My First Tri-And Other Puns I Thought of While Nearly Drowning
It can make you uncomfortable when you know you’re under dressed, This feeling is amplified when your faux pas might directly effect whether or not you will drown. I stood on the edge of the lake, surrounded by people in sleek wetsuits, dressed in a slightly too big one piece I bought from TJMaxx the day before, and my running shorts. Someone yelled go and a mass of seal people, trailed by me, ran into the water. By the time I had gotten to the first buoy, I knew I wasn’t in any danger of drowning. I was firmly in last place, the straggler, and was therefore entitled to my very own paddle boat guy, charged with making sure the kid in the track shorts didn’t wreck their perfect record of getting participants out of the lake alive. He watched me in amazement as inched along with a combination of a sloppy sidestroke and what I believe is officially called the doggie paddle. Every once in a while he would ask “How are you doing?” Of course what he meant was “please give me an indication on how long it will be before I have to fish out your limp body”, but I reflexively treated it as a pleasantry answering, “I’m fine, how are you?”
By the half way mark, paddle boat guy was pretty use to me, and had figured out that, however slowly, I was going to make it back to shore, but by that time the lake was clearing out and other swimmer’s kayak entourages were coming to keep paddle boat guy company. An hour out, I was flanked by four kayaks, one paddle boat, one rescue raft manned by four lifeguards, and a sheriff on a jet-ski. Then we were joined by well-meaning kayak guy. Well-meaning kayak guy thought I had spunk. He wasn’t waiting for me to drown, he was waiting for me to finish. And as I threw my limbs about in a way I hopped would help propel me forward, he had some advice. “You gotta take long strokes, see?” he demonstrated suck a stroke. “You just got to glide.” Even if I had the breath to spare, there’s really no polite way to say “Sir, I know you’re trying to help, and I appreciate that, but since we’ve already past the cut off time, and I’m still a ways off from the finish line, and it’s pretty obvious I’m just barely keeping my head above water, I really don’t think this is the appropriate time to discuss form.” Just like there’s no polite way to explain, when the mass of water crafts closely surrounding you in open water suddenly erupts in encouraging claps and cheers that your greatest phobia, above spiders and dying alone, is applause.
Somehow I made it to the finish line, shakily climbed up the shoot to the transition area, and quickly identified my bike; it was the only one left. Maybe I wasn’t the swiftest swimmer, I thought , but I could own transition. My shorts, though soggy, were already on, so I threw on my shirt, shoved my feet into my shoes, and jammed my helmet on my head. The strap wouldn’t buckle. The four braids started in the middle of my scalp had made my already large head larger. I desperately begin to slam my helmet onto my head, willing my hair-do to flatten, and I’m sure convincing the race volunteers I had a slight stroke during my epic crawl through the water. I finally snapped the buckle, quickly wheeled the bike out of the gate, and tried to mount it. No dice. And again, one foot on, two feet off. “Is there a curb around here?” I asked a bewildered volunteer. He motioned to one and I used it to stabilize myself as I perched, then lurched the bike forward. A terrible sound erupted as soon as I start peddling. “Miss, your bike’s in the wrong gear,” an onlooker standing with his kid yells. ” I know, I don’t know how to change them, thank you though,” I yell back, though I don’t really need to yell. I haven’t made much progress since the exchange began.
And suddenly, Pastor Mike appears on my left. After explaining I don’t know how to change gears, he easily dismounts his bike and pulls some levers on mine, making it infinitely easier to peddle. Pastor Mike, I later learn, is the designated last place finished, my paddleboat guy for the road. His tri-suit is covered in psalms, and I think his job as straggler wrangler is meant to be metaphorical. In this metaphor I’m the dim-witted sheep with only three legs. We press on. Eventually we reach an intersection manned by volunteers. Coasting, I ask one of them how far we had gone. He was thrown by the question; not many cyclists had passed him at a speed that would allow for conversation. “I don’t know. You’re at the beginning.” For the first time that day, I didn’t say thank you.
By mile 10, I was tapped out, way past the cut off time, and the fallen racer van came to collect me. The friendly woman driving is a triathlete and she suggests I try a sprint triathlon the next time. I agree that’s a good idea.
By the time I get back to the park most people are collecting their finisher medals and shirts, looking triumphant and not half as exhausted as I feel. And I know that after a few more races, I’ll be able to get a finisher medal too. Because I’m Tri-ing to be an athlete. Get it? No? The guy next to me doing push ups in his wetsuit didn’t either.
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