First Triathlon: What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger….

Today I attempted, and completed my first triathlon. I have received a lot of questions about my race, so I think it makes sense to be comprehensive (at least I’ll try to be) in my review. I will divide this entry into three parts (all equally important)- pre race, the race, and my takeways from the race.

Part I: Pre-race Saturday:

On Saturday, I was supposed to attend a 7:30AM open water swim skills and drills practice on Hollywood beach. By open water, I mean swimming in the ocean. This was going to be significant because I have not trained in open water yet. Given that my race was the next day, it was essential for me to get that exposure. I also was supposed to pick up my bike, my race packet, attend a pre-race clinic, and finally attend a friend’s birthday party before turning it in for the night.

What ended up happening, was a bit different. First, I woke up sick. I was congested and my throat hurt. I ended up oversleeping my swim class. My alarm went off at 7, but I hit the snooze button. The next time my eyes opened it was 8:00. Nonetheless, I was still going to make the attempt to go to the practice and at least get some work in. I got in my car, and it wouldn’t start. Why? Because I had finally pushed it too far and drove my car to empty. Yes-gas-empty. SMH. Sidenote: I mentioned that I was an adrenaline junkie. Somewhere along the way, I got caught up in trying to see how far I can go without having to fill up my car. This may remind you of an episode of Seinfeld. In  a weird way, it’s sometimes a rush. In this case (and most), it was just STUPID.

After I got gas into my car, it didn’t make sense to go to practice anymore. I went and picked up my bicycle. After, I went to Mack Cycle (bicycle store that sponspored the triathlon) to pick up my race packet. My race packet included my number  (151-which I was wondering if that was an omen to take a shot, but quickly shook that idea off), a magazine, and some other items that could be helpful for the race (lip balm, food bars, nuts, prune, etc). They also gave me a jersey, which was cool. I left there and went to Sports Authority to pick up a helmet that I needed.

Afterwards, I went to the race site to attend a pre-race clinic. This was helpful because a coach walked particpants through the steps of setting up your transition area, and rules to be mindful of during the race. If you were every going to do a triathlon, definitely go to the pre-race clinics. You can also learn more about setting up your transition area here. After the clinic, I walked down to the beach to take in the scenery and see what I would be up against. On this night of the Mayweather/Mosley boxing match, I felt like I was in a Rocky movie, going to the ring myself-the night before the fight. Only, the ocean was going to be my ring and the waves my challenger . Before turning away from the ocean, I told it, “Not tonight, we’ll dance tomorrow”.

I went home and did a quick turn around because I had a birthday party to attend. I ate a quick meal (brown rice and turkey) and headed out. I knew I couldn’t stay long, but I wanted to make sure I helped my friend celebrate a little bit. I ended up getting back in around 12:15AM. That gave me about 5 hours to sleep.

Part II: Race Day

My alarm went off at 430 AM, and I quickly dismissed it. I never get up on the first go around. Because I know how dangerous I am though, I set about five different alarms for myself. I eventually got up at 5:15AM. I’m feeling good. I spent the next twenty minutes getting my bag ready, and putting myself in the right mental frame of mind. I did that by listening to track off of Rocky IV. I put my sunglasses, lip balm, food bars, water bottle (with Gatorade), my number, and energy gel in my transition bag (see gallery for pic). As I was getting ready, I drank a can of Rocky Star Energy drink. In the pre-race clinic, I was told that caffeine taken 2 and a half hours before the race can raise your performance 5-10%. I also wanted to make sure I had enough carbs in my system, so I ate a food bar. I was out of the door at 5:45 AM.

Some combination of my natural adrenaline level and the rock star energy drink had me AMPED.  I had my playlist set in the car so I was in the right mental frame of mind. I arrive at the race site at 6:40. My group was scheduled to start at  7:22AM. I didn’t know what to do, but I figured I had enough time. I did. When I got there, they gave me a race chip that I placed around my ankle. This race chip tracks your time. After I got the chip, I got marked. I will just say that getting marked is an experience of itself. Once marked, I was  no longer an individual, but identified by a number. I felt like a soldier going to war. They marked both of my arms and the front of my legs with my race number (151). They wrote my age on one calf, and the triathlon type (Sprint) on the other. With little time left, I went to the transition area (the point where you go from swim to bike, or bike, to run) and set up my bicycle. The idea is to set up your transition area in a way that allows you to be as efficient as possible. Although I did that, it would become irrelevant after my swim.

