Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Aqua Triathlon-September 3rd, 2011

Yesterday I ran, biked, and swam my first triathlon.  It was my first organized race of any kind, never even having done a fun run in elementary or junior high (I was one of the eight kids who stayed inside and read).  I had a good time training for and finally participating in the event, even though I was not a stand-out competitor by any stretch of the imagination.  The following post is a description of my experience:

I always imagined that the event that would keep me from doing a triathlon would be the swimming.  I'd had periods of time in my life where I ran a lot, and others when I biked a lot, but ever since graduating from level seven swimming lessons, I hadn't ever really swum again.  So, back in March when I decided to start getting back into shape, I thought I might as well start swimming.  Its good exercise and as a BYU student I have free access to an "Olympic-size" pool.  I started swimming fairly regularly and eventually got up to swimming a mile at a time.  First mile swim experience here.

I started thinking that I might as well do a triathlon someday since I now had the swimming under control.  I was out running one afternoon when I saw a poster advertising the Aqua Triathlon at Seven Peaks Waterpark and the someday plans began to materialize.  I went online and found the course map which was only a few blocks away from where we were living at the time.  I could train for it by actually running and biking the real course.  I informally decided to do it.  I didn't formally register until the Thursday before the race.

Kortney and I got memberships at the Provo Rec Center since I wasn't an official BYU student over the summer.  I swam an average of 4 times a week.  I also began running the course which, although only being 3.16 miles, had quite a bit of climbing in the first half, leaving from the seven peaks parking lot and going as far as the Castle Ampitheater above the state hospital before looping back.  At first I was doing it in about 50 minutes (this included a fair bit of walking).

As the race approached I became concerned that I wasn't doing enough.  Since I didn't have my own bike, I switched the whole training to the rec center, where I would run 3.16 on the treadmill (with adjusted grade to simulate the real course) then hop on the bike and bike 12 miles (at level 13), and finally go jump in the pool and swim a mile (only the first seven laps were part of the triathlon).  The first time I did this I was exhausted but at least I knew I could handle the distance.  I did this whole sequence another 5 or 6 times before the race and got the run down to about 31 minutes, the bike to about 35 and the swim to about 12.

The week before the race I knew I needed to get on the bike I would use and actually go on the track.  On the Thursday before the race I borrowed my brother-in-law's girlfriend's dad's bike and took it on the course.  This was my worst work-out of the whole training.  The bike, although a nice road bike, could not shift gears. It was stuck in an easy, but not the easiest gear.  The course turned out to have a LOT of climbing.  5 climbs per lap, 4 of them being very substantial.  The gear I was in was very challenging to get up the hills but horrible to go down because it was so high that it did almost nothing on the way down.  On top of this, most of the streets we were to ride on were under construction, with the top ripped off and a very bumpy surface left exposed.  It made riding quite miserable.  When I finished the first lap, I hit a lip that separated the exposed surface and part of the road that had not been torn up.  It was dark and I didn't see it coming.  A mountain bike would have had no problem, but the road bike tossed me.  I landed on my wrists, cutting the palm of one hand and getting road burn on the other as well as my right elbow and knee.  The chain had also fallen off and gotten jammed and I was so close to just calling it a night.  My wrists were not broken or sprained, but they were swelling and were extremely sensitive, and I couldn't get the chain back on and I actually started walking the bike back to my car.  Thirty seconds into my dejected trudging I decided I needed to finish the course to prove to myself I could handle it.  It was much harder than an exercise bike on 13, and I was now very nervous for the race.  But at least I had finished it, and was mentally prepared for the challenge ahead.

I woke up Friday with my wrists being in a serious amount of pain.  I knew however that this would be the worst they would feel and it was all uphill (just like the race) from here.  Instead of working out on Friday, Kortney and I went to Pizza Pie Cafe to load up on carbs.  This was definitely the easiest and most enjoyable part of the training process.  We also went to Seven Peaks to pick up my race bib and packet and they wrote my race number, 180, on each of my arms in permanent marker, and wrote my age, 24, on my calf.  I thought this was very strange.  But this was my first official race so I just went with it.  Most of the people in line were talking about how this was their first triathlon and they were nervous/didn't understand how transitions were going to work/were convinced that they were going to finish in last place.  This made me feel better.

We woke up Saturday morning and I suited up.  I wasn't planning on it, but I decided to just go ahead and do the whole race in my swimming suit, to make the transitions easier.  I also wore my awesome new aqua triathlon t-shirt, my BYU Math sweat band, and some new $13 walmart shoes.  I definitely looked legit.

We showed up with about ten minutes to spare and people were milling all around.  I put my bike into the transition area and got my little area ready, pinned my racing bib onto my shirt, and got my timing chip and velcroed it around my ankle.  The race organizer announced that there were major changes to the course because of the construction and briefly explained them.  I didn't hear them very good but he said cones would be placed to make sure we found our way.  We then headed to the starting area.

