“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” — Walt Disney
“On your mark…get set…go!” and I was off. I pushed off the wall of the pool at San Luis Obispo (SLO) Swim Center for my 18 laps of the swim leg of my triathlon, and like that I was racing again. It was nearly 11:30 am.
The morning of July 22nd was bright and clear in SLO. We arrived a full hour and a half ahead of my 9:50 am start in the event that the race was running early. Upon arrival I realized the race was way behind; the culprit being the pool swim. In triathlons there are two types of swims: pool and open water swims (OWS). For OWS, age groups usually start in waves from a beach, a pier, or other platform on the water. Athletes usually start on time or close to their prescribed time and follow a route in the water around floating buoys. For pool swims triathletes are put in an order such as 100m pace time and given approximate start times. Most pool swims then follow an up and back pattern crossing lanes (zigzag) down the pool to equal the race swim distance. This allows for faster swimmers to pass on the left as competitors navigate the length of the pool. SLO Triathlon followed a different format: competitors, placed by order of registration and assigned a lane (I was 629) started racing in an individual assigned lane with a volunteer to counting your lane laps. No zigzagging across the pool: one person, half a lane, in the morning sunshine.
For nearly three hours I found creative ways to pass the time. After setting up in the transition area, getting marked with my race number, and checking three times to see how far behind the race was, I met up with my wife and daughter to play in a nearby playground.
It wasn’t even 9:30 when we finished and I went back to the transition area. While it wasn’t exactly hot, the sun crisply shown down on us. Shade was limited and what shade there was, small groups huddled in to avoid being baked pre-race. I talked with other racers in the meantime, nursing a water bottle and some snack mix. Around 11:15, I finally took my spot in line to the pool with the others. By 11:30 I was off.
Once I heard go, I launched off in the water and calm took over me. The water was cool, feeling refreshing against the sun’s rays. At one end of the pool sat my volunteer lap counter; on the other my wife and daughter cheering me on, filling me with motivation. The 18 laps of the half mile swim flew by and my mind started to focus on the next event: the bike. Before I knew it, the lap counter signaled my last lap. I pushed off one last time and threw myself hard into that last lap. And like that the swim was over, I pulled myself out of the pool, winked to my family at the far end, and jogged off to the transition area and my bike. The first leg was done!
I reached the transition area just down from the pool and threw on my helmet, shoes, gloves, and sunglasses. The transition was smooth—everything was where it should be, where I needed it to be. I ran with my bike to the mounting spot at the far end of the transition area, mounted, and took off for the 15-mile out and back ride.
Within a mile, the route entered into the rolling hills outside of SLO. I passed farms and subdivisions as I hit the 4 mile mark. Some hills were more demanding than others, but none as brutal as those I trained in Monterey. By mile 6 the route passed welcoming wineries on both sides. One woman even sat in an inflatable pool in the driveway of a winery with a beer cheering riders on. I yelled over to her as I passed, “I’ll grab mine on the way back!” and smiled riding on. Before I knew it, I hit 7.5 miles and turned around. The hills came and went again while I mentally prepared myself for the run. I rolled back into the transition area, dismounted, and quickly parked the bike, got my running shoes on, and headed back out for the last event. Two down, one to go!
The switch from bike to run was hard. Coming off the bike and starting to run, my legs felt like jell-o. My stride was short and disjointed as I tried to get my running legs going. It took a good quarter mile to get my legs feeling right. Added to my wobbly running legs, the sun sat at its zenith in the sky, beating down on me and my fellow triathletes. I took a deep breath, reminded myself that it was only 3 miles, and charged on. Shy of mile 2, however, came the toughest challenge of the entire race: a nearly mile long ascent, which sucked out what energy I had left. It just never seemed to end!
Finally, I crested the endless hill and turned down to the finish. Nothing beats the feeling of cruising down those final steps to the finish line—and SLO didn’t disappoint. I glimpsed my wife cheering me from the side of the racing shoot, while my daughter played at an adjoining playground. I focused back to the last few steps, threw it all in and charged. And with that, I crossed the line. I was done. I had finished. I was back and it felt incredible.
A lot of things happened after I finished. I took a quick assessment of my body. Everything felt fine. I stretched and talked to my wife while re-hydrating. It was early into the afternoon now and our drive still loomed. Fortunately our daughter played more or less continuously since we arrived and was well on her way to a long nap. Before long we packed up, hiked back to the car and headed north. I proudly wore my finisher’s t-shirt and medal around my neck. While my body was a bit achy, the pride of finishing served as the best remedy. I wanted to stop at about a dozen breweries between SLO and Monterey, but I’ll admit I was tired. Besides I had special beer in the fridge.
That evening I sat on my back porch and took stock of the day. I pulled out a special beer my wife picked for me: Sunny Daze by Barrelhouse Brewing Company from Paso Robles. An inviting blonde ale, Sunny Daze summed up the day.
It was the perfect porch drinking beer and was light and fruity on my pallet: exactly what I wanted to wrap up a great day. I rewound the race in my mind: the transitions, the hills, the heat. I was pleased overall, but knew there was room for improvement. I didn’t have much time; my next race with my first open water swim loomed a couple of weeks away in Santa Cruz. The countdown was on!