I'll never forget June 2, 2002. It was a typical blazing hot, post-Memorial Day, pre-first official day of summer in Austin—a day I anticipated with both dread and excitement. It was the day I was going to do my first triathlon, the Danskin Women's Triathlon.
There wasn't a cloud in the sky to buffer the sun as it made its ascent over Decker Lake in East Austin. Not exactly the most Walt Whitman-esque setting; it was, however, another memorable turning point in my life, which had shifted direction when, only a few months before, I had decided to do the Motorola Austin Marathon. In the fall of 2001, I’d made a conscious decision to turn my life around before I went any further down the rabbit hole of early onset adulthood self-destruction. The events of September 11 that same year only solidified my resolve to live life with passion, health, and purpose.
Friends I met through run training had convinced me that a triathlon would give me purpose after the marathon. “If you can do a marathon, you can surely do a triathlon,” they chided. In post-race bliss, I agreed and so there I was, sitting on the shore of the brown, murky lake next to a power plant, with 3,000 other people who also had the same feelings of trepidation and self-doubt.
I did train—as much as one can train with zero swimming and cycling experience. I watched a friend do a triathlon so that I could actually see how it worked. The whole “three sports with no costume change” had been a mystery to me until then. Trust me: I wasn't relieved much when I discovered that the costume (“race kit,” as I later learned to call it) was a bodysuit of spandex and Lycra. Ew. People pay for this self-mutilation? Apparently so.
That friend also helped me buy my first road bike, and I promptly loaded it up with 30 pounds of extra gear. I headed out to Decker with friends each weekend to ride the course. “Holy Moly,” I thought. “This is a beginner race?” Even now, those hills suck the life out of me. I even gave a couple of them names. The last two hills were (and always will be) “the B*tch and the B*st*rd,” as if somehow cursing them by name makes it just a little easier.
Swimming was a whole different beast. My roommate, a swimmer, took me to the YMCA to teach me what a proper stroke should look like—which was, evidently, not at all like a duck precociously flapping its wings to protect its territory. How was I supposed to have known? Until then, my swimming had mainly involved jumping off a diving board and somehow getting back to the ladder. Over three months, I trained myself to swim exactly the distance of the race: 17 laps in the pool, or 800 meters.
So, though I was super nervous (like everyone else on race morning), I knew I could do the distances. I just had no idea what I was really in for until my wave started and the trashing began. Somehow, I survived the less than 20 minutes of swimming. Of course, those who've been in an open water event understand that those minutes felt more like hours—of sheer torture. Still completely pumped up on adrenaline, I sped through transition, hopped on my two-wheeled aluminum tank, and proceeded to ride as fast as I could, as only 12 miles surely wouldn't be a big deal. Hence the big fat rookie mistake.
No one told me about pacing. No one told me about managing my effort level so that there would be gas in the tank for the run. No one told me that no water + heat = severe consequences. By mile eight, I was seeing the proverbial dead people. I remember feeling so dang hot, all while trying to figure out why I had goose bumps and chills. I pulled to the side of the road, got off my bike, and lay down in the grass, eight miles into a 12-mile bike ride, while that relentless clear blue sky spun above me. I was toast—burnt, dehydrated toast.
Many of the events of that day have faded, but the feelings I had while staring up at the sky haven't. I felt like a total failure, and this was only compounded when athletes would pass with some words of encouragement like, “You got this, sister,” or “Hang in there!” What I wouldn't have given to have traded places with them (or thrown some tacks in the road so they’d wallow in self-pity like me). I sat there trying to collect my thoughts and ego, which were melting along the pavement with my resolve, and pondered: “Do I quit? If so, who do I even tell? Where do I go?” Dang, I still had four miles to go, which seemed like an eternity. I had two choices: I could turn in my timing chip or get back on that bike and finish. Failure wasn't an option I had even considered, and so this experience had thrown me for a loop.
I told myself that, if I just got back to the transition area, I could quit. Some bargaining technique, eh? So, after a bit of time and some generous water donations, I got back on my bike and, through tears of humiliation and determination, pedaled those last four miles.
Pride, encouragement, and hydration were apparently my magic elixirs because, by the time I made it back to transition, I was ready to dig through that run. “If I can run a marathon, surely I can make it through a 5K,” I rationalized. Cheers from volunteers, family members, friends, and other athletes carried me through those 32 minutes. I walked some, and I know I felt horrible for much of it but, when I crossed the finish line, I felt exactly like the medal said: “The woman who starts the race is not the same woman who finishes.” Man, they got that right. I had gone from zero to hero in less than two hours, and it changed me forever.
During those moments by the side of the road, I was stuck in the failure trap; I didn't think I could finish. That possibility of failure was a good thing because it meant that I was putting myself out there; I was challenging myself in ways I never dreamed possible. It also meant I was facing my fears. Instead of giving into them, I got my butt back on that bike and kept pedaling. And you know what? I finished.
