A triathlon provides three physical obstacles to completion: cycling, swimming, and running (in the case of this race, in that order). Today, I brought three of my own obstacles to the triathlon, all in my lower left leg: a healing sprain, a locked up Achilles, and an injured soleus muscle (I injured the soleus earlier this week while swimming). Yesterday, the massage therapist said: “I have no problem with you running on this ankle, but the soleus is another story”. He only gave his blessing after I promised not to push off from the side of the pool and to be very careful.With these limitations, I participated in my first triathlon—the 38th Los Alamos Triathlon—with the goal of finishing uninjured, instead of putting forth a full athletic effort.
Los Alamos claims to host the longest continuing running triathlon in the United States. I found this surprising since this is a unique event: the order of the bike (20K), swim (400m), run (5K) is different than most triathlons; and, the race is at high elevation (around 7,300 feet).
Despite often gasping for breath, the course has striking views. There is not a flat part to the course, as the town of Los Alamos is nestled in the eastern portion of the Jemez Mountains. The first four miles of the bike brought over 500 feet in elevation gain. The majority of the ride went through Los Alamos National Labs. The race instructions literally said that participants were prohibited from bringing explosives and flame producing products into the Lab property. A few miles in to the race, I wish I had some flame generator coming out of the back of my bike to propel me uphill. With all the injuries in my lower leg, I refrained from doing a standing climb and often got passed on the uphills, but passed the same people and more on the downhills.
While I passed many people on the bike, I got passed in the pool. I knew that the swim was my weakest point. And, not being able to push off from the side didn’t help. Swimming in a triathlon is weird—nothing prepares you for people pushing and bodies passing each other in the water. However, I did better in the swim than expected. I wasn’t fast, but never had to stop in the 400 meters.
Soon I climbed out of the pool (careful, soleus) and jogged to the transition point. I made it from the bike into the pool in a minute and a half. For some reason, it took me almost four minutes to make it from the pool to the run. My tight running socks were hard to get on my wet feet, shoelaces did not cooperate, and it took way too long. Lesson learned.
I was soon running (okay, jogging). For some reason, both of my calves tightened in the first quarter mile of the run. I don’t know if it was all the temperature change, muscle use, or radioactivity. I stopped for a few seconds, stretched, and soon that went away. On the out portion I felt some ache in the soleus and walked a couple of times on the uphills. However, that went away too. I was able to run the full back portion without any pain and even called out to someone struggling, “Come on, let’s finish this running”.
Before I knew it, it was over. I was eating bagels, bananas, and bopping my ahead to the echoing lyrics, “We are young, so let’s set the world on fire, we can burn brighter, than the sun.”
I can’t wait to do this again, when I can put forth a real effort. Today was a good start.