a triathlete is born

I drug my friend Brian to the Issaquah Triathlon last weekend. (Brian Davis, Northwestern grad, 3x NCAA qualifier in swimming, 15:06 1650 yard freestyle…but can he run?)

Here is his race report (this is the funniest first time triathlon story I’ve heard.):

(I should mention quickly that since the race filled up before Brian registered, I had to convince him to do it “unofficially”.)

T minus 11:00

I arrive at Ben’s house to fit me to his bike and put cleats on my
shiny new tri shoes. Ben sets me to work cleaning the loaner bike
whilst he finds the cleats.

T minus 10:45

Ben admits he can’t find the cleats. They must still be in Hawaii.
It’s OK, though. We’ll just remove a pair from his commuting shoes. No
big deal.

T minus 9:00

It’s a big deal. Nothing short of a dynamite brigade and
round-the-clock jack hammering will loosen this last, mangled, rusted
cleat. Ben consoles me with “It’s OK dude. You don’t *need* cleats.
Your T2 will be faster if you wear your running shoes on the bike.” I
buy it. I’m not well known for my intelligence.

Ben begins to freak out about how late we are up. I head home. On the
way home, I contemplate ducking into my neighbors’ garages and
scouring for a set of cleats. This leads to ruminations on criminal

T minus 1:45

Marijana and I arrive at Ben’s house, bleary-eyed and silent. Bikes
and gear are thrown into his car. Few words are spoken.

T minus 1:30

Tension mounts. I’m nervous with anticipation and my mouth starts
running. Ben and I conclude that the only thing cooler than crashing a
triathlon is doing so naked. We discuss strategy. He fails to mention
the utter importance of a fast bike (and the accompanying need for

T minus 1:00

We arrive at Lake Sammamish State Park, along with the rest of the
population of Seattle. Hundreds of cars. Hundreds of people. Folks in
orange vests. Cops. Maybe this won’t be as easy to pull off as I
thought. Ben fetches his race packet and sets up in the transition
area. Marijana and I set up just to the southwest of the transition
area. I congratulate myself on how clever I am.

T minus 0:20

Ben and I go for a warm up jog through the park. We hug and wish each
other luck. My voice is squeaky.

T minus 0:06

I slip into my wetsuit, don my cap and goggles, kiss my wife and head
to the start. The grass stings my feet. Badly. I’ve never heard of
grass that stung before, but this was like walking on thistles. I
refuse to believe that this is a sign.

T minus 0:03

The pro wave is corralled together and instructed to march single-file
over a timing mat. I mumble some excuse about forgetting my
something-or-other and slip backwards in line. I circle around the 20
volunteers huddled around the timing mat, staring at competitors’ feet
as they cross, hoping to slide into the water unnoticed. I almost
succeed. First one voice starts yelling from the beach, “HEY! STEP ON
THE MAT!!” Then another chimes in, “HEY YOU! IF YOU DON’T STEP ON THE
MAT YOUR TIME WON’T COUNT!” This goes on for a minute or two. I
pretend not to hear. I blend in as best as I can, trying to submerge
myself and stay next to Ben.

Race start

I push off to my first and only lead of the race. I watch Ben drop
behind me and immediately begin to plan my victory dance an hour
hence. Nothing can go wrong. My win is assured.

T plus 0:01

Something goes wrong. My right contact floats out as I round the first
buoy. I turn to the left and attempt to sight then next buoy. I see
vague greens and blues, but no orange. Ben passes on the inside and
takes the lead. A minor obstacle. I revise my dance plans.

T plus 0:02

I decide to give up on sighting buoys and jump to Ben’s left. I sight
on Ben. I run into the middle marker buoy.

T plus 0:05

Ben and I round the last buoy and begin the sprint to shore. I realize
that my legs are a little tired. This revelation will haunt me in the
hour to come.

T plus 0:06

My arm sinks fist deep into soft mud, prompting me to stumble
awkwardly to my feet and dash to shore, close on Ben’s heels. I peel
off to the right as Ben heads into the transition area. Arms reach out
to steer back onto course. I resist, heading for Marijana. The crowd
disapproves of my refusal to head into the TA. A chorus of “WRONG
WAY!” ensues, with a well-meaning gentleman sprinting after me in a
vain attempt to convince me of my error. “I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!”, I
scream. I don’t, but my progress through the crowd is easier.

T plus 0:07

Marijana looks lovely, holding my bike and helmet. I yell random,
contradictory commands at her as I desperately struggle to free myself
from the confines of my wetsuit. Seconds tick by. Ben leaves the TA.
Marijana proffers the baby powder. I cast it aside with a look of
indignation. “F*CK THE POWDER!”, I cry. I jam my still-wet feet into
my newly-wet running shoes. The insoles bunch up at the toes. I jump
on the bike and start to ride off. I stop. I put on the helmet
dangling from the handlebars. I start again. Ben rounds the corner out
of the park and out of sight.

