Beating the Swim Demons at Evergreen Lake Triathlon
Coming into the Evergreen Triathlon, I felt that I had plenty of reasons to be nervous. First and foremost among them was the fact that it would be my first time swimming the Olympic distance (1500 meters) without a wetsuit. And this would be in the unfamiliar open waters of Lake Evergreen, no less! I was also a bit concerned about the bike. My previous Olympic distance triathlon (Pleasant Prairie, three weeks earlier) had been a challenge for me due to some unexpected hamstring pain on the bike leg, which also made the run difficult. Add to all of this mental baggage the forecast conditions – extreme heat, my personal kryptonite – and it’s safe to say that I was feeling quite apprehensive as I made the drive down to Bloomington, Illinois, the afternoon before the race.
Thankfully for me, I had an edge over many of my fellow triathletes. I was surrounded by the best support team you could ask for – the Experience Triathlon crew. I was far from alone when I arrived at the transition area. I was surrounded by my beautiful wife Laurie, my fellow racers, our enthusiastic and unselfish cheering crew, and my coach and very good friend Joe LoPresto. Laurie was part of the cheer crew this time around, and they were filled with positive energy (even at 5am!) and helped me to take my mind off of that upcoming swim. And as always, Coach Joe was there with some words of advice and encouragement to help me get my mind right and my demons under control.
As our race start approached, the athletes gathered at water’s edge and remarked on how far away those buoys seemed. I tried to remember the coach’s advice – break the swim into smaller segments, and just tackle one segment at a time. My nerves had calmed down by the time I started my swim, and I settled in for the long haul. I am not a fast swimmer, and I knew this was going to be the toughest part of the day for me. Three years ago at this time, I was training for my first ever triathlon and I still was having trouble psyching myself up to get into the deep end of the pool. Here I was today swimming almost four times as far across a lake! Thanks to good coaching and a lot of work, I knew I was going to get this swim done.
I was so tired at the end of the swim that I was seriously thinking I would just crawl up out of that lake, skip the rest of the race, and take a well-deserved nap. But, I figured with the hardest part out of the way, it would be pretty silly to not finish what I’d started. I compromised by strolling through my first transition 🙂 Then I grabbed my bike and helmet and headed out onto the bike course.
The afternoon before the race, a bunch of us caravanned along the bike route to get a feel for the race course. I noted at that time that these roads were very well-maintained, and that the route itself was scenic. My opinion did not change at all as I pedaled my way along through corn fields, wind farms, and the occasional clump of cheering locals. In fact, as my ride progressed I started to get my second wind, and I found myself moving a lot faster than I’d originally planned. What really excited me the most, though, was the fact that it was still overcast. The extreme heat and baking sun that I’d been worrying about had somehow decided not to show up for the party this year. Sweet!!
As I powered my way back to the transition area, I saw the ET cheer crew set up along the bike in / run out area, calling my name and putting a smile on my face. I knew they’d be there for the start and finish of my run, and since the weather was cooperating, I decided I was going to enjoy this. I checked my watch as I started the run and was pleasantly surprised to see that, despite the expected slow swim time, I’d actually made up quite a bit of time on my bike ride compared to my previous race. I knew that as long as I held a decent pace on the run, I would have a time I could be happy with, and finish this event feeling good.
The run course at Evergreen is an out and back route, as opposed to a loop (like for example the Naperville sprint triathlon). The thing that I absolutely love about out and back run routes is the opportunity you get to look for people you know, and cheer each other on as you pass. I saw almost all of my fellow ET racers at some point on the course, and we did our best to pick each other up and help each other get through to the finish. The route was also well-furnished with cold drinks, wet sponges, cooling stations, and friendly volunteers. But the best part was seeing the ET cheer crew on the way back; because I knew then I was almost done! And at the finish were many of my fellow ET triathletes, wearing smiles and starting to chow down on the tasty post-race snacks.
It was a good day for everyone, with podium finishes, personal bests, and smiles everywhere you looked. I was quite frankly amazed at how good I felt physically at the end of this race, even though I ended up finishing it quite a bit faster than expected. I have to give a huge thanks to Laurie, for putting up with my pre-race jitters, and to the whole team for helping to turn this potentially stressful day into a really fun outing. I know I am very lucky to have such a good group of friends with which to train and socialize!
Congrats, Drew, on a great day and Beating the Demons once again! You are having an amazing season, my friend!! – Coach Joe
Enjoy all the Evergreen Lake Triathlon photos at our Photo Gallery!