I made my way down to the beach and waited. Everyone doesn’t go at one time;they have different “waves” (according to the group you were in). I was in the 25-29 age group.  “Sprint-Silver Caps, 3 min”, the announcer called. Heart rate began rising a bit. It didn’t rise in a soft way though. My “fight response” (as opposed to flight) was kicking in.  A couple groups went ahead of us, and so I was able to see them dive into the water. I tried to make some observations, but there was nothing significant to take away. The water looked a bit rough, but I had no perspective. Even though this was my first open water swim (I didn’t do any training in open water), I told myself I was going to be fine. I live for this type of stuff. I love the uneasiness. I thrive in that environment. I was going to finish. I didn’t see it happening any other way. I was just going to do it.

Recognizing I’m new to open water swimming, I arranged myself towards the middle/back of the group. “GO”. From the beach we ran into the ocean. It was about twenty meeters of running in the water before we actually got to a point where we could swim. The objective was to run out past the orange buoy, make a right, swim 200 meters to the yellow buoy, turn around, and swim back for 400 m total. The race course can be found here.

I get into the water (77.8 degrees by the way) and start swimming. I’m thinking it’s not so bad. After about 15 strokes, I realize that I’ve abandoned the swimming technique that I learned in my masters swimming course. The rough waves made it difficult for me to get into any type of rhythm. On a couple occasions I tried to gather myself and get it together, but it didn’t work. The waves were causing water to seep in my mouth. I had to resort to a botched freestyle stroke, where Im almost swimming above the water. My kick, reverted back to the kick that was documented in the video I uploaded on an earlier post. (Sidenote: I PROMISE I had gotten better). The problem was that I hadn’t trained in open water yet.

By the 160m mark, things started going bad, FAST.  Since my kicks were now fluttering, and Im swimming with my head above the water, I am expending a LOT of energy. I’m getting tired very quickly. I initially try to fight through it, but I quickly realize it’s not going to work. I now start looking around for life guards, just to see where they are in case I needed to call them. I’m thinking, I can’t call them though because I’m not sure if my race will be over. There is NO WAY that I can have my race over before I even swim 200m. I started thinking about how foolish I was for not doing any open water practice. Then I snapped back to reality. Im getting tired very quickly now. I now need to get help, or I’m going to drown.  I see two lifeguards about 25 m off to my left on surfboards. Im waving my hand, looking dead at them. No response. Hm, that’s interesting. Still trying to keep my cool, I try waving at the life guards again. Still no response. Now I’m starting to think, are they trying to figure out if I need help, or can they just not see me. OK. Now I’m REALLY tired. I’m thinking, there is a legitimate chance of me dying out here… I now get vocal. I literally yelled for help.  I wasn’t screaming, but I said it loud enough where they should either acknowledge a) my voice or b) my flailing arm. It was at this precise point, that I experienced my biggest FML moment ever. My legs had little steam.

Finally, the lifeguard comes over, and Im able to grab on to the surfboard. My legs are absolutely burning! My muscles might as well have been on fire. The lifeguard was real cool. I asked him if this meant I was DQ’d from the race. He told me that it didn’t. There were no time constraints, and I could rest as long as I needed. That was a relief, because I had to finish; I just didn’t know how I was going to finish. My heartrate elevated, legs on fire and dead, and I just couldnt visualize me making the next step. I must have stayed on the board for about ten minutes. At that point the life guard tries coaching me to continue. He tells me that there is another life guard about 50m ahead. He said I should try swimming to him and then restagain. He said he would watch me. I waited for a couple minutes and then I took off again. In those couple of minutes, I thought about all of the Ironman motivational videos that I had watched on you tube. Those videos that had quotes like:

  • “There are two types of people…those that say ‘I can’t’, and those that say ‘I can’
  • “Each person out there will have some pain at some point during the day”
  • “Pain is about seeing how strong you are mentally”

I recalled how they said It would all be a test.  Knowing that that moment was one of the moments that the people were referencing, made it easier for me to continue. There was no way  that I was going to punk out. On the swim back, I went into survival mode. No freestyle stroke. I did the breastroke for most of the way.  There was definitely a time that I was swimming on my back. I didn’t care. A crucial lesson of life manifested itself in that swim back. Sometimes you just have to do what you need to do, to accomplish your objective. It may not be pretty. It may not be sexy. You can’t care about who’s besides you, in front of you, or in back of you. You don’t have the energy for that. Life becomes extremely simple and black and white. I became oblivious to the outside world. I knew what I had to do, and that’s all that mattered. Ego was thrown entirely out of the building.

