Rookie Triathlete: Part 9: My First Triathlon

I did it, I completed my first triathlon

blog about completing my first triathlon

William and Barny. Photo – Ed Sparks

Back in January, I committed to my first triathlon, 2018 Rookie Triathlon. What began as a small idea quickly turned into a side bet complete with trash talk and a race-day following that formally introduced triathlon to newbies. I was fortunate to have one of the best triathletes in the world (Paul “Barny” Matthews) as my coach. I spoke with countless triathletes, both Rookies and IRONMAN finishers. Basically, everything they said could happen did happen at some point. Based on my training and my mock Rookie Tri in February, I figured finishing in 75 minutes would be respectable. Remember, I finished my mock triathlon in 1:34:43. I completed my first triathlon in 1:06:55.

When I set out to do something I’m all in. But I know for a fact I wouldn’t have been as successful and felt as good during my first triathlon if it weren’t for Barny. His training plan made me #feelthebarn before race day so I knew what to expect on race day.

Race day – Sunday, May 6, 2018

My alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. Why so early? My wife and good friend were volunteering that morning and needed to be there to help with parking. The night before I went through the entire race and packed my bag. Stickers were placed on my bike and helmet. Everything was quadruple checked. Hydration was mixed and placed in the fridge. I wanted race morning to be smooth.

Well that didn’t go as planned. Part of getting up a bit earlier was to ensure my bodily functions worked the way I wanted them to work in my own home. That didn’t happen. Porta-potties here I come. I checked my bag one more time because why not?! We took off on time and headed to Decker Lake. We get about halfway through and sonofa… I left both bottles of hydration in the fridge. So many scenarios go through my head. I popped off 35 at the next exit and booked it back to the house. NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY. We arrived around 5:30. Still early, but there were folks already parking! I parked and wanted to get my bike racked. I’d have plenty of time to get my bag and set up transition.

killing time in transition at my first triathlon

Passing time in transition. Photo – Ed Sparks

Killing time

Transition is set. Now I’m looking around thinking “Now what?” as I plot ways to kill time. I see friends and chat with them about my blog. Are you nervous they ask? Hell yeah I am. I spot my friend Rod Newlin before he took off to manage the bike course. We chatted for a bit and I wished him a happy belated birthday. He told me I’d be fine and shouldn’t be nervous. Easy for you to say Rod! But in reality, his words were helpful.

I found Raul Najera of RunFarUSA (timing company) and chatted with him a bit. Still killing time. He needed some help moving mats and re-wiring his timers. I quickly offered my assistance and asked if this gesture would help shave some minutes off my overall time. Apparently, that’s not the case. During this time I ran into my coach who gave me a sweet Ameican flag robe and boxing gloves. Something to ease the tension and create some laughs. I must’ve made three or four trips to the porta-potty. Man, I missed my own bathroom.

final preparation at my first triathlon

Trying to relax before the Rookie Tri. Photo – Ed Sparks

The race

My wife and friend join me after their volunteer duties are complete (thanks for volunteering!). I chat with some more folks. Find my arch-nemisis and his crew and laugh my ass off. His morning was more horrible than mine was. The race begins and we watch the Open wave cut through the smooth water. They make it look so easy. Barny exited the water and I cheered for him. He eventually won his second Rookie Tri in a row. A week after finishing 13th overall in the IRONMAN North American Championships. It’s almost game-time.

As we’re waiting in line, Paras (my arch-nemisis) and I start quickly re-thinking what we’ve gotten ourselves into. But we’re both competitors. When nobody was looking and we didn’t have access to our phone, we quickly slapped hands, wished each other the best of luck, and agreed we couldn’t wait for the post-race booze. It’s time to swim.

The swim

entering the water at my first triathlon

Entering Decker Lake. Photo – Ed Sparks

We were in line to be the last two of the Rookie male 30-39 to enter the water. Perfect. The next group would start a little after us and not as many would catch me. Wrong. We were the first to start with the 40-49 because Paras forgot his swim cap and his color matched theirs. Great. I enter the water in exactly what I’ll wear on the bike and run, minus shoes, plus goggles and nose plug. The first 50m are fantastic. Yes, this is all coming together as planned! Then someone hits my leg and it throws me off. Damn. Get it back together William. Get my stroke back and my leg is hit again, then my back. It’s clear folks are passing me.

My heart starts racing. My form goes to shit. I start kicking more. Welp, this isn’t good. Just keep moving forward. I breaststroke for a bit to get my breath back and return to my form. But the damage is done. My heart rate is high and my breathing is off. Just keep moving forward. I tried everything I could to get back under control, even swimming on my back a couple times. Nothing worked. I was already exhausted. I focused on making it to the next buoy. Then the next buoy. I’m in the home stretch and I can’t wait to feel solid earth beneath my feet. I finish the swim in a disappointing 9:52. Nearly three minutes more than my mock Rookie Tri swim. My first thought once I learned that Paras was ahead of me: makeup time on the bike.

