or, potential wetsuit disaster averted just in the nick of time.

EVENT: Olympic Distance Triathlon  | Desert International Triathlon
DATE: March 3rd, 2013
LOCATION: Lake Cahuilla, La Quinta, CA
DISTANCES: 3/4 mi. swim / 24mi bike / 6 mile run. Wave start by category.
COMPETITORS: 37 in my age group (50-54). 755 Total participants
TIME /PLACE: 2:15:20 / 12th in age group / 164th overall

This was my second international/olympic distance triathlon race. My first one (and my first race) was nearly 10 months ago. My lack of race experience is still showing as evidenced AGAIN during the swim. Now I know a lot of triathletes suffer the swim. It is supposed to be my stronger leg of the event. At least that is what I keep telling myself. It was during the swim where I had to take an unplanned, unscheduled detour. More about that in a moment.DESERT-INTERNATIONAL-2

I was originally scheduled to run a 10k this weekend, but it just didn’t seem very exciting and coming off my marathon run last month, I had hardly done any running since then – a total of 17 miles for the month. On a spontaneous whim instead, I signed up for the Desert Triathlon, got a cheap motel room since I was traveling by myself, and set off on Saturday. Other than race number packet pick-up there wasn’t much to do on Saturday except try to go to bed early and toss and turn for a few hours. In my head, I tried to plan my race and, well, I have to admit that race day had me all excited as usual. It is all the unknowns that make it so interesting and challenging.

A beautiful early morning in the desert. Milling around and setting up transition

A beautiful early morning in the desert. Milling around and setting up transition

Sunday morning I was up early and there setting up transition early and with plenty of time to spare. The weather was perfect, although the water did seen cooler than the stated 63 degrees. I was in the last start wave which started 24 minutes after the first group of elites. Any swim warmup was lost after standing around trying to stay warm.

Same problem as with my first race a year ago. I took off too damned fast. Like a Pavlovian reflex, I hear a gun and I take off like I’m sprinting a 100 yd race.  I was first out to the initial small buoy then quickly realized I was in trouble. I was breathing rapidly, heartrate racing and all the while trying to regain composure with some backstroke, and altogether cursing myself profusely for making the same mistake again. The real trouble, though, began about 300 yards into the swim. I felt a sense of, well, urgency in the bowels. [sidebar note: Now I am reminded of my medical school anatomy professor talking about how smart the rectal sphincter is and how it can determine more than just pressure, but also whether the contents awaiting expulsion are gas, solids or liquids]. Gas or solids can be controlled or suppressed, but I felt a sense of liquified urgency that absolutely would not let me finish the swim. With every stroke and contraction of the core muscles and tensing of the intra-abdominal pressure, I felt an impending intra-wetsuit disaster looming. I didn’t want to be this guy, infamous all over the internet:

In famous photo of a marathon runner with more dedication than any of you out there. This the image that came to my mind - but while still in my wetsuit.

Infamous photo of a marathon runner with more dedication than any of you out there. This the image that came to my mind – but while still in my wetsuit.

So I did what any reasonable person would do…I swam to shore, peeled off the top of my wetsuit and headed into a conveniently placed porta-potti right there near the shore. I quickly took care of business and then struggled to put on a wet, wetsuit and re-entered the water. After all that, I felt great, and went on to swim at a strong pace. This little unexpected diversion (and the inexperienced, overzealous start) probably set me back 4-5 minutes. It is better than the disastrous alternative that could have been. Transition 1 was notable only for the fact that I could not feel my feet due to the cold water. T1 was a respectable 2:05
SWIM TIME: 24:14

The course was flat and wide open. There was cloud cover keeping it cool and comfortable. I felt good and strong. I couldn’t feel my toes the entire time. I rode my fastest bike ride ever. Transition 2 was no frills and only 1:28.
BIKE TIME: 1:05:20 (AVERAGE 22.0 MPH)

I felt pretty good even starting out on the run. We started to lose cloud cover and it starting warming up, but never getting uncomfortable hot. About 1-2 miles in, I starting regaining feeling in my feet. The course was twice around Lake Cahuilla on unpaved trail. The ground was a bit irregular, but plenty wide. You’d have to pay attention to the ground to avoid rocks and divots, but passing was easy with plenty of room.
RUN TIME: 42:13 (6:49/mi. PACE, HR 159bpm).


1. This was a flat, flat course. Nary an incline or decline to be found.
2. This was a fast, fast, course for the same reason.
3. This in one of the first races of the season and it draws from all over Southern California and beyond, and Southern Californians are lucky to be able to train outdoors all year ’round.
4. I think because it is so early in the season, there are a lot of fast gals and really fast triathletes itching to race and get an idea of their early season fitness.
5. Note to self: Go AGAIN to the porta-potti even if you don’t think you need to.
6. Note to self: Damn-it! Slow down the beginning of the swim!! Don’t keep making that mistake.

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  1. Betty Johnson says:

    Jim – I can’t believe what happened to you. You can’t make this stuff up; sorry, but it’s funny (makes a great story). I wonder if this has happened to other swimmers. Regardless, you did well in the overall race. You should be proud.

  2. MichelleK says:

    My husband gives me, uh, crap for some of the details I put in my race reports, but those things can make or break a race. Still, nice job 🙂

    • Hey, I’m not too proud. I’ve learned from other people’s experience, and everyone has a good race story to tell. What I love about racing are all the unknowns: Did I train enough or too much? Is my pacing right? Is my nutrition OK? Who are those other guys my age that are so smokin’ fast? The excitement and stress isn’t really duplicated in any other life experience that I can think of.

  3. MichelleK says:

    I think everyone who’s been involved in endurance sports for any length of time has had a similar experience 🙂

    I agree – there’s nothing like race day.

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