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Becoming an expedition (wo)man

Up to last Saturday, I had never done a triathlon.  While I am a swimmer, I don’t own a road bike, am unable to run on pavement, and am generally not that interested in the other two disciplines to seriously consider such a race.

Until I was invited to participate on a relay team for Expedition Man, an Ironman distance triathlon held at Lake Tahoe.

Expedition Man is another one of these home-grown events that was introduced this year.  The organizer, a local, wanted to create a version of the Ironman race, though one that was point to point.  This ultra started at Lake Tahoe, at Zephyr Cove, and ended east of Reno in Sparks.  Between those two points were a long bike ride and a marathon run.  In 90+ degree heat.

I’ve spent the better part of the summer training in the local pool.  I also invested in a wetsuit, a necessity for swimming longer distances in Lake Tahoe.  Admittedly, the act of putting on the wetsuit was a bit daunting, so it sat in its box until two weeks before the race.  The last time I swam in open water was 1999, so I knew I had to commit to a few open water swims, particularly since my teammates were *serious* athletes, the type who ride the Death Ride (and complete it) and win ultra marathons.

The first few wetsuit ‘incidents’ weren’t great, but it got easier to get into with practice, and swimming felt less awkward.  But I had no idea how fast I’d swim the 2.4 miles, so I gave the Cyclist, the team leader,  an estimate of around an hour.

The morning of the event dawned dark at 4:15 am, and it was still dark at 5:00 am when I showed up at Zephyr Cove.  After some confusion surrounding where our timing chip was, I wetsuited up and went down to the shore, where I realized I didn’t have a race swim cap.  There were three waves of swimmers, spaced 10 minutes apart – the full ultra distance individual competitors, the half distance individual competitors, and then relay teams (or so I thought).  So I grabbed the green cap and waited with my fellow relay swimmers.  What I learned while waiting was that I was in the half distance group, and I should have started with the first wave.  An official told me not to worry, but that I’d be alone on the second lap.

Being in the last wave wasn’t a bad thing.  There were fewer folks in our group, and we all spaced out quickly, alleviating my fears of being kicked in the head.  Sighting isn’t my strength, but I was able to spot the buoys fairly far away, thanks to prescription goggles, and only zig-zagged once on the second lap.  According to N, who won the boyfriend award by getting up to watch me swim at 6 am, I pulled away from most of my wave early on, and caught up to some of the second wave by the end of the first lap.  I had no clue about this, as I was focused on spotting buoys, not going too fast but not going too slow, and trying to kick hard before I had to get out and run along the shore for the second lap.

I guess focus and training paid off, because I came in at 52:55. I half ran, half staggered up the beach and through the transition area, gasping as I tried to remove the top part of the wetsuit.  Transitions are clearly not my forte, as one hand was still caught in the neoprene as I tried to pull the timing chip off my ankle and hand it to the Cyclist.  He left, and I realized that I was done.  All I had to do was pry the rest of the wetsuit off.

Since I had a few hours before I had to meet the Runner in Sparks, I went for breakfast.  Handily, the Zephyr Cove Resort Restaurant was open, and I can confirm that the smoked salmon omelet is an awesome way to refuel after a race.

Read part two of "Becoming an Expedition (Wo)Man" on Jenn Gleckman's blog. 

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Jenn Gleckman

Jenn, who moved to Lake Tahoe in 1999, is in tourism marketing for MarketingProfs. She admits to spending as much time as possible playing outside, ideally on her skis or mountain bike.


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