This past weekend I went a bit outside my comfort zone and did an off road triathlon out in Rockwall Texas. I say outside my comfort zone, because I really, really hate running. And also, because when you look THAT goofy you’re automatically uncomfortable (picture below, keep reading).
So last Thursday I was having lunch with Brian Mantzey and Eduardo Guerra, two of the Texas Mountain Bike Trails community members and some local McKinney triathletes. Anyway, we are at Fuzzy’s Tacos in McKinney talking about the Thursday night races at Erwin and they were telling me all kinds of great stories about last years Ouachita Challenge.
During the conversation Brian mentioned that he was going to be doing an off road triathlon that Saturday that benefits the Rockwall YMCA. That kinda peaked my interest. I already had to be in Rockwall that evening to see my family who lives about a mile from where the race was held so I decided to go early and enjoy a challenge. Here’s a video I put together that shows a recap of my race.
For anyone who knows my history with bicycles (explained here and here) I originally got back on the bike because a friend of mine asked me to do a triathlon with him. So I am pretty well acquianted with the sport, I had done everything from super short sprints up to the Longhorn Half Ironman in Austin back in 2008 or 09, but I hadn’t ever done one off road even though I thought they sounded like fun.
A Big Difference Between Off Road Triathlons & Mountain Biking
So the first thing I realized about off road triathlons, or any triathlon for that matter, is that the cost to enter is ridiculous. I paid $77 for that race… $77! That’s at least $30 more than what it’s actually worth. Not to discount the race, but that is a ton of freaking money to enter one race that barely lasts an hour. It’s absurd. I realize that they have larger insurance costs because it’s three races plus they have to pay for roads to be shut down or police to direct t
raffic, but still. It just seems nuts. Which makes me think of the first big difference between mountain biking and off road triathlons.
The culture is different
Triathlons tend to attract a much different audience than mountain biking, and I don’t exactly know why. A lot of the people I’ve known who race triathlons, even casually, have no beef with dropping $8,000 on a triathlon bike even though they have never finished mid field in a real race. Money grows on trees to them and so $77 for a race is considered cheap.
I was honestly told that $77 was cheap when registering, they said be glad it’s not over $100 like some of the other races… jaw dropping…
The people were extremely nice and I made quick friends with the RBM guys that raced with Brian as well as some of the others. So I’m not saying that they are bad folks, not at all, they are incredibly friendly, they just think very differently when it comes to money and racing. I don’t think I could ever justify spending that kind of money consistently for something so short anymore.
Packing The Bag
So I got registered, got my number plates and bib and a rockin t-shirt (thats a nice value add for so much money, good on you Playtri). Went home and started getting my bag packed up for the next mornings race. Being that you basically have 3 different races that you are packing for, you end up with a lot of gear. Here’s the list of everything I packed.
- Tri-kini (old triathlon skinsuit that fit me better 15-20 pounds ago)
- Mountain Bike
- Bike Helmet
- Gloves (I don’t trust my hands when wet while mountain biking)
- Bike Shoes
- Socks (don’t want to ruin my MTB shoes with wet feet)
- Running Shoes
- Number Belt (old heart rate monitor strap i used)
- Transition Towel (dry off feet before putting on socks/shoes)
- Garmin Bike Computer
- Bicycle Pump
- Suspension Pump
- Change of Clothes for After Race
And of course my GoPro Hero 3 and the accompanying chest mount so that I could film the entire race! That is a lot of freaking gear, So much that I actually switched to a different bag so that I could fit it all in.
I was concerned prior to the race because I had lost my old number belt that I used to use. The number belt is an elastic belt that you attach your number bib to so that you can quickly put it on after the bike portion and before the run. This way you don’t have to swim with your number plate on. Thankfully, one of the Cadence Cyclery Team members recommended that I use my heart rate monitor strap with some safety pins, which turned out to be a GREAT suggestion. Worked perfectly.
The Race Itself
Race morning finally comes around and I get there about 45 minutes prior to race start. I was running a little late as is typical. First thing you do is go and put your bike in the transition area, a designated area where you transition between the different legs of the race. All of your gear stays in that area until the end of the race after everyone has completed. So I set up my gear, laid out all the stuff in the order that I would need it. Goggles first, then bike gear, and then finally the running shoes and number belt. This makes it easy to see what items you need and in what order.
I strapped on the GoPro and went to swim a few laps just to make sure that the case didn’t leak… I was honestly terrified that it would. Then I found the officials and double checked with them about making sure it was ok to wear it, they said yes so long as I sent them a copy. Done deal!
Finally it was race time, t
his particular race has what you call a “snake swim” in a small 25 meter pool. This meant to do the 150 meters you swam 6 lengths of the pool snaking from one lane of the pool to the next. Now I hadn’t swam more than once or twice in the past 5 years so I wasn’t too sure how I would do, but I told them I would be fast so I could get a better starting position and be less likely to get stuck behind people. Back when I used to do triathlons more regularly I was fairly consistently in the top 10% of the race for swim time, so I figured I hadn’t lost too much off of that.
Since the race was so short I knew I would be hitting top speed from the start, with the short pool length that was really only about 8-10 strokes from one end to the other. I ended up passing more people on the swim than I did on the bike and coming in as the 11th fastest time overall.
Hopping out of the pool it was a dead sprint for the transition area where I seemed to take my precious time getting geared up to head out on the bike. 1:30 seconds to put on shoes, socks, gloves, sunglasses and a bike helmet and run out of the transition area. Not too terrible. But then while trying to cyclocross style mount my bike I goofed and ended up hitting the pavement. Which brought a big laugh from pretty much everyone around me, including myself.
Back on the bike for the roughly 8 mile course it was a dead sprint through the Squabble Creek trail. Every corner I rounded I was hoping to see someone in front of me or to hear somebodies freewheel spinning as they coasted around a turn. I was in race mode and looking for anyone to serve as a temporary carrot, inviting me to sprint past them. I love having people on the trail in front of you serve as extra motivation while riding. It seems like every time I get a chance to pass someone it’s like turbo boosters kicking the pace up just a little bit higher because of the adrenaline rush and overall satisfaction.
Up until this point the race had been amazing, I love biking, and I actually love swimming as well. But in an off road triathlon the fun has to stop eventually and the running will finally come. I hate this part.
Coming into the transition area my adrenaline and joy faded slightly as I felt the apprehension, hatred and complete disdain that I have for running. I was still totally amped up from the bike ride because I knew that i had passed another person in my age group and figured that I was probably in first place at the time. So still on a relative high I pulled on my Vibram running shoes and headed out. You can actually hear me say how much I hate running about a minute into the run.
Ultimately, I decided to just encourage everyone that passed me on the run as a way to take my mind off how much I really didn’t enjoy the running. Funny enough, it worked and I think it made me a bit more positive and cheerful and overall faster on the run. My time was good enough for 29th place overall, which for someone wh
o hates running I think is pretty good. Unfortunately though I was passed by the guy in my age group and he went on to win the race, leaving me with a second place age group finish and a ninth place finish overall.
Crossing the finish line I could smell burritos over at the food tent, I knew where I was headed right then and there.
Racing an off road triathlon turned out to be a ton of fun and a completely enjoyable experience. The price to enter is stupid expensive, but hey… if Playtri or another organization wants to pay entry fees for me I would love to do more of them… and I may actually train for them… LOL!
I highly recommend giving one a try as they are a ton of fun. A huge thanks and a job well done to the Playtri organization as well as Rockwall Cycling and the Rockwall YMCA. It was an incredibly well put together event, a great first timers race and a great group of people that put it together.