OK… hi! You’re here, and that’s really quite awesome. So while I have your attention, let’s talk a bit about triathlons: what they are, how you get shamefully pressured into doing one, the punishing training involved, the imminent panic, terror, and woe, the anxiety meltdown that leads up to the event, race day itself… and then trying to come up with a really good opening paragraph on your ensuing blog, one that struggles to maintain readership before their minds drift over into another tab up there on their hopefully non-Microsoft web browser, usually something involving kitties and bacon. Hey! Remember when ‘The Hamster Dance’ was a thing? And here you are, feeling superior to dogs because they are so gleefully distracted by squirrels…
What a puzzling introduction.
We’re really here to discuss the 2015 Egg Hunt Triathlon, an annual holiday event held in Pembroke Pines, FL. The Egg Hunt Triathlon is a sprint tri, which involves a 400-meter swim, followed by an 11-mile bike ride, and finishing with a 5K (3.1-mile) run. That’s about 14.3 miles of various means of locomotion, held on a beautiful Saturday morning in early April. It was an utterly cathartic event for our usual gang of misfits, dreamers, iconoclasts, and flibbertigibbets, and capturing that maelstrom of emotional content in a single blog would be near impossible for such an extraordinarily average writer as myself.
So in a Hokeyblog first, I’ve decided to take you — our intrepid readers, all four of you! — on a musical journey, as I attempt to navigate through the trippy trials, transposing tribulations, trending transformations, and truly transcendent trappings of our triumphant triathlon trek… in SONG!
So what better way to start off our sea, land, and… land journey than at the very beginning, when we journey all the way back to the salad days of…
February 2nd, 2015
Well, we’re not exactly putting the Wayback Machine through a massively rigorous Stress Test, are we? Nope. We’re only going back a whole two months, folks. Because 2/2/2015 was the very first time that Training Buddy Kristi and I stuck our toes in the water of the L.A. Fitness pool to start practicing our swimming technique. And by “start practicing our swimming technique”, I mean “flounder about like a couple of idiots” because we simply had ZERO idea of what we were doing. Listen, I grew up in Miami, had access to pools and beaches and Biscayne Bay, and practically grew up in the water, but my entire swimming ability solely consisted of knowing How Not To Drown.
But through perseverance, we learned quite a bit in that short amount of time: form, movement, breathing, thrust, buoyancy, lift, drag, ha-ha, turn, parry, spin, ha, thrust!
I’m sure most onlookers probably had the same guffawing reaction to our efforts as Porky’s Friar Tuck did to Daffy’s Robin Hood, but you know what? There we were, three times a week, getting those endless laps in. I felt pretty strong about my swimming ability within a month and continued my efforts; I was still running 4 times a week while swimming 3 times, and yet there was still one fundamental flaw with my triathlon training regimen.
Up until a week before the race, I still didn’t own a bike. Nor had I ridden one in probably 12 years or so. I entertained the notion of renting one for the event, but in the end I decided to purchase one for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that I wanted something with which I could comfortably scoot around Sunrise/Plantation. I used to bike religiously when I was a kid, and all the time when I lived in cyclist/pedestrian friendly South Miami for 11 years. I enjoyed hopping on the bike to get to local places, and wanted to continue that trend in the desolate (yet well manicured) suburbs of West Broward. I also wanted something that was more road (and race) friendly than a standard city bike, which is why I ended up with Cosima, my Trek FX 7.2 hybrid model.
The triathlon would only consist of an 11 mile ride, which I knew I could pretty much do without issue, but no riding in 12 years = NO RIDING IN TWELVE YEARS. I ended up taking her out on three test rides before the race. The first ride convinced me that the saddle would take some getting used to, as afterward it felt like I had just been dutifully rogered by amphibious watercraft. By the second ride, I had gotten used to it — the saddle, not the amphibious watercraft. After the third ride, which was an “accidental” 13-mile trek, I felt fine about riding. I wasn’t going to set any land speed records, that was for sure, especially on a hybrid. I was OK with that.
