Reasons to Run: Spudman triathlon fuels some inspiration

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 3 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

Swimmers wait in the Snake River for the countdown to start the first leg of the 25th annual Spudman triathlon in Burley, Idaho.

Photo by Shanell Dunn

I'm at mile 20, and my thighs are burning and my calves are cramping. There are only five more miles in the cycle portion of the Spudman triathlon before I get a short break to prepare for the run. “I can do this,” I think to myself.

Suddenly, three riders in front of me, someone swerves and brushes tires with a fellow triathlete next to him. The next five seconds are a slow-motion action scene more vivid than even the best 3-D movies.

The rider who got clipped overcorrects to the right, sending him into a face-first dive toward the pavement. One, two, three riders go down on top of him, and the pack of 10-15 riders collapses on itself. There is no avoiding it. I brace myself for an impending 25-mph face-plant.

It all started last August when my friends convinced me that I could do my first triathlon. The Spudman triathlon was actually my second triathlon. My first triathlon was the XTERRA Utah off-road triathlon.

My friends and I had been mountain biking one to two times each week. Since the mountain bike portion of the XTERRA was the longest leg, they convinced me that it wouldn’t be too tough to complete. There was one problem, however: The triathlon was just over a month away, and I was a terrible swimmer and runner. Determined and somewhat skeptical, I accepted their challenge and signed up for the “sport” distance.

My friends and I started going to the pool three times a week. It was a sad sight. I could barely swim 200 yards without needing to take a break. My running ability was not much better.

I will summarize my training by saying that I improved a lot. I got to the point where I could swim a mile without stopping and run more than the required 5K fairly easy. That being said, I still felt horribly unprepared and inadequate to be in that race. Like so many other first-timers, all I wanted to do was finish.

The day of the race came, and the adrenaline that accompanied it rushed through me. I no longer wanted to finish. I wanted to compete.

I ended up doing a lot better than I thought I would. That drive to compete pushed me to do better than I ever had. Crossing the finish line was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.

I collapsed to my knees, panting with tears welling up in my eyes. I had just done something I didn’t believe I could do.

One of the most surprising things to me during that moment of triumph was the revelation that my body was capable of so much more than my mind let on. I realized that we, as human beings, allow mental blocks to prevent us from accomplishing things that our bodies are actually capable of achieving.

Last weekend, when I participated in the Spudman, that revelation was reinforced even more.

We arrived in Burley, Idaho, the night before the 25th annual Spudman triathlon. I was with the same friends with whom I had done the previous race.

The Spudman was double the distance of my previous triathlon, but the swim was downriver and had a fairly flat bike race and run. I had heard that it was the perfect race to start taking things up to the next level.

We had never been to Burley, but it was a small town and easy to navigate. We checked in without problems and headed off to load up on some carbs. We went to a small pizza joint in the neighboring town of Rupert and then retired for the night on a friend’s front lawn.

I lay awake for hours. It had been a year since my last race, and once again I was feeling horribly inadequate. “Am I able to do this?” I wondered. Finally, exhaustion overtook me, and I awoke to the sound of my alarm at 5:15 a.m.

It was a very still morning. We arrived at the starting line an hour before the race began. The weather was perfect and the water temperature was not too cold, but my stomach still had butterflies.

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