After 6 solid months of intense basketball in Portugal, I returned home to Vancouver and decided it was time to take a break. Allowing my body to recover somewhat, the plan was to keep my offseason training as low impact as possible. Instead of insuring my car, I depended on my road bike and two feet for transportation. Since my hometown of Richmond is very flat and easy to navigate on two wheels, I found myself rediscovering the city – while cycling close to 100km (62miles) a week. In addition to biking to and from work, I ran almost 3 miles a day.
Feeling great, the thought of entering a sprint triathlon crept into my head. I’ve always wanted to compete in one and since I felt comfortable running and spending time on my bike, why not train for the swim? This inevitably led me to the pool. I’ve never really been a swimmer. Sure, I took swim lessons as a youngster, but never swam lengths competitively or for fun; until injuring my achilles in Madeira. There, I spent 3 days a week at the pool re-teaching myself the proper technique while keeping my cardio base in place. Figuring I’d be able to pick up where I left off, I started attending the length swim at the local pool whenever I had free time.
Working hard to convince my friend Julie to train with me, we set up a schedule to swim a minimum of 1000m three times a week. Decked out Dara Torres style, the two of us looked the part and were training to fulfill a fraction of that role. After 3 weeks in the pool, Julie and I convinced ourselves we were ready. (Note to future triathletes: open water swimming is VERY different than swimming in a pool...)
August rolled around and after registering in June, triathlon weekend had finally arrived. Raring to go, Julie and I loaded up her jeep and pumped the tunes during our 2-hour trek to Harrison Hot Springs, BC. Leaving a day before the event, we wanted to scout out the course before tackling it the following morning.
Arriving mid-afternoon in Harrison, we were greeted by overcast skies and a chilly breeze. With the lake reflecting the dark clouds, the water looked anything but inviting. Searching for the athlete check-in, Julie and I must have spent close to 30 minutes driving around the one stoplight town. Unsure of what to do next, we decided to grab coffee and sit on the patio while trying to warm our bare arms and legs. Discussing strategy (read: survival) for the triathlon, the two of us started to get excited when realizing we were on the brink of completing a pretty respectable athletic event. I will never run a marathon – those people are superhuman (a close 2nd to Ironman athletes) but a triathlon has always been right up there on my list.
After planning our attack for the following morning, it was time to get some questions answered. Entering the nearest hotel, we coincidently found the athlete check- in. It was here we learned the tri actually took place in Harrison Mills – a much smaller, lesser known town 20 minutes away. Alright...Gathering the info we needed, we were on the road again, this time to Harrison Mills to finally find the competition route.
For those of you who have never been to Harrison Mills – you’re not missing much. The fact that it is called a town is funny to me. It’s a street. There’s a convenience store, gas station, hotel and camp ground. That’s it. No houses – just wilderness and a 2 lane road. Stopping at the convenience store and then at the hotel to find more info about the triathlon, we were thrown for a loop. People working at both places had no idea what we were talking about. Interesting...Unsure of where to go or what to do next, we decided to keep driving and stopped at a corner store about 3 miles down the road. The owner was super friendly and despite being an extremely low talker, she was able to direct us across the lake to a gravel lot, stating it was where the triathlon was to take place. Without any other options, Julie and I continued on the narrow 2-laned highway.
Finding the campground, we drove past fifth wheel trailers, tents and makeshift shelters near the water’s edge. Finally, we had discovered the event’s start without the help of any signage or useful direction. Taking a deep breath and looking out on the water, I took a few minutes to appreciate the beauty of the lake, mountains and trees around us. Yet another example of why it’s no secret my Province is called beautiful British Columbia.
Spotting the transition zone near the water, Julie and I walked to the edge and tested out its warmth, or rather – lack of. The lake was FREEZING! Advertised at 70 degrees Fahrenheit, it must have been 40 degrees – and that’s being generous! As if we weren’t already nervous about the swim, the temperature of the water had us second guessing our water skills.
Shaking out the negative thoughts, we noticed a familiar car pull up – one we had seen in the same places as us all day. It turned out to be another athlete who also was searching for the start line. Being the joker that I am, I made some comment to break the ice and share a laugh, but this lady was having none of it. Too serious in her top of the line attire and super expensive Trek bike she smirked, ignored me and acted as if we didn’t exist. We were the only two people there! Wow...clearly she was too elite an athlete to speak to us. With the evening starting to creep in, Julie and I decided to return to Harrison Hot Springs and fuel up with a carb-loaded spaghetti dinner; one that turned out to be a complete rip-off. Seventeen dollars and one minimal scoop of pasta later we were still hungry, having to stop at Subway before spending the night at our friend Carrie’s parent’s house in Agassiz. Race day tomorrow!
