My Journey into Triathlon
Survive the tide, cruise the ride, enjoy the stride
A word of caution before reading this. It’s long. Really long. I’ve decided to write it in one pass and not proof it, as I don’t read anything longer than 3 bullets. There could be typos. Some of it might not make sense. Other parts could be complete fabrications (ok, all of it is true). Please read at your own discretion.
This experience started, well, a year ago when enough people in my company signed up for the Chicago Sprint Triathlon (.5 mile lake swim, 14 mile bike, 5K run) to inspire me to join them. To date I had swam as a kid, biked for fun, and ran only when being chased. I’d never run farther than a 5K turkey trot!
After signing up at the end of 2010 for the Experience Triathlon Masters Swim in Rolling Meadows, I realized, well, that I had a long way to go. One day a week swimming wasn’t going to cut the mustard, and there were two additional disciplines to worry about too! That’s when I decided to sign up with Coach Judie to guide me through this magical world of triathlon.
After training for about 6 months, I decided to do a trial run at the Naperville Sprint in July, which was a month before the Chicago Tri in August. Naperville went fantastic, and it set the stage for an amazing experience in August on Lake Michigan. Judie had me prepared both physically and mentally, and I was able to enjoy the day in August, not to mention finish 3rd out of 12 from my company (the 1st and 2nd place went to two seasoned triathletes!).
It was after the Chicago sprint that I fell in love with a sport that seems to be created for people that are ADD like me! You swim. Then before you know it you’re running to a transition area (AKA T-Town) to get ready to bike. After an awesome ride, you go back into T-Town and get ready to run. Yes, legs and arms sufficiently exhausted, now you get to run a 5K. The best part of all of this pain is that you get to PAY to do it! For me it was a match made in heaven.
After finishing the sprint distance triathlon, my confidence in sports shot through the roof. A week or two after Chicago in September I took the required best step in any good exercise plan. I signed up for another event. In this case I signed up for a half Ironman in St. Croix. Clearly I wasn’t thinking. But I did it, and I don’t like to back down from a challenge. In fact, I thrive on accomplishing things that many think I can’t do.
My first call was to Judie, who went silent for what seemed like a decade, and then said, “OK, let’s get cracking. There’s work to be done.” She never doubted me in my quest to go from two sprints to a half iron distance. OK, maybe a little, but she told me that if I can commit to the workouts, she can assure me I’ll be ready.
In order to achieve any great success, I believe you need to break it up into manageable bites. Therefore I decided to sign up for an Olympic distance race (1 mile ocean swim, 25 mile bike, 10k run) to get some ocean experience and to double the distances in preparation for quadrupling the distances for May! I’d make some kind of joke here, but my degree is in accounting and this is simple math, which I find fascinating and not the least bit funny in this instance. 😉
So off to the gym. The 3 day a week workouts turned into 5, and then 6, and eventually 7. Did I mention that my lovely wife is a marathon runner? On top of intense work schedules, an active family life, and hard core training plans, we spent each Saturday planning our exercise week. Jenn and I spent many mornings passing at the front door from her 5 or 6 am workout followed directly by mine.
As I began to plan my race day last week, I came up with a race plan that I hid from both Judie and my friends and family. Keep in mind this is purely my race plan. I had a lot of prep and a ton of support from my family to get to this plan. Now that I’ve executed on it to a T, I thought I’d share. It’s more of a summary of my race than my race plan, but it incorporates the thoughts that went into the event.
1. Arrive in Naples, FL safely.
2. Make sure my stuff got there safely.
3. Light workout Friday to adjust to the wetsuit and temperatures.
4. Eat healthy meals and drink a good amount of water the day before the race.
5. Race morning – up at 4:30 am to get a quick wake up shower in. All of my gear would be laid out and packed according to my check list the night before.
6. Starbucks in a can and a bagel with peanut butter in the car.
7. Transition area at 5:45. I had an assigned spot so no need to get there too early.
8. When you rack your bike and lay out your gear, people go into the zone. Game face. Not this guy. I stay calm by making friends. I brought tons of water for my neighbors in the transition area, all of whom I met about 30 seconds ago.
9. I took pictures of a few folks and offered to email it to their email address.
10. I then asked if anyone would hold a spare copy of my acceptance speech for when I take first place in the 5’7”, first time Olympic distance from Chicago wearing race number 602 category.
11. Off to the beach
The Swim Start
12. Hard to imagine what it is like standing in the dark in a wet suit knowing that the water is 62 degrees and you’re about to enter it with 300 people at the same time. See picture 0962. 3 cones in the water. We swim to the last one and back, exit the water to run around a cone on the beach, and then do it again.
13. I saw many things in the Gulf, but nothing with my head in the water. It was dark and murky. The foot that was about to kick you in the face wasn’t visible until the calluses on the heel were within an inch!
