I signed up for the New Jersey Devilman Sprint Triathlon several months ago after receiving sound advice from our friend Susanne. She explained that it was a good beginner tri. She was right. Still . . a first tri is a first tri and I had plenty of race-week jitters. Jitters like I NEVER had before any running event including my first marathon. Of course, the difference might be that it is impossible to drown while running a marathon. Conversely, it would be quite a simple thing to drown during a triathlon. This was first and foremost in my mind especially as the spring temperature stayed low keeping the normally warm lake nice and cold.
I didn’t realize these tri things started so blasted early. I gave my personal race videographer every opportunity to bail out but after the drowning discussion, she insisted on coming along, insurance policy in hand. (Okay . . not really, but she may have been somewhat worried.) We crawled out of bed around 4:00am Saturday and traveled to the metropolis of Cedarville, NJ. When I say metropolis think “Tiny Village”, which it is. Cedarville is a small farming community along the Delaware Bay shore that I’ve driven through probably a thousand times on my way to Fortescue (an even smaller village) to go fishing. Every time through town I see people fishing in the little lake and think “The bay is 5 miles away. Why would you bother fishing in that pond”? Yet today, I would be swimming in it. Yikes!
We were some of the first to arrive in the parking lot for the race. I parked and got my bike and bag out and was going to head toward registration and packet pick-up when my phone rang and Joe Lombardi (Soarfeet) was on the phone. Turns out he was moments away so we waited. Joe is an experienced triathlete and his guidance would prove invaluable.
Joe arrived and after meeting his new dog Kona, we made our way with our bikes to packet pick-up. This all went smooth and we received a shirt, hat, packet and timing chip. After stopping for body markings (first time I’ve had someone write numbers on me with a pen) it was off to the transition area to setup. I was bib number 136 and found my spot in transition just a little way from Joe. This was handy. “Joe what do I do with this big sticker with my number on it”? Oh . . it goes on the bike. “Joe what do I do with this little sticker with my number on it”? Oh . . it goes on the helmet. And so it went. (Seems these triathlons like you to have your number everywhere.) I proceeded to lay out my transition area based on many hours of watching transition videos on Youtube. Apparently I looked like I knew what I was doing because bib #138 was watching me carefully. I stopped and said “This is my first one too”. He started laughing and said he’d better watch someone else. I got everything laid out except for my bib and race belt. I had been through my bag completely 3 times without finding it. I was SURE I had packed it. No matter . . off to the registration tent to buy another one for $10.00. (Later, I found my race belt in my bag, right where I packed it.)
After getting setup I returned my bag to the car and bumped into Susanne Vanzijl and her husband Sean. Susanne just looks like she knows what she’s doing at a triathlon (even before you look down at her Cervelo Tri bike with Zipps and her Aero helmet). Race results would later show that indeed she does know what she’s doing. Anyway, we chatted for a bit but she had to hurry to setup as they got their later then us.
Fast-forwarding to race start, I was one of a few people without a wetsuit. The whole tri thing was new to me and the race predictions had been for 70 some degree water. As it turns out it was 66. Oh well. Susanne had packed an extra wetsuit but I wasn’t going to try to learn how to use that on race day. I’d survive for 4/10ths of a mile. Joe and I wandered to the start area. A boat ramp with a couple of floating docks. It was a deepwater start where we’d paddle out, and wait for the go signal. Joe & I were both in wave 2. Susanne was in wave 3. I asked her to pass nicely when she went by.
Anyway, we watched wave 1 go and then got the signal to hit the water. We filed down the dock and in I went. Oooh. Cold. Okay … actually not too bad. I quickly acclimated to the temperature while swimming out to the start and was thankful I hadn’t fooled with the wetsuit. I was still paddling out to the start and heard “10 seconds”! I thought, “Is that for us”? “Go”! I guess so . . . I dove immediately into a freestyle and after submerging my head completely panicked because I couldn’t see 2 inches in front of my face. I jerked my head out of the water and stopped. Try again . . . no . . no good. (Did I mention this was my first Open Water Swim?) There was no logic to this. I knew it wouldn’t be like the pool but for some reason not being able to see was scaring the bejeezus out of me. I had to keep my head out of the water. I began crawling toward the first buoy head held up. Then on to a side stroke. Finally a weak back stroke. I decided when I got to the first buoy I could easily swim to shore and slink away. I was ready to quit now and we were less then 20 seconds in to the race.
I made it to the first buoy faster then I thought. Okay . . just make the turn and start going to the second buoy. More back-stroking. At one point I looked back and saw a wave of blue swim caps coming at me. The third wave. I was near the second buoy so stopped and treaded water out of the way to let them go by. No point causing more chaos then necessary if I were to drown. I noticed a lot of other people having way more difficult time then me swimming.
