Running Fiesta

Writing and running in Austin, TX.

Rookie Tri 2013: Swim

Well folks, clearly it’s taking me forever to get this race report written, so I’m going to play a mental trick on myself and say I only have to document one leg of the tri at a time. That means you, lucky reader, get to sit through an agonizingly long story and wonder why I can’t just get to the point already. Oh well, at least it’s the internet. You actually CAN watch TV while I drone on, with zero concern for social propriety!

So, where did I leave off again? Oh yes, to pee, or not to pee. That is the question.

It’s a funny question, too. When Benjamin Franklin said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”, he clearly forgot about that experience of lying in a warm bed – or in this case a bright yellow Xterra – hoping against hope that somehow, magically, you’ll forget you have to go to the bathroom. (I swear I remember Ellen Degeneres doing a hilarious stand-up routine on this very topic, but when Googling “ellen degeneres have to pee in bed” doesn’t get you what you’re looking for, you know you’ve beaten the internet.)


The mandatory pre-race meeting — can you imagine trying to have one of these at a marathon? We’re going to need you 40,000 people to step over here… — was on the slope of a hill looking out over the roiling maelstrom known as Decker Lake. 

I have no idea what they told us at this mandatory meeting — I had to pee and I was trying to decide if I’d survive the swim — but I imagine it was something like, “Have fun, don’t sue us if you drown.” Perhaps they also said, “Good luck getting your swim cap on,” because that was the tightest effing thing I have ever tried to put on my head. 

At least I won’t have to worry about blinking…

Ironman Jeanine was a veteran, of course, so I decided I would watch her swim, finally hit the Port-A-Potty, and then reluctantly abandon my warm layers. This was another sign of nerves…I’m a terrible planner in real life, so I only make plans under duress. Like an imminent drowning.

Happy hockey wives. Hopefully they don’t read this and thus will remain my friends.


I am not making this up…the waves were 3 feet high. The orange buoys that “marked the course” bounced around so violently that I was pretty sure the organizers had neglected to tie them down. Nothing says fun like watching rookie swimmers chase the course markers, right?

Here’s another fun fact about triathlon: In addition to writing your age (rounded up) on your calf, they give you a swim cap color-coded by age group. I suppose this is some form of safety measure, but I secretly suspect it’s a tool for humiliating the less-than-competent swimmers. You can actually count how many age groups you get lapped by.


Luckily, our entire crew had arrived in time to watch me put that thing on. Handsome J was there of course – what you think I asked someone to take that phone – as well as several members of his hockey team. Two of the other “hockey wives” were also competing as rookies, and apparently their families knew hilarity was likely to ensue. My mom was also there, but only because I bribed her with a large pancake breakfast in exchange for spending her birthday at a freezing triathlon. (Although she swears it just made her nostalgic for my childhood and all the years she spent her birthday at freezing horse shows.)

These days, most triathlons have wave starts. (Cuts down on concussions and accidental drownings at the swim start, much to the chagrin of “hard-core” tri-peeps.) At the Rookie, they let the Veterans go first. I imagine this is to prevent an amped-up vet from punching a clueless rookie in the face for getting in the way.

The swim start was a standing one, so we were directed to wade out to about chest-deep and wait for the horn. 

I’m not gonna lie. There were tears. Not from me of course. I’m way more mature than that. I scream obscenities when I have to step into freezing water. 

The current was flowing strongly from left to right, so I took Jeanine’s advice and lined up as far to the left as possible. This way, I would end up only mildly off course, and not in the middle of the lake. I also did the exact same thing I do at running races and agonized over how far forward to try to be in the pack. I knew I wasn’t a great swimmer, but Jeanine had told me some people doggy paddle the whole thing. I scanned my competitors and tried to guess based on their outfits who was likely to be a paddler. My basic logic was “tri suit = definitely faster than me”, “no tri suit = probably faster than me”.

I needn’t have worried, because once the horn did go off, the group split dramatically. Three-quarters of the people around me took off like a shot and only got farther ahead as the race went on. The last quarter of us flailed about, did our best to aim vaguely in the direction of the first buoy, and choked and sputtered each time a wave hit us in the face on a breathing stroke. 

Two girls in front of me gave up on swimming about 75 meters in and flipped around to float on their backs and enjoy the scenery. Unfortunately, they were right in front of me, so I spent a good five strokes going *punch*, “Sorry!”, *punch*, “Sorry!”, *punch*, “Would you move over already?!?!?”

Okay, let’s be real. I didn’t say that. But one of them did give me a nasty look, so I accidentally punched her one stroke more than was strictly necessary. I mean come on…floating in the first 100 meters and making zero attempt to move to the side is just rude, right?

I finally got around the floaters just in time to turn for home and run smack into a kayak. It looks bad for an event to have someone actually drown, so most tris will have safety officials out on kayaks to fetch anyone truly in trouble. In this race, it was also legal for swimmers to hold on to the kayaks, as long as it didn’t pull them forward. There were three people hanging off this one, and they had managed to pull it completely perpendicular to the course.

Well, I thought, I have b*lls, I’m going to swim under this a-hole! (Granted, it’s easy to have b*lls when a-hole you’re swimming under is a trained paramedic.)

I would love to tell you that I dove gracefully under the kayak, covered another 15 meters under water, and glided to the swim finish. 

I did dive, but I think I ended up somewhere to the left of the kayak, and when I came up the world was very orange, because I was lodged underneath a buoy. 

My thoughts at this time came in the following order:

  1. I hope they don’t call me off course!
  1. I hope no one on shore can see this.
  1. Is this dangerous?
The answers to these questions:
  1. They didn’t.
  1. Everyone saw it.
  1. Not really. I was 15 meters from shore and the water was only about 10 feet deep. Dying at that point would have qualified for a Darwin award.
I had never been so happy to reach the end of something in my life. (Yes, that is foreshadowing.)

I literally staggered out of the water, because if there’s a graceful way to decide when to stop swimming and start walking in shallow water, I have yet to figure it out. My hockey wife friends were long gone, but I directed a quick thanks toward those floaters I was beating on earlier. At least I wasn’t LAST out of the water. 


The manatee emerges

Despite all my claims that I was NOT racing competitively, I felt a spark of hope as my feet touched dry land. Well, actually that was a sticker burr…more on those in part II. But at least now I could focus on running up the hill to the transition area. And running was something I had experience with. 

I passed three people just in the run up to T1, and thereby got the first hint of what could be my key to triathlon success…

Most triathletes hate running.

To be continued…


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This entry was posted on June 16, 2013 by in races, swimming, triathlon.
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