CHINA PEAK, Calif. — Triathlons are all the rage now-a-days.
When my sister, who’s a personal trainer at some fancy gym in Southern California, asked me to rendezvous with her at China Peak Resort on Aug. 10 for a sprint triathlon, my initial reaction was, “Absolutely not.”
Why the heck would someone pay money to exercise? There’s the registration fee, usually about $100, a wetsuit rental for another $65, gas to get there, a hotel room or campsite, and all kinds of unforeseen costs that pile up. Those few hours of exercise cost about $400, and that’s on the cheap side of triathlons.
Besides, as Kenny Powers would say, I’m not trying to be the best I can be at exercising.
But when Michelle Regan decides you are doing something, she always wins. So I reluctantly consented and filed the expenses under sister bonding, minus the cool spa and massage. Plus, it couldn’t hurt to chip away at that sports editor 15 I seem to have packed on this past year.
This is how I found myself training for a triathlon this summer. Of course, the event was on the calendar months in advance, but training didn’t start until there was one month to go.
I would like to say that during training my glory days of high school athleticism all came rushing back, but apparently that ship has long since sailed. Training was slow and painstaking.
Convincing myself to work out every day was actually much more painful than the workout itself. But slowly, one day at a time, I found different ways to exercise.
Sometimes it was dragging my roommates down to the lake for a swim, or asking the Tahoe Daily Tribune managing editor, Trisha Leonard, to join me for excruciatingly early laps at the South Lake Tahoe Recreation Center.
To get land ready, I dusted off my PUSH gym membership and got reacquainted with the neighborhood streets as I jogged — or shuffled — my way toward the impending doom.
None of it was easy. None of it was fun. But the triathlon kept me honest, and when the big day finally arrived, I felt somewhat ready.
In true Michelle Regan fashion, however, we were running late. We left the hotel with 15 minutes until start and three miles to bike, including a wicked uphill. We arrived on scene as the announcer yelled “four minutes” to the line of swimmers all ready in the water.
Already pouring sweat, I struggled to get the rest of the sticky wetsuit on, cursing my sister and vowing to add 20 imaginary pounds if a wetsuit was ever rented again. Frantically, I stuffed my thick hair in the yellow triathlon swim cap and ran for the water, untangling my goggles en route and nearly taking a digger to the face.
We hit the chilly Huntington Lake water with 30 seconds until start. The announcer called us out as we splashed toward the line of swimmers, and about 100 pairs of eyes settled on us. Perfect, there goes any chance of skating by unnoticed. There was a wall of swimmers in front of us, but too bad. The horn blared and with a flurry of splashing and yellow swim caps, we were off.
Going in, I knew the half-mile swim would be my strongest event. I needed to gain time in the water. Unfortunately, I was in the back of the pack.
I slowly started making my way through the mass of awkwardly thrashing limbs. There were a few kicks to the face and by the time the first buoy came into view, swimming along the outside, albeit a little longer, seemed like a good idea. Once in calmer water, I started to pick up speed, gliding past a large cluster of splashing triathletes.
When I reached the shore, a volunteer yelled “19 minutes” as I stumbled toward the bikes.
Shucking the boa-constrictor wetsuit, I pulled on my shoes, ripped the bike loose and started to pedal. The 13-mile bike would be my weakest link. I was sporting a 1970s rebuilt road bike that probably weighed the equivalent of six average triathlon bikes, and the first hill was obscene. There was just no end. Two cyclists charged past as I struggled along on the squeaky antique. But somehow, when the turnaround point came into view, I was still in the middle of the mix.
I stood up to pedal hard into the second half and show ‘em what the old girl was made of. “Crunch.” The spurt of effort was met with a bad sound and the unpleasant feeling of trying to pedal under water. My bike was stuck in the hardest gear with seven miles and several steep hills to go. My visions of a mediocre finish suddenly came to a grinding halt.
Without any choice, I struggled along and pushed when pedaling became impossible. Cyclist charged past on the hills, shouting word of encouragement to get me back on the bike. If only it were that simple. By the time I reached the last hill, the street was empty of cyclist and morning traffic had started to pick up. I was alone out there, but there was no way this was going to end with a DNF.
I grunted over the final crest and coasted into an already full bike rack. Unbelievably, there were still runners on the course and I wobbled forward to catch up.
Maybe it was the dehydration talking, but suddenly making up time on the three-mile run seemed reasonable. I started to make up ground, ever so slowly inching past one runner, then another. By the last lap, my sister was in view and I was pretty sure I had passed the only other woman in my age division.
With my head down, I turned on the burners, possibly kicking up my speed to 3 mph. When I looked up again, the finish line was in view, but I was heading in from the wrong direction. Darn it all. I must have taken a wrong turn by the tractor. Running through backward for a good laugh crossed my mind, but after 17 miles the funny wasn’t worth it. I backtracked to a missed bridge and finished with everything that was left in the tank.
There were few people remaining at the finish line — my sister, a couple volunteers and some kid I convinced to give me a high five — but I had done it. My sister kept saying it was fun. Well, it wasn’t, but the whole ordeal did come with a certain sense of satisfaction and reward.
Would I do a triathlon again? Probably not because of the money factor, but who knows? Sometimes it takes a triathlon on the calendar to keep yourself in running order. The truth is, I was already a winner before crossing the finish line.