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Last Updated: September 10, 2010
On the Fourth of July, I ran a local 5K race in Summerlin ? a masterplanned community in Las Vegas. I'm proud to say I took third place in my age group for men, although there weren't that many participating. After the results were published somewhere, I'm not sure where, another parent at the Alexander Dawson school, where my kids go, noticed my name and challenged me to do a triathlon sprint with him at Lake Las Vegas on September 11. Never one to back down from a challenge, I accepted.
Before you start getting images of the Hawaiian Ironman in your head, a triathlon sprint is a very miniature version of that. A full blown triathlon consists of a 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of bicycling, and 26.2 miles of running. A sprint is 0.47 miles of swimming, 12.4 miles of bicycling, and 3.1 miles of running. Putting it that way, the sprint doesn't seem like any big accomplishment. Rather, my motive was for the fun of it and to introduce myself to triathlons. In future years, I plan to go up in levels, hopefully as high as a half triathlon before I get too old.
The race was held on a Saturday morning. Several parents from my kids' school were doing it, and we made a whole weekend out of it at the Lowes hotel at Lake Las Vegas. I arrived on Friday evening, put my bike in a staging area, and attended a brief talk on the course route and rules. I didn't take away much from this meeting and had almost no mental image of the course route. Never once, even afterward, did I see a map of it. However, all you have to do is follow the crowd, or just ask somebody if you're unsure which way to go. More on that later.
I awakened much too early on the day of the event, because my cell phone was still on mountain time from my Kings Peak trip. The time I intended to wake up was 5:30, but instead it went off at 4:30 Pacific time. For some reason, my cell phone always adjusts to new time zones when I leave the Pacific time zone, but it never adjusts back when I return. After a lot of wandering around, I made my way to the Lake Las Vegas beach. There was an impressive number of very toned men standing around with shaved legs and tight triathlon suits. Until that moment, I had been feeling pretty proud of myself for being in shape, but suddenly I felt I looked fat and pathetic in comparison. I became worried about embarrassing myself and coming in last. Then, I reminded myself that I was just there that day to complete the thing.
The race was to start at 6:30 A.M. Saturday morning. The reason for starting so early is it still HOT in Vegas in early September. According to weather.com, the high in Las Vegas on September 11 was 91 degrees. The staging point was a small beach at the Lowes hotel (http://www.loewshotels.com/en/Lake-Las-Vegas-Resort). It wasn't big enough to accommodate a mass start, so everybody was given a wave number. The sprinters were separated into four different waves, with the individual waves leaving every three minutes starting at 6:30. I was in the first wave. After the four waves of sprinters, the intermediate racers (who completed twice the distances as the sprinters) left in their own waves.
It was a long 10-minute wait at the beach, but they finally instructed the wave 1 people to get in the water and then somebody blew the horn. Fearing I would be run over in the water, I let most of the pack go ahead of me. When I finally started swimming, I was somewhat overcome with the horrible taste of the Lake Las Vegas water in my mouth. I don't mind ocean water, but this water just tasted funky and stale. Then, despite my late start, I was getting kicked and pushed around by the other swimmers. I'm not sure where they came from — I thought I was last to start in my wave, but I guess not.
It was difficult getting a decent pace going when other swimmers were plowing right into me one after another. Every time I felt someone on me, I stopped to get out of their way and let them pass. The number of swimmers who offered me any kind of courtesy or right of way — zero. May I suggest a rule of etiquette for future triathlons? The same as that for skiing: the person in front has the right of way. If you want to pass him, then you have to do it without hitting him or getting in his way. That would seem the courteous thing to do in a swimming race as well.
The course of the swimming portion was more or less a U shape. The judge who blew the horn said to stay to right of the buoys. The distance for the sprint racers was 750 meters. That is like 15 laps in an Olympic sized pool. Not that long, but remember, you can't touch the bottom, so it is difficult to rest. In retrospect, I should have swam a little further from the buoys to get away from the pack. My time would have probably been better, despite the additional distance. When I finally got out of the water, I truly was worried I was in last place. Not just among the wave 1 people, but I was worried the other three waves had overtaken me as well. Otherwise, who were all those people plowing into me from behind? The audience on the beach cheered me on as I trotted to the bicycling transition point, but I thought I detected a note of sympathy in their voice.
Between the beach and my bicycle, I had to run about 200 yards in bare feet while soaking wet. No big deal I told myself, triathlons are supposed to be tough. At the transition point, everybody took their bicycles out of the racks and whatever else they needed. So I dried myself with a beach towel, slopped on some sunscreen, and tried to open an energy goo packet (I got most of it all over my helmet, face and hands). Everyone else had tight bicycling shirts, three-foot-long aerodynamic helmets, and $5,000 titanium bikes. Meanwhile, I had an oversized tank top and a road bike I've had since the 1980s.
The bicycle route started at the hotel, went down Lake Las Vegas Parkway, turned left on Lake Mead Drive, entered the Lake Mead Recreation Area, and at the appropriate distance the sprinters took a left turn unto side road, made a U turn, and then went back the same way. This was a fairly hilly route. Nothing extremely steep, but most of the time you were going up or down a hill.
