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A blog about training for my first triathlon

The First Tri

A week ago Saturday (5/22), we had our first official triathlon. Well, almost “official” triathlon – it had a swim, a bike & a run, but there were no official times. The Portland Tri club put it on, and most of my TNT team participated. It was at Vancouver Lake (same site as our usual team swims) so it was a familiar environ. It was a sprint length: ~600m swim, 12 mile ride & 5k run.

It was cold (hello, May? Aren’t you supposed to be summery?) and rainy. I was surprisingly calm, especially considering how nervous/scared I’d been all day Friday about The Swim. Knowing that MaryJane would swim with me helped a bunch. And just having distractions (setting up transition area & people to talk to) settled me down. The tri club had some mini-tutorials on how to set up a transition area, etc. Nothing that we hadn’t already covered in TNT, but nice to hear. I wish I’d paid attention to the advice to protect my nipples – cold weather caused some, um, rubbing. Anyway, I got everything set up, said my hellos & goodbyes to Jenn & the kids (who arrived a few minutes before the event began). And I set out on The Swim.

Ah, yes. The Swim. The first 25m were fine from my perspective. I was the last one to start swimming since I knew I’d be slooow and didn’t want the distraction of someone swimming over me. I was calm, swimming with slow strokes & doing well. Then my brain re-asserted its worrywart self, kindly reminding me that I can’t swim far enough. The rest of the 600m was done mostly on my back or in “sweet spot” with frequent pauses to just float on my back to get my breathing calmed down. Never was able to really get restarted in crawl. Spent a minute cursing my brain. Spent a minute clutching a kayak while waiting for an almost panic attack to pass. MJ kept me on course, literally. When I’d veer too far in the wrong direction (easy to do when on my back), she’d point me in the right direction. A couple times I was sorely tempted to hitch a ride with a kayak back to shore. But the thought of explaining to Ty & Kian why I’d quit was unbearable – even worse than actually swimming. And I wanted to be a Good Example of persevering in the face of an intimidating obstacle, even though I don’t think that the kids have an inkling how difficult this stupid swim is for me. And I’m not willing to give up being the Heroic Daddy, at least not yet. And so I persevered. I even swam parallel to the beach rather than walking out as soon as possible, though that part wasn’t too hard since by then I could stand up when tempted. I was the last out of the water with a time of 20 minutes (most folks were out in 12 minutes). My cheering squad has helped adjust my attitude since then, but at the time I wasn’t particularly proud of my accomplishment or even ecstatic at being back on dry land. A better description might be emotionally drained or chagrined that it had taken so long.

I marched up the beach & stripped off my wet suit. Said hi to Kian, who was happy that I would share my fig bars with him. Put my bike shorts on over my swim suit (tri suit should be here in time for the actual race) and headed out. I wish I’d thought to replace the plastic bag over my T2 stuff. I passed a few people before I left T1.

The bike ride was good – mostly the same route as an earlier TNT ride past Frenchman’s Bar. It was pretty chilly (though I didn’t get too cold) and the heavens opened up a few miles into the ride. I got very wet; sort of like I’d never got out of the lake. If I’d worn my Showers Pass rain jacket, I’d have been steamy. I think I’m glad I skipped the jacket. I was happy with how much easier this ride was than the previous TNT ride (my last ride on my old steel bike a couple months ago). I passed a bunch of people, which was a good feeling. Including the 10-year-old kids – though it took several miles for me to catch them. Once I got out of the water, nobody passed me. Actually, nobody passed me in the water either.

Pedaled strong all the way back to T2, where I was welcomed by Ty, Kian, Hope & Jenn. Yay! Put on my running shoes (realized that, dang! the storm came through here too), took off my helmet, kept the bike shorts (not too much padding so it didn’t really feel like running with a diaper on. Really.) and grabbed my sunglasses. It had stopped raining, but the sun never did really come out. Took it pretty easy on the run. My right foot was thinking about cramping for the first mile, but it decided not to. As usual, it took 1.5 miles to get into the Zen of running. I eventually found my groove & kept plugging along. Passed a few more people. Finished up strong and happy to see Kian & Ty & Hope & Jenn. Kian & Ty, of course, asked why it took me so long :)

Ate a hamburger, drank a Coke and went to Paula’s famous crawfish boil where I sat comatose for the next couple hours.

Swim: 20 minutes, T1 + bike = 52:29, T2 + run = 34:25.

Stay tuned – I’ve made encouraging progress in my swimming mentality in the 10 days since this race. This weekend there will be another practice tri, but with a much longer swim (a mile!). That will be a good test of my newfound mental state.

CT2R was awesome.