The hard truth is, you can't have success without failures along the way. In fact, as my inaugural triathlon experience can attest, feeling like a flat-out failure can also mean success is just a few miles away. You just have to climb your versions of the B*tch and the B*st*rd to get there.
Growing up, I have always been an athlete. I was actively playing sports during elementary school and eventually, became a varsity player in high school and college. I did not have any idea what a triathlon is all about. For me, running was done only during practice and games for basketball, soccer and softball. And just like everyone, I ride the bike for leisure. What’s more, born and raised on an island – Cebu, Philippines, you do not think about swimming as a sport, but rather, you simply go to the beach, lay on the sand, get from point A to point B, and you’re good.
A few years back, I worked for a sporting events company that organized aquathlons, duathlons and triathlons. It opened me to this world. In 2015, I supported my first Ironman 70.3 in Bintan, Indonesia, and seeing the triathletes crossing the finish line was just a mixed emotion. That moment made me realize that triathletes are of all forms and sizes, that the sport was not purely physical but it was a lot more mental, and it takes a lot of heart to do it. At that point, I somehow found myself smiling, saying, “Someday.…”
Fast forward to 2017 - I was at 175 lbs, in a foreign country, and a big smoker and drinker. After being in a battle with myself, I came to understand that the only person that could help me was - me. I accepted the situation and I realized that I need to lose weight so I can start running. And with help from new-found friends, I signed up for the Cap10K Race and started training for it by the end of the year. In February 2018, the same group of friends handed me a Rookie Tri flyer and said, “You wanted to do a triathlon, right? Here you go!” And I replied, “I am not crazy and I don’t have the training!” The friendly response I received was, “It is not until May, you have time to train.”
And that was it! That flyer sealed my triathlon path.
The feeling of excitement and anxiety dawned on me at the same time. It was like falling in love, the you know but you do not know kind of thing. If broken down, I can swim 300 meters, ride a bike for 12 miles and run for 2 miles, that I was sure of. But the real question was, if I can do all three in one setting, I had to be sure. Also, I did not want to start something and not be able to finish it.
So, I started with what I knew. Confident enough and given my background on the Cap10K Race, I was going to last a 2-mile run. This left me with only the bike and swim to worry about. Then given my island background, I was confident that I should be able to swim, I mean, how hard can it be. So, I focused on the bike.
As I worked on getting a road bike, I found out about the Bicycle World (BW) Rookie Tri Training weekend and that included a bike route preview. I was going to use this preview as my gauge, if I can finish the course it should mean I can do it and I will sign up for the race. But unfortunately, the bike I purchased will not arrive in time for it, BW was able to lend me a bike. And then, as I didn’t have a car, I had to find a way to get to Decker Lake at 8:00 AM from South Lamar. If you think my challenge is over, well, not quite yet. Looking at the map and bus times, I will not be able make the start time if I will be taking the bus the whole way. Pretty much there was only one option - take bus to Republic Square Station then ride from 4th Street to Walter E Long Park via the South Walnut Creek Trail, what’s 12 miles, right? I never thought I will make it on time, for some reason, I arrived 5 minutes before start time and was able to ride the Rookie route with the group! You do not want to know what went through my mind at that time. I walked up that great big Rookie hill, but I survived. I was the last three who finished, but I did it. Not only did I get through the course, but an entire 24 miles that morning! You should see my smile.
Later that day, I met the best supportive group ever - Meredith, Don and of course, Jennifer! For a then aspiring triathlete, these people are the greatest influences and mentors, particularly Jennifer, who introduced us to the Austin Triathlon Club. I joined the club happy hour that Monday which led to my becoming a member of the club then signing up for the Rookie Triathlon.
When I got my bike, I wanted to make sure I will be race ready, so I practice as much as I can by riding to work almost every day.
Getting accustomed and comfortable with the bike, now I needed to make sure that I am all good with the swim. I was very confident I can, I know the basics, I took swimming lessons the summer before my 6th grade and pretty much spent almost all my summer vacations and every possible time I can on the beach, in the water. Treading the water was not an issue, I am not afraid of the water and I believe I can swim. But I do acknowledge the fact that I do not know the technical side of swimming. To help with it, I signed up with the Open Water Swim Clinic and Wetsuit Demo at the Quarry. The first time I got into the water I was shocked at how cold it was, and for some reason I felt engulfed by it. My body was like lead, it was heavy! I thought it was just my initial reaction as I only stayed in the water for around 15 minutes but it was not. Then, my next open water exposure was during the Splash and Dash. The experience and feeling was the same - the coldness engulfed me and I felt like drowning. I barely made it to the first buoy, but I had to gather up my strength and swim back. With all of this, I realized that the swim turned out to be the most challenging. The water in Texas is not my friend, not just yet and I made a vow to make friends with it, no matter what. Together with my Tri friends and mentor, we had open water swim practices, we swam in Barton Springs, the Pflugerville Lake, Lake Austin and in Decker Lake. I feel a little better every time but the constricting feeling is still there. Aside from the weekend open water swim, I practice in the pool three times a week to prepare for race day.