Well, we got the bike, finally, and had successfully taken it on a few test rides. The swimming was already taken care of — we had felt strong and ready in that department. Running? I think I might have done a *bit* of running in the past. So we felt like we were in fine shape to take on the triathlon, but not before we first had to tackle…
Registration and the Pre-Race Clinic
Both registration and the pre-race clinic took place at Alex’s Bicycle Prop Shop in Davie, and it was a pretty quick, low-key affair. After presenting ID I received my swim cap (for my wave — bright lime green!), race shirt (a long-sleeved tech shirt — bright lime green!), and goodie bag that contained all three bibs for the race. The three bibs consisted of an adhesive wrap-around bib for the bike frame, a small white numbered sticker to be placed on my bike helmet (bike helmets are absolutely mandatory), and of course the standard paper bib familiar to all runners/racers that you pin to your clothes. I didn’t want to deal with the sheer emotional trauma of dealing with pins on race day, so I dug up the race belt I used for the Keys 100 Relay two years ago and went with that option instead. It saved me a ton of aggravation.
The smartest move I made, though, was sticking around for the Pre-Race Clinic with Kristi, Richard, and Sarah. Headed up by coach Diane Calloway of TriDi Multisport Training, the clinic was exactly what we needed to learn what we needed to know about how to successfully participate in and finish a triathlon, as well as soothe what turned out to be a whole metric bushel of pre-race jitters. And man oh man were we jittery. Thankfully, we had Diane there to help us navigate those particular waterways of anxiety of woe!
We learned about how to properly set up our transition areas, the smart way to rack your bike, the critical importance of wearing your helmet at all times when handling your bike, acclimating yourself to the lake water temperature in order to regulate your heart-rate and minimize sudden shock and anxiety, proper mid-swim rest techniques if you need them, the rules of the road during the bike portion (passing, bike lengths, drafting is an exquisite no-no, etc.), and other important bits of information that we didn’t know we didn’t know. We walked away feeling much more assured and confident about both our racing abilities and our event knowledge. I guess none of us really wanted to come across like a TOTAL newb, and the pre-race clinic helped us a lot in that regard.
So if it’s your first time at any event or endeavor… take some time and learn from the pros. An ounce of prevention is worth five in the bush and saves nine. How much sagely wisdom I just butchered there, I can scarcely imagine. Anyway, let’s skip all that self-indulgent non-sequiturism and go straight ahead to…
Our alarms sprouted out their sing-songy chimes at around 4:15 AM, and Boots and I shot out of bed like the two lethargically exhausted people we were… NAH, not really. I was actually full of excitement (with maybe a touch of healthy anxiety) and was ready to take on everything the morning had to offer. The night before I had carefully packed all my gear, supplements, clothes, towels, everything. All my bibs were attached to their proper places, my checklist was checked and checked again, and we were go for launch. Since I was still coming down from a particularly awful ulcerative colitis flare-up, I decided not to eat much that morning; just some water, a CLIF bar, and some Endurolyte pills that I would take about 15 minutes before the start of the race.
My biggest anxiety had nothing to do with my gear, the race itself, or any of my physical abilities. Nope, I was mostly just terrified about having to appear in public wearing full triathlon attire. Look, I’m in good physical shape, I vigorously exercise six days a week, I eat healthy, and I even dropped about 20 pounds and packed on some lean muscle in the 2.5 months before the race. But body type is body type, and I come from a long line of Millheiser men with proud round bellies. My Grandpa had one, my Dad has one, my brother has one… I have one. It says nothing about who you are, your health and fitness habits, your strength of will, motivation, or determination. It’s just there. So the rule of the day was to suck it up and get over it. Wearing triathlon attire was about comfort and functionality, NOT vanity. And I was down with that.