T plus 0:08

My shoes slip off the pedals for the first, second, third, fourth and
fifth times before I leave the park. Hilarious to watch. Awkward and
painful to experience. Amateur hour ensues.

T plus 0:12

I begin to feel confident that, despite the frequent pedal slips and
acyclic rhythm, I might do pretty well on the bike leg. But I am soon
passed by a few blurs on wheels. A couple compliment me on my swim. I
cancel my dance plans.

T plus 0:20

Running shoes on Shimano pedals are a bad idea. Running shoes on
Shimano pedals are a bad idea. Running shoes on Shimano pedals are a
bad idea. Running shoes on Shimano pedals are a bad idea.

T plus 0:26

I am passed by my second draft line. These are full on peletons. I
must have missed the part where this was declared a draft-legal race.
I curse as my feet fly off the pedals for the millionth time. Some in
the pack smirk at my incompetence.

T plus 0:32

The turnaround. Finally. This being my second time ever on a road
bike, I just figured out such intricacies as riding in the drops,
shifting and not falling off. I start going fast. My shoes continue to
slip off the pedals at inopportune times. A bee hits me square between
the eyes. It is killed on impact. Sadly, I am not.

T plus 0:44

I begin to pick off the stragglers of the second peleton. I refuse to
gear down for fear my feet might never find the pedals again. I
reassure myself that, no, my legs don’t feel *that* bad.

T plus 0:49

T2 time. I round the corner into the parking lot. What was an empty
lot when I left is now a dense mob of people funneling incoming riders
into the TA. Marijana is ahead of me and to my left… behind 100
people and a line of traffic cones. I attempt an elegant knee swerve
between cones and into the crowd. Elegance is lacking at 20 MPH, so I
fishtail out of control and ditch Ben’s bike in front of hundreds of
gaping onlookers. Other men would be embarrassed. A lifetime of
embarrassment has hardened me to such things.

As I stood up, I realized that my legs were on fire. I tossed my
helmet and bike in Marijana’s general direction and began to wobble
all the way around the transition area. I dashed in behind the girl
checking runners coming out of the TA to the familiar refrain of “HEY!

T plus 0:53

Pain. All is dark. My soul weeps for the tattered remains of my quads
and hamstrings.

T plus 0:56

I pass Tom Schute. He cheers me on. I mumble incoherently. My legs
look and feel like hot lead. I stumble and turn my ankle. I run like
Gumby on a bender.

T plus 0:58

Ben finishes the race. I do not. I am almost a mile away. I roll my
ankle again. Worse. I try to think about how funny this will seem in
20 years. I do not laugh.

T plus 1:03

I am passed by three guys. I wonder if I will ever dance again. I feel
the urge to cry, but lack sufficient water and energy to produce
tears. My breathing is ragged and uneven.

T plus 1:07

I see the finish line. Same funnel. Same people. The announcer is
confused as to who the hell I am. Marijana appears out of the fog to
my left and lifts the rope. I duck under, stumble to a picnic table
and collapse in a sweaty heap.

I do not dance.


All in all, I consider it something of a success. Ben was very
complimentary. I finished within the top 20. I didn’t die and nobody
else got hurt as a result of my participation. And I got a
(relatively) free meal out of the whole thing.

Marijana put up with far too much of my bitter moodiness, though. In
the future, I think we would both be happier if she just cheered and
took photos. She did an amazing job acting as my illegal transition
manager. She tells me I ran like a girl at the end. I’m not surprised.
My legs will never forgive me.

Speaking of which… Cleats. I will buy cleats. I will wear them to
bed at night. I will never take them off. Nothing is as demeaning and
painful as attempting to ride a serious bike leg in wet running shoes
on clipless pedals.

In spite of it all, I think I’m addicted. When’s the next race? Ben must pay.

Published by Ben

Ben Collins Professional Triathlete

Join the Conversation


  1. Who the hell is this guy? His grammar is terrible and he kan’t speel. To be brutally honest, he sounds a little whiny to me. I’d rather you stopped hanging out with him.

    P.S. I got cleats and pedals… but I don’t have a pedal wrench. Does everything in this sport cost $3,000 and require a box of proprietary tools?

  2. Last time I checked a 6mm hex wasn’t proprietary.

    Q: How do you sell a bike to a triathlete?

    A: double the price.

  3. Nice try, smartass, but there’s no hex keyhole on the back of the pedal and I don’t have a narrow enough wrench to get at the front side.

    Your move.

  4. Use a channel lock, or ride 300 yards down the street from your office to the bike shop and ask to borrow a pedal wrench

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