Pleasant Prairie, My First Olympic Tri
by Jim R.
My journey into triathlon started a little over a year ago. Knowing that I didn’t know everything, I started a search for someone who did and found Coach Joe and Experience Triathlon. To say this relationship has changed all aspects of my life, both personal and athletic, will never be an over statement.
Entering my second year meant building on what I started over a year ago. I did all the right things in the off season: CompuTrainer training for bike performance, Master’s swim training, continuing my run fitness, and something new in February, core training designed by Coach Joe specifically for me. One of my fellow athletes has called this the “seemingly endless grind called off-season training.” I agree with him. However, like him, I knew that this was where my journey needed to go to continue to progress in a sport where four different disciplines come together.
My first race this year was the sprint distance race in Galena, a nice, very scenic and very hilly course. It was challenging for a first race but I had my sights set on expanding my experience to the Olympic distance this year. That opportunity came on Sunday at Pleasant Prairie, WI.
As I have always done in the past, I reached out to Coach Joe for some guidance on what to expect and how to race a distance I have never encountered before, and like in the past, his guidance was spot on.
Cheryl and I started out our morning at 3:00 AM to get to the race with plenty of time to set up transition, think race strategy, and commiserate with my fellow ET athletes that were also racing. I have to add here that Cheryl, my wife of 24 years, has been my strength and rock solid companion in this journey even though sometimes she shakes her head and thinks I’m nuts. She has been there every step of the way, never complaining, and I love her very much for who she is. We arrived on site at 4:30 AM with a 7:00 AM wave start, plenty of time for me to go over transition five or six times, not that I’m anal or anything, and use the john about the same amount of times. The day was a perfect beginning with no wind, temps around 60 and hardly a cloud in the sky. It was a far cry from what the weather predictions had told us the day before….the weather gods were smiling on us.
Pleasant Prairie is a very compact race venue with the parking lot and all the ins and outs that need to happen in a triathlon right across from the finish line. This made it perfect for racing and perfect for viewing from a spectator point of view. After transition was set up, we were able to go back to the parking lot, where the ET athletes all but took over one part of it, and talk about the race and just chill prior to heading to the swim start. As time for the start neared for those going off in the first wave, we started to go our separate but same ways: putting on the glide, the wetsuit, double checking all the gear needed to start a race. And of course we all started to recess into our own thoughts and to battle those demons that are only ours to battle. During this time, we did have one little piece of a humorous break. One of the ET athletes was putting on their wetsuit with their street shorts still on and got almost to their waist before they noticed it; they were obviously in deep race strategy thought. Once done with all the preparation and with gear in hand, I hugged and kissed Cheryl and we made our final plans of where I was to see her. Then I was off to gather with over 600 other athletes to await my start. As I walked to the start, Coach Joe made a comment that this was a good weather day to push the pace on the run if you could. I filed that away in the memory bank to think about while I was on the bike and decide how hard I should push that part of the race.
Once at the start line, it is hard to be with that many people and feel alone, but that is exactly how I felt as I looked out to the swim course. I thought through all aspects of the race in my head and went over the planning session I had had with Coach Joe. First I had to swim 1500 meters continuous, about 30 minutes straight was my planned time. As my wave approached the swim start, I again recalled my planning session with Coach Joe and started as we had discussed. It was not flamboyant, it was not meant to be, it was meant to get the race going in a way I could sustain and accelerate the pace throughout the entire race, not just the swim. The horn sounded, I hit the start button on my watch, and began the swim portion of my first Olympic tri. I emerged at the other end in great shape after swimming a little extra distance for good luck (need to work on my tri sighting) and just under my 30-minute goal, fantastic. It was now time to get the wetsuit off, get to T1, and get out on the bike. It’s at this point, coming out of T1, that I had my flamboyant start. I truly had practiced the flying start on the Friday before at least 12 times with little to no issues but that is not what happened here. As I came out of T1 at a full run, (at this point the ET cheer crew watching this unfold was shouting, “Go get ‘em, Jim!”) I crossed the mount line and did the flying mount. However, my shoe, which was rubber banded to the frame, was upside down. Well, of course I looked down to correct the issue only to look up just before I went into the run out chute or into the steel fence, whichever came first. I quickly made a slight steering correction to miss both as I heard from someone in the crowd (“Nice recovery!”) and I’m sure with a smile and a shake of the head from Coach Joe. Once the shoe issue was straightened out, I was on my way with the bike portion.
