Sunday, July 15, 2012

Saturday, July 14: Surry (#137) plus
participating in my first-ever triathlon

Notice I called it "participating" rather than competing. You'll see why when we get to the results. And yes, this included swimming. And thus opened up a whole new world of endurance activity in which I can strive to not place last.

But first, first things first. Yes, I did participate in an actual triathlon, my first-ever. The "Give Peace a Tri" Triathlon was held on Saturday, July 14 in and around the Surry (N.H.) Mountain Recreation Area. And it was fun, if you count flailing about in brackish lake water while being crashed into by other swimmers as fun. And I guess I do.

My entry was due to the unlikelihood of ever getting the tiny town of Surry any other way. So, as part of the price for coloring in Surry as completed (Town #137) on my N.H. running map, I also had to bike eight miles and swim a quarter mile.

And so I found myself on Saturday morning, after paying the $48 registration fee, standing in line for "body marking." This consisted of a woman writing the number 2 5 0 on my left forearm and my right calf — presumably to identify my remains, I thought.

But no — of course it's just to keep track of you as you swim, run, and bike in various states of undress. Hot and humid conditions meant less clothing than usual, too, for the many entrants with bodies worth exhibiting.

One reason I entered the "Give Peace a Tri" triathlon was that I'd never done anything like it before. What would I discover? Well, here's a handy list:

• Triathlon is not spelled "TriathAlon."

• Things to bring next time: sandals, towels, a light-colored shirt to reflect rather than absorb heat. (What was I thinking?)

• When swimming, even floating to rest consumes considerable energy. And people really do crash into you!

• During the swim, avoid swallowing water because it affects the biking and running later.

• Make sure your bike is in a gear appropriate for the starting grade.

That last point was a key one, for in my enthusiasm to start pedaling, I pulled a muscle on my left leg and ankle. More on that later.

In my corner as "pit crew" for this adventure were Dan Szczesny and Meena Gyawali, who proved very helpful and I'm glad they came along. (The photos were taken by Dan.)

Above: Me pretending to listen to Meena Gyawali prior to the start.

For once I arrived with enough time to get situated. Home base was Surry Mountain Beach, part of the Surry Mountain Recreation Area, itself the result of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control project from the post World War II era. I remember coming here as a kid.

That thing around my left ankle is the timing bracelet. Throughout the swim, I was concerned it would come off, meaning I'd owe the organizers $30.

And here I was, age 48 — still a kid, just older — taking off my shirt, pulling on a plastic yellow bathing cap, and inserting wax plugs into my ears, which amounted to all my advance preparation for the swim. (This did not include any actual swimming.) About 200 people had entered, as we all stood listening to final instructions, a beach gathering of some weird fringe political party, the yellow-headed people. Hey, we've got the Free Staters here, so why not this?

That's me in there, the whitest person not actually wearing a white t-shirt.

The start was 9:30 a.m., and they launched us in waves every two-and-a-half minutes. First came the 20-29ers, then the 30-39s, and then my people. Knowing that I wasn't going to set any records, I followed everyone into the water, which was as warm as what you'd find in a bathtub. I took a position at the rear, consoling a guy who had the bad luck to step on a giant splinter just before the start. (He was okay.)

When it was our time, people just started walking into the lake until the depth felt right to fall forward and start swimming. I took my time on this, but before I knew it I was in the churned-up water doing the breaststroke — or about 10 repetitions, anyway, before I started feeling bored and tired. Wow! Maybe this wasn't such a great idea after all...

The course took us in a semi-circle around a set of buoys. For most of the distance, I found the only way I could make progress was to float on my back and kick. Soon most of my peers had pushed ahead and I was blissfully left to myself, until I noticed a frothing wave advancing on me from behind. The next wave! Sure enough, I was soon engulfed by the frantic first line of the 50-plus crowd, and they were taking no prisoners. I tried to move out of the way, but more than once got mowed down by someone's arms or legs as they windmilled into me.

With the water all chopped up, it was only a matter of time before I swallowed some and came up coughing. Sheesh! The water stayed in my trachea, somewhat, for the remainder of the event, and I think did affect my performance on the bike/run segments.

