I owe a big thanks to Scott Pallwitz for sharing this awesome account of his first triathlon, the 2012 Copper Creek Tri. I can’t wait to see him at another one and I hope if you are on the fence about pushing your athletic comfort zone that this story inspires you to just go for it! ~Cassie
A Tri-ing Experience by Scott Pallwitz
Well it is race day and I have the best game face on that I can muster, but I have to admit, my mind and body are not on the same page. The crowds of people are all encouraging, and I want to be in the best of spirits for those that came to support me and race against me. My mind though, is still unfocused and tired, as I have spent the last week dealing with some very trying family issues. The last two days were spent driving back and forth to Omaha and waiting in a hospital, seeing to the needs of my brother as he recovered from surgery.
Enough of that though, I have a triathlon to do and I need to focus I thought to myself as stood talking with Cassie and Annette. My first thought turned to “Crap! My bike looks heavy compared to all these others!” Yes, and bit of equipment envy rolled over me, but I knew going into this that I would not have the best equipment. Where are the rest of the newbies and amateurs like me? It appears that I’m the only one. Fear is starting to set in now. Wait there in the distance… I think it is… Yes! It’s a mountain bike! A kindred spirit! A novice, a newbie, a first timer like me! More start to come into view, so while there were not many of us that were easily identifiable, we the weekend warriors, were there to represent.
After fumbling with a camera phone picture, great more tech envy, I get the picture of Cassie, Braxton, and Abra taken. I should have gotten one with Annette and I, but I don’t think either of use brought a camera. The only thing I forgot was sunscreen, but luckily Annette had some. She’s much more prepared for this. I don’t know how many Tri’s she’s done now, but she has the routine down pretty well. I’ll get there someday I think to myself. I know she just wants to kick my butt in the race, and even though I know she will, I won’t tell her. At least until she reads this I suppose.
I head back to my rack to look at my layout. Towel, shoes, socks, goggles, wetsuit, watch, swim cap; it’s all there. I’m wearing the same shoes on the bike as the run so I don’t need to worry about changing. But what about the wetsuit, I wonder? I keep looking around, only one other person in sight with a wetsuit. It’s a girl, probably a newbie I think. I know it’s a warm day and the water actually feels pretty good to me, but the official temp allows for the suits. I know I won’t need to worry about being in the Awards contention, so by the rules, I know I can wear it. Is it a faux pas to being wearing them today? I brought it; I’m allowed; I’m wearing it I decide, primarily because swimming is not my strong point.
At this point I should probably tell you about me and swimming. I grew up here in the middle of Iowa, where the only seas we have are seas of corn and soy beans. The crawl stroke really doesn’t help you get through either of them, but you’re more than welcome to try it. The cows will not look at you any differently, this I know as well. So now you can understand that in my book swimming is merely a means to keep from drowning. Sure, I’ve swam before. I have childhood memories of swimming in the lakes and ponds. Going out to the dock to have fun jumping off of it. You could walk most of the way to it. In gym class, where I amazed the swim coach with my absolute inability to float, and back to the boat after falling off of tube. All short swims by anyone’s standards. I tried to prepare myself for this test of my swimming prowess by going to the pool several times a week. I worked my way up to what I thought was a good distance. For this Tri, it’s a 750 meter swim.
Again, Crap! That’s a long way now that I see it laid out with the buoys. I’ve got this though, I have the suit, it’ll help to give just enough buoyancy to float if I need it, and I’ve been practicing. Face down, crawl stroke, go easy, no panic, breathe and just be smooth. It’s so simple. And now I’m seeing lots of others, experienced others with wetsuits on in the crowd. I’m feeling much better about this. They go over the last little bits of pre-race announcements. The pre-race prayer is done. What the hell is with the national Anthem? It’s taped and way over the top. Even if it’s terrible, I prefer it to be sung live. Oh well, it’s a minor thing not worth worrying about. The crowd is shuffling toward the beach and aligning in the waves. Cassie mentions the same thing I’m thinking, I can’t see my swim cap so I hope I don’t forget what color it is.