It is true, the excitement level the night before is just out of this world. I made sure everything is ready and the checklist that I received during the preview helped a lot. To help me sleep, with the information I gathered from my tri friends and mentor, a beer before race night was a savior! I then woke up before my alarm, got ready and rode with Daniel to the race venue. We arrived past 6:00 AM, the flurry of activities and the buzzing of excitement was building up as the sun was rising. I was just soaking everything in. Good thing I remembered Craig’s tip to hydrate while waiting for start time. We did a walk through from the swim start, swim end to the transition area and I visualized the course in my mind. Thinking about all this, I tried to shake the fear that was creeping inside me and it came along the words start time and swim leg. My eyes kept on straying to the water, measuring the distance between buoys and that question of whether I can complete it. While on the line, I was all smiles but deep inside I kept saying over and over, “I just need to finish the swim, I will NOT be fished out of the water…” Then just like that, it was start time, I was not scared, I was annoyed because I was slow. It felt like everyone just kept passing me, and that I was not moving at all. I just prayed, “Please just let me finish the swim, please get me to my bike and I will be fine.” After what seems like forever, I was at the end of the swim leg. I thought I was the last person out of the water, so I took the chance to look back and I saw some others still in the water - I was happy! And so, the race started for me. I ran the hill to transition, dropped my swim cap, goggles and put on my sunglasses, helmet and shoes. I carried my bike to the mount line, got on my bike and rode off grinning. I huffed and puffed uphill and flew downhill. I pedaled as fast as my legs can and before long, I was at the dismount line. Now it is almost over, I thought, just 2 miles of run. The last half mile was brutal, you can hear the cheers echoing from the finish line but you know you are not there yet. My legs were heavy but I know it was just my mind telling me I cannot do it anymore. I was being passed by participants of every age group, I was starting to listen to the little voice inside telling me that I was tired. But then I saw someone in front of me who is in the 50+ age group, so I told myself, “If she can, then I sure can!” I just kept on going and before I knew it the finish line was just up ahead and I crossed it beaming! I was thinking, “I did it! Yes! All the months of training, all done! Yes! Now what?”
So that’s the start of the beginning for me. I decided to choose training over smoking and been smoke-free now for a year, of course I drink but not as much as I used to. I did two more sprint triathlon last year – Marble Falls and Kerrville. For this year, I will be back to improve my time on those races and as my main race, I signed up for the Kerrville Half Distance.
No, I am not crazy, I just know I can, so I will.
See you out there!
In 2011, I found myself in a fitness rut. I was bored, unchallenged and felt pretty unmotivated. Up to this point I’d run numerous half and full marathons. I liked having a goal race in front of me, and I found I geeked out on having a training plan/calendar I could follow. I needed that goal race, but I didn't want to run another marathon. Running was really what I excelled at in the world of sports, so how could I incorporate that, but differently?
My gym, Pure Austin Fitness, was pretty much the triathlon training headquarters in Austin at the time. Just about everyone at the gym had competed in, or was training for, a triathlon. They had master swim classes, brick workouts, awesome cycling classes, weekend run groups and a quarry where triathletes could practice open water swims.
I’m gonna be honest, I was pretty intimated by these “triathletes.” Deep down though, I really wanted to take a stab at the sport. I tried not to let the intimidation factor get to me, but just being around all these amazing athletes made me want to be one too! There was only one problem, I didn’t know how to swim AT ALL.
While the swim is the shortest leg in a triathlon, it was also the greatest hurdle in my decision to start the sport. Thoughts of drowning during my first race came to mind. Swimming was a big deciding factor for me and I almost gave up, but I didn’t.
I researched adult beginner swim lessons and found a program through the City of Austin. The class was eight sessions at a local pool by my house. So in eight short sessions, I too could be an expert swimmer, right? Wrong! While the sessions were great, they only taught me the very basics of freestyle swimming and they were in a pool, not the open water. As I came to find out later, open water swimming is a totally different experience. But, the class did give me a foundation and the many months of practice gave me the confidence.
So I had done it! I had “learned” how to swim, or at least how to not drown. With the greatest hurdle for me now conquered, I committed to signing up for my first triathlon. Next big decision, what race to choose? In the spring and summertime in Austin, there were no shortage of race options! I needed a beginner friendly race for women, and that’s why I chose The Danskin Women’s Triathlon.
