Wednesday, February 20, 2013

First Triathlon

at the transition area before my
2nd standard-distance triathlon race
(no more brief-trunks)
Triathlon? That was the last thing that I would like to do back then (early 2000 and before), recognizing my limitation on swimming. Except that by then, I already learned (the hard way) that those ‘limits’ were nothing but mental boundaries, imaginary fences. Besides, I follow my own live-your-life magic chant – “Face your fear!” Why let fear and life pass you by, when we can live life and write our own glorious history.

I recall spending a lazy weekend in Dive and Trek resort in Bauan Batangas (2001 if I recall it right), and meeting this big fella – Mao-the- racer. We were acquaintances then, having seen him before in Anilao when he was wind-boarding – and I, beer-drinking of course. Casually, he mentioned that he was to join a triathlon race in 2 weeks time in Mabini/Anilao, a few clicks from where we were. He told me the specs; 1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run. Olympic or standard-distance as it is known. Having recently learned ‘proper’ crawl swim when I was shortly based in Japan (a few months before), I knew I could swim that distance, but in a confined and safe pool environment. 40km bike? Well, I can walk if I get cramps. I then, asked him if he thinks I can join and finish the race – telling him that a 2-week window was not enough for a good prep (and being my lazy self, inactive for the best part of the previous 5 months). “Kaya mo yan!” (You can do it) was his excited answer. Did I believe him? No, but I want to stretch my limit, physical or mental. Impulsive as it may seem – I decided to join! I’ve been gung-ho all my life, so the hell with what’s to happen!

Fast forward to the race date…

Soon the start-gun was fired around 630 in the morning, and I started my slow crawl swim towards the open sea – my first long-distance open water swim. Within 10 meters my goggles seeped in irritating sea water. I stopped and treaded (water at 20ft deep) and tried to drain and replaced the cursed eyewear. Another 5m and the water stubbornly entered my goggles. Aaargh! I was getting tired treading and panicking. “What the F* am I doing in this stupid race?!” By then, I was already THE last struggling swimmer and I thought I heard people on the shore talking (or concerned) about me. I thought -“This is embarrassing!” In my tiring state, I tried to swim backwards, then sideways (sidestroke), then I tried to do breaststroke – I was becoming exhausted really fast. “RELAX!” -came a loud voice inside my head. I have to command myself to fight on, like a dying soldier in an impossible battle. By some meditative miracle, I relaxed and bubbled to rest. I replaced the damn goggles and it luckily got a better ‘grip’ so the leaking stopped. I swam on very slow, concentrating on my breathing. Slowly, and surely and eventually my relaxed movement ended my water misery. I found the rhythm to pursue, and the rhythm to finish.

The biking part was easier, and later I would find out that I was an amusement to the watching public. As I bike around the town, people would heckle “Here comes the motorcycle again!” I have to laugh. I was using an 18-kg downhill-setup mountain bike, with 2.35” wheel designed for wet mud (compared to some road bikes with 1” or less of thickness). Riding that bike was ‘heavy and slow’! Told you I joined triathlon for myself and do not care about finish-times. I saw a few DNF (did not finish) participants walking in the road, bike in tow presumably with flat tires (my big wheels were burst-proof). I remember overtaking only a handful, but later they overtook me during the run leg. Before the start of the race, I jokingly told the participants that “I’ll be the last one to finish!” and true to my words, I was THE last one to cross the finish line. Last, but happy and contented. I did my first long distance open-water swim, I finished my first triathlon – and I made it back in one piece. Haha!

The following year, I joined the same triathlon event and finished with better results. And yes, I still used the same old mountain bike.

Funny anecdote

Past half-way of my (10km) run leg and a little under 4h into the race, the organizers closed down all water stations (presumably to punish the strugglers hahaha! -or they just run out of water). Backtracking on how I ‘readied’ myself, outfit-wise -- Being new to triathlon then, my ‘fashion’ guide was largely based on ESPN coverage of triathlon in some remote warm place. To cut it short, I copied some athletes’ attire and only wore swimming 'brief' trunks (and a very short mid-rib singlet). My useless friends said that was ok. (Note – Tri-suits then were not yet popular.)

As I tried to knock on the doors of some 'anonymous' houses to beg for water, wide-eyed gals pop their heads out and either giggly-scream, or laugh. “A semi-naked stranger in our door step!” Hahaha!
I didn’t recall getting ‘proper water help’ and to avoid further embarrassment, (or greeting the business end of a shotgun) - I decided to look for alternative water source (- a garden hose).

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