There is a muffled bang as the starting gun goes off. I see several people around me jump. Ha! Amateurs! I think to myself, it wasn’t even a real gun and look at them jump. I chuckle to myself at what these people would do it were a real gun. Faint maybe? The momentary distraction eases my mind, as I try to focus again on the swim. Calm – breathe – slow and steady. A couple more waves go, allowing me to watch the jumps over and over again. I watch as Braxton, Matt, Nate, and Yon head down the ramp to the water. They are counting everyone that goes into the water. That’s comforting, at least they will know if I don’t come out of the water. They may not find my body, but at least I’ll have been counted. Unless of course if I’m related to the Wicked Witch of the West in which case I’ll just melt, as Braxton reminds me.
It’s my turn to walk down the ramp and finally start this race. I’m the last one to the water in my wave, seems fitting somehow. I’m following all the advice from everyone, especially Annette, reminding me to line up on the outside and not the middle of the pack. I’ve heard it from others as well, but this just lets me know, she cares enough to not want to see me pummeled like a tuna caught in a fishing net. Yep, she’s going to kick my butt in this race and we both know it, but I don’t care anymore.
The water is a comfortable temperature, and the wetsuit feels good, no binding. Everyone hits the rocks at able 10 feet out from shore. It’s obvious why there was no running start to the race. The rocks are huge, it’s the riprap they use to hold the bank. Really rough stuff. That’s when I stepped on it. Sharp rock? Stick? Fabled underwater porcupine monster of Copper Creek? The water is too murky to tell, but there is now a hole in the bottom of my foot. I won’t know until tomorrow but the ball of my foot is bruised pretty badly as well. I’m not happy, but they just called 30seconds to the start! I edge up to the line, giving everyone plenty of space. The gun goes off, and I immediately … wait for the rush of people to go. Somehow I know Annette must be smiling somewhere up on the bank. I start off at my pace, swimming as I had planned. I’m actually doing well. I’m keeping up with those around me, and hey look I even passed a couple guys. The first buoy is just ahead, I got this. I round the buoy and realize that I’m now in the “fast” lane for swimmers. I start to move outward when all hell breaks loose for me. I lost it, not breathing right, not smooth, face up sucking air like it’s a blow hole. Alert! Alert! Time to Panic!!! I don’t know what happened, but it was time to flip this floundering ship over and re-think this whole thing. The wetsuit is the only think saving my bacon at this point. Without its buoyancy boost I have no doubt in my mind, even now, that I would have called it quits. I’m kicking though, breathing way too hard because of my momentary panic attack, but moving forward none the less. I’m about 100 meters into the swim, this is going to take me longer than the 20 – 30 minutes I had planned. This is not like the pool. I’ve got to pull it together or I’m not going to make it.
At some point on the back stretch, I ran into a jet ski sitting in the water. NO! I’m not quitting I yell, before realizing he was there for someone from the wave ahead of me. My heart sings! I’m not the slowest manatee in the water today! I continue on making the best of my crawl till exhausted / flipper over to breathe super inefficient swimming technique until I make it around the last buoy. Throughout my swim I’ve been hit and bumped by those passing me, but all the advice really did work. Staying out of the way of the big group had worked and I was almost finished. I wonder if Cassie or Annette was one of the ones that hit me on the way by. I look up to see a guy standing on a skiff. There are few enough of us left in the water that we all probably have personal assistants at this point. He’s trying to be encouraging, but let’s face it, I’m embarrassingly slow at this point and he wants to head back into shore for a drink. I know I do. Only 50 yards left to go. It’s all out crawl stroke now! Got to finish strong, don’t know why but I feel the need to. I’m five feet from the guys standing in the water guiding swimmers to the ramp and I still can’t touch bottom. Who picked the old rock quarry as the swimming location again? Four feet … three feet… tw.. We have bottom! I made it! The longest swim of my life, not pretty but I did it!
I stand up to run triumphantly from the water when my hopes are once again dashed. No one mentioned that standing up quickly after such a long time being prone in the water would cause me to be suddenly lightheaded. And then there was that hole in my foot. The rock that decides it will be helpful and fill it for me is not appreciated. I hobble up the ramp and round the path to the transition area as quickly as I can. I make it to transition with my arms out of the top of the wetsuit. I tell myself, the swim is done, now I can recover my battered dignity on the bike and run portions of the race. I make it to the bike rack and start to peel the wetsuit down. I get down to my calves when the cramp hits. My right calf muscle locks up so hard it will still be hurting three days later. Even through the pain though it’s not lost on me that I now look like an elephant seal in heat. My legs held together by the suit, I’m flopping around making weird grunting noises, with the arms of the suit slapping together like the seals you see playing the trumpet in cartoons. I look up to see my daughter watching me over the fence just a couple feet away. Well there went the last bit of self respect and dignity I had left. I’m not having fun.
