#Dadblog: Becoming A Triathlete

Mike Caterini

Since my last dadblog, another sprint triathlon has been entered into the books. It was held at the Muskoka resort town of Gravenhurst, Ontario. I ended up finishing (surviving may be a more accurate description), but under even more adverse circumstances than I had encountered at Guelph Lake, which I will describe later. For now I’ll compare the same events for both triathlons, starting with the swim portion.

This triathlon is unusual because a boat takes the swimmers to the start of the swim course then drops them off in the middle of the lake where they swim 750 m straight into shore. It was inspired by the iconic ‘Escape From Alcatraz’ Triathlon. In this race a boat plunks the swimmers directly into San Francisco Bay to battle the currents, waves, cold water, and sharks (they’ve actually been spotted in the water).

The Location

I arrived at a lovely lakeside resort hotel on Friday and took the opportunity to observe the Olympic triathletes complete their 1500 m swim on Saturday morning. Standing at a rocky point about 50 m from the finish line I watched the long strung out procession swimming by at about 20 m in front of me. Inspired by their effort I shouted out “ONLY 50 METERS TO GO” and “ALMOST THERE”.  A few swimmers noticed me and gave me the thumbs up. But I suspected that most swimmers couldn’t hear me and were oblivious to me presence, focusing on the end in sight

The next day started out mainly sunny, warm, and  not as hot and humid as Guelph. After registering at 8 am I racked my bike in the 50 to 59 age group area and started setting up. I organized and checked  my gear in the hope of improving my previous poor transition times.  After checking and re-checking I put my wetsuit half on at 9 am and strutted over to the dock to board the boat.


The Competition

The dock was crowded with triathletes of all ages lining up in orderly fashion to board one of two boats. For most people, including myself, it was their first time being dropped off by a boat and the mood at the dock ranged from excitement to anxiety. I attempted to reassure some of the anxious that we’re here for a fun time and besides, you’d have to pay for the boat ride anyway if you’d wanted to take a lake cruise. All the more reason to enjoy the experience.

On board I chatted with the other athletes in my age group. Instead of milling about a beach we sat around a bar (serving water only).  While observing the younger athletes gather at the swim start, I asked a lady in the 60+ age group (indicated by her brown bathing cap) if she had done this before. She answered that she indeed had, and only yesterday! She’s been doing back-to-back triathlons as part of girls only weekends with her friends for years. This may be somewhat of a new trend.

I always had the impression that these weekend escapes involved shopping, wine tasting, and partying.  Why just the day before I saw a group of age twenty-something women giddilly leaving the Muskoka Brewery tour with six-packs under their arms. Notice that I tend to be not as strict as others with certain suggested pre-competition beverage restrictions.

The Moment

Finally it was our time to shine. The announcer called all orange caps to line up in two lines single file. The line slowly wound around the outside of the boat and down the stairs to the open doors 6 feet above the water line. I reached the edge and leapt straight in. That was strangely exciting and refreshing! Clearing the boat, I swam towards the green buoys that served as the starting point. Treading water we waited for the start signal. After about 5 minutes I heard the scream of the boat’s steam whistle and we were off!

I powered myself to the front of the pack. Swimming with smooth, even strokes I passed a few swimmers on my left. Ploughing ahead I felt that I was making good time. After about 20 strokes I poked my head up to sight the red marker buoy ahead of me. I made an adjustment to my left and swam on. Several strokes later I made another adjustment but this time to my right.  The swim seemed to be taking forever, but I wasn’t tiring. After a few more course corrections I come to the conclusion that I’ve been swimming in a zig-zag pattern! With about 50 meters to go I waved to my wife Judy on shore. She snapped my photo as I picked up the pace to the dock. I quickly scrambled up the ladder and jogged the 50 meters to the first transition.

The Finish

I completed the swim in 23 min : 50 secs , which is almost 2 minutes slower than the 22:04 I finished in Guelph. A big disappointment, but not a surprise. My Garmin recorded that I actually swam 1.05 km, which amounts to 300 extra meters! Now if I had swam straight I could’ve been out of the water in as little as 16 minutes. Looks like I’ll need to work on sighting and throw in some sprints to train me to swim straighter and faster.

Now I have to get through this first transition (T1) and onto the bike, where it became really interesting. Get ready for the exciting finish in my next dad blog.

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