After getting over my bout of self-consciousness, we soon had the bike racked to the car and by 5:15 AM we were on our way to CB Smith park in Pembroke Pines, about a 15 minute drive from our home. The only real traffic we encountered was parking at CB Smith, but by 5:45 AM we were parked and unloading our gear. Rather coincidentally we ended up parked right next to our pals Kristi, Rich, and Sheri, which I felt was a great sign for the day. We even posed for this awesome action snapshot:
But now of course, we had to slowly walk our bikes in the dark over to the transition area, and a little bit of the nervousness was starting to creep in, mixed with a slight measure of dread, but still with a whole bunch of excitement thrown into the mix. The darkness was pervasive, the air still and quiet, as we bravely soldiered on into unknown mystery, perhaps doom, perhaps triumph, like the Fellowship simply walking into Mordor… cue Savatage’s “Prelude to Madness” (their take on Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”):
We reached the Transition Area first, a well-lit beacon in the early morning darkness. After finding the numbered rack matching my bib number range, I quickly got to work setting up my area. First I racked my bike (in the opposite direction from the one next to mine, thanks for the tip Diane!), then I opened my bag, laid down my towel, and assembled my shoes, socks, helmet, sunglasses, goggles, swim cap, headband, Endurolytes, and CLIF blocks into some semblance of logical order. There wasn’t a whole lot of room to work with, so I set up a narrow strip to the right of my bike and was mostly pleased with my handiwork. For some reason I was a bit preoccupied with the notion of having a clunky, messy transition area, so after several revisions I think I got it close to what I felt it needed to be. Yay me. It also helped that Kristi, Paul, and I were all in the same area. Having good buddies around is always a plus!
After we were done in the Transition Area, we walked over to the tents to get our markings and timing chips. The markings consisted of your bib number written on both arms and your age on your calf in black marker. My upper arm tattoos guaranteed that whoever reading them would know that I was bib number *BLERGLE*-0-5, but that’s show-biz, I guess. At least my age was legible. Our next stop was getting our timing chip. The chip was attached to a Velcro strap which attached to our left ankle. I fit snugly but unobtrusively, and would be used to keep track of all our overall race time as well as breaking down each activity into individually timed units: Swim, Transition 1, Bike, Transition 2, and Run.
Our buddies Robyn, Mare, Jeanne, Rosa, Mishele, and Yasmin were there to support us and and also raise money for Team For Kids, a charity to combat obesity and encourage fitness for hundreds of thousands of children in need. They had their own tent set up with a Bake Sale to raise funds for their charity effort; all of them are also committed to run the 2015 New York Marathon. Now that’s one hell of an adventure. Anyway by that time our merry crew of triathletes had fully congregated together; this included first-timers Rich, Katarina, Kristi, Sarah, and myself, along with our returning champs Mike and Sheri. I forget if Paul had done one before; I know I asked him, but my mind is tapioca pudding on the best of days, so there you have it. Anyway we congregated for this awesomely amazing group pic in front of the Team For Kids tent. See if you can spot Rosa:
At this point there wasn’t much time left until our triathlon was set to begin. After a quick trip to the restroom followed by the popping of an Endurolyte capsule, I was ready to roll. After wishing each other good luck, we found ourselves scattered among four waves: the younger dudes first in purple caps (Mike), followed by us older guys in green (Rich and myself), then the ladies in blue (Kristi, Katarina, and Sarah), followed by the Clydesdale in orange (Paul). We were excited, for sure, but the pre-race nervousness was there in abundance, in the pits of our tummies, knowing that the moment of truth was nearly upon us. Cue up some Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky because us Czernobog wannabes were heading straight for Bald Mountain:
After watching Mike’s wave begin their swim — rather anti-climatically, I might add; there was no gunshot, air-horn, or anything, just a “Three, two, one, GO!” announcement — I lined up on the shore of the lake with the rest of the green caps. Rich and I fist-bumped for good luck and within minutes our wave was off and runn– er, swimming. I had decided not to rush into the water, but rather to let the vast majority swimmers go and casually make my way in on the right side to angle for the first buoy.
I was surprised that the lake water was not particularly cold at all. The race was ruled wetsuit-legal, but I found the temperature to be quite agreeable. I quickly jogged into thigh-high depth before I dove in and started my 400-meter swim in earnest.
