The box is checked, in a brief 32 minutes and 16 seconds I became a “triathlete.” I’m not a competitive person, but I am stubborn and determined. Ever since I got into running while in the Marine Corps and biking since moving to Arkansas, I’ve had a list of “boxes” to check off as accomplishments. I’ve done the 5k, half-marathon, marathon, and a half century; but the triathlon was still a pending threat. Swimming is not one of my strong suits. The extent of my expertise is the survival swimming skills that I learned in the Marine Corps. I’m neither fast nor a fan of floating around in strange bodies of water. Doing race photography had allowed me to keep putting-off the triathlon but it was time I took it on.
Truth is, I took the easiest route in this, choosing the shortest distance: Super Sprint. This involves a 200 yard swim, 3.75 mile bike ride, and 1 mile run. None of this really required additional training as my normal workout regimen had me doing that and more (minus the swim part). It also required no real specific triathlon gear. My gravel bike would do just fine for this distance. None-the-less I worked on speed and power, riding the 3 miles to work every day and doing a sprint 1 mile run after lifting in the morning. All I needed to do was not drown during the swim and I’d be fine. I could make-up for lost time on the swim during the bike and run.
I signed up for the Super Sprint at Trifest for MS. This is a 3 day event consisting of a youth, Sprint, Super Sprint, and Olympic triathlon. I’d taken photographs of the event for the past 4 years; it was a race I know well and am a huge supporter of. Not only do they raise money for Muscular Sclerosis, but they have para-athlete categories. It’s amazing seeing what people can accomplish, no matter their “disability” when they put their mind to it. The sense of community is just amazing at this race; it had to be my first triathlon.
What many don’t know is that I have a peripheral nerve disease, called CMT (Charcot Marie Tooth) that I started having symptoms of right before I turned 30. This primarily affects my hands and – more so – my feet. It interferes with the muscles in those areas and my balance. I refuse to let it stop me from accomplishing things. So as I went into this triathlon, I knew this would adversely affect my transitions mostly. I wasn’t going to be “winning” but I was going to finish.
The Super Sprint was in the afternoon. I got off work early, grabbed my gear and headed toward the race site. It took place at Orchards/Memorial Park with the main site located at the Melvin Ford Aquatic Center in Bentonville. The vibe is upbeat and welcoming. Everyone is supportive and ready to encourage the racers. I set up my bike and gear in the transition area and then paced around working to calm the nerves. The wait time is always the worst bit. Once you’re in the water, the adrenaline hits and the nerves disappear.
I didn’t know my swim pace, so I was in Group 1, hitting the pool deck at 4:30pm. It wasn’t until about 4:55 that I actually hit the water. I wear glasses, so I couldn’t really see much while swimming. This actually helped by keeping the nerves at bay since everything within sight was just a blur. As I hit the water, the muscle memory took over and I started swimming. My breathing was definitely off, so the swim was ugly. But I powered through, even passing 2 other swimmers as I went. My finish was in 5 minutes and 46 seconds. Then . . . transition one, to the bike.
This was the worst part, for me. My feet have no muscle or padding. Trying to run, without shoes, and on hot pavement meant that my feet slapped to the ground and scraped a bit as I used my quads to lift them up. The short distance to my bike, without the aid of shoes, produced 3 blisters on my right foot and 2 on my left. I didn’t care. Adrenaline was pumping and I was determined. My hands struggled to work to get my glasses, shoes, shirt, and helmet on; that first transition took me a long 4 minutes and 10 seconds. Now to make up for lost time.
I cruised on the short 3.75 mile bike course. Granted, my 650b one-by gravel bike is not ideal bike for this, so I wasn’t nearly as fast as I could have been. Despite that, I passed 4 or five other competitors while on the course. My groove was stalled as I was forced to slow down behind someone. I finished the ride in 12 minutes and 56 seconds. Then, I went into another slow (though better than the first) transition into the run. I put up my bike, switched shoes, grabbed my Koopa hat and in 1 minute and 45 seconds I was off to the one mile run.
This was the one bit I’d trained for. I’d been working on powering through that one mile sprint and it really paid off. Passing 5 more racers as I went, I crushed that mile run in a record time (for me): 7 minutes and 41 seconds. As I crossed the finish line, the announcer called out my name, gave me a shoutout as the former photographer, and told me that I am now a triathlete. I have now “checked” that triathlon box.
To all the mountain bikers out there that good-naturedly give the “spandex riders” a hard time, I’ve got to say that triathletes are beasts. Truthfully, the Super Sprint was almost too easy for me. I was trained well enough that I really should have done the Sprint. So what does that mean for the future? When you try something new, sometimes you love it, and other times not so much. For me, on this particular feat, I have to try again. I underestimated myself and feel that I haven’t fully earned that triathlete box. Perhaps next year I’ll go for the Sprint. All-in-all, I’m glad I did a triathlon. While I don’t plan to buy specific gear for this, nor do them on a regular basis, this will not be my only triathlon. There are a few more challenges to meet in that category…did I mention I’m stubborn