With the Danskin on the horizon, I needed a support system. I recruited two of my girlfriends to train and race with me. This would be their first triathlon as well. With the help of the internet, I came up with a simple sprint-triathlon distance training plan. I spent lots of extra time in the pool, since I was still such a newbie. I was super freaked out about the swim portion of the race and I made practicing the swim a huge focus of my training.
Me and my training buddies decided the weekend before the race we would do a mini race on the actual course. It was a great way to get familiar with the course itself and to practice transitioning. Transitioning can be a little overwhelming for a newbie. How do I go from swimming in that big, gross lake to riding my bike? I don’t get it? Do I dry off? Do I change? Where are the changing rooms? What do I change into? Where the hell is my bike again?? All this stuff comes with practice, and that’s what we did.
First was the swim. We decided we should practice the full 500 meters since it was such a “short” distance (meanwhile, I’m panicking about how FAR that is!) and we all needed open water swim training. This would be my first attempt EVER at an open water swim. I took a deep breath and jumped in, focusing on the freestyle stroke I’d recently learned, but when I started breathing to the side, I COMPLETELY freaked out! I had a total panic attack in the water. There’s no bottom to this lake, or if there is, I can't find it! There’s no end to the lake…it goes on F.O.R.E.V.E.R! Oh my God, OH MY GOD, OHHH MYYY GODDD, I’M GOING TO DROWN. I tried to push through, but I was hyperventilating so bad I couldn’t breathe. That would end my swim. I failed that day. Completely.
We went on to practice the bike course, which went ok, but I was still pretty freaked out by my open water experience. Last was the run, which was my expertise. I started running and I couldn’t believe how wobbly my legs felt. Up to that point, I’d never practiced what they call, in the triathlon world, a “brick” workout, (a bike and run workout back-to-back). I could hardly put one foot in front of the other, but I powered through. I was amazed at how tired I felt and how hard that 5k run was. It was a real eye opener.
After three months of training, it was time to PROVE I COULD do this! I had gone to my gym a couple days before the race and practiced another open water swim in the quarry. Going into the practice swim, I knew what to expect this time and I did OK. I didn’t panic, and that was the important thing. I was going to put the panic attack behind me and power through. Race day finally came.
My training buds and I arrived super early on race day to stage our gear in the transition area. With our transition areas set, we waited for what seemed like an eternity, and all I could think about was the swim. They finally called my age group for the swim and we all marched into the water. I chose to stay in the back, and off to the side, as I had read this was a good position for newbie swimmers. The horn sounded and we were off! I maintained my perfect freestyle form, breathing side to side, while remaining calm. Very calm. Then I got kicked in the face (yeah, that happens). I recovered quickly and got back into my zone. Finally, I could see the final buoy…I was ALMOST to the swim finish! I was really going to do this, and I did it! I got out of the water with such a sigh of relief. I had officially finished my first open water swim and I was off to transition to get on my bike.
I finished the 12-mile bike course without any problems, and I felt pretty good on the run, but noticed I felt so tired afterward. I was good at running, but running after swimming and biking was so much more challenging. Finally, I’d crossed that finish line! I’d done it. I had completed my first triathlon, and y’all, I felt so good! I was so proud of myself, and I was hooked. That race in 2011 would be a huge fitness milestone for me and would start a whole new journey for me.
For my first triathlon, my key takeaway’s were:
As some people may know, my journey started because I happened across the 2012 USAT Para-athlete National Championships in downtown Austin. That's when I realized I had no excuse not to “tri”. The husband of one of my clients was a coach and he agreed to help. That man was our very own Craig Kuglen.
Now, I was already a runner, and I rode a mountain bike as well. Swimming was my nemesis. You see, when I first started, I couldn't even swim to the end of a 25-yard pool without gasping for air. Did I mention that I was a smoker too? So that didn't help.
For about three weeks Craig worked with me on my swim, run, and taught me how to ride a tri bike, all the while talking me into my first tri. I still couldn’t swim after that three weeks, but I succumbed to his "encouragement", and signed up for my first tri, the Tri For Old Glory sprint. Craig said it was a good one to start with. The swim was an individual start (at the time most others were age group mass start), the water was shallow, and I could get to the side easily and walk if I got into trouble. The bike was rolling and the run was flat.
My nerves were bundled the closer and closer we got to the day of the event. My husband, Sam, was encouraging me that I could do this, and helped me get to the start while trying to keep my nerves in check - not an easy task!
Here we go! The day of the event. I was going to do this. At least Craig was there to show me the ropes, and Sam was there for support. Craig and I arrived in transition with our bikes, mine borrowed from him, and our gear, me in basically swim jammers, to get set up. I was looking around at all the athletes thinking to myself, what did I sign up for? Can I do this? Lord help me…
After we set up our area, Craig encouraged me to visualize walking myself from swim to bike to run, something I still do today, to make sure I know where everything is. When I walked up to the swim entrance, my heart started to pound with anxiousness. Who knew that the swim always looks longer on race day? I had mentally prepped for this moment, but not enough. Both Sam and Craig tried to help me with the nerves, but still I was worried. I walked through the motions of what I was to do, checked my gear in transition, hit the restroom...Rinse, Lather, Repeat.
