2010 Honolulu Triathlon: You gotta start somewhere

I was going to use the title, 2010 Honolulu Triathlon: You’re Doing It Wrong, but I was worried that some would miss the sarcasm that is so deeply embedded into a comment like that.

So, before I tell you the story, let me tell you the background. There are a few things that relate to this.

1. I’ve never done a triathlon. Back in 2005, I wasn’t running. I was broken, and I was also in the middle of a giant pity-party because PTSD was kicking my ass. The Army patched me up some, and by 2006 I was running again. For 2007, I trained for and completed the marathon in Luxembourg. If you’re going to do one, I figured, do one that will be memorable; Luxembourg was that, for sure. Feeling good about my health, feeling good about my running, I added in some swimming and cycling and toyed with the idea of finding a tri over the 2007/2008 winter;I got as far as reading the Wikipedia article on triathlons, mainly for details on the standard race distances (not all tris are created equal). But instead of doing a tri that winter, I got a no-notice deployment to Romania, where the best I could do was to train up two dozen folks to do the Timişoara Marathon and Dracula Half-marathon.

2. I’m running just under 40 miles per week this year. I think the current average is about 38 miles per week, since 01 JAN 2010. My longest run has been 18 miles, my shortest was 2. I am serious about my running, but I am far from being a serious runner. I am not gazelle; I am a tank.

3. i do everything wrong. I don’t stretch. I put too many miles on a pair of running shoes, if you listen to the running shoe companies. I don’t eat special foods, to go faster. I don’t buy lighter shoes, to save that one second per mile. I don’t do fancy training sessions, or intervals, or fartleks — whatever they are. I drink beer. I eat ice cream, and often. I run when it feels right, and I run as far as I want to at that moment. I stop and take photos. I carry things with me, like baby wipes, or a camelbak, or whatever I think I might need (like bull repellent). I enter organized runs because 1) they’re organized, and 2) they often include access to places I can’t otherwise go. You can tell me that it’s a race, but I won’t race you.

4. I think I am pretty in tune with my body. I say that, because I have had success in recent years doing things, running-wise, that seem to make others question my actions. On four different occasions on my last tour in Iraq, I sprained my left ankle; all four times, I took off one or two days from running and then went right back out to run for distance, swelling be damned. Early last week, my left hamstring seized up; I took one day off and still managed to log about 35 miles for the week. With all the stuff I’ve been doing, I think I have, on a day to day basis, a pretty good grasp on what I can and can’t do.

So, here’s the story.

Friday was a rough day at the office. I did, though, manage to sneak away for some pizza and a late lunch, grabbing the on-post free newspaper to read while I ate. I try to read it every week; it has all kinds of good things in it, from road closures (like Kolekole Pass) to sporting events. Friday, I saw a one paragraph reference to the 2010 Honolulu Triathlon, scheduled for Sunday, 16 May, at Ala Moana, and the note that registration was still open.

Still open? It’s Friday, and the thing is on Sunday. Packet pick up would have to be Saturday. Could registration still be open? Back at the office, I pulled up the website. Online registration was closed, but I could register on Saturday, attend the safety briefing then, and pick up my packet while I also drop off my bike at the staging area.

So, I check the events. Standard / Olympic triathlon, and a Sprint triathlon, and then various swimming events, a 10km run, etc.

Hmmm. Olympic triathlon. Swim 1.5 km — about a mile. Ride 40km — about 25 miles. Run 10km — about 6.2 miles. I am pretty sure that the next thought that entered my head, all on its own, was, “Sh*t, I could do that.”

Poof. A plan started to form.

On and off over the rest of the day, I asked soldiers if they’d ever done a tri. Nope. One guy had done some biathlons — riding and running. I also called the wife — Do we have plans for Sunday? I was thinking of doing something stupid. And you have to love a wife who says, Oh, you totally need to do that. She called our friend of Kauai, who is a personal trainer and has both done tris and trained folks preparing to do a tri — what’s the mechanics of it all? Kauai friend came back with some good notes that the wife passed on to me. Yeah, I can totally do this.

So, when I got home from work, we talked about it some more — not about should I do this, but about how nuts it is that I am going to do this. I don’t think either of us ever had any consideration for anything other than doing this. We said stuff like, This is crazy and Who just decides to do a standard triathlon on the spur of the moment like this?

Saturday morning, and kids and I went and picked up the tiki out on the windward side (that’s a whole other story altogether), and then we all packed up and headed down to Ala Moana — they headed to the mall to shop while I went and did race things. Registration was $100 plus $10 for some associating fee. Whatever — $110 was the military rate for walk-ins like me, when regular folks were going to pay about $200 total. Do events like this get cool points for having special rates for military personnel? Do bears sh*t in the woods? I registered, I listened to the brief, I picked up my packet and got my t-shirt — a very nice one, too, which is a total bonus.