“I love you Daddy” … A rush of determination comes back, full force. I can’t quit now, not with her watching, wanting to see me finish. She doesn’t care where I finish, she knows it doesn’t matter, she just wants to watch Dad run the race. I want the damn suit off my legs, clenching back the pain in my calf. Towel… socks… shoes… helmet… watch, they all fall into place. Finally, something went as planned. I pull the bike off the rack, and head toward the bike out. Abra, passed by and said hi. She just finished the bike I think, I’m further behind than I thought. I’m ok though, I’m moving again.
Three miles into the ride, the cramp in my calf finally lets go. I yell out “Freedom” doing my best Australian playing a Scottish Nobel impression. The guys in the ambulance sitting on the side of the road probably had me pegged for heat stroke, but I didn’t care. The vultures could wait until I fall off the bike first. I pass a few people as I tick off the miles, but there are too few people on the course. I reach the turn around and I’m heading back. I’m just looking forward to being done with this race. Why in the world did I let Annette talk me into this? I’m not having fun.
I see Shane, a friend from high school; he’s standing at the end of his parent’s driveway. I don’t want him to recognize me, I’m not were I want to be in this race. I can’t take any more embarrassment. Damn, he recognizes me. He has his kids with him, and he’s encouraging everyone as they go by. Even us stragglers here at the back. He’s teaching his kids what sportsmanship is all about. He’s telling his kids that we went to school together. Then it hits me. I’m on the bike. I’m in the race. I’m the only one that care what place I’m in. He doesn’t care, he just thinks it’s great that I’m out there doing it. He probably wishes he could be doing it, too. I remember my friends and family waiting for me to finish. I start pumping the legs harder. I have renewed vigor. Suddenly, I’m having fun.
I pull into the transition again. I don’t even care that the old lady cut me off from smoothly racking my bike. She got her bike here and racked before I did. I’ll give her right of way. The bike is racked, and the helmet is off. Some guy standing were my daughter once stood outside the fence comments on how fast my transition went. I think he’s the husband of the lady that cut me off. I passed her before we made the u turn around the building. I tell her to keep going she’s doing great. I just hope I can do this at her age. I’m smiling, I’m having fun.
I don’t even feel my legs or feet anymore. I don’t care either. I come to a full stop at the first water station. I savor the Gatorade. I never do this on a run. I continue on, and let every kid that wants to throw water at me or spray me with a hose, do it. I encourage Cassie to keep going strong, as she’s got a little more than a mile left to go. I’ve got two. On a different day, I might have entertained the idea of trying to catch her. Not today though, I didn’t feel the need to anymore. I’m just having fun now. I pass a lot of people during the run, but when I overtake Mary, age 47, (at least that’s what her leg said) I see she’s having fun too. We match our strides for a while and don’t let each stop running. This is her second Tri. She thinks it’s great that I’m strong and passing her easily at this stage, since it’s my first Tri. I get it now. 100 yards from the finish, I pass a woman, age 50, again it’s in the legs, she’s faltering. Slowing down. I tell her not to stop, you’ve gone this far, finish this race strong! Her pace quickens, she’s going to finish. I see Samantha, Logan, and Val; my family on the side of the path. Sam has the camera, she’s excited to take my picture. I see the finish line and barrel across. I don’t even care that the announcer sounds fake as he pretends to personally know the names of everyone that crosses. I finished! I still don’t know what my official time was. I don’t care though. It’s about finishing what you started. And I had fun in there somewhere!
Jenny and Annette found us in the crowd, I can see that they were a bit concerned about me. They expected me to finish sooner, too. They don’t say it though, they’re good friends. I think they will understand though. My head will be back in the game next time. And yes, there will be a next time. I know what to expect now. I know what I’m capable of now. I know how strong I can be now. And I know how much fun it can be! But for right now, it’s time for some food and a nice long nap.