Slowly but surely, I made it back to the starting point where I was able to stand up. Here, you were supposed to run from the beach to the transition area (about 250m distance). I came out of the water exhausted and just walked. As I made my way up the beach I met a guy who pushed me on. He said he’ll run with me out to the transition area. He wasn’t in the race, just  coach. That support helped. I regained some energy and pushed myself, jogging to the transition area. In the transition area though, I took my time. I took in some Gatorade, ate a food bar, dried my feet, put on my socks, and finally put on my sneakers. I grabbed my helmet and glasses and moved on for the bike portion.

I was so glad for the swim portion to be done. Interestingly enough though, now that I was on the bike, it was as if the swim had been compartmentalized. For sure, I was tired. But I had energy to bike. The rest of the race was far less dramatic than the first 25 minutes. The bike portion consisted of a 12 mi ride from Key Biscayne, to Virginia Key, over the Rickenbacker Cswy, and back (see the race course). During the bike ride, I made sure to hydrate frequently and I ingested one of those gels I had. Doing both activities helped me maintain the energy I needed to finish the race.
When I finished the bike portion, I dismounted the bike. My legs felt like absolute jelly. I felt like I was about to collapse. The people nearby that cheered and rallied us athletes on revived me though. I dropped off my bike and began the run. I jogged at a pace that I was familiar with during my training. I made sure to hydrate at every aid station.

By 2.5 miles or so, I began feeling each of my quad muscles beginning to cramp. I thought this was the beginning of Julie Moss for me. I then thought back to what my running partner told me on Wednesday, “Don’t you ever (blank) stop”! (see previous post. So, I kept pushing. “No pain”,I told myself. Eventually, I made it to the finish line, put both arms up, and officially completed my first triathlon. I sat down for a bit, and got some Gatorade. I checked out my times, got a massage, and took a few pics. I left the site about an hour after I finished. It was a great feeling.

So how did I do? My results were the following:

  • I raced in the 25-29 age group (30 athletes)
  • I finished 30/30 (dead last) – But this was mostly due to the swim, and me being exhausted at my first transition

Swim: (0.25 mi ) in 0:24:48 (rank: 30/30)

Bike: (12.4 mi) in 0:45:03 (rank: 22/30)

Run (3.1 mi) in 0:28: 02 (rank:18/30)

Total: 1:50:36.41

Not bad considering that: a)goal was to finish b) my first triathlon c) no open water practice d) spent ten minutes with life guard and e) spent ten minutes in transition area#1

Part III – Takeaways

Because I’m tired of writing, I am bulleting out my takeaways from the race:

  • It was foolish to not have trained in open water before my first triathlon
  • Critical life lessons are embedded in triathlon training and racing
    • You will learn more about yourself during a race, than you will from years of being on this earth
    • The triathlon is a battle between you and yourself
      • Another thing that messed me up was that I began swimming at a pace that was faster than I typically swim (due to the pace of others around me)
    • Today’s race put Ironman 70.3 in a totally different perspective; Real recognizes real – Triathlons are no joke. The half Ironman is noooooo joke
      • It’s time to get really serious
      • The triathlon is difficult enough by itself. It’s silly to make it more difficult by slacking on nutrition, exercising or any other aspect of training
      • I view challenges differently based on what I’ve experienced already from training and today’s race
      • What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger – I will do this

    I’m looking forward to the pics that photographers took during the race. I’ve posted a few from the event in the gallery.


    ~ by gblyden703 on May 3, 2010.

    4 Responses to “First Triathlon: What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger….”

    1. Gershon,

      I am so proud of you!!!!!!!
      You are an inspiration to me.


    2. Dude, that was hilarious!! Now that you did it all the WRONG way, let’s get you going the right way. Time is your enemy now, so no slacking. We need to talk about every aspect of racing, including a training plan, a nutrition plan, equipment selection, and a whole lot more.

      See you Wednesday.


    3. Amazing, just looking at your numbers. You were at the end in the swim, but caught up so dramatically, that you ended up 18/30. Wow. Very brave. Numbers do not matter. The fact that you started this endeavor…you already won.

    4. GERSHON,

      NO PAIN!!!!!!! NO GAIN!!!!!!!



      PEACE OUT,

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