While I was waiting to get my packet, i was in the military line, and I took the chance to ask the couple in front of me for some pointers. They were Army (the tattoos were the give away), and thus we spoke the same vernacular. I should bring one towel to use for my display; place everyone onto it in front of the bike. Bring a hand towel, to clean the feet, but a pan of water is common for serious competitors (which I am not). Rarely do people use camelbaks, but if it’s how I otherwise train, go for it. Hydrate like hell on the ride. Goggles are a must. Biking shorts are almost the greatest creation on the planet, probably second only to the thong bikini. In Army speak, they filled in my information gaps, just like I needed. Totally cool.

That night, I did two things. I packed one bag with all of the big things I had to have with me — bike helmet, towels, shorts and shirts and the like. I also laid out the things to hand carry — clothes to wear, but also wallet, goggles, camera, Garmin, etc. Done, I had the kids tucked into bed and I think I was in bed by 8:30 pm, alarm set for 3:15.

I woke up at 3:10. Some cereal, some last minute checks, and I loaded my pockets with camera, goggles, etc and headed out the door. 3:38 — right on time. At 4:08, i was parking at the Hale Koa, near the start line. The staging area opened at 4:00 AM, and everyone had to be in place and ready by 5:30 AM.

And at 4:08, i realized I had left that bad of clothes, helmet, etc. at the house. No, really — I had. I remembered all the little things, but forgot the big thing.

It turns out, I can make it from the Hale Koa to our house and back in 58 minutes. Nice, huh?

I rolled right into the staging area, grounded my gear, and then got tagged with my number and picked up my chip. From there, I staged my gear on my big towel, rolled right into the safety briefing, and then right to the ocean to get ready to go. I did not have a minute to spare on any of these tasks.

First swimmers hit the water at 0600. Us older men went in around 0615. 1.5km is a nice swim; I really enjoyed it. Only drawback to it wasn’t race related, but camera related. I had mine with me, and it crapped out very quickly. I’m still not sure why. It made do as a paddle for me, though.

From the swim I made it to my bike, got changed using my nicely laid out stuff, and walked my bike out of the staging area to the mount point. Have we talked about my bike? I don’t think we have. I was riding the trek mountain bike that my dad had purchased late in life, and that came to me, via my BIL, after dad had passed. It’s not an urban mountain bike, but one actually suited for trail riding. Think big and heavy and big chunky tires for going through mud. I didn’t even bother to remove the light on the handlebar, or the bike chain and lock wound around the seat post. Fancy riding cleats? Nope. My free bike stood out like Lindsay Lohan in church. Especially considering that about 50% of the riders were on serious machines, costing in the $3000 to $10,000 range. Mine was free — I said that, right? Mine was the only bike out there that looked like it might actually have been pulled out of a canal in Amsterdam.

I was riding away from the bad weather for 10 miles, down towards the Arizona memorial, and after I’d turned around, the storm hit and the pressure dropped, turning the wind direction 180 degrees. Yes, we rode out into the wind, and rode back into the wind. On a mountain bike. At least people had nice things to say about my riding the mountain bike — how very old school, what a challenge, etc.

Oh, and it rained. Yeah, that was nice. A strong head wind, and rain.

But I made it. The ride didn’t kill me. And as I made my way through the transition area again, and stripped down for the run (ditching the sunglasses and the camelbak), the clouds parted, the wind died, and the rain ended. Another hot, hot day for a run on Oahu. Perfect. Where’s the rain when I need it, huh?

As I ran, I kept passing and being passed by this local guy who was wearing an Ironman Korea shirt. Finally, I introduced myself. Jerry, and he was doing his first tri and no, he hadn’t trained either. We ran the run together for most of the way. Pretty cool. He encouraged me to surge ahead when I spotted the wife and kids, but i didn’t.

At the very end, he hit the wall and wanted to slow down; I convinced him otherwise. We crossed the finish line together — that was pretty cool. My daughter was there with a lei, which was just about the coolest thing ever.

No sooner had I finished, than the Taiko Center of the Pacific (TCP) group started to beat their drums. We had no choice — we grabbed seats and watched their awesome performance.

So, there you have it. I was normal in my world Friday morning, and 48 hours later, I’d signed up for and completed a standard triathlon. Wildly bizarre. But, if you want to try a ri, you gotta start somewhere.

5 thoughts on “2010 Honolulu Triathlon: You gotta start somewhere

  1. Yeah, you’re doing a Tri all wrong. But, dude, you’re doing a TRIATHLON!! So I gather that those weren’t race only shoes you were running in, right? And did you sport the cool bike shorts, too?? We all determine our own level of success and pain and you, my friend, are all over it!! Congrats and what’s next? Full Iron Man 2011?!?!?


  2. ..and if you had planned to do it, I’m not sure much would be different. Way to go my friend!

  3. Wow, starting with the Olympic distance, how brave. I’m worried about my 500/20K/5K in July, now I feel even less up to the task – thanks a lot Art. In all seriousness, congratulations what an awesome job for not even training!

  4. It’s going to be a little interesting going to the office today. Saturday night, after we’d registered, we went out to dinner — and were seated next to my boss and his family. I told him I was going for it. So, I can just see what’s going to happen today — word is going to creep out that, yeah, I just up and did this. I am going to get some funny looks from people, that sideways stare that comes with, “Really?”

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