Wednesday, August 4

My First Triathlon: Lessons Learned

A couple of weeks ago I completed my first triathlon. It was in Marble Falls, TX just northwest of Austin in the Hill Country. The distance was in between a ‘Sprint’ and an ‘Olympic’: 1000m open-water swim, 23 mile bike ride followed by a 4.4 mile run. A good friend of mine along with his buddy from school did it with me, which made the experience that much better. After the race my uncle, an experienced triathlete who has been my unofficial coach throughout my training, asked me the most important question he could have asked:  “Did you enjoy yourself?” He didn’t ask what time I got, how my legs felt, how T1 went, he asked if I liked it. Answer: I absolutely loved it.

Endurance sports races are like college exams, no matter how much you prepare you have a tendency to always feel like you could have done more. Looking back I would have made some changes in my training and pre-race preparation, but ultimately I needed that experience to tell me what works and what doesn’t. Here are some lessons learned from my first triathlon.

1. Chlorinated lap pool does not equal open water lake.

Without a doubt the hardest part about the race was the swim. Leading up to the event I was easily able to swim in a pool 1000m straight without stopping. Key phrase: “in a pool.” Typically it takes me around 20 minutes, give or take, to finish that distance without being winded or physically tired. Unfortunately this was not the case for the swim in Marble Falls. For starters, you’re surrounded by tons of other people swimming.  You’re not protected in your own swim lane, so instead, you’re getting kicked, punched and climbed on by other racers. Also, Texas lake water also isn’t the freshest. You can’t see anything, except five inches of murky greenness in front of you. This means you’ve got to do what they call ‘sighting’ – where you lift your head every X stroke to make sure you’re on the right course. Lastly, the adrenaline from the gun going off and beginning the race is hard to sustain. Your heart is pounding, so your breathing expedites, which is not what you want when an inexperienced swimmer like myself is about to swim over a half-mile.

All of these things: crowded mess of swimmers + poor visibility + adrenaline, made for one difficult start to this race. I never got in my rhythm, never settled in on my breathing. It was a constant struggle the entire time, despite my fitness and preparation. Lesson learned. Going forward, I’ll be practicing in open water… no doubt about it.

2. Don’t underestimate the course.

The Marble Falls triathlon website has a tagline that reads: “Marble Falls Tri – The one with the hills!” I knew this place was in “Hill Country” but shook off the idea that the hills were going to be that bad. Wow. Was I wrong. My buddies and I drove the bike course the day before the race, and I actually think that’s why I didn’t swim well. My heart started pumping when I saw these hills, not when I got in the water. Rolling, very steep hills provided for something I wasn’t used to, training predominantly in very-flat Dallas. I felt good during the bike, but not as good as I could have had I trained more on hills.

3. There will always be someone faster... and older.

I’ve done a couple of marathons before, so initially I thought these distances would be a piece of cake. I figured hell, if I can run over 26 miles, these distances shouldn’t be bad at all. I’ll be the first to admit that I was na├»ve. What a humbling experience it is to see 55-year-old women fly by you on the bike going up a hill.  How gravitating it can be to see the leaders of the race virtually finish the bike when you’re just starting. And wow, how much this race made me appreciate (as much as I can fathom) the accomplishment of those who have completed an Ironman.

For those that don’t know, an Ironman logs 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and then, after all of that, they run a marathon, or 26.2 miles. So, take my swim, 0.63 mile, and almost quadruple it. Take my bike, 23 miles, and multiply it by about five. And then take my run, 4.4 miles and multiply it by six. There you have it.

…some day.

Monday, April 12

A Night With Mike

This was a post on my first blog written back in April of 2010.

Last Thursday night may have been one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. It was most likely Mike Modano’s last game in front of a home crowd as a Dallas Star. The 39-year-old has spent 17 years in this city, and has done more for the sport in the south than you could possibly imagine. He is the best U.S. born player of all time, holds virtually every record imaginable for the Stars’, is a Stanley Cup Champion and is quite possibly the greatest ambassador to hockey in this region of the country.

Bob Sturm from The Ticket put it well: “Think about it. We all feel like Dallas is the exception to the rule when it comes to the NHL in the sun belt. In many of the cities, it has only been an unqualified success in years where those teams win the Stanley Cup. But in Dallas, the Stars have generally been well supported and followed. I submit to you that is a result of the instant magnetic force that Mike Modano and some of his friends had on the city.”

I grew up watching Modano as a kid – so Thursday night was emotional. Call me a sucker for sports tears, but his last home game was so incredibly poetic you had to have been a robot to not choke up. About six minutes left in the third period the stadium TV screen showed him sitting on the bench with a caption just below it reading one of his many records as an NHL player. The fans began cheering, and then came the standing ovation. Cheers got louder and louder, as the applause was building on itself. Tim Cowlishaw from the Morning News describes this scene in great detail:

“Mike Modano looked up at the scoreboard and fought back the tears as he had done earlier in the night. This time he lost the battle. As the crowd continued to cheer in what was probably Modano's final game in Dallas, Modano bowed his head and put his gloves to his face. Players for both teams stood in the faceoff circle and tapped their sticks on the ice. The delay continued, and when Modano raised his head, tears were streaming down his cheeks as he lifted his glove to wave to the crowd.”

That was it. His final salute. The game was meaningless, the Stars and the Anaheim Ducks are not playoff-bound, so that was pretty much it – or so I thought.

A minute or so later Anaheim scores to go up 2-1 in the game, which was an incredible bummer. The arena went from an emotional high to almost complete (and somewhat awkward) silence, as if the oxygen was sucked out of the building in seconds. But then, with less than two minutes to play in regulation, after the long emotional delay just minutes prior, Modano’s line was back on the ice, and who else would score the tying goal other than the man himself. I couldn’t believe it. Even in my poor seats I knew it was #9 who scored when the puck went in the net, the arena absolutely erupted.

Time goes by and the game progresses to a shoot out (of course). We miss our first shot when Brad Richards fails to convert. Marty Turco holds strong and makes a save against Anaheim’s first shooter. Mike Modano’s up next, and with insane velocity is able to wrist a shot in over Anaheim’s goalie – banging the puck off the pipe and into the net. So Modano-esque. So brilliant. Turco, again, holds strong. Jere Lehtinen is the final Dallas shooter, a goal would mean a Stars’ victory and a perfect ending to this game, and to Mike, Marty and Jere’s careers as Stars. Lehtinen scores, Stars win!

I couldn’t believe it. I could not believe what I had witnessed. Again, the game was essentially meaningless, but so incredibly meaningful at the same time. Absolutely perfect – what a way to end the night, and such an important player’s career. I couldn’t have asked for anything else.

After the game I was talking with some folks about exactly that – how we could not imagine a better game, or a better evening, until someone walked into the restaurant we were at.

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