Making the Jump – A Beginners tale of preparation, panic and accomplishment

By Chris Odekirk

No parachute! Sometimes that is how it feels to jump out the comfort of our predictable planes into the newness of the expansive sky. A change of course, a big adventure, a challenging commitment can disarm the most protected individuals. And so it goes with Chris Odekirk, one of SLRC’s fine employees. Last year was his first dive into a whole new sport. Thankfully, he landed on his feet and really did live to tell about it.

It was a balmy 120 degrees outside and I was getting ready to go for a run, when I received an email from my brother-in-law. I knew that he was big into triathlons, and the thought had crossed my mind, that I would like to do them as well. The only problem was that he was emailing me to convince me to do the new Ironman in St George. Not only was I not willing to commit to something of that scale, I was also half way through a deployment to the Middle East. Needless to say there were no places for me to swim or bike. The only thing that I did have going for me was that I had been a distance runner my whole life. After reading my brother-in-laws email, I decided that I was going to sign up for a triathlon that would take place several months after I returned home. My first race would be an Olympic distance at the Stansburry Triathlon…or so I thought. Six months had passed, and I was on my way home. Luckily, I was able to get my legs in decent cycling shape by finding some spin bikes on our post and I was able to log plenty of miles on the road (or treadmill, when the sandstorms would hit.) Now all I had to do was work on the swim.

As soon as I got home I went to the local pool, bought a membership and recruited a friend, who had been a competitive swimmer, to give me some swim lessons. Everything was coming together perfectly. I remember my first swim lesson like it was yesterday. My swim coaches first set of instructions was to swim an easy 200 yards to warm up. 200 yards? How hard could that be? I run 50 plus miles a week, I can swim 200 yards. With this unfounded confidence, I jumped in the water and set off to swim my “easy” 200 yard warm-up. I made it 50 yards (down and back in a 25 yard pool) before I started to flail in the water and grabbed the side of the pool. My friend laughed at me and said “You have a lot of work to do if you want to swim 1500 meters.” Later that night I emailed the race director and asked if I could change from the Olympic distance to the Sprint. My pride was shot and so was my goal of someday competing in an Ironman with my brother-in-law.

Thanks to the race director, I was able to switch distances and with a little help from my triathlon instructor at the University of Utah, I was feeling more confident in the water.Although I was feeling more confident, I had yet to swim the 750 meter distance without stopping. My coach assured me and told me that I would be just fine. I didn’t believe her.

Race day finally came, I had my wet suit, which I had yet to swim in (just one of many mistakes in my triathlon prep), and I was as ready as I was ever going to be. With all of the male competitors for the Sprint in the water, my nerves were on edge and the only thing I could think about was getting out of this water. The gun went off and it was “do or die” time, and hopefully there would be non of the latter. I was feeling great! For the first 100 meters, after that it all went downhill and a few minutes later I completely stopped swimming looked around for something to grab on to and was ready to call the whole thing off. I had been kicked, slapped and I am fairly certain that I swallowed half of the water in that lake. Nothing was going right, my form went out the window and my breathing pattern was all over the place. In that moment of doubt I saw a fellow competitor swim past me doing the breast stroke with a smile on his face. At that moment, nothing could have infuriated me more, and that was what I needed. I dropped my head back in the water, focused on my form and drug myself to the water exit. With a strong bike and run I actually did a lot better than I anticipated, but I still was not where I wanted to be. I knew that I wanted to compete on the Olympic level and someday the Ironman.

With my first triathlon under my belt I was ready to set a date for my first Olympic distance. I knew where I had gone wrong with my prep (or lack thereof) for the Sprint, and I was not going to let that happen with the Olympic. I focused on my swim, logged some serious rides on my bike and pounded myself into oblivion on the road and track. I had received some great advice from BJ and Guy, and Debbie helped me forge my legs for the run while I was in high school, so in my opinion I was ready to go.

Race day had finally arrived and I was ready this time, really ready. The gun went off and the good swimmers flew by me, but that was okay. I was going to swim my own race. I kept referring to something that I had heard from TJ Tollakson, “99 percent of life boils down to this one principal, DON’T PANIC!” With those wise words, and taking it one stroke at a time I was able to feel comfortable in the water and maintain a pace that I was fairly happy with.Aside from losing sight of the buoys on several occasions in the sun, I was happy with my performance. The bike went amazingly well, I was on schedule with my nutrition and hydration and I was just about to start my favorite event, the run. The heat had continued to climb throughout the day and by the time we got to the run; it was much hotter than I had anticipated. Thankfully, I was feeling fine and taking water as needed. Not wanting to get behind on my water intake, I forced myself to stop, yes stop, at all the water stops to take in water. I don’t care who you are, it is not easy to drink a cup of water while you are running.Even with those water stops, I posted a time in the 10K that I was very happy with. All-in-all, it was a great race. Thanks to proper preparation, advice and a lack of water in my lungs I was able to cross the finish line with a smile on my face.

Even though, I just briefly touched on the fact that I sought advice from experienced triathletes, I cannot stress the positive impact their advice had on my race enough. Simply asking someone what I should expect in the swim would have saved me a lot of strife during my first triathlon.Ask questions about anything and everything. If there is one thing that triathletes like more than the triathlon its self (and that includes their beloved bikes) it is talking about triathlon.Asking questions about what to expect, proper nutrition, hydration, equipment, etc will only help fill in any gaps you may have in your training regiment and not to mention the peace of mind that comes after picking an experienced triathletes brain for a few minutes.

Making the jump from Sprint to Olympic was not easy, it required a lot more time and a lot more focus, but it was totally worth it. Tune in next time to read about either my successful jump from the Olympic distance to the ½ Ironman or my obituary. Either way, it will be good reading.

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