It wasn’t pretty. But I did it. I finished the Pumpkinman Sprint Triathlon today with a time of 2:05:58.
After the race today Jeff Donatello, husband of Race Director Kat Donatello, slapped his onto my shoulder and said “Mike Skelps, you ARE a triathlete!” I never was much of an athlete, so it struck me as kind of funny.
This whole thing started last winter when I was talking to Kat about her race. I told her that it had been more than seven years since my last marathon and that I needed to get in gear again. She said “Check your email when you get back to the office.” And when I did, I found a complementary entry to her race my inbox. She’d thrown down the gauntlet. It was a matter of honor now. Her events always sell out, so she was sacrificing $85 by inviting me to participate. I couldn’t refuse that challenge.
Fast forward to this morning.
I arrived at 5:50AM, nice and early. Maybe a little too early. I was the first one to rack my bike. So there was this big bike area with room for more than 500 bikes, and my old green bike with ungainly wide tires sat there in by itself. It was a funny sight to behold.
The day was cloudy and comfortable, and I was happy about the favorable weather conditions. The crowd formed near the lake, all wearing our colored swim caps. After the national anthem, the first wave (elite athletes, white caps) went into the water. For some reason, the turnaround markers looked further away than I had remembered training for. And then my wave entered the water (six more waves of athletes would go afterwards, one every three minutes).
I knew I wouldn’t be a fast swimmer, so I laid far back as my group of blue-capped triathletes entered the water. It felt a little surreal actually being in the event after thinking of it and planning for it for more than half a year. The water was a little colder than what I was used to training in, but still plenty warm enough in my wetsuit. I stayed to the outside a bit, anticipating faster swimmers overtaking me on the inside, giving them a wide berth. The two turnaround markers along with the starting point, formed a triangular swim course on the lake. At my leisurely pace, I expected to get to the next marker in about six minutes. The blue caps thinned out ahead of me as the faster swimmers progressed at a good clip. Somewhere around the first marker, I saw the first green cap overtake me, as I turned the corner to the left. Okay… I’m slow, I thought, but pretty much according to plan. After turning the second and final corner, two separate lifeguards in kayaks asked if I was okay. Come on, I don’t look that bad, do I? I emerged from the water exactly as the final wave was entering the water, just a few yards to my left. Hurray, I thought. I’m not going to be the last swimmer out of the water!
I proceeded up the hill towards the transition area where I would get on my bike. It’s a noteworthy hill of a couple of hundred yards, and I’m not sure that I would realistically RUN up that hill in any case. But there was something else distracting me from breaking into a full stride. I could not find the strap to unzip my wetsuit. It should have been hanging down my back, where I could reach underhanded to the small of my back and just pull it down. Not there. I reached overhanded and couldn’t locate it that way either. Was it hanging over my shoulder in the front? No. What the heck? So, about two-thirds of the way up this 200 yard hill, I asked a spectator if she would help me locate the strap on my back. She said “Am I allowed to do that?” I replied in a pant, “No, but I don’t care.” She not only located the strap, she actually unzipped the suit all the way. Not what I asked her to do, but THANK YOU!
In the transition area, many of the bikes in my area were already gone. I clumsily peeled off my wetsuit, grabbed a squirt of water, and hopped on my bike. The course started slightly downhill so I immediately went to the highest gear and moved swiftly onto the bike course. It felt good to have some velocity.
The course had been described to me as “not hilly”. I would agree that I would not use the word hilly to describe the course, but that is not to say that the course was without hills. The course weaved through country and woodsy areas, past houses new and old. One small house looked a scene from half a century ago with its clothesline, dated style and a volume of cut firewood stacked in a size that was equal to the house! It was a beautiful ride through trees, neighborhoods and over bridges. I felt that I was moving well on the level and downward areas, but definitely slowing on the uphill legs. I passed a few people but was passed by a much larger number. So I was slow at the swim, and now slow on the bike. Got it. But I’m doing it, I thought. After about an hour to complete 14.2 miles, I saw the transition area, racked my bike and headed out for the run.
As expected, my legs felt heavy as I set out on foot. I was pretty tired already, and I was grateful that the distance was just a hair under three miles. The run course I would describe as not only “not hilly” but more as “downright flat”. Thank you!
About a mile into the run, I was overtaken by my friend Steve Moland. Steve is a race announcer by trade. Steve’s in an older age group, so the fact that we were side-by-side meant he was actually 18 minutes faster than me. We talked and encouraged each other, and even slowed down to hundred-yard walks a couple of times. I told him “Steve, this is weird. You and I should both be working the event, and here we are RUNNING it together!”
We neared the finish, passing one of the Capstone photographers (one of them said that taking pictures of me reminded him of the show Undercover Boss). Steve and I turned the corner where we heard the music playing, then made the final turn to the finish. As we proceeded down the last hundred yards, Steve hollered to the race announcer “This is Mike, owner of Capstone Photography”, and the announcer passed it on over the PA to the crowd. It was my 10 seconds of fame!
Steve and I crossed the finish together. I gratefully received a water and a finisher’s medal and had my timing chip around my ankle removed by a volunteer. My final time: 2:05:58. Nothing to brag about.
But I did it. And it was fun.
Hmmm… what’s next? It’s too early to answer that, though there will definitely be more adventures. Right now, I’m just planning to bask in about 24 hours of glory. And I’ll get a few more chuckles, I’m sure, over Jeff Donatello calling me a triathlete.