Finally, I made my way around the 2nd bouy. I had to stop and hold my hand up to see the 3rd buoy as I was looking straight into the sun. I spotted it and resumed my back/side stroke routine. I was making better time then you’d think but not nearly so good a time as a strong freestyle. I got around buoy 3 quick enough and turned toward buoy 4 and the dock. As I side stroked on I could see bikes on main street. “Okay enough of this bullshit. Swim you moron”. Finally, I relaxed, turned and swam a strong freestyle to buoy 4 and the dock. Of course, my left goggle filled with water. In retrospect, I’d have been MUCH better off leaving off the goggles. I gotta check the rules and see if that is legal.
I got to the dock, climbed out and hoofed it toward transition. It was a couple hundred yards to the timing mat and I passed a lot of people on the way there. I hit the mat in the absolutely ridiculous time of 17:23 for a .4 mile swim! This was 211th out of 253. At least a few people swam slower.
Transition 1 went smooth. I was glad I didn’t have to wrestle a wetsuit for the first time. I sat in the grass, put my socks and shoes on, strapped on the Garmin, donned helmet and glasses, grabbed the bike and left. I did take the time to gulp down some G2 since the swim was more strenuous then needed. Total time for T1 was 2:36. Seems slow considering how it felt.
The bike ride was fun. 10 miles out with a tail wind and 10 miles back into it but not that bad. I’ve been riding into worse wind all spring. Too many sprinters didn’t pass me though the lead edge of the Half Lite began passing me toward the end. Those carbon wheels sound like a car coming up behind you. Along the bike route I saw a race belt with someone’s bib attached, a nice looking mini-pump, and the head of what appeared to be a Garmin 205 or 305. I meant to go back and retrieve the latter and turn it in but completely forgot about it. I was conscious of the drafting rule but there were only a few places where I was near anyone fast enough to draft off of and made a point to hang back the required distance until I was ready to pass. I saw all kinds of bikes too: tri bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes, cruisers, and recumbent. It was clear you only need a bike. It doesn’t have to be fancy. The mount/dismount area for the bike was probably 150 yards from the bike out gate for the transition area. I ride with SPD pedals so popped my feet out of the clips about 50 yards from the dismount line and pedaled in on my heels. I’m not that good at clipping/unclipping yet and am not about to try clipping my shoes to the bike ahead of time. (At least not yet.) I hit the scoring mat for the bike leg in 1:11:11. 128thoverall for that leg. As far as I’m concerned, right on target for me for now. Certainly better then the swim. Oh, I also identified 9 species of warbler by song along the bike route. I meant to mention that to race officials in case that merited some sort of time deduction.
Back to Transition for T2. I racked the bike, popped off my helmet, changed shoes and tied my laces (no yanks or anything yet), grabbed my hat, shiny new race belt, and bottle of G2 and beat it. I was surprised how many people walked the transitions. I guess at the stages we were at they didn’t think it worth it to run. I hauled butt out of there. T2 was 1:57. (It occurs to me the transition times are from the time you enter one gate, get to your spot, and leave the other gate so not just time at your mat).
By the time I left the transition area my legs were already feeling pretty good. The 20.5 mile ride was a good warm-up and the run from the dismount, through transition had shaken out the post-bike feeling. I was ready to run and it felt GOOOD. I thought “Now this is my thing”. I may not have been the fastest runner in the field but I can say I was the fastest while I was running. I passed everyone I saw. I got a lot of funny looks like “How can you be going that fast”. The first couple miles were 7:27ish. Mile 3 was a little slower . . maybe 7:50ish. But then I sped back up for the last mile. The course was definitely longer then the advertised 4 miles but I didn’t mind. I was really enjoying myself. As I came down the finish chute the guy in front of me was struggling. I accelerated thinking “I’m going to dash your hopes of that 127thplace finish”. He heard me coming and buckled down but I could tell he just couldn’t go faster. Then I spotted my wife with the video camera. I thought “You know what, I’m not gonna elbow this guy outta the way for one extra spot”. I eased up, smiled and gave the camera the thumbs up. As we went through the chute I congratulated the gentleman in front of me on a fine finish. He said “I heard you coming”! My run leg was 31:31 or 55th overall. (I can tell triathletes hate running.) Final time: 2:04:41. Not fast, but a good learning experience.
Afterwards, I hung out with Age Group legends Joe Lombardi (and Kona), and Susanne Vanzijl as they accepted their respective age group trophies. (Susanne 1st place, Joe 3rd place). I got a finishers medal and a big kiss from my wife. So . . fun, friends, GREAT weather (70 degrees and sunny by the time we left), and my first tri in the books. Oh and most importantly, I met my single biggest goal for the race: I DIDN’T DROWN!