A Foray Into Multi-discipline Racing
By Sean Zimmerman-Wall
The pain starts in my lower right abdomen and slowly proceeds into my right arm; eventually my entire torso is on fire. My body screams at me to pull my cap off and signal for help. For some reason, I keep swimming. Perhaps a signal from deep within my cortex pushes me further, the pain lessens and the shore comes closer with each flailing stroke. Nearly 30 minutes after entering the water, I drag my oxygen-deprived body onto the ramp and stagger towards my bicycle. I contemplate my decision to take on this challenge and question my sanity as I strap on my helmet and begin the uphill climb that awaits me.
Flash back three months; I’m at a party. As I casually sip my beverage, my friend Cindy says she is doing a sprint triathlon and that I should join her. In my inebriated state I agree and then return to the night’s festivities. About a week later, Cindy calls me to ask what time I want to meet at the pool. “I thought you were joking,” I reply. Sure enough, she was serious, so I grab my shorts and head to the rec center.
Coming from a running background, swimming has never been very interesting, and I only use my skills when accompanied by the possibility of certain death. Cindy, however, swam at the collegiate level and has been in the pool since she was a child. With this in mind, she took it easy on me in the water, and I showed her a thing or two about land training. By the end of the day, we’d hashed out a game plan and embarked on a physical and mental journey that neither of us could have imagined.
Our initial plan was to start training by spending two nights a week swimming, biking and running together. Having someone to keep you honest about your training schedule is extremely helpful and seeing each other progress can be motivational. Cindy had her heart set on competing in the Park City Triathlon, which was in its inaugural year in 2010. Deciding that the sprint distance (750M swim, 13.5-mile bike and 5K run) would be enough of a challenge, we set feasible preliminary training goals and worked toward the target distances in each discipline.
This being the first time either of us had competed in a triathlon, we searched the Internet and found information on creating a regimen that built upon itself over the course of 10 weeks. Beginnertriathlete.com offered insightful tips on developing realistic goals and even provided weekly workouts that would break in our bodies for the rigors of such an event. The website also offered ideas for maintaining a proper diet to maximize caloric intake and build fast, lean muscles. Although, beer wasn’t on the menu, we decided that the extra carbs couldn’t hurt.
Since swimming was the first event, and my weakest link, I decided to focus my attention on developing consistent stroke and breathing techniques that I could fall back on once the race started. The Steiner Aquatic Center at the University of Utah provided an excellent venue for skill building, and the outdoor 50-meter lap pool whipped me into shape in no time. I’ll admit that it was a bit intimidating seeing all the hard-core swimmers in their sleek suits sprinting up and down the lanes, but they all had welcoming attitudes that made it fun. At first I had trouble completing two laps (200M) without stopping, but within a month, I was up to eight.
After an hour of pool training, we hopped on our bikes for a few laps around campus. Being an adrenaline junkie, the only bike I had was my mountain bike, which weighed about 35 pounds and had only eight gears, six of which actually worked. Although heavy and a bit clunky, I felt that if I could pedal up 400 South on that behemoth, I could certainly ride a lightweight road bike just about anywhere. We finished each day of training by running two miles at a moderate pace, simply enjoying the sunset over downtown Salt Lake City.
Over the next six weeks, we tried to keep our sessions together, but due to our hectic schedules, we often trained alone. I kept swimming laps and even managed to get in a few open water swims. A word of advice to anyone wishing to compete in a triathlon, most swims are open water, which is far different from the calm, controlled environment of your local pool. Wind and waves play havoc on your breathing patterns, and being away from the shore can be a bit unnerving. Not to mention the temperature difference. The water temperature in Jordanelle on race day was a chilling 69 degrees. Next time I’ll wear a wetsuit!
In the two weeks leading up to the event, I was consistently swimming 2000M a week, biking 30 miles and running 15 miles. This may seem like a lot for someone just getting started, but if you wish to be competitive, this is about average.
Finally, the day of the race arrived. We ditched our overweight cycles and rented slick tri-bikes from a local shop. I recommend practicing on a rental a few days before so you can get acquainted with the body position and shifting techniques that will make you a more efficient competitor. Renting a wetsuit is also smart since it keeps you warm and gives you added buoyancy. Together, a few days rental on these items will run you about a hundred bucks, but it’s well worth the investment if you want to compete at your highest level.
Hours before the race I felt as nervous as ever, and I couldn’t shake the images from my previous night’s dreams of alligator-sharks attacking me from below. Bang! The gun went off and there was no turning back. Despite my horrendous time in the water, I managed to make up nearly all the deficit on the bike and then capped it off with a respectable run. When the smoke cleared, Cindy and I had finished first in our respective age groups. The entire journey had started off as joke, and in the end we surprised our supporters and ourselves. I encourage anyone who enjoys the outdoors, and a bit of punishment, to enter a sprint triathlon this summer or fall. Even if you don’t win, you will know how far you can really push yourself and that feeling can last a lifetime.
Sean understands the value of a cold beer after an epic day of adventuring, as well as good friends to share in the experience. When not ski patrolling at the Bird, you can find him on the golf course enjoying a game with his grandfather.