Everything went smoothly and everyone had fun. And we raised ~$1800 for LLS. Whoop whoop!

Jenn & I ran around getting ready for the silent auction for the last couple weeks. Got a later start than we should have, partly due to the tummy ailment that flattened the whole family for a week. We cold called a bunch of merchants, in particular ones that have given to school auctions. And we walked around downtown PDX & just walked into restaurants, hotels, shops, and the like. People are remarkably generous. The night before the show, we got very little sleep (me: 3 hours, J: 0.5 hours) putting together the auction catalog. I’m lucky that Jenn did so much and that she is so organized.

Bill flew in Friday to lend his expertise. I was happy to have him here to make sure the band stuff went well. And happy to have him around — it’s too bad that we’re thousands of miles apart.

Day of the show, Jenn & Bill drove in to the Wonder Ballroom bright & early (8am). I arrived a bit after 8:30 with the kids, just in time to see them walk into the front door. The Wonder had an event late, late the night before so the staff was dragging. Schlepped the bands’ stuff to the stage & set up the snack bar & silent auction & chairs for old people/parents. Sound checks started ~9:30, a mere 45 minutes late. Doors opened at 10am, sound checks ended ~10:15. People started bidding on the silent auction stuff right away, which was quite gratifying. The mosh pit filled up nicely. Laura took the kids & they had a great time.

Belinda & Hova & Georgia kicked off with a nice introduction at 10:30 – right on time! Just as if we new what we were doing. Recess Monkey had a great set, with lots of dancing kids. Lindsay appeared at 11am, as promised. First set ended at 11:15, Belinda & Hova said Hi, go spend money at the auction. Lindsay said Hi, LLS is good. People spent bunch o’ money on the auction & bought raffle tickets for the massive collection of kids’ music CDs (~34 discs!). Auction closed @ 11:30, The Not-Its took the stage and had another great set. Jenn & Paula ran the auction check out – which went smoothly thanks to Jenn’s superb organizational skills. 12:15: all kids worn out, show ends, everyone cheers! Schelpped the gear back to the bands’ vehicles, settled up with the Wonder (got a check that covered the deposit plus $82), went to lunch. The BBQ place was full, so we walked 6 blocks to Belly for a late brunch. Yummy. Everyone went home happy & full.

The Not-Its!

Switchback victory

Saturday’s group bike ride was a toughie. Thirty miles from McMenamin’s Edgefield up a mountain. 2000 feet of vertical climb. Missed a turn a couple miles from the end of the out & back route, so I missed the aid station. But I did get to see beautiful Clackamas County. Multomah County roads are smoother.

Here’s the switchback. Almost made it all the way up before pausing to wait for the oxygen to return to my blood.

Notice how the road starts down near the river, turns a couple times, and is suddenly hundreds of feet higher.

Of necessity, I discovered that I can go up hills slowly. Usually I stick the bike in granny gear & try to keep my cadence up. But I just didn’t have the juice on the last 400-ft hill on the way back, so I went slow & steady. That worked much better. I should find a happy medium…


April already?!

TNT’s recommitment date is bearing down – this Friday! This is the last chance for me to wuss out and decide not to do this mean, nasty triathlon after all. Will I change my mind? No!

Should your young(ish) hero really have such brimming confidence? Is it misplaced? Only time will tell. Stay tuned for the continuing adventures…

To bring you up to date, in reverse chronological order, here’s what’s been happening in training.

Yesterday I had a huge — for me — breakthrough in swimming. I swam two – count ‘em TWO – 25m lengths in a row without pausing for an instant. Never been done before in the History of Mike. Hopefully this marks the turning point in the continuing mental woes that mark my swimming career. Before yesterday, I would swim 25m, turn around at the wall, swim 4 more strokes, and then… stop. Or flip onto my back. Stupid brain. Now I need to repeat & expand.

What was the cause of this aquatic breakthrough? Positive thinking and a mantra. I haven’t had negative thinking at the top of my brain, but who knows what darkness lurks beneath? So I spent a few days obsessing about it, imagining swimming as I walk across the parking lot, the usual things that people do. And I borrowed my TNT coach Glen’s mantra that he uses on the bike & run: “I am strong, I am powerful.” Fits okay with the stroke and kept me going. Hooray!

This past weekend, I missed the team brick at Hagg Lake. So pissed. A 22-mile ride over hills and then a 3-mile run! But I was curled up in bed, and then the couch, and then the bed. The tummy ailment that took down Jenn for most of the week & affected Ty & Kian too had finally found me. I’m lucky to have a wife as nice as Jenn. She took the kids out ALL DAY despite being barely (aka not quite) recovered herself so I was able to get better. Training the previous few days was also non-existant as I ran kids around while Jenn was sick. I’m afraid I wasn’t as good of a nurse as Jenn was…

Tuesday a week ago, I went swimmin’ at LA Fitness for the first time. Cap’n Laura from TNT met me there for a little 1:1 coaching. She confirmed that I’m a mental case. My swimming form is not perfect, but is more than good enough. At least it really made me focus on getting my brain straight.

