This week I’m starting my first of regular guest written posts. I suppose Brian Davis’ posts are technically guest written, but he’s completely undependable when it comes to writing, so I can’t make promises for when I’ll have more of that.
This week’s guest writer is Mike “Party Boy” Bentley. Mike currently lives in his home town of Milwaukee Wisconsin. He is the only person I know that has found a way to graduate from an Ivy League School and maintain a professional engineering career, all without ever wearing a shirt. Mike was one of the few people that I trained with all four years at Columbia. We pretty much defined the IM group, and set a standard of (cough cough) ethical behavior for team travel events. One of my favorite memories of Mike when we were living together my senior year. I walked into the apartment and saw a few wires going from Mike’s room into the Bathroom. I don’t remember if it was curiosity or invitation that lead me into the bathroom, but when I got there I saw Mike sitting in the tub. Next to the sink was a 20inch computer monitor with speakers on top. He had filled his queue with an entire season of Arrested Development and sitting in the tub for the entire 10 hours it would take to watch it. Every 30 minutes or so he would drain a few gallons and add scolding hot water to keep the tub warm, and by the time I walked in his entire body looked like a prune (a pasty white one).
This week, Mike writes about how he started racing triathlon, and more importantly, why he stuck with it.
First, I’d like to thank Ben for giving me the opportunity to post on his blog. [nobody else made the deadline -ben] I’ve known Ben since our freshman year at Columbia on the swim team [we had to share a bed in Aruba…awkward -ben]. He’s making all of us “Lions” proud. Ben asked that I write a little bit about my experience with triathlons, so I guess I’ll start at the beginning.
I started swimming when I was probably about 8 and continued swimming right up through college season, peaking at about 20 hours a week of training. All I knew about training was that you show up to the pool, on time and do what the coaches tell you, and you’ll become a better athlete. Sure enough, this worked and I achieved some moderate success in the pool [He’s modest. -ben]. By the time my senior year was rolling around, I knew that I had to start thinking about continuing athletics in my post-collegiate career. I’ve seen too many friends go from toned athletes at their prime to coach potatoes. I knew I couldn’t let that happen.
Triathlons seemed like the logical step up from swimming. I was already proficient at swimming and biking and running didn’t require any hand-eye coordination (I was never any good at ball sports). The only problem I saw with triathlons is where to start. I didn’t really know anyone who did triathlons, I didn’t know there were clubs, I wasn’t exactly ready to hire a coach over the internet. A met up with a friend of mine who I swam in high school with and he told me that he was doing a triathlon in Wisconsin and that I should give it a shot. I thought, now was as good a time as any and signed up for the race. Fast forward a couple weeks to my arrival at my first triathlon. Holy Nervousness!! It was like I was 10 again and going to the State Meet.
I felt horribly out of place. Here I was, standing there with my 4-year old mountain bike, a borrowed pair of bike shorts and jersey and a deer-in-headlights expression. I didn’t know much about bikes (I still don’t), but I knew that everyone else there had better equipment than I did. All the bikes looked so aerodynamic, the athletes so toned, their shaved legs shining in the morning sunlight. I tried my best to act confident, but it felt like everyone’s eyes were on me while I was wheeling my bike through the transition area to my number. “They must think I’m such a chump” I thought. I overheard some of the guys nearby talking about how they bought the new Dura-Ace rear derailer and were able to shave a couple grams off their bike weight. I was so in over my head. It still only got worse from there.
As anyone from Wisconsin can attest, most lakes stay pretty cool all year round. I didn’t have a wet suit. I was only armed with my stars-and-stripes speedo. So there I was, swim cap, goggles and speedo in a sea of wetsuits. Now I knew everyone’s eyes were on me. I lined up in the back of my wave, thinking that I didn’t want to get in anyone’s way. My goal was just to finish the race. Once the gun went off I found out, although a lot of these guys looked the part, they weren’t all that fast.
Fast forward through the race (nothing special, just swimming, biking and running)… I ended up finishing the race in the top ten percent of all the athletes. Not bad for my first race, I thought. I’ve done about 10 more triathlons since that first one, improving a bit on each one. I finally got an entry-level tri bike and have spent much more time running. Interspersed with those triathlons, I’ve also done some mountain bike races, duathlons, 5k’s, 8k’s and cyclocross races. I have pretty good aerobic conditioning and am able to “muscle” my way through most of the races and have had consistent success. I usually am able to finish within the top 5%. Even with this success though, I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m the odd-man out and all the other competitors know it.
I wonder if everyone else feels the same way. Maybe they’re just as nervous and self-conscious but mask it better by discussing bicycle components. Maybe they really are interested in bicycle components.
Regardless of the nervousness I feel in the transition and at the water’s edge, I always see kindness and respect out on the course. One of my favorite aspects of triathlons is when you pass (or in my case, get passed) on the bike or the run, it’s pretty common to hear “keep it up” or “way to go.” With words like those, even newbies feel at ease.