Once I got out on Lake Las Vegas Parkway, the competition had thinned out quite a bit. I figured everybody was ahead of me. A big part of the fun of organized races is the shared euphoria of a lot of people competing with the same goal. Compared to the running-only races I've done, I was not feeling the same kind of joy. Every once in a while, another biker who looked like Lance Armstrong's understudy would blow past me. I figured they were intermediate racers who had already completed the long swim.
Once I was out on Lake Mead Drive, I started to catch up to another biker. Unlike everyone else in the race I had seen so far, this guy was on a mountain bike and wearing cargo shorts. Finally, someone I could relate to. My competitive spirit came back to me, and I made up my mind that I wasn't going to come in last, but instead give this guy the dishonor. So I cranked it up a notch a eventually passed him. However, he evidently would have none of it and correspondedly picked up his speed and passed me back. I wasn't going to blow all my energy to keep up with him, so I let it go for the time being.
After the U turn, it was uphill for awhile again. About half way back to Lake Las Vegas Parkway, there was a long hill and I could see cargo pants man was having a hard time with it. I was happy to see I might overtake him after all. It didn't take as long to catch up to him this time, and I passed him easily. He evidently didn't fight it this time, as that was the last I saw of him. My diagnosis is that he blew too much of his energy early on, or he was just not trained for the distance.
Back on Lake Las Vegas Parkway, it was mostly downhill again. The fastest I'm comfortable going downhill is about 25 M.P.H. I could tell because they had those "your speed is" signs alone the road, which detect bicycles as well as cars. So while I was applying my brakes to stay under that speed, the Lance Armstrong understudies were still pedaling! When I was about 12, I had a nasty bike accident as a result of going too fast and my friend cutting in front of me. A chipped tooth and lots of blood was involved. Perhaps that's why I'm a wimp when it comes to going downhill fast to this day.
Back at the hotel parking lot, I stowed my bike and hit the running course. At this point, I could suddenly see lots of other racers, and not that far ahead of me. I thought I was way in back, but evidently I wasn't. The running portion started with an immediate climb up a steep hill, which some racers were walking up. So I used the opportunity to pass a few more people, happy to still be in the running (pun intended). Then I caught up with a much younger guy in our Alexander Dawson School group, who I knew to be in good shape. He started three minutes behind me, so I was encouraged by the fact my time was only three minutes more than his at that point.
As the course made its way up another hill, this time on a dirt road, other racers were obviously having a hard time, and alternating between walking and running. I used this opportunity to pass more people. Maybe I wouldn't be totally embarrassed after all.
The last portion of the run was on level ground between Lowes and the now-vacant Ritz Carlton, which went out of business about a year ago. The finish line was in the Lake Las Vegas shopping area. As I wrote before, I was just following the crowd and didn't know where the finish line was. However, as I got closer, I could hear the crowd. I gave it a little extra burst of energy and made a running jump at the finish line itself.
At the finish, I felt I still had plenty of energy left, but I still could not have gone much faster. I'm more of an endurance person than a speed person. Yes, I definitely feel the longer distances are within my reach.
A little while later, preliminary race results were posted on a table, and I was surprised to see I came in 92nd out of about 150 that had finished up until that point. Wow, I had no idea I was that close to the median. In retrospect, it was starting in the first leg that led to the illusion of being last. The only people I was going to encounter in the later waves were those passing me. Before the race, I overheard other racers grumbling about the staggered start, and I think I now know why. You don't have much perception of how you are doing relative to the field when everyone starts at different times.
Finally, here are my results. I had to guess at the 90 seconds for the second transition, which was not recorded in the official race results.
- Swim: 25 min, 30 seconds.
- First transition: 3 minutes, 7 seconds.
- Bike: 1 hour, 9 minutes, 11 seconds.
- Second transition: 1 minute, 30 seconds
- Running: 27 minutes, 14 seconds.
- Total: 2 hours, 6 minutes, 32 seconds.
Compared to all sprinters, I came in 92nd place out of 193. That put me in the first half! All that worrying about finishing last over nothing. However, I can't say the same for my division of 45 to 49 years old men, where I finished 11th out of 17. Here is how I did comparatively speaking on each portion, with 100% for first place. The race results didn't break down individual segment time for everybody, so I'm going only against published times.
- Swimming: 74th out of 191, for the 61% percentile.
- Biking: 109th out of 171, for the 36% percentile.
- Running: 67th out of 188, for the 64% percentile.
- Overall: 92nd out of 192, for the 52% percentile.
I know I shouldn't be grouping myself with women, but the race results didn't indicate the gender in the overall results. For what it is worth, about 2/3 of the participants were men. The point that should be made about the breakdown is biking was my weakest area. That was surprising to me, because I thought it would be swimming. Never in my life have I been much of a swimmer. As I kid, I took lessons, flunked the intermediate level 8 times, and never did pass it. In my twenties, I bicycled about 50 miles a week, and I hoped that training would come back to me 20 years later, but I guess not. So I'm going to have to hit the Red Rock loop on my old bike more often. If you see me out there, say hello.
I hope this story wasn't too boring, and maybe I inspired some of you to try a triathlon. Despite my complaining, overall it was a lot of fun and a good workout. I'm very happy I did it.