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Don Nolting – My First Triathlon

Don Nolting, an Austin Triathlon Club Ambassador, recalls his first triathlon

The 2016 Rookie Triathlon (300m swim, 11.2-mile bike, 2-mile run), was my attempt to help a friend, and myself, lose weight. I was 41 and 255 pounds at 6’1.5”. He thought a sprint triathlon would be a fun way to do it since he liked to swim. This probably wouldn’t have been a problem if, 1) we would have decided more than a month before the triathlon was to take place to sign up, 2) I hadn’t just undergone bilateral knee surgeries #4 and #5 six months prior, and 3) if I owned a bike.

Don Nolting, Austin Triathlon Club, Ambassador, after 2016 Rookie Triathlon.

Don Nolting, Austin Triathlon Club, Ambassador, after 2016 Rookie Triathlon.

I was still rehabbing from knee surgery, and given the short time to train, I focused on swimming and riding. While all my doctors discourage running with my knee issues, swimming and biking are highly suggested. The biggest thing for me was to not over train the month before the tri and be so sore and fatigued that I wouldn’t be able to race.

Training

Since I knew how to swim, I focused on that. The good news: the swim distance was only 300 meters. I started in the pool and then made sure to swim in a few different open water spots around Austin. Barton Springs became my really cold friend. I was having trouble freestyle swimming, so I focused on the breaststroke and worked on perfecting my form while training.

The biking was a whole different beast. I didn’t own a bike when I signed up for the tri. So I took advantage of all of the spring bike sales in Austin. I chose a hybrid bike as a starter bike and got in plenty of rides during the month. I even rode the bike course a few times and struggled some.

Since I planned to speed-walk the run, I only worked on increasing my overall fitness for that. In the end, I was pretty happy with where I was feeling after the bike rides, but I wasn’t confident about my swimming.

Race day

Race day showed up really fast! From a tip I had read on lots of tri websites, I laid out my transition and equipment the night before. I was sure I had everything, but 5:00 a.m. comes early. I was nervous, but the pre-race stretches helped calm my nerves. Waiting in line to get into the water was where the nerves sprung up again. Many of the guys in my age group were nervously chatting about how they hadn’t practiced swimming in open water. 

I was towards the back of the line going into the water, and I observed people grabbing the lifeguard canoes and the buoys. (* this is legal by USAT rules as long as you do not use the kayak to make forward progress).  Practicing breaststroke proved to be beneficial. I don’t think I could have freestyled in that water. I felt good after my swim and was proud I had completed it without taking any breaks or needing any assistance. The path to transition was an uphill path, so I took my time so I didn’t injure my knees at all.

Transition went pretty smoothly and I felt good getting onto my bike. The first 1.5 miles went well. However, once I turned into the headwind, it was like I put a sail on my back. I felt like I was going head-first into a wall and barely moving. I was happy to get back to transition, but wasn’t looking forward to the “run.” My legs were gassed, and I hadn’t really practiced going from cycling to a run or walk. Big mistake!

That two miles seemed like 20. In addition, it had recently rained, so the course was muddy and changed to include some hills that were rough on my knees. I wasn’t taking any chances with my knees so soon after surgery, so I walked the hills, but (against my doctor’s orders and my better judgment) slow-jogged the flatter sections. Finally coming around the last bend helped me pick up the pace and finish strong.

The Finish & Beyond

My goal was to finish my first Rookie Tri in 90 minutes, and I missed it by only three minutes. I was tired and sore, but proud that I had finished.

Unfortunately, because of knee rehab, it took me about a year to feel right again in order to train for another race. I got back into riding my bike and started swimming again in late 2017. I joined the Austin Tri Club in the spring of 2018 and have really started to push myself and my training thanks to the group. They support and motivate me as I safely train for aquabike challenges (*Aquabike participates complete the swim & bike portion of the triathlon, with their official timing stopping after entering transition after the bike.) and I enjoy cheering on my club-mates as they compete too.

Rookie Triathlete: Part 6: Solo Bike Ride

My first open road solo bike ride was a windy one

Holy smokes was the wind blowing fiercely during my first open road solo bike ride. Barny, my coach, picked the windiest day for my first long bike ride! On Saturday, April 14th, I took my no-longer-brand-new-to-me bike out for my first venture onto the open road by myself. Sharing the road with vehicles without the comfort of a group ride was intimidating. Before I left the house, I made sure I had my helmet, brightly colored clothing, lights, nutrition, and hydration. Prepared for every situation was comforting. What I needed was a bubble to protect me from the 30-40 mph wind gusts.

solo bike ride

2018 Rookie Tri bike course.

In late March, I previewed the 11.2-mile Rookie Tri bike course with a group of about 60 cyclists from the Austin Triathlon Club. On my solo bike ride, the Rookie Tri bike course was sandwiched in between an out-and-back on the Southern Walnut Creek Trail. The excessive wind become evident right when I started, but I wouldn’t let it deter me. I’ve ridden a couple times on the trail, but never to the end. I studied Google Maps so that I knew every turn and when the trail would end. Signage where I turned onto the Rookie Tri bike course says the trail is 7.75 miles long. But if you cross Decker Ln. you can ride another 2+ miles of trail just west of Decker Lake. If you parked at Govalle Neighborhood Park and rode the entire out and back you’d complete ~20 miles. I don’t think I got lost, but there were a couple times where I second-guessed where I was. I ended up riding 32 miles in 2:11:33.

My solo bike ride

The Southern Walnut Creek Trail is perfect for introductory bike rides. The trail is 10-feet wide in most places and only narrows on some bridges. There is an honest incline once you get towards the end of the trail, but otherwise, it’s relatively smooth. The trail follows Daffen Ln. and ends near Decker Elementary School. This is where my journey on the Rookie Tri bike course began. I’m familiar with the course, having cycled on it and run on it during the 2016 Decker Challenge. I know where the hills are, I know where the sharp turns are, I know where the shoulders disappear because of the bridges (side note: know your cycling hand signals to let others know your intentions).

solo bike ride

Know your cycling hand signals.

The wind was blowing so strong that there were times where I could barely control my wobbling bike. I managed, but at times I would have to drop a gear when cycling into the headwind. It was nice when the wind was at my back, but that wasn’t as frequent. It was normally head on or hitting me from the sides! I pushed through the inclines, tamed the wind, and eventually made it back to Decker Elementary. Boy was I happy to see that school, it meant I was at the Southern Walnut Creek Trail entrance. I popped off my bike for a few minutes and sat under a tree eating some energy beans and drinking my nuun performance.

I hopped back on my bike to complete my last real trek into the headwind. Riding alongside Daffen Ln. didn’t get any better with the wind until I crossed Johnny Morris Rd. and turned south on the trail. The wind died down a bit once I was back on the trail, but there were a few gusts that made sure I paid attention. The views along the trail are phenomenal this time of year, especially with water in Walnut Creek.

After my solo bike ride

solo bike ride

32 miles. DONE.

Aside from general soreness after my 32-mile solo bike ride, the pain I felt most was from sitting on my seat. I’ll spare you the details. Remember, I’ve never pedaled more than 18 miles. The last 6-8 miles weren’t my fastest because I was standing up at certain times, not pedaling. Thank goodness the Rookie Tri bike course is only 11.2 miles!

Want to take the same route I did but with a group? Then join the Austin Tri Club’s group ride on April 21st!