How would I describe the initial part of that swim? ABSOLUTE CHAOS! People were splashing and floundering all around me, and I spent much of the first two minutes dodging peoples’ feet, arms, and other body parts wildly akimbo in the early morning water. At some point, someone actually tried to swim UNDER me. Ridiculous! It was the athletic equivalent of the freakin’ “Sabre Dance”:
But then the darnedest thing happened — right after I passed the first buoy, I found myself passing people steadily, with enough room around me to maintain proper swim form, rhythm, and cadence. Look I’m six-foot-two already, but if I’m completely stretched out horizontal I take up a lot more surface area. Crowded with swimmers, that gets a little difficult to maintain. But once the field opened up about a third of the way into the race, I found my stride and really started gliding just under the surface.
Powerful! Sleek! Strong! Just like a…
The swim felt fantastic to me. I felt challenged but never tired nor winded. I was enjoying it so much that I actually got a little disappointed when my hands felt the shore beneath me, which meant the swim was over. Time to stand up and proudly jog out of the lake like the amphibious champion that I felt like. Or something. But the swim was done, and I was ready for more.
Here are some action snapshots of this portion of the race, which mostly consist of me exiting the lake because once you’re well in the water, you’re just a green head in a sea of green heads.
Time – 09:40 min
Distance – 400 meters
Pace – 38:40 min/mile
Cat Place – 18/31
OA Place – 139/310
Next we move into a little number I’d like to call:
Up the hill I jogged amid throngs of cheering spectators, heading back into the Transition Area to prepare for my bike ride. I was coasting on a massively peppy high coming out of that water, and sure as the day is long and the night is … just as long (in most time zones), I was ready to keep that momentum going. Into the Transition Area I went, jogging steadily over to my pile of stuff. My entire strategy was not to rush out and stress things, but rather take the time to make sure I did everything properly. When I got to my aisle, the Team For Kids women were cheering wildly for me, which did wonders for my already massively-inflated ego.
Rosa and Robyn took these pics of me here:
I didn’t dawdle too much, but neither was I rushing through the transition. From the pictures above, you can see that I was even sitting to put my socks and shoes on, chatting briefly with my buds. Paul and Robyn’s daughter even asked me if I “had seen her Daddy come out of the water”. Too adorable. But once I had my shoes on, I popped back up, put on my sunglasses, donned my helmet, and walked my bike over to the Bike Mount zone just north of the Transition Area. The second act was about to begin!
Transition 1 Stats
Time – 3:42
Cat Place – 26/31
OA Place – 252/310
Cosima and I were now at the Bike Mount zone. It was time. I mounted Cosima (*schnorgles*) and hit the course with as much energy and excitement as I could muster… which at that point was quite a bit. I was ready for one hell of a ride!
Here’s a look at the course, courtesy of my Garmin 220 and Google Maps:
The bike course consisted of a counter-clockwise “inner” loop (which was mostly inside the park) and a clockwise “outer” loop, which took us south on Flamingo, west on Pines, north on 129th Ave, then east on Taft until we got back to Flamingo, heading south and back into the park. We had to do each loop twice: Inner, Outer, Inner, and Outer, in that order.
It was a shady, clear morning, with reasonably low humidity (by South Florida standards) and a nice breeze blowing. In other words, this was a perfect morning to go for a bike ride. And that was exactly what I did, because I sure as hell wasn’t racing by any stretch of the imagination.
Let’s put it this way: I was constantly being passed by cyclists who were zooming and zipping and firing past me like Intergalactic Sentinels cruising the hyperspatial faster-than-light space lanes like massively energized mega-quantum-photons in some Joe Satriani shredfest:
On the other hand… this was pretty much me:
Let’s face it: I hadn’t trained in biking. Three rides less than a week before the event don’t count one iota, and while I love my new bike to death, it’s not a hardcore racing bicycle. No matter though. I pedaled my way along at a steady, reasonable pace. Sure I got passed a lot, but I also passed some people too. Cosima held up nicely as well. I was having such a great time that I started singing.
We’re talking Beatles songs, Monkees songs, Aldo Nova songs (!), and a whole bunch of Muppet Show hits. A lot of people stared rather quizzically at me. Some of them smiled and cheered me on. One girl actually started singing “Rainbow Connection” with me. Now THIS was fun. The ride hardly seemed like work, although I was giving it my best. Meanwhile, hardcore, “serious” cyclists were still passing, yelling out with a stern (but proper and polite) “ON YOUR LEFT!” as they did so. I was so used to such a stern tone that I was taken aback when a sweet girl passed me with a very friendly, accommodating, “OK I’m going to be passing you on your left now, thank you!”