The bike route was a very well maintained surface that was mostly country roads and relatively flat with the exception of highway and railroad bridges and some rolling hills. I now took this opportunity to think about what Coach Joe had imparted on me as I went to the start line and decided he was right: it was a good day to push the run as long as I did not crush myself on the bike. I decided not to push myself too hard on the bike since this was my first Olympic tri and I was not exactly sure what I was in for on the run. As the course wound around the two loops, I was continually reminding myself of how this was much like our Sunday rides and to just continually let my body dictate how hard to push it. During the second loop of the ride I got into a little game of leapfrog with one of my fellow competitors. As we moved in front of each other multiple times, I realized from his body markings he was in my age group and the bike became a little more interesting as we headed into T2. Again, I saw the ET cheer crew, always an awesome and inspiring sight from my vantage point, and did a flawless flying dismount that was only witnessed by me and the volunteer staffing the dismount line, figures. Moreover, I beat my fellow age grouper into and out of transition with a fast 1:02 T2.
Now was the moment of truth on how well I had managed my power for the swim and the bike and what I had left for the run. Coming out of T2 down the run out chute that I almost went down when coming out on the bike, there was the ever-present cheer crew with some on the left of me and Larry on the right shouting words of encouragement. Again, not enough can be said for these supporters of the athletes. About a half-mile down were Cheryl and Sherri cheering me on, and with high fives to both of them, the real work began. It was just me and the 6.2 miles to conquer. I have to say that coming out of T2 I knew I had managed my power correctly. I was feeling good and moving at a good pace for a stand alone 10K, let alone an Olympic tri, that I knew I could sustain and even pick it up towards the end. As I approached mile one, my fellow age grouper (my nemesis from the bike) overtook me moving at a good pace, and I shouted for him to go get ‘em. Internally I was thinking that just maybe he went out too fast to catch me so I kept him well within striking distance for when I made my final push to the end. On the run, I got some support and was able to, hopefully, give some support to my fellow ET runners as we passed each other going different ways. It is always nice to see someone you know, smiling of course, during the race. At the 5-mile marker, it was time to start to pick up the pace and see if I could catch the rabbit that had passed me earlier in the run. I was just past the 6-mile marker when I came upon Cheryl, the ET cheer crew, and my fellow athletes that had already finished cheering me on to the finish. What a wonderful sight, both them and the finish line.
I crossed the finish line with a 45:08 run time and a 2:28:26 total time and my first Olympic tri under my belt. I finished 2nd in my age group and 95th overall and had an awesome time doing it. I walked back to find Cheryl where I had seen them only seconds earlier and got a big hug and kiss that made the whole day that much better. We hung around for the awards ceremony as so many ET athletes had scored podium spots at Pleasant Prairie and I got to experience that same feeling for my finishing spot.
Coach Joe, you should know that I will never be able to put into words what your guidance and being part of the ET family means to me, there just seems to be no adjective that seems fitting. I succeed because of your unselfish attitude toward coaching and I very much appreciate it. I’ve always said my success is your success and I’ll never forget how you help me get to where I’m at today both in sport and in life.
I also want to thank all the coaches on the ET staff for what you do every day. The preparation and training you imbue on us is always there to draw from and your guidance will always be pivotal to our success.
It was a successful day on so many levels for me but the best part was being able to experience it with my biggest cheerleader, Cheryl, and the ET crew. I love you, honey, for all the support you give me and to the ET family for everything you do for us; it is never taken for granted and always appreciated.
Congrats, Jim, on your first Oly, podium finish and qualifying for the USAT National Championship!!