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Steve Wagner, Published July 29 2012

Wagner: Triathlon offers new experience

Bemidji, Minn.

Making my way to the pavilion, I stepped into line to receive my race packet.

Then a volunteer pulled the cap off a black permanent marker, writing the designated wave on my left wrist before marking the race number on my arm and leg.

Soon I found myself in the transition area, setting up my bicycle and gear, less than 200 feet from the beach and water.

Untried and untested, particularly in the swimming segment of the triathlon, this would be a serious test for me. Instead of worrying, though, I focused on conserving energy during the swim and hope to reel in my fellow competitors on the bike and run.

Like running, there was a positive, energetic vibe among the athletes, and I chatted with several of them – including one who also was making his triathlon debut.

Once in the water, before the start, I felt comfortable. This sport, mixing disciplines, is possible. And with the start, I hung near the rear of my wave and plunged into the water when it came time.

Swimming soon proved to be a major weakness, but with my focus on making constant forward progress, I climbed out of the water and made my way to the bike. This was all unchartered territory: never had I swam in an event, or tried to change gear on the fly. It was just a few months ago I first considered even riding a bike, and it has become a once- or twice-a-week diversion from running.

The first mile on the bike, my focus was regaining my breath and settling into a comfortable, sustainable pace. Within a few miles, some of the faster swimmers started coming back to me on the inclines and declines. The miles clicked off more quickly than expected until I found myself back at the transition area, where I racked the bike and headed out the run shoot, uphill for the first half mile.

Many of the athletes were moving slowly, grinding out the final miles to the finish line.

Two lasting impressions filled my thoughts when I arrived there. First, to be better as a triathlete, I need to devote time to swimming. Second, it’s time to figure out when the next race will be.

Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer Editor Steve Wagner writes a running blog, which can be found online at runningspud.areavoices.com. He can be reached via email at swagner@bemidjipioneer.com.