2 hours 24 minutes

Going into 2012 I had zero plans of doing a triathlon. This was the year all about tackling a 100 mile foot race. In fact, I received in the mail a fundraising program to help a charity while participating in a triathlon. Here is what I said out loud:

That’s cool! I’ll have to remember that for next year when I think about a triathlon.

Denver Triathlon with SonThe next morning, 45 days before race day, I received an entry into the Denver Triathlon.

I would like to say I buckled down and made an aggressive schedule to get in the pool and on the bike. Running I felt plenty comfortable with. However, life changes did not really allow me the time to get to a pool to do laps. I did take 2 spin classes to make sure my legs knew the right direction to turn. Probably not the same.

To understand the language of this world, I turned to Twitter. I received very helpful advice including Beginner Triathlete and what to have ready in the transition areas.

So yes, I was going into a triathlon with one third the training.

Denver Triathlon Athlete BriefingThe packet pickup and expo the day before the race would be a good place to get more information on what I was doing. A little late on the whole training part, but at least I wouldn’t take wrong turns, get penalized, or swim off into the sunset. There was an athlete briefing that answered all of those questions. I brought my son (9 years old) with me to start soaking in some of the experience. Plus, he’s pretty sharp so if I missed something he probably knew the answer.

Mile High Stadium TriathlonMorning of the triathlon I awoke at 4a. Normal kind of morning for me … coffee and waffles for breakfast. Put on my shirt and shorts, headed out the door. No big deal. Made the 30 minute drive to Mile High Stadium, parked, and pulled out the bike.

I would later find out that the kind of bike you have can make a big difference in a race. My bike was a $120 mountain bike from Target. I knew that I would probably have the cheapest bike in the entire race (I was correct), but wasn’t ready to drop $1k+ on a bike. If I do another triathlon, I will invest in a $1k+ bike. It was really interesting to watch others go through their pre-race process. Some were packing bags, others getting on body glide, and a few were talking to their bikes. Very interesting.

Bike to Start Denver TriathlonFrom what I am told, most triathlons have one transition location for swim to bike and bike to run. The Denver Triathlon has two due to the proximity of the swim (Sloans Lake) to the finish line (Sports Authority Stadium at Mile High). Athletes were to park at the stadium and could either take a bus over to the swim or ride their bike. I noticed people were carrying their bikes onto the bus to transport. My bike probably weighed 50 pounds while their real bikes closer to 10 pounds. They had race ambassadors to guide people so I decided the bike ride over to see if the bike worked. I know, not the right time to test your equipment for the first time.

The ride over to the swim start was a good warmup and first indication that I was in for a world of hurt this morning.

T1 at Denver TriathlonArriving at the swim to bike transition, I walked my bike in and found my spot. I racked my bike (love these new terms!) and proceeded to layout my shoes, socks, and hat. Hat? Oops. Why would I be putting on my hat when I have to wear a helmet? Fortunately, my shorts have pockets so I would be able to fold up the hat and carry it on the bike ride. No worries. First problem of the day solved!

Next up was get my body marking (another great term!) done. The volunteers at the race were great and easy to spot. All I had to do was look for someone in a bright yellow shirt.

I walked over to a guy and here’s how it went:
Body Marking Denver TriathlonHim: Ready to get marked?
Me: I kind of feel like I already am, but let’s do it.
Him: Alright, I see your number is 1185.
Proceed to write with giant Sharpie on my arms and swim cap.
Him: Are you in a certain class or category?
Me: Ummmm … is “Surviving” a specified class?
Him: (Laughs) how about your age?
Me: Yes, I have one of those.

He wrote my age on my calf and I was set.

I have to admit, writing on your body with a giant Sharpie will make you feel like a kid again. Remember all those times you were told to stop writing on yourself (or your brothers) with permanent marker? Oh yeah, good stuff!