I turned to her as she passed and said, “You know, that is THE most polite and friendly ‘on your left’ I’ve heard all morning, thank you for that!”
“You’re welcome,” she said with a smile as she passed and moved in front of me. “You know, a lot of people take this a little bit too serious–“
“ON YOUR LEFT!!!1!!!1!1!!!1!!one!!11!” suddenly screamed an angry cyclist in a vicious, intimidating howl that would have put Godzilla himself into immediate cardiac arrest.
“Like THAT!” the girl said with a scowl as Captain Meano passed us by.
“I think I need to change pants,” I said with an affected anxiety in my voice. Then we both laughed, she wished me a good race and pedaled on.
Continuing on my merry way, I was on the verge of completing my last loop when I heard Sheri call my name out. She was leaving the park as I was entering it, so we were able to wave to each other as we zipped on in opposite directions. Heading back towards the Transition Area, I saw Boots on the sidelines and she managed to capture this amazing Action Jackson snapshot:
I dismounted at the Dismount Zone, and found I had a little bit of difficulty getting off my bike. It wasn’t pain or anything like that; more like just a little stiffness. Thankfully, I successfully extricated myself from Cosima. The 11 mile bike journey was complete. I hadn’t ridden particularly fast, but for someone who hadn’t been on a bicycle for 12 years until a week before that day, I thought I did just fine. Two down. One to go.
Time – 39:49 min
Distance – 11 miles
Pace – 16.6 miles/hour
Cat Place – 26/31
OA Place – 245/310
Let’s briefly touch upon…
There’s not too much to talk about here. I quickly walked Cosima back over to my area and racked her. Only after racking my bike did I finally remove my helmet. I was way paranoid of getting a DQ for a helmet violation, so I was taking no chances whatsoever. I had come way too far for that! All that was left was to get ready for the run, and that didn’t require anything much, really. I took a long drink of water from my bottle, followed with three CLIF Blocks for quick energy. Then I put on my Halo headband to keep the sweat out of my eyes, did a quick stretch to alleviate a bit of soreness in my hamstring, and crossed the mat to enter the final portion of the triathlon.
We had now entered… End Game.
Transition 2 Stats
Time – 2:41
Cat Place – 28/31
OA Place – 285/310
So let’s see our course map for the Run portion of the race:
The run was a 5K. Nothing more, nothing less. It consisted of two laps around the park in a clockwise manner. And listen, I can do 3.1 miles standing on my head, easy. No intervals, walk breaks, or any real strategy required whatsoever. Just hit the pavement and go. No problem.
But of course there’s just one wee little issue you need to get a quick handle on, because after swimming and cycling your legs are going to turn into jelly. Instead of feeling like you have a running form of steel and motion and power, your entire lower body feels like…
So yes, you feel bouncy and springy and weird but the one thing you really aren’t is slow. As a matter of fact, while I felt I was running at a moderate, even pace, I was actually zipping right along. I felt full of energy, strong, forceful, like my entire nervous system was flowing with pure Power Cosmic. Call it whatever you will. I felt fantastic… almost pure elation as I made my way around the park. During the first lap I recognized Eli from Fat Boy Fit Man and we exchanged greetings and encouragement. There was such a strong feeling of camaraderie on that course.
Speaking of which, the course throughout the park was wonderful. There were two water stops serving both water and an electrolyte replacement drinks, and most of it felt shaded and extremely pleasant. There were plenty of park restrooms available if you needed them. Thankfully I didn’t; my UC flare was kept well in check throughout the entire event! Huzzah!!