After this, I took a second to look around. Here I was, out in a lake, not even half-way done! I tried counting buoys but couldn't see them all from the angle I was at, so didn't have that crutch to lean on. Was this really going to work? Would I conk out? Finally, I had to stop and talk myself down, which allowed me to keep on floating and kicking until I rounded the corner buoy and headed for the beach.

At this point, with the beach and the exit chute getting nearer, I found I could touch bottom, which I gratefully did, even though the bottom was covered with about a foot-and-a-half of slime. I've never been so grateful to stand in slime! Thus did I avoid a heart attack, at the same time emerging from Surry Lake like something from the Black Lagoon, except lacking a tan.

Dan was right there, bless him, to give me my shirt and guide me to the bike. I ran it up to the starting chute, eager for an activity that was more familiar. Unfortunately, the bike course began on a moderately steep upgrade, and my bike was in mid-gear.

Off to sprain a leg muscle!

I thought I could handle it, but nope. Trying to push down on the left pedal, I wrenched a muscle on the corresponding leg — something between my ankle and mid-calf. Charley horse city! I managed to get started, but I could feel something was wrong down there, and so would search for a chance to stretch it out.

Well, that didn't happen. Having fallen so far behind in the swim, I found myself among the plodders on bikes. So I quickly began catching and passing people as we wound our way up Route 12A and back — about 25 in all, which boosted my sagging mojo. I also was on hand at exactly the right moment to see the leaders (on their way back) miss a turn into the finish because the woman signaling them was blocked by a large truck that just happened to drive up the road at that moment. Ooops!

As I biked, I found myself recovering from the aerobic deficiency brought on by the swim, even as I coughed up lake water. By the time I was in the final mile, I actually felt strong. As I approached the dismount area, I spied Steve Hooper, a photog and former colleague of mine at the Keene Sentinel, and gave him a big flashy confident smile. (Alas, no coverage in Sunday's paper. Steve! Steve!)

And then I stepped off the bike. Ouch! Dan was there to take it from me and urge me over to the road race course, and I tried to run, but the tendons around my left ankle were killing me. Reluctantly, I dialed it back to a walk, and kept going while I considered my options. If I ran, would I seriously injure myself? Was it really that important to finish? It was getting hot, too and I was feeling under-hydrated. At the same time, I was so close.

So I kept walking up the entrance road to Route 12A, and then I tried running again — slow at first, my "old man" gait, just to test the ankle. It hurt. Wow! But something kept me from reverting to a walk. Instead, I just kept going. At least it was in the shade, mostly.

I kept this up for about 1.5 miles up Route 12A (passing a freshly killed skunk along the way), to the point where I started picking up the pace, even as I plodded through a sunny stretch that really heated things up. At the turn-off that put us back on local roads to the finish, the pain was gone, even though my fatigue was growing.

I stayed at a moderate pace through a water station (where they were rationing cups one to a customer, prompting me to refill mine from the jug), and felt even stronger in the last stage, which was on level ground. For the final stretch, I was able to run full-stride down the bike incline, then down a rocky dirt road to the finish chute.

So fast into the chute that I'm blurry. And looking a little like Avery Schreiber without the mustache.

My overall time: 1 hour, 21 minutes, 6 seconds, good enough for 154th place out of 183. To break it down into segments:

• My swim took 13:42, which was 177th out of 183. That's pretty bad!
• Biking was better: I took 32:45, which was good enough for 131 out of 183.
• Running was particularly lousy for me: 34:41, or 148 out of 183.

I should note that five people were listed as DNF, which means Did Not Finish. Of them, three took longer than me on the swim, but even if you include them, I'm still in the bottom 10 swimmers. Room for improvement!

Overall, it was a good experience and a nice way to stretch myself, even if at the same time I also pulled something in the process. (The good news is that it's fine the day after.) I'd probably do another, just to try to improve on the swimming results.

Judging from Dan's photos, though, I have a long way to go before I could be regarded as any kind of an "Ironman." A more realistic goal is to stop looking like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

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