Running an Olympic triathlon

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One day, I will not be lucky, fit and crazy enough to do a triathlon. That day was not today. I did the Nation´s triathlon which is an Olympic tri: 1.5 km swimming, 40 Km on the bike and 10 Km running.

“That day is not today” is what I was thinking when I woke up at 4am. I committed to this back in January and since then I had racked up around 500 running miles, 700 miles riding the bike and 60 miles swimming. Far below from any online plan. I was relying on just finishing and having done 2 marathons last year.

7:10 am and I´m eagerly waiting in line on the platform over the Potomac for the whistle to jump into an unknown experience. Was my training enough?, Can I finish this?, Should I start slow, like a marathon?, Will the other swimmers kick me?… As the whistle sounds I jump mechanically into the void. For a moment everything is mute. No sounds from the loudspeaker, nothing to see but brown water. I wait to surface and the race is on.

Forward, pushing always forward. I mentally focus on the training I´ve done, this is the same thing, just not in the pool. The turnaround of the swim is below the bridge far away but I focus on each 100m buoy. It is not easy to sight your bearings and avoid other people. As I am breathing towards the turnaround I get a glimpse of the sunrise over the river waters. Beautiful. Life is beautiful, and I´m so lucky, and crazy. Hopefully fit too. I can feel my body tunning into swimming mode, so I focus on keeping it, reaching out, long strokes, just like the pool. I start to see people from previous waves (another color cap), feels great. I know I´m not a good swimmer, but I´m holding good. Getting to shore feels amazing. Swimming is my hardest leg, and it´s done.

I run to the transition zone, but my body commands to slow down. I just can´t run. Too tired. I walk a bit, get to the bike, gulp some water, some dates, and I´m out with the bike. I´ve only done 2 long rides while training, it is not my bike and I don´t have clip pedals, (so I´m riding with my running shoes). Still I have aerobars that you can lean forward and be aerodynamic. This is going to be interesting. 2 loops of 20 Km each.

Right on the start a guy with a fancy white bike passes me in a swoosh, and without thinking I push to get him. These bikes can be 10.000$ but I´m ready to challenge myself and try my best with the gear I borrowed from a friend 2 days before. Drafting is not allowed, but I speed up to get him because I want to push myself, I need to or I´ll be too slow. I pass him back and another guy with another fancy swoosshy red bike passes me. And I go again. The three of us spent the whole 40K passing each other, every 5 minutes at most. I think this was the key to make an awesome bike leg. I averaged 22 mph (35 km/h). I could hardly push further. We were not the first, but only a handful other riders passed us. I had to force myself to drink and eat energy gels. As we were cruising the city I got glimpses of the landmarks, the river, the monuments, the sun. I felt lucky, fit, and great. Suffering and enjoying it at the same time.

Back to the transition zone. On my forearm I had written my row number. It is hard enought to run but the transition zone is like an beehive of people getting out of the swim and the bike. Drop the bike. Get a bite of an energy bar, and off to the run. No thinking. It was hard to mentally deal with running one more hour, but I had no pain, just tired. No excuses, you´ve done a great job so far. The running movements felt uneasy, forced and new. Can I do this after the swim and the bike? Yes, this is just a 10K run. iYou´ve done many of these runs training! I tried to recreate the feeling of my long training runs or the end part of a marathon, hoping I would find my running state soon. I also saw a guy running slightly faster than me ahead, so I focused on him. Humans evolved hunting as persistence runners, and it also makes it easy to empty your mind. I need to keep the distance to him. It was hard, I could hardly push more, and I had to keep it for one hour more. After 15 minutes or so, they guy ahead saw his family, he sped up, so I was loosing him. But then he slowed down a few feet later. He was mine. I passed him and tried to look for another moving target. I started feeling better so I pushed more (run listening to your body they say). Only 4 miles to go. I was going to do it.

At this point your ups and downs swing quickly. The sun is shinning, a few runners are now passing me super fast, but I focus on my body. It´s hard, challenging, but I can do this, and I enjoy that. Again this weird feeling of suffer and joy at once. No pains at all. The track deviates and it´s very hard to turn when the end line was just straight ahead. The only thing keeping me running now is the body inertia of the pace. If I stop it´s over.

As I turn the last bend and I see the arch at the finish line, I start to smile. I can barely sprint as I had wanted, but I can hold this pace (which turned out to be faster than most of my trainings). Every step feels me with joy, pride and the feeling of completing and triathlon. No idea of the time, but it´s here. I cannot resist to smile, throwing the hands up in victory, and people cheer for me. I´m coming alone. The guy with the loudspeaker reads my number, checks the name and he is cheering me by name. Also Antonio and Aniceto are shouting but I didn´t hear them. The last steps are pure joy, pure challenge but knowing it´s done. Pretty tired, but no pain anywhere, and feeling absolutely amazing.

Turns out my estimate of 3 hours was way off. My official time is 2 hours 34 minutes, an incredible time to me. The swimming was just on par to my best trainings in the pool, the bike was the best of my legs, where I averaged 35 km/h on a mostly flat course. The run was 47 minutes, 7:35 minutes per mile (my record in 10K -only running- is 44:15 minutes). Many things could have gone wrong today, but few could have gone better. I can´t say being vegan helps or not, but I lost a few Kg in this training (again, like for the marathon, I´m around 145 pounds/ 65kg) and I feel great.

Overall I really enjoyed this challenge, but the training is just too hard. Just like I felt training for a marathon, the training is worse than the race, more so on a triathlon. Swimming is hard, and bike is both dangerous and time consuming. Training often, training several sports in one day, gathering the gear, … Crossing the line is an amazing feeling, and the most visible step of a huge challenge. Kudos to everyone who raced today, or is currently training.

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