The start was unbelievably unceremonious.  We were sort of milling around waiting for someone to give us directions when all at once we heard a loud "GO!"  That was it, our 3.16 miles of running began.  I was surprised to find out that they allowed iPods on the run portion of the race but was happy since I listened to music most of the time while running.  So I loaded up my go-to album, "Even If It Kills Me" by Motion City Soundtrack and headed off with the bunch.

There were over 300 people running and it was pretty crazy for a first-timer like me.  We started all clumped up and keeping a pretty similar pace but slowly we spread out into something of a line.  I made the first mile alright but I was pretty much done passing people by then and had settled into my pace.  I knew there was going to be a big hill in about half a mile so I was really trying to savor the flatter areas.  As we rounded a corner and towards the big hill, there were runners as far ahead of me as I could see, and when I looked behind me, there were runners as far behind me as I could see.  It was just about what I had expected, right in the middle.  We hit the hill and it was fun to see some people fall off their pace and start walking while I kept running past them.  The run course was altered slightly and actually added even more climbing, but I managed to run the whole time, despite being pretty exhausted at the top of the hill.  I knew however that there was only downhill from there, so I was ok.  We started winding back down off the hill and around the state hospital and within another 10 minutes I was at the transition area feeling pretty good about the run, and excited that the first event was in the books.  Kortney was there in the transition area to cheer me along as I grabbed my bike and headed off for the 12 mile ride.

The bike was the most disappointing event for me.  The changes to the course actually made the ride extremely easy, and cut out almost all of the climbing.  As we headed up 3rd south, almost as soon as the hill started getting steep, we turned onto a side street that was almost completely flat and made up most of the route.  I know I shouldn't complain because I knew how hard the route was, but with a bike that didn't change gears, at least I knew that I would be forced to pass people since I would be going in a lower gear.  As it was, I was passed quite a bit.  I couldn't speed up very fast because I would get to a point where I would sort of max the bike out, and pedaling no longer affected my speed.  Needless to say, I was passed quite a bit during the biking portion.  I sort of just accepted the situation and the bike ended up being kind of relaxing for long portions of it.  There was still one climb and there were some competitors who had to walk their bikes up and so I knew I had at least reached some level of fitness in being able to make it up with stopping, but I would have loved to have seen tons of people walking their bikes instead of just a couple.  Since it wasn't a full Olympic triathlon, I at least thought the challenging bike course would offer some credibility and prestige to my accomplishment, but the bike course really wasn't very tough at all.  When I finished the first lap and started the second, I was already congratulating myself that I had done it.  I had completed a triathlon.

I rode into the transition area and stripped down to my swimming suit.  I took a look at the pool, which is normally Seven Peaks' wave pool, and it was a madhouse.  They had cordoned it off into lanes that you snaked through and it was just jam packed with people.  Each lane was wide enough for two people and there were seven or eight lanes.  That was not exactly spacious for 300 people to swim through.

I ran over to the edge, waited for my turn, and jumped in.  I wasn't nearly as impressive as I had sort of imagined myself at the swimming portion, but I was able to get through it without stopping and even passed a few people.  It was hard though, there were so many bodies everywhere, people hitting you, bottlenecks in certain areas.  Kortney told me there were people in the water near me just sort of floating there.  I didn't see any of that due to my myopic desire to finish, but it didn't surprise me.  It was like sardines in there.

I was very breathless by the end and they made you run out of the shallow end of the pool to the finishing area where the timer would record your final time.  They described it as a "Baywatch run".  At first I was just walking through the water which was still hip deep but getting shallow fast.  Then I realized that this was the end of the race and I might as well finish it strong so I ran through the water and ended the race.


My final time was 1:26:29.  I had been hoping to be under 1:20, but I figured as long as I was under 1:40 I would be satisfied.  It was my first triathlon after all.  So, this time was both expected and satisfactory.  We stayed for the award ceremony which gave a plaque for the top three overall and medals for the top three in each age division.  I didn't take home any awards.  I was 34th in my age group (which was the most competitive to be fair, male 20-24), and 113th overall male.  46 women also logged faster times than me making me the 159th fastest participant at the 2011 Aqua Triathlon.  Like I said, right in the middle.

I enjoyed the experience a lot and hope to do a full length triathlon in the not too distant future.  Thank you to everyone who supported me in accomplishing this goal.  Especially Kortney.  I couldn't have done it without you.


  1. A. Good job.

    B. You have more back hair than Philip...that's saying a lot. Because it's...a lot.

  2. Anything Phil can do, I can do better.
    I can do anything better than Phil.