Time to start. We lined up single file line to enter the water, me towards the back (I didn't want to get swam over). One by one athletes entered the water, until it was my turn. As I approached the water, Sam screamed "you got this baby!" - if only that was the case! I jumped in and away I went... sort of.
I swam like my life depended on it, and in my head, it did. I swam so hard - not well, but hard - that I ran out of steam and had to get to the side within the first 100 yards. When I got to the side, there was Sam encouraging me and telling me that I went out too fast, to slow down and that I got this. I wanted to quit so bad!
After a moment I was on my way, basically crawling near the shore trying to pull myself together. All the while, Sam was there telling me I can do it. I mustered up enough strength and determination to carry me through the rest of the swim, all the while swimming in the shallowest (and I mean SHALLOW) part of the water to the exit. There had never been someone happier to be out of the water.
I made my way to transition, grabbed my bike, and I was off. As I was riding those 12 miles, my mind was racing with thoughts. I kept telling myself, I got this, I got this! Don't let what happened in the water ruin the rest of race. I pedaled faster, and faster the madder I got about the swim. So much so that I almost wiped out taking a turn.
I got back to transition and gathered my run gear, and I was off. Run is my favorite part of the tri and I ran, I ran, and I ran. I was so happy to almost be done. And as I was approaching the finish line, the tears started to fill my eyes. I did it. I actually did it! This smoker of 20+ years did their first tri!
I finished, gathered my stuff, and was on the way out of transition when I learned one of my first lessons. NEVER take off your numbers from your body and your bike before leaving. As we walked out, the nice volunteer told me I couldn't take the bike out because there was no number. The bike was not mine, but Craig's. I panicked and tried to explain. Luckily Craig was right there to help explain, and eventually we were let out. Whew!
It was honestly one of the best feelings I have ever had. To know that I finished something that I never thought I would do. This moment changed my life forever. I didn't place, not even close, but I was proud. Proud of what I did. Proud of what I would become. Who knew that at that moment that I would be an Ironman today?
Let me take you back the year 1986. Besides some Farrah Facet styled hair, most women were wearing massive shoulder pads and men were sporting the ever infamous Member’s Only jackets. Haley’s Comet made its closest encounter with earth, the space shuttle Challenger shocked the world by exploding just over a minute after takeoff, Oprah Winfrey made her TV talk show debut, and Andrea Fisher entered her first triathlon at the age of 13. Well, ok so I’m pushing the actual importance of my triathlon entry a bit in comparison, but the reality is that I was trying to paint a picture of when I did my first race – A LONG FREAKING TIME AGO!
Trying to recall that day, 33 years later, is like teeing up my parent’s old carousals of Kodak picture slides. I hit the button, click, a new photo appears in my mind….I hit the button again, click, and another photo appears in my mind. With that being said I would love to recall those photos, one by one, as they pop into my head.
Click: I remember a woman at the beach tell me she was doing a triathlon and that it was going to be really hard. I’m guessing that triggered something in my competitive mind, because I do remember thinking “Well heck, I swim faster than this lady!”
Click: There was a bike store where my mom took me to look at bikes. I think the reason I walked away with a stylish Raleigh Technium 8 speed was probably because it was affordable and fit me. I’m guessing the downtube shifting and stylish metal toe clip/Velcro pedals didn’t look to awesome, but that red-white-blue paint job made me feel like Wonder Woman! Of course the fact that I also walked away with a mandatory bike helmet made out of Styrofoam and netting did nothing to boost my super hero powers…..I literally could go put a $1.99 disposable cooler from HEB on my head right now and it would provide more safety than that thing did!
Click: Race day at Schoolley’s Mountain Triathlon! I show up with my bike and shoes. I look around and wonder why everyone has a bucket of water by their bike?
Click: I’m swimming, and there’s one person next to me (I was a really good swimmer at this point, but that’s it….stay tuned for more on the explosion to come) and THERE WAS NO WAY I was not getting out of that water first. I killed myself as hard as I could to swim as fast as I could….and yes I exit the water in front of her….and then proceed to collapse on the beach because I’m completely exhausted.
Click: I’m at my bike, feet dripping and covered in mud. AHA!!!! Now I know why there are buckets of water! To wash your feet off before putting shoes on. Oh well, I carry on with my muddy feet/shoes to the bike but at least this would be the 2nd time ever for me to ride my new bike (Note to reader, I SAID 2nd TIME EVER TO RIDE THIS BIKE!)