Swim Cap Wave at Denver TriathlonThe race provides swim caps by color to line up waves easier. I have never in my life put on a swim cap. No idea what I was doing and think the photo pretty much explains it. The look on my face indicates that I am starting to realize the bad situation I have created for myself. After all, this was my choice to be here.

I took another look at my bike, stuff on the ground, permanent marker on my body, and sent my last text (hoping not last) to wife. Disconnected from technology (can’t really swim with my phone) and headed to the beach.

Denver Triathlon Swim Start Sloans LakeStanding in the sandy beach staring at the far off red buoys to swim to, I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman. I say older because we all have our ages written on our legs, so I knew that he was 72 years of experience. Come to find out, this was to be his 101st triathlon. In the 80’s he competed at the international level, but then took a decade off due to knees. He know had a new set of knees and was back at it. Wow!

I decided to get into the water to wait. The air temperature was colder then the water so it made sense. I realized quickly that once I got in, I was not coming back out until I was done with the swim leg. The breeze over the water made that evidently clear.

Sitting in the water and looking around, it was hard not to be inspired. I saw several blind athletes with their guides, another athlete with one leg, and an athlete with one arm. Aside from the whole haven’t swam a lap in 6 years, what excuse did I have? It was time to do this and push it forward!

Standing in the water waiting for the starting signal, I talked with one of the referees:
Him: Ready?
Me: The only goal is to move forward and survive.
Him: That’s a great way to look at it!
Me: If I don’t move forward, I’ll be moving downward. So not many options.
Him: But you are here. Others made the choice to not be.

I like this guy. Looking at him I could tell he was a tough guy that nobody messed with. I appreciated that.

10 second countdown. I said a little prayer:
Lord, I know I put myself in these ridiculous situations, but let’s get through this together.
I think I heard him laugh a little.

The first 3 minutes were great. Felt like I might be able to do this. Just like the beginning of a marathon where you start and you’re like this isn’t too bad. Then the challenges begin.

This was a half mile swim. Two buoys out, turn around, and come back. I had no specific stroke planned except the one that would get me out of the water the fastest. I made it to the first buoy, a quarter of the way through. Only problem was that I was floating on my back to try and slow down my heart rate. That’s when the panic started kicking in.

One of the points everyone, and I mean everyone, that I talked to that had completed a triathlon said was “have you swam in open water?” Well, yes, I was a lifeguard in a lake and did the mile swim there. 15 years ago. What could they possibly be talking about?

Here is what they are talking about … when you are running or biking and get out of breath, you stand up (or bend in half) and catch your breath. Swimming? Not quite. Even floating on your back is not the same as you can’t really relax because you are still working your body to some extent.

About every 100 yards there was someone in a kayak. It was allowed to hold onto the kayak without penalty as long as the kayak wasn’t towing you. Solution: swim kayak to kayak.

This was my saving grace without question. I met every kayaker on the course and had great chats with each. All of them provided the right motivation and personalization a struggling athlete could use. The kayak before the turnaround point was right on target:
Just make it around that buoy and then you are heading back from sure. That’s your goal.
Easier said then done for me, the guy who hasn’t swam a lap in 6 years, but I’ll get it done.

Made it around the farthest buoy and headed to the next kayak.
Him: You’re looking good! On your way in!
Me: Appreciate you guys being out here as I don’t feel like drowning today.
Him: (17yo looks straight at me) We will not let you drown.

Oh hell it was on now! Eyes to the swim finish and go time. It was not the prettiest swimming moves as it was a side-stroke-freestyle-backfloat-breast-stroke type of forward motion. What was key was that it was forward motion.

Exiting the swim, the same referee was there and he looked at me and said:
See, you made it out and not even the last one!

Right on, now time to get on a bike and rest a bit. Oh wait, I have a sucky heavy old mountain bike.

I was told the course was flat. Well, they forget a few sections.