The bike

Transition went smooth. I used the run to transition to gather myself and catch my breath. Arrived at my bike and everything is ready to go. I step on my towel to dry my feet while I put on my sunglasses and helmet. Slip on the shoes I’ll run in and head towards bike out. I cross the line and hop on, ready to chase down Paras. I quickly grab some nuun because I know I’m about to push myself like never before on a bike. Riding the course beforehand was a tremendous boost. Familiarity is huge. I was passing folks and feeling good. Everything was working out better than I anticipated. At every hill I’m looking for Paras. Nowhere. Shit.

starting the bike at my first triathlon

Playing catch up. Photo – Ed Sparks

But I’m in a groove now. Smoking the downhills and pounding the uphills. I’m getting after it. I finally see Paras on the frontage road and get this insane jolt of energy. He started more than two minutes ahead of me. I’m going all out now (which got me later). I don’t catch him until we turn right into the home stretch. Turn the corner, pass him, blow a kiss, and keep going. I need to make up time. Paras had more in the tank than I thought. We went back and forth on Decker Lake Rd. and eventually made it to transition at the same time. We had folks Facetiming people who couldn’t be there and streaming our race on Facebook live. I finished the bike in 37:44. That’s 24 minutes faster than my mock Rookie Tri bike. The Wrecker at Decker was living up to the hype.

The run

Transition went smooth again. Pre-planning helped. Took one last swig of nuun, dropped my bike off, and grabbed my SPIbelt. I leave transition right behind Paras. It’s on. I know he’s a top-notch runner, but folks on-course told me he incurred a couple penalties. He is faster, but I still have a chance. The course was changed because of flash flooding, so my day-before run didn’t help much. I’m feeling good, folks are cheering, volunteers are awesome. I see Paras start to disappear, but I don’t worry about that. I focus on passing one person at a time, keeping my pace.

crossing the finish line at my first triathlon

Crossing the Rookie Tri finish line. Photo – Ed Sparks

The new course weaved in and out for two miles. Every chance I got I poured water on my head. I turn the last leg and Barny is there cheering as loud as he can. Paras has penalties! You still have a chance! I catch my last boost of energy and head for the finish of my first triathlon. I’m asking my body to push itself beyond what’s it ever done. The finish is getting closer. I can hear Logan. Paras is at the edge of the finish chute and gives me a high five as I enter. He was three minutes ahead of me. I crossed the line of my first triathlon in 1:06:55. Eight minutes ahead of my 75-minute prediction. That’s a 28-minute improvement from my mock Rookie Tri in February.

I’m a triathlete

I crossed the finish line of my first triathlon and immediately fell to the ground. Exhausted. No medical was needed, just had to gather myself for a minute. I didn’t beat Paras, but I became a triathlete. The post-race trash talk wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. We were both that tired. We took photos, hung out with friends, our coaches joined the fun, we drank a few beers, and enjoyed the energetic finish line festival.

post-race photo at my first triathlon

The squads post-race. Photo – Ed Sparks

The entire experience was something I’ll never forget. My wife supported me through yet another endurance event and training cycle. Megan is a beautiful soul for putting up with my shenanigans and ability to consume great quantities of her amazing cooking. I appreciate Barny and all of his efforts. He’s a huge reason for my improvement. That is undeniable. I strongly encourage contacting him if you’re looking for a coach for your first triathlon or your first IRONMAN. I’m grateful my employer, High Five Events, allowed me to compete and not have to work the event. My co-workers provided a never-ending stream of insight and support.

What’s next?

I’m not sure what the future holds. I crossed the finish line of my first triathlon and said never again. But the more I think about it the more I realize I can still improve. I can get better at the swim. So I won’t say never now. I will say I’m a better runner because of swimming and cycling. My body feels better. I’m getting stronger. This cross-training thing is legit. I will keep swimming in the pool. I’ve begun riding my bike to work. My legs have more energy when I run. I really like what this journey has done for me.

If you’ve made it this far, then thank you. Thanks for reading and for your in-person and online support. If completing a triathlon is on your radar I highly suggest Rookie Triathlon. The entire event is well-organized (I’m biased), but I also approached my first triathlon as a Rookie triathlete, not the High Five Events Communications Manager. Most of my nerves were self-induced. Rookie Triathlon is perfect for that first-timer. There was plenty of room in transition, parking went smoothly, the water entrance was well-managed, and the finish line festival was one huge after party! If you’re like me and like planning ahead, 2019 Rookie Triathlon will take place on Cinco de Mayo. Don’t forget, I’m still a Rookie.