Triathlon: A Humbling Experience
A few years ago, Kendra (my wife) was invited by some friends to participate in a unique triathlon that consists of fourteen miles of canoeing (no swimming), twenty-nine miles of biking (a good deal of it mountain biking-type stuff through the woods) and seven miles of running. Afterwards she said it was “so much fun!” I thought it sounded awful.
She continued doing it the next couple of years, when, in a moment of weakness, I decided that I too should give it a try. After all, it would be a good challenge and would provide motivation to get in shape. My friend Klay agreed to be my teammate, and thus I began my training odyssey. It generally consisted of alternating days of running and lifting weights. By the time of the race, I was running (okay, slowly jogging) about a mile and a half, and lifting weights casually for about half an hour at a time, being careful not to do enough to actually make me sore or anything.
When race day arrived, it was uncharacteristically hot for early June in northern Minnesota. By the end of the race it was eighty-nine degrees Fahrenheit, with plenty of humidity.
Neither Klay or I can steer a canoe for anything, so I had him do it, thereby avoiding the stress of knowing it was my fault when we didn’t go straight. I’m pretty sure we added about four miles to the canoeing by zigzagging. The biking was an endless death march on wheels during which we ran out of water and wondering if we were lost. When at long last we finished that, I tried to call my wife (who, along with her sixty-something friend was way ahead of us) to tell her I was done. Sadly for me, my cell phone had gotten wet and wasn’t working, so I had no choice but to complete the “run.”
Klay and I ran a total of about forty-five seconds the entire way, and when we finally stumbled across the finish line (after nine hours of agony), a race official asked him if he was Klay J., to which he responded, “sadly.” We were the last finishers, about an hour behind my wife and her friend. At one point during the “run,” some young ladies came up behind us. We said, “You can pass us,” to which they responded, “no, that’s okay.” We later realized they were the “sweeps,” people who come through the race course after the competitors to make sure no one’s hurt or anything. Embarrassing.
In addition to a barrage of dark thoughts in my head throughout the race, I often uttered things like, “This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done!” and “I’m never doing this again!”
So of course, two years later I decided to try it again. I had two reasons: motivation to get in shape (sounds familiar) and the need to redeem myself after my pathetic performance last time.
This time I vowed I’d get in better shape. My partner this time would be Kendra (I couldn’t bear to subject Klay to it again), who is great at steering a canoe. Her former partner was again participating, this time with a co-worker. Since they’re both older than us, I was hoping they wouldn’t embarrass me this time around. My goals for this race were 1) to finish, 2) not to be last, and secretly 3) to beat our friends. Oh, and 4) have a good attitude (Kendra insisted on that).
In preparation for the big race, I bumped up my running (jogging) to two-and-a-half miles and actually started going on bike rides in the fifteen-mile range. Hardcore!!!!! I also prayed that it would be “cloudy, cool, and not too rainy.” I wish I would’ve been more specific, because race day dawned cloudy, cool, and pretty rainy. Kendra and I neglected to bring any rain gear, because isn’t it hot and sunny on triathlon day?
We were fairly soaked by race time, and the course had been altered because of the weather. The entire canoe leg took place on one lake (there are typically several portages), and it was very windy. No matter—I was determined to have a good attitude this time. I actually enjoyed the first two thirds of the canoeing. But then the wind gusts and realization that our older friends were actually gonna beat us in this leg made me miserable.
Finally, after over two hours of sitting in a canoe, we staggered ashore like so many drunken sailors. After a quick restroom break and change into dry shoes, we were off on our bikes (ahead of our friends!). At this point, I was freezing, wet as I was, and flying at what I’m sure were Olympic-rates of speed on my two-wheeler. Again I was having a great time, relieved to be done with the canoeing.
I enjoyed the mountain-bikey parts through crazy woodland terrain, but soon learned to dread the nicer paths and roads, because it was there that Kendra earned my new nickname for her: E.B. That stands for “Energizer Bunny.” My self-esteem sunk lower and lower as it became harder and harder to keep up with her. I’d worked out more than her, so I thought she’d have trouble keeping up with me, but here I was, giving everything I had, barely clinging to her. Humbling.
There were a number of parts where we had to ride through puddles (signs assured us that the bottom was firm, so it was safe). I loved doing this, as the water sometimes came up to the bike axles. There were a couple parts where a small stream blocked our way and we had to carry our bikes across it. Fun, but wet.
Again, the last third or so of the biking ceased to be fun, but I didn’t complain. Finally it was on to the run (it had long since stopped raining, thankfully). I was feeling good and wanted to actually so some, er, jogging, but Kendra didn’t want to. She strongly dislikes running, so most of it was a fast walk. We did frequently run for a minute or two at a time, and I actually did have to slow down for her, which made me feel a little better about myself, though the final third of this leg again felt like a death march.
We ran triumphantly the final hundred yards or so, and finished two-and-a-half hours earlier than I did last time, and not in last place. I do have to confess that about five miles were trimmed off the course (mostly the canoeing), so it was a little shorter than last time, but still I was happy with how it went. We did beat our friends by an hour (though one got lost at one point—it’s a remote course).
It was so cold that we took refuge in a state park building with a fireplace as we waited for our friends. Quite the contrast from two years ago! I’m now satisfied with how I did and can permanently retire from triathlons with my head held high. Just don’t let me ever do this again.
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