I had the chance to watch a full-on Olympic length triathlon on Sunday, along West River/Martin Luther Drive at the Schuylkill River. It was the Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon. Since the SheRox Tri is a little over a month away, I thought it would be a good idea to witness one first hand so I have some idea of what to expect. I'm glad I made myself get up at 5:30 am and out of the house by 6:30, as what I watched was jaw-dropping intense. I reached the start of the swimming by 7 am. I caught the first wave of swimmers, the professionals, in the river. There were hundreds of spectators and participants out at this early hour, so many that it felt like a mid-day party along the waterway. An Olympic Triathlon - 1.5 K swim, 40K bike and 10k run, is roughly in miles and feet - a 1 mile swim, 25 mile bike race and a 9 mile run. I am lucky that the SheRox Tri is less than half these distances. From what I saw on Sunday, I can say for certain that while I'm not in the best shape to do my mini triathlon, there would be no way I could even complete part of the full-on Triathlon. My mouth was open the entire time I watched the swimming and I kept saying to myself, out loud, over and over again - "OH MY GAWD". Swimming in the river isn't freaking me out, it's the distance. Once you see the visual, it is daunting, even at the half-mile distance. I thought that over the past two weeks I've stepped up my workouts and swimming. I realize how much further I need to push myself and work. In the coming weeks, I'll be concentrating on swimming more, biking more and running outside. I also want to figure out how to reserve my energy and use it efficiently for the transitions from one event to the next and when to really pump my legs during the biking phase.
It is a well coordinated event, moving from the swim to the bike race. Once the first wave of swimmers came out of the water, I watched them transition to the biking. Athletes have to sort of dry off, fueling up with powerbars and energy drinks, don helmets and bike shoes and pedaling off onto the course within minutes of pulling oneself out of the river. The bikes and gear are set up on racks in rows upon rows with all the gear neatly arranged in a line next to or in front of the bikes. It looks like a giant garage sale! Aside from a slight bottleneck at the cycling starting point, the athletes get onto the road seamlessly. I witnessed a few jams and one or two people who had flats to be fixed. One woman appeared to not be able to change her tire, it took well over 20 minutes for her to get her bike in riding order. I'm not even certain she ever got onto the race course. Since there were hundreds of athletes, I didn't stick around to watch all of them head from one event to the next. I rode the loop once to try out part of the course and to see how the riders build up speed. Part of the bike course veers off up some side roads and inclines; roads that were closed to the non-participants.
After one lap around the River Drives, I then caught the first wave of athletes transitioning from the bike race to the run. It's another interesting operation. Cyclists bring their bikes back to the racks, change from cycling shoes to running shoes, removing helmets, refueling again and adding water belts as necessary. By this time the spectator areas are mobbed with friends and families cheering everyone on. The streets are littered with water bottles, cups, Gatorade and discarded packets of Goo - a glucose shot that you take to give you a quick burst of energy. All around you can hear cheering and clanging cowbells. The air is charged with excitement and energy. Not only are the crowds encouraging everyone on - "nice job" "you can do it" "you're half-way, almost there..." but the athletes themselves are gracious and encouraging. I saw many teams and pairs of couples during the bike race waiting for their partners or riding together to go the distance. Yes, it is a competition, but it also appeared to be a team effort. During the run, by far the hardest part of the tri, runners helped each other on. They weren't slowing down, but you could see people matching and keeping pace with each other.
The spectators are also a huge part of the event. The overall feeling is one of encouragement. When I was riding around the river drive loop a second time, I got cheered on by the onlookers. I kept slowing down to say thanks, but I'm not in the race and people wished me luck anyway! This even happened when I climbed up Lemon Hill to practice the incline. The remaining people up there were so pumped up, cheering and ringing their bells. I stopped to chat and told them I was only out taking in the sights and getting in a practice ride for the SheRox. These folks were so enthusiastic they wanted to spread the happiness around so they cheered for me. Like the the Spectators and volunteers, the participants don't give up either. I saw swimmers in the water well over an hour into the race. There were probably ten swimmers still in the water, going slowly but still swimming. The crews were right there next to the swimmers, making sure they were okay, and urging them onward. During my second loop around the drive, a good two hours into the race, I saw two or three cyclists still out there, more than a mile to the run transition. Volunteers and fans were there to support the riders. It was odd to see some people so far behind, but encouraging to see that they were going to finish no matter how long it took. I don't think I'll be in the dead last place of the swim or bike. I might possibly be in the last heat of the run, but no matter what, I will finish.