Click: I’m on the bike course, and don’t know how to shift or ride up a hill on this bike with the downtube shifting. I walk it up a few hills and I coast down a few hills riding those brakes like my life depends on it. I have promptly gone from 1st out of the water to 220th off the bike coming into transition.
Click: I’m on the run course. I have never run outside of the 100 meter sprint required of the yearly Presidential Fitness Testing at school, so 3 miles won’t be too hard right? As I walk most of the 3 miles and have every other person who passes me ask “Honey, you ok? Do you need some help. I eventually finish in 436th place. There are 437 people entered in the race.
Click: Post race I’m sitting in the Dover New Jersey diner eating a hot roast beef sandwich with gravy and mashed potatoes. That was the BEST hot RBS I have ever eaten to date and I knew I earned every bite!
I went to work later that afternoon at the beach (I was a lifeguard) and as I sat there on my chair I was beaming. I didn’t cry or pout because I was 2nd to last….instead all I remember was thinking “HOLY CRAP….I did a triathlon earlier today and I finished!” Not a single person at that lake knew what I had done a few hours earlier, but I knew and for that I was so proud of myself. Even at a young age I took away what was most important from my first triathlon….I put a goal out there that was super crazy for me, I may have not prepared the best I could have for it but I tried the best I could at that time, and I tried something challenging and new. It would be 10 years later before I did my next triathlon, but to this day when things get tough I think back to that 13 year old naïve girl trying to finish the last 3 miles and I keep going. Now if I could just find a hot roast beef sandwich (with gravy) as good as that one in the diner…….there’s nothing I wouldn’t be able to do!
My first triathlon was actually a fluke so-to-speak. The 2016 Rookie Tri (300m swim, 11.2-mile bike, 2-mile run), was my attempt to help a friend, and myself, lose weight (I was 41 and 255 pounds at 6’1.5”). He thought a sprint triathlon would be a fun way to do it since he liked to swim. This probably wouldn’t have been a problem if, 1) we would have decided more than a month before the triathlon were to take place to sign up 2) I hadn’t just undergone bilateral knee surgeries #4 & #5 six months prior, and 3) if I owned a bike.
I didn’t have much time to train, but plenty of time to worry. I was still rehabbing from knee surgery, and given the short time to train, I focused on swimming and riding. While all my doctors discourage running with my knee issues, swimming and biking are highly suggested. The biggest thing for me was to not over train the month before the tri and be so sore and fatigued that I wouldn’t be able to race.
Since I knew how to swim, I focused on that. The good news: the swim distance was only 300 meters. The bad news: the swim distance of 300 meters doesn’t seem like much until you try to swim it. I started in the pool and then made sure to swim in a few different open water spots around Austin. Barton Springs became my really cold friend. I was having trouble freestyle swimming, so I focused on the breaststroke and worked on perfecting my form while training. The biking was a whole different beast. I didn’t own a bike when I signed up for the tri, so I took advantage of all of the spring bike sales in Austin. I chose a hybrid bike as a starter bike, and got in plenty of rides during the month. I even rode the bike course a few times and struggled with those “Rookie” course hills. Since I planned to speed-walk the run, I only worked on increasing my overall fitness for that. In the end, I was pretty happy with where I was feeling after the bike rides, but I wasn’t confident about my swimming.
Race day showed up really fast! From a tip I had read on lots of tri websites, I laid out my transition and equipment the night before. I was sure I had everything, but, 5 AM comes early. I was nervous, but the pre-race stretches helped calm my nerves. Waiting in line to get into the water was where the nerves sprung up again. The wind was really strong on race day, gusting to 20-25 mph into our face. The open water had small white caps and looked rough. Many of the guys in my age group were nervously chatting about how they hadn’t practiced swimming in open water. That would come back to bite them. I was towards the back of the line going into the water, and I observed A LOT of people grabbing the lifeguard canoes and the buoys. The water was rough and I got my goggles kicked a few times. I was glad I had practiced breaststroke since the water so rough. I don’t think I could have freestyled in that water. I felt good after my swim and was proud I had completed it without taking any breaks or needing any assistance. The path to transition was a long uphill path, so I took my time so I didn’t injure my knees at all.
Transition went pretty smoothly and I felt good getting onto my bike. The first 1.5 miles went well. However, once I turned into the head wind, it was like I put a sail on my back and I was going head-first into a wall and barely moving. I was happy to get back to transition, but wasn’t looking forward to the “run”. My legs were gassed, and I hadn’t really practiced going from cycling to a run or walk. Big mistake! That 2 miles seemed like 20. In addition, it had recently rained, so the course was muddy and changed to include some hills that were rough on my knees. I wasn’t taking any chances with my knees so soon after surgery, so I walked the hills, but (against my doctor’s orders and my better judgement) slow-jogged the flatter sections. Finally coming around the last bend helped me pick up the pace and finish strong. My goal was to finish my first Rookie Tri in 90 minutes, and I missed it by only 3 minutes. I was tired and sore, but proud that I had finished.