The team training on the day before easter was a blast: trail running! Forty-five minutes uphill and then 30 minutes down through a rainy, muddy, beautiful Forest Park. Like this picture, but muddy. And rainy. And a lot of fun.

The trillium were blooming, and birds were tweeting.

The week earlier was the Women’s Forum ride: a 23-mile ride from McMenamin’s Edgefield to Women’s Forum and then on to Crown Point. That’s 12.5 miles & a couple thousand feet of uphill — nearly ruined me. But it felt so good when I actually made it to the top. And the ride back down was sooo fun. And fast.

View of Vista House from Women's Forum with Bonneville Dam & Columbia River

Vista House


Ouch, that stings

Yesterday was the first day of 1.5 hour group swim. And I was just getting used to the 1 hour version. I’m still, of course, in the newbie ghetto lane. Started out promising – nice warm-up laps & then drills (catch-ups and fingertip drags). And then a 300 meter block. Three hundred meters. I make it through with flying colors, at least for me. More was done on my back than on my front, but I made it. And then comes the “ouch, that stings” part. The TNT coach asks me and a fellow poor swimmer if we’re sure that we want to do a triathlon. Because there’s this really nice duathlon that we could do. Grr. I’d really rather just learn to swim, thank you very much. Even if I can’t figure out this crawl, I’ll do the damn thing on my back if I have to. Did I say, Grr?

Jenn is helping me find a swim instructor. I’ll keep going to the group swims for the camaraderie, minutes in the water and post-swim sushi, but I’ve given up on actually getting better technique there.

One really fun part of last night’s swim was our first relay race. My 25m length went really well (I can swim fast and short, not slow and long) and my lane won. Woohoo!

Last week was a moderately sucky week training-wise. Had a cold that knocked me out of training Tuesday through Friday. Bleh. But Saturday’s group run was cool. My fellow Olympic-length triathletes & I cheered the half-Iron folks up the Skyline hill with cowbells & noisemakers. They’ll do the same for us at Pac Crest in June since their tri is on Saturday, they’ll be free to run around cheering us on Sunday. The 4+mile run was good too.

Went on a 20-mile ride Sunday from home to Fern Hill Rd. That last stretch of Blooming Fern Hill Rd just about did me in. It may not look it, but it is nearly vertical. Really.

Straight up, honest.

Rebel Ride

This Sunday I went on my first Rebel Ride – a ride led by a TNT mentor. Bling led a half dozen brave/fool-hardy bikers on a 20 mile loop through Milwaukie. It turns out that there are some pretty steep hills!

It was challenging, to say the least. I don’t think the percent climb is accurate on the plot – Bling thought that the climbs were 12+%.

My new wonder bike was up for the challenge. I was very glad that I picked a bike with a triple crank. The granny gear was worth its weight in gold. There were three big hills. The first was on Jennings: right after a right turn, there’s a hill straight up. Made it up that one with lots of huffing & puffing. The descent was awesome & fast. Note to self: don’t tell Jenn about descents again. The second big hill wasn’t as steep, but it was longer. I ran out of gas 2/3 of the way up, and walked the rest. The last big hill up River Rd was okay: not too steep, not too long. Though there was a brief moment of false hope before the road turned to reveal the 2nd half of the hill…

Overall, I had an excellent ride. I love my bike. And the post-race scones were tasty too.

A brick

We had our first brick Saturday: a flat 17-mile ride followed by a 20-minute run. We started at the Fruit Valley Park in Vancouver. There is no restroom there, and I was, umm, well hydrated. Fortunately it was only a couple blocks down the road to a gas station (with fig bars!).

We all practiced changing flat tires, set up our transition areas, and headed out. After the first significant turn (a mile into the ride), 3 bikes had flats – probably pinch flats caused by the tire changing. My tire was fine during the ride, but it went flat right after the ride was over. Probably my own pinch flat :) .

We went out Frenchman’s Trail, more or less along the Columbia.

The first 8.5 miles of the out & back ride were pretty okay. But I was mightily annoyed to discover that we’d been riding with the wind; the ride back was a lot harder. Wildlife update: frogs (ribbit), ‘possum (stationary, by the side of the road), llamas, long-horn cattle, hawk nest on powerline pole, and Holstein cattle.

