Emerging from the swim at the Naperville Sprint Triathlon, I glanced down at my watch chronometer and it still read 0:00. We’d waited so long to begin the swim by setting off in random groups of four that I’d completely forgotten to hit the START button.
Time becomes fluid in the water anyway. The time groups that had been so clear on the shore, with declared swim times of 5:00-6:00-7:00-8:00 all indicated by signs on posts meant nothing at all at some point. Those are merely what swimmers estimate for their expected swim times. In the actual water, none of that makes any sense.
It’s more about avoiding obstacles in the middle of the pack. Those can be other people flailing in the water… or the disconcerted obstacles of your mind trying to calculate whether you are swimming too fast or too slow for your own good.
Then comes that strange bit of triathlon when you emerge from the water and go into “transition.” That’s the strange phase of the race in which you’re not actually doing any of the three events for which triathlon is named, but instead find yourself prancing across a parking lot in bare feet or encased in dangerously slick bike shoes that were not meant for trying to run at all.
The better triathletes have their shoes mounted on the pedals and ready to go. Barefeet and all, they just climb on and go riding. Those of us not so adept at transition are forced to play games with our own mobility. We flounder, in other words, in a world of ‘trime’ in which normal physical activities are mixed together in a sport salad we call triathlon. It can be quite comical, and at times dangerous. Last year I fell flat on my ass while coming off the bike and trotting through transition to my running shoes. I just laughed. It was funny.
But you’ll notice that I’ve made up a word to explain the rubbery world between actual time and the time spans between swimming, riding and running. The total experience is “trime,” that is, ‘triathlon time.’ This is a world in which all other worlds and their orders of time and expectations of such do not exist. Trime is truly what you make it. Like lovemaking, it requires both an open mind and a fixed purpose.
Indeed, we are both alone and together in this strange little land of rolling starts and transitions. And we set out on bike courses in which you cannot tell which competitors are truly ahead of you or behind in the race. And then you climax with a run in which putting one foot in front of the other until you finish is the only way to finish. And it feels so good when you do. You can call it pleasure or relief. Whatever you like. It’s trime well spent.
The concept of trime is a strange enough notion at the Sprint distance. It only magnifies, it can be said, the farther you go up in triathlon distance. Surely the segment of trime constituted by the transitions represents a lesser percentage of the entire effort the longer you go, but it is still significant. There are reports of competitors in transition at Ironman races in which observers wonder if certain male competitors will ever actually leave. They loll about naked or half naked as if there were no other place to go in the world. They are lost in trime, one might say.
Transition trime can be an embarrassment of sorts. It is the necessary evil that hides within your triathlon overall time. Transition is akin to stepping out to take a shit during an important company meeting. You excuse yourself momentarily to sneak out of a deep discussion and squat on the toilet doing this most humble of deeds. Then you wash your hands and ease back into the meeting room as if nothing in the world ever happened. But truly, those few minutes are gone forever. They won’t show on the meeting notes. “Verna stepped out to take a shit,” is not going to contribute anything to the notion of profitability or branding of the company. It’s the same thing with transition. “Christopher Cudworth contemplatively shoved his feet into his bike shoes” does not make for a better overall triathlon time.
Your transition trime shows up on that little printout and nine times out of ten you look at those times and go, “Oh shit. I could have been faster in transition.” Yesterday, my transition trime was 3:30 in T1, which involved jogging from the pool to the bike, putting on helmet and sunglasses, shoving socks on feet and feet in shoes, yanking said bike from the lean-to and trotting in cleats 150 meters to the bike out at the far end of the transition zone.
That was trime out of mind. But actually, I was just glad to be there at all.
I’d signed up for the race at the last minute because last weekend I’d been shitting my brains out from what I thought was the raging return of the c-diff I’d contracted from taking powerful antibiotics for cellulitis in my hand. The entire month in fact has been dodgy in terms of training and mental gymnastics as a result of that nasty affliction. I wasn’t sure even three weeks ago I’d be in good enough shape to race come August 7. Every summer it seems I’ve bumped into a stupid infection or affliction. But that’s life.
So I wasn’t beating myself up as I tottered and skipped in short little steps pushing my across the giant black parking lot in bike shoes that made noise like the tip-toes of a Fairy Princess. I only wanted to get to Bike Out. Just keep moving. Trime is passing. It was such a blessing to finally climb on the Venge and start pedaling. I skipped the cycling gloves entirely. Didn’t even put a HeadSweat on. Precious seconds of trime were passing. Who needs them?