Unfortunately, that tri really slowed down my knee rehab. It took me about a year to feel right again in order to train for another race. I got back into riding my bike and started swimming again in late 2017. I joined the Austin Tri Club in the spring of 2018 and have really started to push myself and my training thanks to the group. They support and motivate me as I safely train for aquabike challenges (no more running...ever) and I enjoy cheering on my club-mates as they compete too.
Earlier this year, I completed Ironman Texas in the Woodlands. I had a great time and wanted to share some insights on why I think this race is so appealing.
Saving Time and Money
I think that being able to drive to a local race instead of flying is really appealing for someone and here’s why. These races aren’t cheap and anyway you can find a way to save money is a plus. Having your own personal vehicle and not having to ship your bike makes all the difference in the world. I like that this is one of the few races that is still on Saturday than Sunday. It has been a while since I have done an Ironman race, but I do not remember having the ability to talking to the Pro’s during the Pro Panel (there wasn’t one in previous Ironman races) and having a “Free Banquet” for all the athlete’s. The banquet had some good “Free” food too – beef tenderloin, multiple different salads, fruits, vegetables, all kinds of desserts, and drinks. Did I mention that you could return for seconds too. During the banquet all kinds of items were talked about like who are the youngest and oldest person that are participating in the race and why, who lost the most weight, do you remember when you sign up for an Ironman race 70.3 or 140.6 they ask you about your story. This is where these stories are told and some of them are just inspiring. Most everyone goes to the banquet to see new and old friends that are participating in the race, and did I mention that the food is free too. Any time, that you can save money is a plus and the last time I looked Ironman usually doesn’t give you anything for free.
Fan Support and Volunteers
There are some ironman races that are just OK, some that are good, and some that are excellent. This one I would have to put in the excellent category. The reason being is that the whole city gets behind it, the volunteers are just excellent, and the fan support from the swim, bike, and run were the best that I have seen anywhere from 70.3’s (have done 6 in the past all over the country) to 140.6. (done 2 before this one). The fan support makes this one of the best Ironman race so much so that Ironman athletes stated so in 3 categories in 2017 – Best Overall Run, Best Host City Experience, and Best Post Race Celebration as I couldn’t agree more, and I will continue to do this race for as long as I can. I would also add because this is somewhat of a local race less than 3hrs from Austin that your loved ones and friends will be able to watch you in person at the race if they decide they want too.
The swim is in Lake Woodlands can be wetsuit legal or non-wetsuit legal. It’s a rolling start which means you start at approximately the time it takes you to swim 2.4 miles. The buoys are on the left throughout the course when you make the turn into the canal approx. half to three quarters of mile from the finish it gets crowded since it isn’t as wide as when you’re in the lake the plus side is that you are able to draft on other swimmers to go faster and use less energy. Another plus coming into the finish since this is a canal you will see fan support lining the sides of the canal cheering for everyone, in my book this pretty.
The Bike course is on Hardy Toll Road which is closed to traffic for this race and only medical staff, race officials, and race participates can be on this road. The surface is very smooth on the toll road. The toll road is flat and fast. The aid/water/special needs stations are approx. 15 miles apart from each other. Approx. elevation gain 2,375ft. You will do 2 loops which will be 100 miles before heading back to the bike finish and transition area for the run.
The run course is 3 loops around the Lake Woodlands and through some neighborhoods. The aid stations are about a mile apart from the each other with all your favorites – water, Gatorade, cola, Red Bull, banana’s, pretzels, chips, soup broth at night, etc. The fan support for the run course is outstanding as people are lined up all around it and more around the restaurants and waterway path system area as you run by as the energy in these areas are party atmosphere and helps you get through the run easier. This is one of my favorite run courses for any of the Ironman races. The run up the shoot for the finish line is lined with many fans, family members and friends waiting for you to cross that finish line as it’s a party atmosphere and fun one at that too.
I hope to see everyone again next year. Good luck in your triathlon journey!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Mike is a veteran of multiple 140.6 races, 70.3s, olympics, and sprints. He joined Austin Tri Club in fall 2017, soon after its launch. Next up for Mike is Ironman Buffalo Springs 70.3, Ironman Chattanooga, and then Ironman Waco 70.3.
Austin Triathlon Club is a non-profit social and training club that promotes triathlon across the Austin area. Our members include triathletes of all abilities, from beginners to experienced Ironman athletes. We are a welcoming and inclusive club, meaning that you can be a member of Austin Tri Club, and still be a part of another team or train with a personal coach. The Club is an all-volunteer, member-run community. For more information and to join, please check out our membership page.
