The Timberman Triathlon – Swimming with the Fishies

Ben at Timberman 2015

Last week on August 15, 2015, I competed in one of the biggest physical challenges of my life, the Timberman Triathlon! And although it was my first endurance race ever, it was surprisingly quick. A lot happened: from my “swimming with the fishies” moment to the chain derailment/near car collision, to having the BEST fan base there! Let’s start with the swim…

This post starts at 4:45am.

Before the crack of dawn I was woken up by the sound of crickets and snores from the other room. I had my gear in two bags on the couch. One bag contained this morning’s swimming stuff and the other had biking/running gear. After waking Cherie up and getting my things in the car, we set out to Ellacoya state park. The sun wasn’t even up yet… but I was getting ready to race a 0.3 mile swim, 15 mile bike, and 3.1 mile run.

5:05am… When we got there half the parking lot was already full! You could tell there were some serious morning people at this event and I was using toothpicks to keep my eye lids open. We pulled over to the side and I got my bike out. I assembled the pieces and wheeled it over to the transition area. Luckily there were some bike experts/volunteers there helping people get their equipment working properly.

My brakes needed a tweaking. And it helped that the dude who helped me turned his spelunker cave headlight on so we could both see. Once I was tuned up, I got my number (90) drawn all over my body. Then I entered the transition area where rows and rows of bikes were lined up, just waiting for the adrenalin pumping race to begin.

Swimming group at Timberman
The first wave at Timberman 2015

My swimming with the fishies moment

As tradition dictates, the triathlon starts with the swim. Since this was an age-group race, and there were no professionals present, the under-39 men’s group was the first wave. (The older men’s group and then the women’s groups followed) I was part of the first wave of swimmers and just figured I’d figure things out as I go…
After arranging my stuff for the transition I suited up for the swim at around 6:30am. Most of the other racers were already in the water at Ellacoya beach and so I jumped right in with them. The sun was already above the horizon and I could see that it was going to cause a little blindness since the first buoy was leading us due east.
After warming up a bit with my swim cap and goggles on, I followed the referee who was guiding the start of the race to some banging tunes! About 80 of us were called up to the starting point at the end of the beach. Families and friends were nearby to support their racers, snap photos, and just breath in this beautiful course.
6:58am – We approached the buoys which would help our ankle straps tell the Ironman gods our start times and track us as we go. As the seconds ticked up to 7:00am, I could feel other competitors moving forward and backward in the lane, representing how confident they felt about their swimming. I stayed put, adjusting my ear plugs, listening carefully for the siren to go off. Then, the fishies came…
It was like getting caught up in a school of fish corralled by a pack of whales. At first, most of us were running toward the first buoy, while others were already swimming full speed. Arms were hitting my legs, while my feet were kicking others. There was no where to go unless the traffic ahead sped up. And only by the second buoy were most of us even able to create space for ourselves. At about half way through, I could hear the muffled siren of the second wave. More fishies were being unleashed.
As I rounded the forth buoy I had the end chute in my sights. A few of the second-wave swimmers had already passed me as I stood up, breathed deeply, and clawed the shallow water like a wildling escaping an army of white walkers… Once I got out onto the beach, I scampered over the smoothed out oak tentacles, and rounded the corner into the bike transition area.
Next post: The Timberman Triathlon – Racing 15 miles on a bike