Last year my bike split haunted me. I’d been clobbered by several minutes by those in my age group. This year I was determined to cut that gap. And I did, cycling almost two minutes faster than my bike split of 2015. 37:15 for 13 miles. Progress.
The run was a minute slower, balked by a slight case of side stitchiness that I did not want to flare into a full-blown, clutching my side, bent-over misery. Given the transition from full-blown flu last weekend to racing yesterday, I was grateful to be running just under sub-8:00 in the last two miles. So I kept it sane and ran 23:49 or so for the 5k. I only ran about two miles last week, and that was while conducting some coaching for a friend who just started in triathlon. The rest of the week my gut was compromised from the flu. I did 30 hard miles on the bike on Wednesday, swam Thursday and Friday (not feeling all that good in the water) and rode a smooth spin on Saturday morning for 1.5 miles or riding. Not much of a training week at all. Mostly recovery.
But a funny thing happened while walking my way to the swim start. There stood my family physician who stuck out his hand and said, “How you doing?” We both knew what he meant. The stool test had come out negative on Tuesday for C-Diff, which is important news because that condition can literally kill you if it gets out of control. I’ve been doing the second round of prescribed antibiotics that came about as a result of the depressed call I made last Saturday to the doctor’s office asking the on-call physician what to do. They ordered the meds just in case. But that night still brought twelve hours of raw misery with diarrhea, nausea, cold chills and sweat-soaked sheets. It took several days to recover. Even by Tuesday night my gut still felt like it held a bag of wet pinto beans inside.
So it was with a combination of relief and acceptance that took 13th place in my age group this year, after a 10th last year. My slower run time was a product of some trime spent just getting healthy again.
I was 218th out of nearly 2000 total competitors. Not bad for a 59-year-old rookie triathlete coming off the flu. The bike was also a bit of a slalom given the number of people out on the course ahead of me… because I waited to swim with the 8:00 trime group. That’s the Catch-22 of being honest about your swim time. Because you’ll swim faster with better swimmers especially if there are fewer people stopped cold in the water interrupting your own stroke. Which is the case with the slower swimmers. Sometimes it does not pay to be honest about your trime here on earth.
And when you get out of the water, those are all people you will likely have to pass on the bike. I estimate that number to be around 300 total before it was said and done. Lots of cycling crit skills went to work weaving through gaps in the cycling crowd because no one pays attention to the “slower traffic to the right” rule in the waning group of tri competitors. I was down in the drops, alternately hammering a high cadence and a big gear depending on the wind and the road. I rode well.
But all those trime factors show that a formerly pure distance runner like me must learn to make adjustments. It’s been a rolling process, one might say, learning the triathlon. I’ve raced five times this year, all at the Sprint Distance, and gotten a little hardware in the process. I first got into cycling in 2003 as a sustainable sport, and raced my bike in crits for several years. Now I’m doing triathlon as part of a lifelong balance of activities. This is all part of a different kind of transition for me. One must learn to suppress some native instincts about how time and races actually work.
In my former life as strictly a runner, the measurement of success was always so empiric. I either won the race and finished ahead of everyone, or did not. Then I got into bike racing, and learned that almost no one can just ride off the front and take the win. If you do, it’s time to move up another racing Category, or else you’re a sandbagger. And that’s the worst type of competitor of all.
Then came triathlons, where the only categories you typically sense are those you choose for yourself. Oh sure, one can sync up with an age grouper at some point and try to race them. But that would typically require an inquiry as to what swim wave they were in, and so on, and so forth. Not worth the wasted breath, if you think about it. Time is not the same as trime.
Perhaps the greatest lesson in triathlon is that the empiric measurement of effort is not what everything is all about. Being part of the heaving masses in our sometimes graceless striving is in fact, an acknowledgment of grace. God does care that much who wins or loses. The glory of the universe may shine in the victors and their fitness, but it also emanates from those that have decided to participate, and even those on the sidelines holding the dog leash in one hand and a child on the other hip. It’s trime well spent in one way or another. It is the recognition of existence. The now. The forever we can grasp.
It’s triathlon trime.