Earlier this month despite my most creative excuses (jellyfish and sharks are valid fears), DNF jokes and self-sabotage efforts, I finished the biggest race of my life to date: Galveston 70.3 Half-Ironman. Of course as I write this, I already know it won’t be the last tri or the longest because that’s the deal with us triathletes (wannabe or elite). We can’t stay away from a good challenge. Who else is seeking out and signing up for THREE sports in ONE race for fun? In the words of one of my favorite race signs: “Smile, you paid for this!” It’s true, except for the fact no amount of money can purchase the determination and grit it takes to show up and finish. It’s this exception that makes it all worth it. So in honor of Austin Tri Club, the only reason I felt brave enough to take on this race, I wanted to share a few of my most memorable lessons and stories.
If we fast forward past the nerves, cold toes and stomach jitters of earlier that morning, the swim was hands down my favorite part. All of sudden there were no fancy bikes, helmets and gear. Any pressure I felt from the check-in day before and comments on forums faded away. In a sea of wetsuits and brightly colored swim caps, we all looked the same. Then as we started moving up the dock, the anticipation and excitement in the air was almost tangible. It was infectious and in a curious way, also a little calming. I was ready to face whatever came next and when in doubt, I would just keep swimming (cue Finding Nemo Dory voice). For the first time all weekend, I knew I was meant to be there.
Then, we had to jump off the dock to get to the starting line. Maybe because I had my friend/mentor next to me or maybe it was Pitbull was blasting in the background, but either way, it felt like an adult summer camp and ironically enough the water was going to be warmer than standing outside.
I was joking about something as the buzzer went off - and then it began! Contrary to the spartan wars I had been warned about, our start was far nicer and polite than I expected. As we spaced out, I started to follow the wise “swim slower” advice. It felt ridiculous, but seemed to be working great. Apart from the brief moment when I swallowed too much sea water and wondered if the kayak closest to me was following me as a DNF candidate, the swim flew by and the moment I saw the final turn to shore is a moment I’ll never forget. Pretty sure I smiled underwater the rest of the way. I felt like I could do anything. Literally, “it is all downhill from here” was my mantra for the first 10 miles of the bike. While that was definitely not the case, I will never forget that swim.
Given that adrenaline rush, I am only half kidding when I say I felt like a pageant queen on the bike. Not to mention the miles of fans with signs and cowbells. They may not have been there for just me, but it didn’t matter. This atmosphere paired with some lucky nutrition choices kept me in high spirits (and still grinning) for much longer than I expected. So of course when I dropped my cute new pink water bottle (lesson #99) at mile 20, you bet I got off the bike and jogged back along a ditch for it. I wonderfully had no idea how much the cold wind on the way back would kick my butt.
Which brings us to… THE RUN. The infamous “run.” The ONLY part of the race that I foolishly did not joke about quitting. Now I “get it.” Yet as I somehow propelled my body forward out of transition on frozen toes, I was still very much in denial. With cookies at the first aid station and cheers from the Austin Tri Club tent, I enjoyed the distraction from the fact I was on lap one of three with 13 miles (the longest distance I’ve ever run) to go and burning quads. This instantly changed as I noticed a “Mile 9” sign not applicable me and could’ve sworn some faster runners were prancing. In an effort to refocus, I tried the “walk 30 seconds, run 1 minute” approach for the first lap. It was absolute torture every time I had to start moving again. Not to mention, my walking pace almost made me wonder if I was moving backwards. But if I unexpectedly killed the swim and somehow survived the bike, I had no excuse. With the adrenaline and fast runners gone in the final lap, it was just me. I don’t know if I’d describe it as disassociating or just simply turning off everything to focus on the next step but it worked. The second lap was a blur and by the third lap, it was pure momentum. It was in those final grueling miles,I knew I was finishing this race and silently begged myself to never do it again (LOL).
So in true competitive nature, I will be doing this again since I can’t quite say I’m a full IRONMAN. However, I won't be doing it to prove I'm finally a triathlete. I was a triathlete before I started the race in Galveston, even if I couldn't see it yet. I became a triathlete when I showed up for the Rookie Tri last year with my cheap Schwinn bike and soccer shorts. Just as the half-IRONMAN was significant longer, I had to face my insecurity, fear and anxiety alone when I showed up last year. I didn't have the community I have now, but I did have the drive in me and you do, too. It’s why I’m thrilled to be part of this club and look forward to having fun as we learn more about this sport together. PS, I'm happy to say I confidently mastered the clipless pedals, a week after the race.
This blog post is not sanctioned by the author as a trusted athletic resource or legitimate way to approach your next race. It’s simply an honest look of what it means to listen to the tiny piece in you that believes you’re capable of something seemingly impossible.
Welcome to the Austin Triathlon Club blog! Through this blog, Austin Tri Club members can share their triathlon knowledge and experiences. If you are interested in blogging for Austin Tri Club, please contact us.