The Cost of the Sport (& Guilt)
August 7, 1988
West Branch YMCA Triathlon
In the third triathlon I gained a sense of what’s what of equipment and the have and have nots of triathletes who raced. Be careful what equipment you ask for to be a faster triathlete. Master usage of new equipment through knowledge as that need is more important than the speed. Not knowing how to use new equipment is dangerous and unsafe to you and others.
Faster triathletes, the quick learners showed up with wetsuits, a neoprene second skin which trapped and warmed up water and kept skinny biased runners afloat. They raced on lighter weight bikes equipped with wind cheating disc wheels, sew-up tires, and clipless pedals. They ran in light weight, pull-on running shoes with “no-tie” cinch up elastic laces. These triathletes looked faster, talked faster with more confidence, and frequently left all the have-nots behind after the starting line. They never looked back.
I wore no wetsuit. Showed up with a minimal tan in a Speedo swim suit and no race shirt. Rode on a bike with standard issued wheels, clincher rims, and 27 1/8” size tires, not 700cm. Steel cages enclosed the bike pedals. Wore shoes with tie up cotton laces. My eyes blinked frequently sending a subliminal message to others a lack of confidence before, during, and after the race. The reality of my nativity luckily trumped all the intimidation factors from speedier triathletes who strutted at check-in, through transitions, and on the course. With plenty of speedsters in front of me to the finish line, I raced to my known capabilities.
After two triathlons the need for more speed became obvious. I needed a new, faster bike for more speed, less wind resistant, and with brighter colors and a higher coolness factor. Arguably the most important piece of equipment for a speedy triathlon. A new ride needed to be more affordable to the only thing skinner than my body, my wallet. The local bike store owner, an ex-state championship cyclist, convinced me with a Model R500 Cannondale bike in azure blue with white highlights and yellow swatches on sale.
The bike looked fast but the power plant remained the same. Its set-up included cutting edge Scott tri bars. These looked like metal sheep horns with big curls swept forward from the stem. The total, all in: $1,700. With $700 for the bike, bars, components, pedals, and speedometer; then gave a $1,000 guilt fee to my wife. No she didn’t ask nor hint for a payout, all me. Sorry guys. She bought a top-end sewing machine which she used with thread and bobbins to needle through fabric. I bobbed and needled through traffic with the new bike on the road. We both smiled enjoying our new speedier machines.
At the third triathlon the speed of the bike and lack of riding skills caused me to ride off the road on the first loop of the bike course, a wickedly steep downhill section on a narrow and winding road. No shoulder either, only a rain eroded gutter six inches deep created after the road builders laid the asphalt and moved on to their next job. Fortunately no crash. No flat tire. No un-trued wheel. Only a bit unnerved and wiser for the next descent. On lap two we held steady lines with more triathlete traffic and a gap of a bike glove to the rider beside me. He complimented my riding skills as we gained speed to the bottom of the hill. I shared with him the course provided a quick lesson during the previous loop. Also thanked him for his steadiness in holding a winding but parallel line on his bike.
Swapped out lace up bike shoes for lace up racing flats in the bike-to-run transition (T2). For the last 200 meters of the run leg I finished with a kick worthy of an 800 meter runner. Pat, who swam at the YMCA with us, claimed he could never out sprint me. He didn’t need to worry. He always dropped me on the swim and continued building a lead on the bike leg with his new Cannondale R800 bike. A black beauty with the look of an Indy Race Car. Pat already knew how to generate and control the power of his mount. He consistently ranked high in the annual USAT rankings and raced at Kona in the 1990’s.
Learn to develop the knowledge and skills needed to use new racing equipment to the fullest of the sport. I bought without both, instead arriving to a half-thought out decision based on an eye appealing blue paint job, with a pure white leather seat, a seducing light weight oversized tube frame, and connected to must have Scott bars. All were way cool but not the best buying decision if not up to the handling ability. The Cannondale was on a level of what I wanted my skills to be, not a true representation of my actual caliber. My bike handling and speed skills developed over time as did learning what to ask for in this ever growing fun sport.
Results: 20th overall. 10th in age group.