The transition was fine: remembered to take off my bike helmet, changed shoes, ate a couple bites of banana, and shuffled on down the road. Shuffling was hard work. No cramps, but my legs were pretty tight. After 15 minutes of alternating running & walking, my legs finally came back and I was able to make a triumphant return to the park.

I am happy to report that this is the last ride for my Frankenstein bike. I bought a smoking Specialized Sequoia on consignment at Sellwood Cycle. That store is great. Just great – good bikes & better people.

She’s got an aluminum frame, carbon fork, seat post, seat stay. And Dura-Ace/Ultegra components: 9-speed cassette & triple crank. I was able to ride her around for a couple miles around Sellwood and I love this bike. Now I just need a name for her. Suggestions?

Still sore from that brick, 3 days later. I did manage to get in the 25-minute run on Sunday.

Swimming last night was marginally better. When I keep it all together, I do pretty well. 18-19 strokes per 25 meters, nice small kick to keep my balance, and breathing every 4 strokes. It does fall apart pretty regularly though, especially when being recorded for analysis. I think I just need to keep swimming & relaxing, the slower the better. This week I hardly stopped at all at the drop-off from shallow to deep.

Been a while

It’s been a rough week, training-wise, thanks to an annoying cold.

I biked last weekend – the Dirty Thirty with my TNT team. Dirty & Thirty both refer to US30. And dirty was an accurate description! It was a 15.5 mile loop starting in NW PDX. Went a few miles out US30 (dirty & lots of traffic), then across the St John’s bridge (dodging the broken down bus in the right lane and thinking that a functional granny gear would have been a good idea going up up up that hill). Caught a nice view of the Willamette River & downtown PDX from the top of the bridge!

Tallest bridge in PDX

Back to Portland through St John’s neighborhood. Nice area that I hadn’t been to before. My little group of ~6 kinda got lost, or were creative when following directions, as we went through the Rose Quarter & across the Steel Bridge.

Steel Bridge

And ending up back at Pyramid Brewing Co. No problem, just wet, dirty & tired.

The Monday night group swim went okay. I’m still pretty bad. On occasion, I can make it across the 25m pool in good shape and in good form. But usually I lose form & pause mid-way to regroup. Getting slowly better. I guess I’m a candidate for most improved since I’m starting at the bottom, assuming that I can get it all together.

Managed a 3 mile treadmill run on Thursday afternoon, but I was already suffering from this cold. And it has gotten worse. Skipped the group run yesterday, and nothing today either. But next week will be better!

Swimming like a fish

More precisely, “Swimming like a fish who has trouble breathing.” Or, “Swimming like a fish who gets tired really quickly.” It is a little know fact, but not all fish are good swimmers. Some fish start off pretty good for a couple laps, and then wear out. Others just find a spot a wait for food to float by their mouth. At this point, I’ve got a lot in common with that kind of fish.

As expected, swimming is the hard part of this triathlon training. It is getting better, by degrees. Tonight was the group swim at PSU’s Stott Center. I was able to swim enough that I actually have tired muscles, which is a nice improvement. The previous 2 weeks, I spent more time at the ends of the pool recovering. Waiting for my breathing & heart rate to return to close to normal. And waiting for my nerve to build up. There was still a fair amount of lengthy, um, pauses, but shorter than last week. I believe, in my head, that the training is going to work out in the end. It’s just hard to believe that I’ll be able to improve from swimming 25 m at once to swimming 1500 m at once.

The post swim sushi was easily the most enjoyable part of the evening :)

Sunday bike ride

Took my creaky bike out on a ride this morning. My bike is a Giant Sedona. Something of a hybrid creature – Schroeder valve in front & Presta in back. The 2 lowest gears actually have the same number of teeth. It’s a fine commuter bike, but it kinda sucks as a tri bike. It creaks when I pedal, which I hadn’t noticed before. The shifter for the crank needs adjustment – only the middle gear is accessible. Ok, it needs a tune-up. But, if I’m going to get a new bike, then fixing up this one is wasted effort.

.Not actually my bike, but you get the idea.

The picture above isn’t really my bike, but it seems to be a cousin. Including the fenders, rear rack, mishmash of reflective stickers & odd handlebars. But mine has a bell (thanks Ty & Kian:) ) and a Kryptonite lock holder. I’m looking forward to getting a “real” bike

Nice day – cool but not rainy. Ten mile loop from home down Rood Bridge Rd to Farmington Rd and back up Hillsboro Hwy & Minter Bridge Rd at 13.8 mi/hr. Farmland smells of decomposing vegetation – sometimes nice & sweet. Sometimes just stinky. Pretty tired by the end.