Boots was capturing pics from the sidelines near the Finish, and got this cool one of me as I was finishing my second lap:
Here is where I’m going to advise people to bring their GPS watches with them (if they own one) to a triathlon. As mentioned above, the 5K course was two laps around the park. When you complete the first lap, there’s a sign that advises people doing their second lap to continue moving forward, whereas people heading towards the Finish Line were to turn left. It’s very easy to get lost “in the zone”, turn left, cross the Finish Line, only to get disqualified because you never ran your second lap. My Garmin watch served as a reminder that I had only accomplished half my run, so I kept moving onward. I could see myself getting “lost in the zone” and making the wrong turn. A few participants complained on Facebook about being DQ’ed as a result of turning to Finish before their time. Remember to stay focused, gang!
With my second lap completed, my race was almost at an end. All I had to do was cross that Finish Line, and I would officially become a Triathlete! So you know what, that’s precisely what I did:
Before we go on, let’s take a look at my…
Time – 29:03 min
Distance – 3.1 miles
Pace – 9:22 minutes/mile
Cat Place – 24/31
OA Place – 162/310
The feeling you get when crossing the Finish Line for the first time after participating in a new event is always indescribable. This time was no different. I was emotionally shot out of a cannon when my race was over, charged up and full of energy, overloaded with a profound sense of accomplishment and happiness. I mean, this was a perfect spring day, warm and breezy and beautiful, surrounded by friends and cheered on by loved ones. The emotional catharsis was as good as it gets, folks.
So let’s take a look at those final stats:
Time – 1:24:54
Cat Place – 26/31
OA Place – 215/310
Not bad for my first time… and of course, I’m ready to do even better. I’m most proud of the fact that I was strongest during the swim portion; not bad for just two months of training, if I do say so myself, and I just did. I really need to work at the bike portion of the race. I did OK but I need to train a lot more at it. If this requires a bike upgrade sometime in the future then that might have to happen, but for right now I’m very pleased with Cosima so we’ll be sticking together for awhile. Shortening my transition times is also a priority, but that comes with practice and experience. Now that I know what to expect, I can plan better for next time.
And believe you me, there will be a next time. I’m looking squarely at you, Tradewinds Park on July 4th…
So what happened next? A volunteer knighted me with my medal while another one removed the timing chip from of my ankle. At the end of the Finisher’s chute there was a covered area for runners to grab some much needed grub, including plates of fruit and a hamburger grill. I stuck with the fruit; the thought of shoving a hot greasy cheeseburger in my stomach right after a fitness event never feels right for me. Besides, the fruit certainly hit the right spot. A seemingly bottomless ice cooler at the Nestle tent provided chocolate milk, and by then I was all set. I sauntered over to the course right near the Finish Line to cheer the rest of our runners in. Mike, Boots, and Mare were already there, and we cheered and took pics of the rest of our gang on their way back.
And here they come!
After we managed to corral everyone together, we posed for a “serious” group shot:
As well as a “not quite so serious” one:
Dorks. The lot of us. Me, I was just pleased as punch, myself:
And here’s a shout-out to my erstwhile training buddy Kristi. We started our swim training together with absolutely no idea what in the hell we were doing. We’ve come a long way, Red!
It was too early to go grab some beers, so after a much-needed hot breakfast of champions at… the local Denny’s (eesh!), Katarina, Sheri, Kristi, Boots, and I sauntered over to Bokamper’s in Plantation, where toasted our great success with some mighty delicious brews indeed. Although our large group had dwindled down to a small handful, we still had a great time. Listen, ginormous Blue Moons fresh from the tap after a hard-won battle against a Triathlon Challenge? The Nectar of the Gods could scarcely have tasted any better.
So as you can see, the 2015 Egg Hunt Triathlon was a huge success for me on a personal level, but it was also a wonderfully run and extremely well organized event. Doing a triathlon for the first time can be a bit daunting, but everything from the race communications, the pre-race clinc, race day coordination and organization, volunteers, and post-race accommodations were really well put-together. And a sprint triathlon is the perfect event for anyone to try… especially experienced runners. You already got the 5K down, all you have to do is get some swim practice down and go out for a few longer bike rides. And by all means, attend the pre-race clinic so you know what you’re in for as well as the various rules of the game. I had a blast. I’m doing it again next year. I’m looking for more to do in between.
Just what I need. One more obsession. Yeesh. Here’s the video: