In February, I wrote a column about the questionable decision to sign up for a triathlon. As you may recall, at the time I described a triathlon as a four-event competition consisting of swimming, biking, running and dying. Well I’m happy to report that last week I followed through and competed in the Tupper Lake Tinman Triathlon, in Tupper Lake, N.Y. The good news is that I did not participate in the last event of dying, and actually finished the race.
The bad news is that it was easier to keep track of my time with a calendar than a clock.
To ensure that no one confused me for a rational person, rather than signing up for my first triathlon with beginner distances, Tupper Lake was a “Half Ironman” competition. This event entailed swimming 110 miles, biking 56 miles, and running 14 miles. OK, I’m exaggerating. The run was only 13.1 miles. And the swim only seemed like 110 miles. I was encouraged to sign up for the race by a 26-year-old co-worker who played to my ego. It would have behooved me, before agreeing to do it, to remember that this woman was born around the time George W. Bush was telling voters to read his lips. I, on the other hand, entered this world during the Eisenhower administration.
Once I made the commitment to compete in the race I decided a certain amount of training was in order. I was comfortable biking and running, but with swimming I was like a fish out of water. So I spent a lot of time at Vermont Technical College’s indoor pool. One day, after two months of visiting the facility, I was interrogated by the lifeguard.
“Sir, you’ve been coming here for a long time now. Don’t you want to get in the water?” he grilled me. “You are welcome to go in the water and swim, if you would like.”
Obviously my good friend with the red life preserver did not see merit in my plan to learn to swim by osmosis.
“OK, I’ll be back,” I informed him.
The next day, I packed swim trunks and started training in earnest. Unfortunately, the pool was in Randolph, and so I lost even more training time. Before you could say Michael Phelps, the triathlon was a few short weeks away.
When asked by a friend about the pending competition I expressed my concern with the minor glitch of possibly drowning.
“You’re going to wear a wetsuit, aren’t you? Everyone wears them,” he said.
“What do they cost?”
“$300,” was his response.
“There is nothing that you can say that will make me spend $300 for a wetsuit,” I stated.
“It will make you more buoyant and less likely to sink …”
Later that afternoon I was in a sports shop in Burlington forking over three Benjamins for a skintight neoprene outfit.
When race day came, I approached the water and saw a bunch of competitors at the lake’s edge. I pointed to a buoy in the water. “So we just have to swim around that buoy and back and that’s it for the swim?” I asked. These two “athletes” must have been nervous, because they starting laughing hysterically.
“That’s where we start,” one guy informed me.
“You have to swim around that buoy way out there,” the other competitor said, pointing to a distant dot on the horizon not quite as far away as San Francisco, but at least as far as Flagstaff, Ariz..
When the starting gun went off, it was complete mayhem. I was like a salmon swimming against the current trying to get back to my car while several hundred lemmings jumped into the water and starting flailing furiously.
I got turned around and ended up in the lake. And then a funny thing happened. Due in part to the wetsuit, I floated on the surface. In fact, I was, albeit very slowly, actually moving forward slightly. So for the next hour, I swam behind the others and got closer to my destination. When I finally climbed on shore, I felt like I had just scaled Everest. I was elated, relieved, and ready to go home.
The joy of the moment was immediately interrupted by the sound of a race official. “Get on your bike, and follow the marked route,” he said.
Three plus hours later I finished the ride, and started running, and eventually I crossed the finish line. It was a full day of activity, and all in all, a lot of fun. In fact, it was so enjoyable that I may decide to do it again one day.
But If I do, I think I will need to learn to swim the crawl. The doggy paddle just isn’t cutting it.
Mark S. Albury lives in Northfield Falls.
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