Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Like Father, Like Daughter: Dad's First Tri

I have a guest blogger for you this week: my Dad!

An accomplished runner, Dad has always been my endurance sports inspiration. When he encouraged me to enter my first 10k race 17 years ago, I would never have guessed where that road would lead. After he and Mom spent the last 10 years cheering for me at triathlons and even crewing for me at Norseman, imagine my surprise and delight when Dad announced that he'd like to try a triathlon.

I loved cheering for Dad this weekend as he raced the Olympic distance race at the Kerrville Triathlon Festival! Here's the story of his day - in his own words.

Kerrville Tri Race Report 2017
by John Swann

Here I stand, at the start-line of my very first triathlon. I’ve finally plucked up the courage to be standing here, looking out at the lines of buoys that mark the 1000 meter swim course. My bike, and helmet, and shoes and other stuff are waiting at T1. My running shoes, hat, number belt, drinks, and other stuff are hanging in a bag at T2. I’m wishing I could be at one of those places now.

Everyone says that open-water swimming is a beast to conquer. I’ve been swimming for over two years, going up and down the lap pool, fighting off little old ladies who insist on doing their aqua-bounces in the middle of my lane. My regular training distance is more than double this triathlon swim. So this should be a breeze, right?

I swam in the open sea, in Bali. I swam out to a buoy, perhaps 100 meters offshore. The farther from shore I got, the bigger the imagined sharks became, and the stronger the imaginary rip tide was becoming. I was freaked out. The next day, I did it again and, was it my imagination, or were those sharks just a little less menacing?

A year ago I had done a practice swim to the first buoy of today’s course. I was gasping for breath from the start, and I just wanted to get back to shore, where I could touch bottom.

But also a year ago, I had watched the triathletes on the run part of the course. Some were out of shape, some were barely walking, but I remember thinking that every one of them had done that swim.

I signed up for this event after years of watching Kristina and her friends compete in, and destroy, Ironman courses all over the nation. I always wanted to give it a shot. And the Kerrville Tri is right on our doorstep. Word got out that I was entering, and almost immediately, Kristina and Trent had booked their flights from Denver. Kristina’s San Antonio friends decided to join the festival, And our neighbors were asking about the race. So there was no way to back out.

Kristina had given swim-coaching tips (after watching videos of my stroke), and the coach at the local pool declared that I was a good swimmer. (although his final piece of advice was “if you get into trouble just raise your hand and the kayaks will get you!). The day before the race I had done a practice swim on the first part of the course, with Orissa and Kristina. They had estimated the distance to be about 700 or 800 meters. I was ready.

Start-line thoughts: don’t go out too fast, go easy to the first buoy, stay out of the way of others, follow the shoreline, I’ve got this. Other start-line thoughts: did I get enough to eat, did I drink too much, will my goggles leak, will I get leg cramp and, I hope I didn’t do too much yesterday!

We inched toward the start-line and timing mat. An announcement “and now at the start-line, in his first triathlon, at age 69….” Even the competitors behind me wished me well! And then I was swimming. “Go easy, get your stroke going.” The first two kayaks along the course already had competitors hanging from them. The water was choppy and murky, and I couldn’t even see my hand at the bottom of the stroke. After rounding the first turn, it was time to just swim parallel to the shore for about 500 meters, each stroke taking me farther away from the start-line. My swim stroke was horrible, my breathing was ragged, and more than once I took on water. But I had a crowd waiting at the swim-out, so I couldn’t stop.

The farthest point on the course was marked by a red triangle buoy. Reaching it took forever, but when I got there, it turned out to be the most beautiful red buoy I’ve ever set eyes on. And, once I got around it, something magical happened. I was now swimming towards the finish line. My breathing evened out, my stroke became more confident. Now, I really had got this!

At swim-out, another announcement “in his first triathlon at age 69, lets have a cheer for…”. It was great to be done with the swim. There were lots of high fives on the way to T1. Just a wonderful feeling.

I love to ride a bike. I love my bike with aero-bars fitted. And I love the Big Sexy Racing tri-suit that Kristina had given to me. I know all the roads around here like the back of my hand. What could go wrong? Well, from the first pedal stroke my quads tried to cramp up. Now that was a new experience on a bike. I suppose that’s a post-swim phenomenon. It took two miles of easy riding, and some coaxing, for things to get back to normal.

Riding through Kerrville’s main streets with police stopping all other traffic was awesome. Then the rain started, and I love riding in the rain! The outward ride was into the wind, which is how I always plan my training rides. Fellow competitors were courteous, no-one drafted, many had kind words as we passed each other. Several people had flats along the way, and there was one crash at the top of the only hill on the course. But for me, the ride was perfect. I used up the last of my onboard fluids with a mile to go. Everything was going according to plan. And the cheering crew was in full voice.

After trading my bike for running shoes at T2, it was time to walk/jog 6.5 miles. Those were long miles. And the sun made them hot and humid after all the rain. My pre-race goal was to get to the finish line. But it’s so frustrating not to be able to run and compete anymore. So I walked and jogged the whole way. It was tough even so.

At the finish line, a final announcement “and now crossing the line, in his first triathlon, at age 69, from Big Sexy Racing,…..”

Hugs and high fives all round. And Kristina took me immediately to the food area “drink this coke, drink all that water, you need protein, chips, something sweet, a beer…”

So that was it. I now have a whole new perspective on triathlons. Swimming 1000 meters is pretty straight forward (especially in hind-sight), biking 29 miles is easy, and walking/jogging 6.5 miles is a piece of cake. But put all those things back-to-back-to-back and it gets tough.

Now, its even harder for me to fathom how Kristina and her Ironman buddies do what they do. And how do you jump into a darkened fjord and swim two and a half miles to shore?

What a great day, start to finish. A huge thank you to all the folks who came out to Kerrville. Kristina’s triathlon buddies (Aixa, Orissa, Shelly, and Linda), and their families. Thank you Kristina for all the pointers, advice, coaching, and for the Big Sexy Racing suit. It meant a lot to have you and Trent on the sideline.

And an even bigger thank you to Maria for her support and encouragement all along the way. Thanks for taking those swim videos, for encouraging me to get that beautiful neon-green bike, and for always being there in the cheering crew. And finally, I’m in a new age-group next year…woohoo!
Practice swim on Saturday
Triumphant coming out of the water!
I'm so proud of Dad's matchy matchy here - bike, kit, helmet!
On the run!
Family and friends came out to cheer: Lisa, Mom, Me, Shelly and Avery, Harper, Trent, and Miles
Pre-race pic: Mom and Dad