Friday, September 12, 2008


Old Hickory Lake Triathlon, Hendersonville, TN

When I was a teenager, ABC Wide World of Sports would broadcast the Ironman Triathlon from Hawaii and I would wonder what kind of masochist would ever attempt such a feat. At age fifty-two, and during a temporary loss of sanity, I found out the answer to that query when my nephew, Corey, persuaded me to enter a Sprint Triathlon. At twenty-seven he is in excellent shape --- six-percent body fat, chiseled abs, can run forever, you know the type. His pitch was - you only have to swim a quarter mile, bike 12.5-miles, and run 3-miles. When he said it that way it sounded doable, so putting better judgment aside I committed to train with him for the Sprint Triathlon which was 10-weeks out. I had a pool, a treadmill, a stationary bike, so what was the big deal?

Oh, what a learning curve the next ten weeks held for me.

I probably had not run in 15-years. For some unknown reason cardio in running is different from cardio in swimming or cycling. After a month of pounding pavement I developed a sever case of tendonitis in my Achilles’ tendon of my right foot/ankle. The purchase of a new pair of running shoes and a visit to the physical therapist gave me no relief, and I was finally told that the only cure was rest. A month later the Achilles had not improved and with two weeks before the triathlon I thought I would have to cancel, all the work would not have been in vain, for I had dropped 10-pounds and a pant-size during training.

Not willing to let me miss the 'fun', Corey showed me where I could register as a relay team and would just need to get someone to do the running leg of the triathlon. After several people turned me down with statements like, “are you crazy!", my son, Travis, consented to help out his old dad. With him coming through like a real trooper, we named the relay team "Old Faithful”.

The race day finally came. After a sleepless night listening to the cacophony of snoring in a crowded hotel room, I crawled from my sleeping bag at 5 a.m. and cracked the window shade to see if the rain had stopped. The graying of dawn showed puddles of water on the parking lot asphalt but the rain had ended; race organizers were already working at completing the finishing touches to setting up the transition stations for the triathlon.

Corey and I ate a bite of food, drank some watered down Gatorade, slipped on our tri-shorts, t-shirts and running shoes, and assembled our road bikes. We tried to let Travis and the girls catch a few more ‘Zs’ before the day began.

The countdown to race time flew by and I found myself running to and fro attempting to complete all the pre-race tasks. My bike handlebar was missing a plug so it was rejected until I got it replaced, my tires were low and needed pumping up, I needed to get Travis through registration so we could get our body marked with our assigned bib number, age, and race category, and a dozen other variables had to be met before we walked the half mile to the lake for the swim start.

With little white swim cap and goggles on my head, and timing chip velcroed to my ankle, I waited in line for the start of the first leg of the triathlon. Here I stood number 13 in a line of 455 swimmers; how I wished I was in the middle of the pack instead of in the lead group. There wasn’t much time to worry fore 36-seconds after the whistle to start the race sounded it was my turn to enter the water.

The ambient temperature was 66-degrees, but the water was a pleasant 80-degrees; tripping down the boat ramp I entered the lake for the 400-yard swim offering a constant stream of prayers to survive. My goal being to finish, regardless of where I placed, I tried to conserve my energy and keep my stroke count at training pace.

Everything went fine until a couple of fast swimmers literally swam over the top of me. Gasping for air after swallowing some lake water, I took a swimming angle further out into the water to avoid contact; this added probably at least another 50-yards to my total swim distance. Here I broke into alternating strokes between the crawl and breaststroke, with an eye out for the rescue boats – just in case. After what felt like a mile or more of swimming, I rounded the final buoy for the ramp and finish line. Exiting the water, I staggered toward the swim/run transition area where I passed the timing chip on to Travis.

He was off in a flash; I took a minute to dry my feet, catch my breath, put on my shoes, and pack my bag for the walk to the run/bike transition. In my mind I had about 12-minutes to get to the relay tent and meet Travis for the next exchange of the chip. As I rounded the corner and gained a view of the relay tent in the transition area, there stood Travis. Oh my gosh, he had beat me to the exchange!

Grimacing on my sore Achilles tendon, I jogged the last 100-yards to the tent. He said he had been there about two-minutes waiting on me. Slapping the chip on my ankle, I grabbed my bike and helmet and traversed the length of the transition area to the bike start.

The first 3.5-miles of the bike course was on Gallatin Road, a main thoroughfare in Hendersonville. Police were stationed at the traffic lights and stop signs, and orange cones separated automobile traffic from the lane designated for the bike race. The temperature was still 66, the sky was overcast, and the wind was minimal – a perfect morning for biking, the only problem being that my front tire was extremely low (after the race I had it checked and it registered 20-psi).

Turning off Gallatin Road the course became much more severe as the terrain, road conditions, and elevation began to change. Up a hill, down a hill, up a hill, down a hill, I ran through the gears on my bike. My maximum speed on the downhill was 33-mph, the minimum on the up hill was 7-mph, and it seemed like there was more up hill than down.

At the 7-mile mark I ingested an energy gel pack, hoping for a pick-me-up. What I accomplished was a set of gooey fingers. After the 10-mile mark I knew, least a lightning strike, that I was going to finish the race sometime in the near future; then the terrain really got steep, the final 2.5-miles had some really big hills to climb. I remember a couple of race officials encouraging me up the final and probably steepest climb of the course, at the top he said, “congratulations, the hard part is over,” he must have seen the despair in my eyes.

At the dismount line, I hopped off the saddle and pushed the bike back to my racking spot, then went and found Travis at the Relay Tent. With water bottle and helmet in hand I watched Travis sprint from the transition area on the final 1.5-mile leg of the race.

Ten-minutes later, he was flying over the finish line with lucky number 13 pinned to his shirt. With his exemplary runs our team time was 1:31:00. We stood and watched the remaining participants finish the race and got to cheer Corey on his final run leg.

People asked, “was it fun,” and I have to honestly answer that it was an experience, that it was rewarding, but the word fun would not describe participating in a triathlon for me. I may have to do one more, once my Achilles tendon heals, just to say I completed the full event, but I don’t see myself becoming addicted; I can’t say the same for my nephew Corey. I had accomplished my goal, and to paraphrase ABC’s Jim McKay, had felt the thrill of victory (but on a much smaller scale).

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