It seemed that any slight incline was hard on the legs. I observed as others who had the nice bikes cruised by me while moving their legs at half the speed of mine. Changing gears on my old clanky bike was loud and not smooth. Remember those people talking to their bikes at the beginning? I was now one of those people. At mile 8 I was speaking nice and encouraging words to the bike saying it could prove he belonged there.

At mile 12 climbing a big hill the bike decided to randomly change gears and almost throw me from the bike.

Now I was the guy on the side of the road yelling not nice words at his bike.

Once I was on the last downhill section of the course at mile 15, I was all out pedaling. Just get me to the bike finish. I don’t remember how many people I passed, but that felt good. Afterall, I was working 3 times harder due to crappy equipment. (bike and I have had a friendly conversation since)

I walked the bike through the transition, racked it, put on my SunRype hat, and ran out the gate for the running course.

Denver Triathlon FinisherSooooooo happy to be running! I was introduced to the experience of your legs turning to bricks. Leaving the transition, I wanted to run, but my hips didn’t want to move. Hello brick. The first half mile I worked through it and then started to settle into my comfortable running stride. It felt so good to do something I know. It also felt good to have a section of this triathlon where I was not passed once. That was nice.

Coming down the Platte River Trail and back to the stadium, I had plenty of energy to kick it all the way to the finish line. Very cool to hear my name over the speakers and cruise into the finish. I took my medal, grabbed some water, and headed for the evol burrito tent. Love these things!

I’ve already been asked: did you have fun and enjoy it?
Overall: I enjoyed the experience.

I did not enjoy the swim, but understand how I could. It was hard to slow down and do it the right way, but at the same time recognizing that I did zero training for the swim. Of course, my mentality going into the swim was that it was going to suck and just needed to power through it. Anytime you tell yourself these things then chances are really good that you will not have fun.

The bike was fun and challenging. It would have been better with the right equipment, but I do see the enjoyment in cycling. Climbing a hill is rewarded with going 30+ mph down the other side wind blowing through your hair. That was fun!

Running … the course was on a very familiar path which was comforting.

I am happy to say that I completed a triathlon and know that the next one I do will be even better. The people I met were great and the level of athleticism is incredible. I enjoyed the learning experience and exposure to a world that I encourage others to strive for completing a triathlon!

Notable things:

Nice shoes shoutouts: 7
Lost my left contact
Swim (.5 mile): 28:43
Transition 1: 4:45
Bike (15.5 miles): 1:22:07
Transition 2: 2:02
Run (3.1 miles): 27:19

Denver Triathlon Finisher Medal

Team SunRype at Denver Triathlon

Comments (10)

  1. Reply

    Ohmylanta!! Tri’s scaaaare us, but somehow we are not surprised that you kind of on a whim did one this weekend! Sounds like you learned a lot for next time though and impressed with your 5K time based on how you said you were feeling! Way to go, Alex!

    • Alex


      Thanks! It was a great learning experience and the best way to learn is to do. Looking forward to another triathlon down the road.

  2. Dane O


    LOL. Way to go Alex!! The account of your first triathlon resonates well. The key diff is that the bike was my strong suit, I couldn’t swim. I bet your hooked now, I am!

    • Alex


      Thanks Dane! I wouldn’t call what I did swimming so much as trying to remember how to keep moving forward in water 🙂 I’ll look at another triathlon after tackling the Leadville 100 Mile Trail Run.

  3. Haley Meyer


    Very entertaining to read! ha! Congrats!! My first tri I used a mountain bike as well 🙂

  4. Reply

    Wow congrats! I can’t believe you had zero swim training! I would’ve been dog paddling for sure…can’t help but love running more for not requiring expensive gear!

  5. Pingback: Fantastic Four Things Friday – Week Recap No. 16 | Thoughts on the Run

  6. Reply

    Welcome to the club, Alex! Rattlesnake (Aurora Res, August 18 & 19) is a fun one! Congratulations on making it through and becoming a triathlete. Although, we’ll have to work on your swim….. 😉

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