“I want to go to Miami … to do a triathlon … 13 days after the Boston Marathon.” Those who know me would not be surprised to hear me utter those words, but it was not I who came up with this crazy idea — it was my wife, Lyn. Yes, I am a very lucky guy.
“I want to go to Miami … to do a triathlon … 13 days after the Boston Marathon.”
Those who know me would not be surprised to hear me utter those words, but it was not I who came up with this crazy idea — it was my wife, Lyn. Yes, I am a very lucky guy.
If you read the account of my 34th running of the Boston Marathon, you can imagine my trepidation about attempting a triathlon, even a sprint tri, less than two weeks later.
My journey from Hopkinton to Boston was not kind to my legs, and conventional wisdom dictates taking one day off from racing for every mile just raced. I would be cutting that formula in half.
It wasn’t too difficult for Lyn to convince me to enter us both in the Tri-Miami Sprint Triathlon in Key Biscayne. I certainly could use a five day getaway, and we have very dear friends who arranged to meet us there, and I could fit in a client visit while there, as well.
Casting reasonable coaching advice aside, we booked the trip.
For several days after the Boston Marathon, they were filled with the residual aches that are to be expected after completing a 26-mile jaunt, and the general sense of fatigue made me think that, perhaps this time, I took on a challenge that wouldn’t end well.
Four days after Boston, I put on my Vibram Five Finger shoes and ran five miles. Those tight IT bands that were a pesky problem during the marathon continued to remind me that they were there and weren’t going to make the running portion of the tri (usually my strongest event) easy.
I also needed to get my biking legs ready, and I wanted to get a chance to ride outdoors. The long winter meant training on my Computrainer in my den, and it just isn’t the same. I didn’t want to have my first real ride occur in a race, so it was a relief that we had a warm Saturday perfect for riding.
It was a delight to ride the roads, and I was able to crank it up in a way that running wouldn’t allow.
It was time to get into the pool. Marathon training kept me away from swimming for most of the winter, and the thought of an open ocean swim without my trusty, super buoyant wetsuit motivated me to get back to the YMCA.
Within a few laps, I found that I really hadn’t lost too much of my swim stroke capabilities, and the therapeutic benefits of swimming after a marathon really helped sooth those damaged muscles.
Again, my triathlon training offered a great alternative to getting back to full-time running, which is unwise.
With only 13 days separating competitions, however, I had hoped that my optimism wasn’t over-reaching reality.
When we made it to Miami, we headed to the bike shop to get our rental bikes. Lyn and I were outfitted with bright red, spiffy, new Cannondale road bikes. As nice as they looked, switching from my carbon fiber Guru Crono Tri bike to this model was like going from a Ferrari to a Yugo.
On race eve, we picked up our race packets and headed to Key Biscayne to check out the venue. For tri-athletes who find the swim to be the biggest challenge, a pre-visit to the swim location may help calm some nerves, or not.
The photos of the swim on the race website feature a serene tropical beach with lake-calm waters. What we encountered were winds gusting at 30 to 35 mph, choppy water and beach sand swirling.
The distance from the swim exit to the bike transition area was a quarter-mile run up the beach, and it was hot.
After surveying the triathlon race site, we needed to either do a practice ride in order to make sure that our rental bikes were well tuned and shifted correctly, or have lunch.
The lure of South Beach was too great. We began our carbo-loading with a delicious Cuban fare served at Gloria Estefan’s restaurant, “Larios.”
Triathlons have very early start times, and Tri Miami was no exception. We arrived at the transition location at 5 a.m. to rack our bikes and prepare our assigned area for the quick transition from swim to bike, and then bike to run.
Each tri-athlete has his own method and rituals for laying out his gear in transition. This would be my first triathlon to make a new decision about running footwear. Should I run in my traditional race shoes that I could slip on very quickly, or should I take the time to get into my Vibram Five Finger shoes to experience the near barefoot approach? Undecided, I laid out both options.
Though the winds were still strong, the water was relatively calm, and I completed the swim with ease and in the middle of my age group.
With a quick dry-off, I slipped into my bike shoes, put on my helmet and mounted my “Yugo,” hoping that everything worked. Surprisingly, I had a very strong ride with a time that put me near the top of my age group.
Back to the transition area, it was running shoe decision time. Nike or Vibram?
Faced with indecision and a ticking clock, I chose none of the above, and headed out barefooted. Yes, it was a rash decision. I had only done one totally barefoot run before, and to my surprise I felt great. My IT bands weren’t complaining. I was passing other runners, and I couldn’t stop smiling.
In triathlons, athletes are “body-marked.” An athlete’s number for the competition is written on their arms, thighs and one calf. On the other calf is their age.
What fun I had passing 30-something runners. First, they saw the bare feet, and then as I passed them they saw my age.
“Oh, man, are you kidding?” was the frequent refrain that I heard.
In a competitive field, I placed fourth in my age group. Not to be outdone, Lyn was second, so we both came home with medals, though Lyn’s was far more impressive than mine.
So the lesson that I had learned yet once again is that triathlons are a great alternative for runners. I am a diehard runner, but triathlons keep me in the game when my body needs recovery time from the rigors of too much roadwork.
The season is young, and you are probably planning your race schedule. If you own a bike and have basic swim skills, you may just want to fit in a sprint triathlon. There are lots out there. You probably know a tri-athlete who can give you some advice, and you just might find yourself beaming with pride as you cross the finish line after your first event and proudly tell your friends that, yes indeed, you are a tri-athlete.
Tom Licciardello is a founding member of the Merrimack Valley Striders. Licciardello has participated in 86 marathons including the last 33 Boston Marathons. He has also completed the Hawaii Ironman triathlon. Professionally, he is a Certified Financial Planner and resides in North Andover, Mass., with his wife, Lyn. He may be reached at email@example.com.