Wow your story is so close to mine it's scary! I love, love love hearing about peoples first tri. Thanks so much for sharing!

    And we have the same bike! :)

    You are going to rock the Oly!

  8. thanks for sharing Michael! I love hearing stories like this- especially tri stories. I have gone back and forth about wanting to try a tri (ha, ha)...I used to be a lifeguard and I'm actually a really strong swimmer, but I am deathly afraid of deep water (how does that happen? I was a lifeguard at a LAKE!) anyway, for now I will live through you!

  9. Great story!! I think it was possibly more of a nutrition/hydration type of issue rather than just going from the bike to the run. I would really hydrate well the two days before the race, eat bananas, and then of course toy around with your race day hydration and fueling.

    When I first decided to do a tri, I read the book Slow Fat Triathlete
    and loved that it made it all seem possible. I recommend it to people new to triathlon even if they are not slow or fat :D

    It's great for all newbies!

  10. I didn't realize that you were so new to swimming and biking. Wow, you've made great progress (we started swimming at about the same time). I'm about to sign up for my first triathalon. It's in June and I am most concerned with the running section (3 miles). I'm least comfortable with the running. It's simply not as fun as swimming or biking. Anyway, my calf and foot muscles cramp up during swimming, especially after starts and turns in the pool. I don't get cramps on the bike, but in any case it is probably dehydration. I like banannas but their potassium content is overrated. I tend to run low on sodium, which is just as important. So have some chips or pretzels along with plenty of water. This advice is a little contradictory but i think it works, at least for me.

  11. Love this post and the photos are awesome - really good memories. I get cramps putting my runners on after being on the bike, not whilst running.

  12. This is a really great post. It's awesome that you can recall all those memories. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Great job! You fought your fears and rocked a triathlon. That is fant-u-blous!

  14. I have the same problem with calf cramping. I have tried gatoraide on the bike, a bannana etc. I have even taken electrolyte pills. They come out of it after about 1/4 mile, but sometimes they are brutal. I am going to try incorporating more bike/run bricks into my training...

  15. i loved this first-time story. i haven't done a tri myself, so i know i would be clueless, slow, (extremely) bad form, etc if/when i ever do one. i'm glad you decided to do it though because look at how amazing you are now! :)

  16. I love this, we will always remember our first one like it was yesterday

    The cramping is from not taking enough fluids on the bike, it was happen to me once, its worse of really nice, semi cool days, because your not hot and you dont think to drink

  17. Great pictures Michael! You look so fit! Love it! This throwback theme is a fab idea. Gosh,training for a run is hard enough--throwing 2 more psorts in there, I admire you!!!

    And, my Cooper and your Jack would have a blast playing!!

    Lincoln NE!! I miss my home in Omaha, NE! Too far away!! :(

  18. Good story. The first time is always more memorable. I am talking about triathlons, since others assume my mind is in the gutter.

  19. Thank you so much for sharing! You sounds a lot like me when I did my first tri! And now that I'm training for my 3rd, I'm thinking that I am the slowest swimmer alive! :)

  20. Thanks for sharing! My husband just mentioned that I try a tri recently and I've been considering it, but just like you, I'm not a great biker or swimmer.

    Really, I'm petrified of spending the money on a good bike that may or may not get a lot of use. And finding a place to swim - I have no skills in that department short of 'not dying' in the water.

    Once I get a marathon under my belt this year, I think this might be my next choice, in which case I'll probably come back to you for more tips and tricks.

  21. What a fun story! Yay! I love thinking back to my first triathlons!
    I've never had cramping, but my guess would be it was due to a loss of electrolytes. One thing that I found that helps me with getting enough electrolytes is just putting a NUUN tablet in my water. They are easy to use, have great flavors, and work really well!

  22. I loved reading this story! I will be experiencing my first tri soon!

    I will have to pick up the triathalons for dummies! :)

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