Up bright and early the next morning, I could barely eat, as butterflies filled my stomach. With our bikes loaded, swimsuits on and gear in order, we were off to Harrison Mills one last time.
Parking near the water’s edge, athletes of all ages, shapes and sizes started to arrive. After setting up our bikes and change of clothes in the 1st transition zone, we pumped ourselves up in the jeep by listening to house music. Busting out some involuntary dance moves and a couple impromptu raps to ease the nerves, after a sip of liquid courage, we were ready to go.
Lined up and heading into the lagoon, people starting screaming as their bare skin touched the water. Seriously! It was with great difficulty that I waded in waist deep. Once at chest level, the water literally took my breath away. It was so cold that I couldn’t help but involuntarily exhale when submerging my head. With approximately 5% of athletes wearing wetsuits, cries rang out almost the whole 400m of the swim. It was that cold! Finally warming up and finding a rhythm, I powered out the last 200m and was probably one of the first 15 people out of the water. So far, so good!
Running into the transition zone, I felt confident. The worst part was over and I was on to the 20k (12 mile) ride. Hopping on my bike, I knew this leg was going to be my strongest one. Hammering down on the pedals, I started to pass men and women alike. Being the competitor I am, I felt a surge of adrenaline shoot through my veins, realizing I was in the hunt!
During the rolling climb on a quiet freeway, I got lost in my surroundings. Here I was on a beautiful day looking out at a gorgeous lagoon, immense green trees and towering mountains. I wish I could have videoed the ride. It was so beautiful that I barely realized I was sweating, breathing hard and grinding out a challenging ride. Keeping pace with an athletic looking lady in a purple swimsuit, I was in the zone.
During the last 2 miles, I took a sip of water and accidently dropped my bottle. Deciding to turn around, stop and grab it before continuing on, I lost about 20 seconds. It was during these 20 seconds that ‘Trek bike’ (the rude lady we had met the previous day) looked at me as she passed and smirked. Oh heck no! It was on! There was no way the woman was going to beat me to the line. Now serious, I decided to drift on her back tire, staying close enough but deciding not to pass quite yet. I wanted to burn her in the run.
Finally entering the 2nd transition zone, I quickly changed and was off and running. As I started into the incline of the 5km (3 mile) run, I busted pass ‘Trek bike,’ staring her down and giving her a smirk in the process. Now I just had to make sure she didn’t pass me before the line. Settling on a good pace, I again took in the fabulous view and started passing men and women alike. (Note: there is nothing better than passing a young, fit, athletic male. It does wonders for your confidence!) Thinking the bike was going to be my strong point, I felt awesome during the run and started to make up more ground. Once again I was setting pace with the lady in the purple swimsuit. We ran together for about half a mile, chatting how we seemed to be on the same level. Finally, she kicked it in gear and headed off after wishing me luck.
With about a mile left in the run, I put the hammer down. Tired and starting to run out of gas, I wanted to finish strong. As I sprinted toward the finish line, I was boosted by the cheers of the crowd. One hour and 23 minutes later (15th place overall, 6th place in the women’s division out of 100 participants) – I was a triathlete! Tired, but on an endorphin high – I grabbed some Gatorade and ran back to the finish to cheer on my friend Julie. About two minutes after I crossed the line, I saw ‘Trek bike’ lady closing in. Making sure to plant myself in her line of sight as she finished, I flashed her a sarcastic grin as she made eye contact and acknowledged defeat. I couldn’t help but think, “who's laughing now?” As Julie closed in on the line, I yelled words of encouragement. We’d done it! Collecting our medals, t-shirts, water and bananas, we hugged at the line with smiles plastered on our faces. Whoo!
I thought competing in a triathlon was a huge accomplishment, but the most memorable part was experiencing how supportive and friendly people were during the race. Almost every athlete and fan smiled, offered words of encouragement and cheered each other on. It was a great atmosphere. The thing that really made me smile was seeing every type of person competing in the event. From old to young, big to small – it didn’t matter the background, we were all there for the same reason – to conquer a triathlon. What an awesome thing to be a part of. Next summer – Olympic distance! (1.5k [0.93m] swim, 40k [25m] bike, 10k [6.2m] run.)
If you’ve ever thought about doing a triathlon, I highly recommend it. It’s probably one of my proudest accomplishments. The feeling after crossing that line is unlike anything else.