14. There were arms and legs everywhere, and the first ¼ mile was a cage match of Black Friday shoppers trying to get the only iPhone 4s in an Apple store in the ocean.
15. Despite the chaos, this guy kept his cool. I swam my swim. I let the big talkers and the great swimmers get their lead, and then I swam, shifting in the water as necessary to avoid getting kicked and kicking anyone. Well, most of the time.
16. As I exited the water, I kindly asked the race director, “Am I in the lead?” Believe it or not, my dry humor went over well on the beach that day!
17. At about 36 minutes my swim was done. 1 mile down.
18. T-Town is a fascinating city. There are people gasping for breath, laser focused, relieved that they didn’t drown, etc. Not this guy… I was happy to be getting to eat my first Abbott Cookie Dough Zone Perfect bar. They are tasty!
19. I texted my wife to let her know that I was out of the water safely.
20. I got to my bike, carefully placed my ankle chip on my bike shirt so I would remember to put it back on, took off my wet suit, rinsed off my face with a bottle of water, gave a bottle to two of my neighbors to use, ate my zone bar, put on my tri shirt, socks, bike shoes, helmet, glasses, gum in mouth, and off to the ride. Funny thing is that I left the most important thing behind. MY CHIP!
21. At mile 3 I met up with a pro bike racer who was out to ride the course for fun, and he and I rode next to each other for about 10 miles until he went off another direction. We talked about all sorts of stuff, and it made the ride fun. At every intersection stood a police officer to stop traffic, and I thanked each and every one of them for helping us out. I didn’t miss even one in the 28 miles.
22. I hollered to each person stopped or slowed at the side of the road to make sure they were ok, and I let anyone that wanted to draft off of me go for it. My race was about me. If I could help anyone make their race better, no worries.
23. As I came into T-Town for my second visit, one of the race volunteers came over to record my transition from my chip that was awaiting my return at chair 602. How cool is that. I’d probably be disqualified from most races if this happened.
24. Not much excitement here. The parking lot seemed full of bikes and I had no idea if I was in first or last place. Well, let’s face it. I was not in first place unless I was able to swim and bike before anyone else was done with the swim.
25. I took a minute or three to change over to my running shoes and hat, another Abbott bar (yum!), and off to the foot race.
26. Six miles. Really? No problem.
27. I have been fortunate enough to watch my wife run several races, and the energy I get from cheering on the runners is amazing. If I can cheer as a spectator, why not as a participant?
28. I must have crossed paths with a hundred or so people as it was 3.1 miles out and 3.1 miles in. Without skipping a beat, I let each person I approached know that they were doing awesome and that we were on the home stretch.
29. I thanked every volunteer along the way for coming out as it meant a lot to me, and I high fived each of the 4 or so kids lining the course. Yes, the run was a little sparse with spectators.
30. At mile 4 of the run I was passed by two gentlemen pushing a jog stroller. In the stroller appeared to be their adult sons, both suffering from something that would prevent them from sitting up, let alone swimming, biking or running. It was at that moment that I realized for as hard as I trained, these folks trained much harder as they swam pulling their son in a raft, biked with a buggy on the back, and were now running pushing their child to the finish. Though I kept my pace, I let them know that they were heroes and that I was humbled to be in the same race as them.
31. At mile 5 my adrenaline was starting to wear down and I started feeling the pain. I had 1.2 miles to go and there was no way I was slowing down. As someone once told me, I can rest when I’m dead. Weird, but let’s go with it.
32. As I ran toward the finish line, the race announcer said on the loud speaker, “Here comes Andy Rachmiel from Park Ridge IL. He loves chocolate covered bananas, so if anyone can bring him one, I know he’d appreciate it!” Apparently that is what I put as my favorite food when signing up for the race. No one brought me one. L
33. I finished my first ever Olympic distance triathlon in 3 hours and 2 minutes. I kept my composure, kept a positive attitude, and apparently did each leg of the race in record time for me, including my training times.
34. When they got to the 37 year old males, I was shocked to hear my name called for 3rd prize!
If you’re still reading this, you know what it’s like to run a triathlon. This reflection has been long, full of some good stuff, some boring stuff, a few bad spots, and a big phew that it is almost over! I took the slow and steady route rather than the fast and aggressive approach, and in the end had a personal best, won a plaque, and finished with a huge smile.
In May I’ll be participating in what has been called the hardest half Ironman in the world. While Naples was straight and flat, St. Croix will be twisty and hilly. The infamous BEAST awaits you at around mile 20 of the 56 mile bike, and mental toughness has to overpower physical ability. The funny thing is that with a good coach, a solid race plan, and the support of friends and family, anything is possible. Just wait until my email in May!
Thanks for believing in me as much as I believe in myself.