My First Tri

by Jack Murray, Owner of Jack & Adam’s Bicycles, Bicycle World, & High Five Events

Almost every day customers visit our shop seeking advice on participating in their first triathlon. When I have the opportunity to help someone in this situation, I share with them the story of my first tri in hopes of helping them feel more comfortable about their endeavor.

It was the summer of 1994. The event was the Victoria Splash & Dash in Victoria, Texas. I had trained for a few weeks and was sure I was in peak condition for an easy victory. I was, after all, fresh off a 1600 meter run victory and bronze in the 3200 at the Texas State Championship Relays. How hard could a little tri be? I thought I knew all there was to know about swimming, biking, and running. Turns out – I knew nothing!

The morning started with me loading my bike into the trunk of my mom’s car and driving with her and my sister to the event one hour away. I arrived around 6 AM for an 8 AM start. This was before on-line registration, so I registered for the event that morning and picked up my packet. As people started to arrive, I noticed the differences between my rusty old mountain bike and some of their $2000 race machines. My confidence, however, was not crushed; I was still sure I could win. After racking my bike, I headed over to the pool area where everyone was warming up. As I got closer, I noticed everyone was wearing tight swimsuits and goggles. I was sure, however, that my baggy Umbro “soccer shorts” and lack of goggles was the best way to go. My plan was simple – go as fast as I could for as long as I could.

They were letting swimmers go every 5 seconds and we had to snake up and down the pool for a total of 300 meters. I patiently waited in line until 5,4,3,2,1 go, I was off. I swam as fast as I could to the other side and then back again. 50 meters down 250 to go.

By 150 my arms started to hurt and my eyes were stinging from the chlorine. By 200 I was kicking off the bottom every few strokes and swimming with my eyes closed, by 250 I was just trying to get out of the water alive, and without my shorts falling off. After the swim, I was sure I was still in good position to hold my own on the bike.

I grab my bike out of transition and head out on to the 12 mile course. As I start to ride I realize I am not catching anyone. The rusty, old mountain bike that I borrowed from my high school track coach was not the stallion I thought it was. Riding around the block a few times for training was probably not the riding that all these people were doing. The fact that my bike could not shift was more trouble than I thought it would be. And looking back, my saddle was also about 5 to 7 inches to low. Towards the end of the ride I was being passed by a 10 year old girl and her mom; it was then that I started to feel my big victory slipping away. Still I was determined to blaze through transition and light up the run.

Transition to the run was probably my most memorable moment. As I speed to the transition area, volunteers are yelling at me to dismount my bike. As I go to lift my feet off the pedals, I forget that they are hooked in by cages. The combination of speed and my feet getting caught was enough to send me crashing like a bowling ball into a bike rack with about 6 bikes on it. The volunteers quickly help me up and as I throw my bike in the grass next to a picnic table (the rack was down), I remember thinking how much fun I was having. The whole day was something I had never experienced before.

It took about a mile into the run before I got my legs out of bike riding mode. I had no idea how riding a bike would effect legs on the run. As I rounded the final stretch I saw all these happy people cheering for me, eating, drinking, and just having a good time. I talked to people for about an hour. I met a guy my age that had been doing triathlons for years. I met some members of the Corpus Christi tri club and was invited to their next meeting. I signed up for their monthly newsletter. In short – I was hooked. It was nothing I thought it would be. It was fun and I discovered a whole different type of people that did not exist in my 5000 person hometown.

Through the years of collegiate running, duathlons, sprint tri’s, half Ironman events, Ironman events, and working in the shop, my first tri memory will forever help me keep our sport in perspective. It is not about where you finish, what type of bike you have, what you do for a living, where you are from or where you are going. It is about having fun and that is it. You can have many goals in our sport without forgetting this key element. I am constantly reminded of this by some of the greatest in the sport like Michael Lovato and James Bonney. If you ask either of them why they have dedicated and built their lives around this sport, they will tell you the same.

If you’ve been putting off reviewing the 25-page official USAT race guidelines, look no further. We’ve narrowed down the document so you can focus on  your training rather than studying. Here are 11 commonly violated USAT rules to focus on for rookie triathletes. 

1. Helmets: Only helmets approved by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) may be used in USAT sanctioned events. Helmets must be worn at all times while on your bike (before, during, and after the event). Penalty: Disqualification

2. Chin Straps: Chin straps must be buckled at all times when on a bicycle. DO NOT unbuckle your chin strap unless you are off your bicycle.
Penalty: Disqualification on the course; Variable time penalty in transition area only.

3. Outside Assistance: No assistance other than assistance by race and medical officials may be used. Triathlons and duathlons are individual tests of fitness. Penalty: Variable time penalty

4. Transition Area: All equipment must be placed in the properly designated and assigned bike corral. The wheel of the bicycle must be down on the side of the assigned space. All participants must return their bicycles to an upright position in their designated bicycle corral. No person shall interfere with another participant’s equipment or impede the progress of another participant. All bar ends must be solidly plugged. No participant shall bring ANY glass containers into the transition area.
Penalty: Variable time penalty

5. Drafting: Keep at least three bike lengths of clear space between you and the cyclist in front. If you move into the zone, you must pass within 15 seconds. Position–keep to the right hand side of the lane of travel unless passing. Blocking–riding on the left side of the lane without passing anyone and interfering with other cyclists attempting to pass. Overtaken–once passed, you must immediately exit the draft zone from the rear, before attempting to pass again.
Penalty: Variable time penalty

6. Course: All competitors are required to follow the prescribed course and to stay within all coned lanes. Cutting the course is an obvious violation and going outside the course is a safety issue. Cyclists shall not cross a solid yellow center line for ANY reason. Cyclists must obey all applicable traffic laws at all times. Penalty: Referee’s discretion

7. Unsportsmanlike-Like Conduct: Foul, harsh, argumentative or abusive language or other unsportsmanlike conduct directed at race officials, USA Triathlon officials, volunteers, spectators or fellow athletes is forbidden.
Penalty: Disqualification

8. Headphones: Headphones, headsets, walkmans, iPods, mp3 players, or personal audio devices, etc. are not to be carried or worn at any time during the race. Penalty: Variable time penalty

9. Abandonment: All personal equipment and belongings taken out onto the course must stay on the athlete the entire time. No garbage, clothing, etc. shall be thrown on the course.
Penalty: Variable time penalty

10. Race numbers: All athletes are required to wear race numbers at all times during the bike and run. Numbers must face the front and be clearly visible at all times. Numbers may not be cut or folded or altered in any way. DO NOT transfer your number to any other athlete or take a number from an athlete that is not competing.
Penalty: Variable time penalty for missing or altered number. Disqualification and one year suspension from membership in USAT for transferring a number without race director permission.

11. Wetsuits: Each age group participant shall be permitted to wear a wetsuit without penalty in any event sanctioned by USA Triathlon up to and including a water temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. When the water temperature is greater than 78 degrees but less than 84 degrees Fahrenheit, age group participants may wear a wetsuit at their own discretion, provided, however that participants who wears a wetsuit within such temperature range shall not be eligible for prizes or awards. Above 84 degrees, wetsuits are prohibited.

For a complete list of USAT rules, please refer to the most up to date version at: usatriathlon.org/events/rules.aspx