I think we can all relate to the unknown that comes with doing something for the first time. Uncomfortable, exciting, weird, awkard, easy.....it's hard to describe what it feels like to do something new because well, it is unfamiliar to your everyday living.
I remember when I was less than 24 hours away from my first Ironman - IMFL in 2006. I was so freakin' excited yet a little scared of riding my bike for 112 miles. However, I could hardly contain myself. The only thing that really scared me was my heart and that it would have to beat for over 11 hours for a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run. But thankfully, it did just fine since I trained it well and it worked great for 11 hours and 47 seconds.
Since I've known Karel, this has been his comfort zone. A frame and two wheels and handlebars for steering. Karel has been racing bikes since a very young age but a few months ago, he was ready for a change. He craved something unknown, new and challenging.
So, he turned to triathlons. Without a doubt, there's something magical yet intense when describing a sport that requires an athlete to be physically fit and mentally strong in three seperate disciplines.
After dinner on Friday evening, I helped Karel pack his transition bag for his first ever triathlon - the 2012 Montoya BFAST Sprint series #3.
Race belt, glasses, hat, water bottles, towel, computer, cycling shoes, running shoes, chip strap, body glide, goggles, aero helmet.
Just a bit more than packing for a cycling race :)
It's likely that any newbie would be nervous and overwhelmed for his/her first triathlon. For Karel, his nerves grew as the week went on although he has been training really smart over the past 6 weeks. Focusing more on the skills with swimming and learning how to pace better in his "tri-specific" zones (established from power tests on the bike and HR test on the run) he was capable of doing the distance of a 400 meter swim, 13 mile bike and 5K run but like any newbie - it's all about learning how to put those puzzle pieces together to make for a great race day experience. Funny thing - this is something that never goes away. I still find myself addressing my pre, during and post training/racing nutrition, pacing, zones, training, recovery, strength training, etc. to become stronger, faster and smarter in the sport.
Particularly throughout his work day on Friday, he got a bit more nervous than the days prior. Why was he nervous? Because it is absolutely natural and normal to question the unknown that comes with a new experience in life.
As a good wife sherpa, I was up with Karel at 4:30am and we were out the door at 5:20am for our 20 minute drive to the beach. I suppose my desire to not feel rushed at races transfered to Karel for we arrived in plenty of time to avoid the crowd at packet pickup. However, like every triathlete knows all too well - time rushes by before a race and it's better to arrive early than to be just a little late and feel stressed.
Karel set up his transition area and I walked him through the transition layout as to where to bike out, bike in, run out and run in. Karel officially felt like a triathlete when he was body marked and received his first ever triathlon t-shirt...it's the little things that still excite me as a triathlete and I think Karel enjoyed these little things as well - for it was all new to him.
Our friend Courtney (who ended up winning the race for women), Karel and myself went for a warm-up jog around 6:30am and did a few dynamic drills to open up the hips. Karel wasn't saying a lot but I know him all too well so I just let him stay in his zone. It was hard for me to keep quite for I kept wanting to give him little pointers like where to put on the body glide, where to line up for the swim and where to mount and dismount on his bike.
Karel listened very well but he had this look like "there's way too much to think about at once."
Karel's boss Jeff (pictured on the right above, Jerry - Trek employee on left) was racing for the first time since IM Texas and I think Karel was excited to have Jeff there with him to experience his first tri. Jeff and Karel are close friends and Jeff and his family are all great people to be around. By the way- Jeff ended up winning his age group! Congrats Jeff!
Karel warmed up - kinda - in the water. The last two races were duathlons because of the ocean waves and this time was a full tri despite the waves being super choppy. I knew Karel would have a tough time for his first time racing in the ocean (second time swimming in the ocean) so I did my best to give him some suggestions as to how the current was going, where to swim to and of course, to just stay calm and to not fight the waves.
Around 7am, it was time for the first wave - men 39 and under. Karel raced in the 35-39 age group (he will be 36 in Sept) and lined up in the middle of the group. Without a word by the announcer, the group was off. Karel still had his goggles on his head and quickly put them on as he was running (which caused a little water to get in his goggles) and he didn't get a chance to start his Garmin 910XT.
Karel said the swim was bruttal and the waves made it incredibly hard to swim "normally" - which he has been working so hard on in the pool. He said it was hard to turn around buoys and got stuck in the ropes by the buoy because of the waves. Because of the conditions, the swim course was likely not the full 400 meters but it was the same course for everyone so it is what it is. So long as everyone is safe - it's all about moving the body forward. Karel did a great job getting to the first buoy but we still have work to do with his skills in open water, especially spotting, breathing and reaching and rolling.
I was super happy to finally see Karel, near the end of the mid pack. Although Karel is super competitive, I know that this race was simply to see what it feels like to put all the sports together - in racing mode. For our big race is Branson 70.3 in late Sept. However, this is a new lifestyle for Karel and there is no reason to rush this journey. One step at a time.
I sprinted from the water to the bike-out and cheered for Karel as he "paced" his first sprint triathlon bike ride.
Well, despite Karel telling me that he held back just a little on the bike for the unknown of the final leg of the triathlon, I wasn't surprised to see him in 7th place after the bike. And to the surprise to many, I was excited to see what Karel was going to do on the run for his running has really progressed over the past 2 months. Karel likes to run..and not just for the beer at the end (referencing to his "off-season" training and his occasional Trek Store beer runs)
Karel had a nice kick in his step when he started the out and back run and before I knew it, he was rounding the courner....
.....in 5th place!!!
It doesn't surprise me that as Karel was running, his inner cyclist came out and he was likely pacing, drafting and passing people all by tolerating the lactic acid that comes with a long history of criterium racing.
Karel told me that he never thought it would be that hard and he said he had a really fun time....."after the swim."
Karel was greeted by many of his friends and customers from the Trek store - all congratulating him for his first ever triathlon finish. Our friend Owen (above) is a ridiculously talented athlete and won the race today with a blazing bike and run.
Jeff is now even more happy that Karel liked his first triathlon experience and that he know has a permanent triathlon training partner, early in the morning before the Trek Beach store opens.
It was so great to share this experience with Karel and to see him compete, do something new and enjoy every mile of it. I firmly believe that we should always have fun with what we are doing in life (specifically if it is voluntary and not mandatory) but when it comes using our body for sports, it's important to understand that a lifestyle can be created from training the body on a daily basis. I see way too many athletes become overly obessed, overwhelmed and consumed with training and it begins to interfer with other areas of life. I believe in balance when it comes to doing something that you love - especially with triathlons. There's nothing wrong with being competitive and if anything, I invite more people to welcome competiton in order to be more confident with your strengths and to build off your weaknesses. But at the end of the day, triathlon training (or whatever activity you choose to keep you fit) should be an enhancer to life. Never stop thanking your body for what it allows you to do on a daily basis and more than anything, never stop having fun and enjoying moving and using your body.....and crossing finish lines.
Stats from Karel's race:(Results found HERE)
Swim: 6:22T1: 2:39
Bike: 30.08 (average 25.8mph, average HR 177)
Run: 20.06 (mile splits: 6:17, 6:20, 6:05 - average 6:14 min/mile)
5th place overall male
1st age group
Now that Karel got his first race out of his system, we will be doing our first race together (his first Olympic) on August 4th in Fernandina Beach, FL for the Jax Tri Olympic.