Up Front With Andy Potts: Confessions Of A First-Timer

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Photo: Jay Prasuhn
Photo: Jay Prasuhn

Written by: Andy Potts

Do you remember your first time? I remember mine like it was yesterday. I remember the setting, how it made me feel and—most of all—wanting to brag afterward, to tell people, “Yup, I did it. I raced my first triathlon.”

My first triathlon was a sprint race in the summer of 2002. I found it ironic that only in triathlon will you find an event that lasts more than an hour called a “sprint.” Reminiscing about my first time is always nostalgic, energizing and certainly puts a smile on my face. I recently sat down with my parents, Hattit and Buzz, who reflected on their first time as well.

My mom was lured into her first race in August 2007, and my dad just finished his first triathlon in May of this year. Like many first timers, they had lots of questions and I provided insight as best as I could. I tried to manage their expectations, but they just needed to go out and race. Knowing my parents, I knew that once they got their first one under their belt, they would be back for more.

Both of my parents are extremely athletic and have enjoyed participating in sports since they were kids. However, it took them until they were around 60 years old before they took up triathlon, proving that you’re never too old to be a first-timer. They both found that the swim was the most daunting task of the race. Because of the lack of visibility, the contact with other swimmers, the claustrophobia, and no wall to grab if something went wrong, the swim can be a showstopper for a lot of people. With that in mind, my mom remembers telling herself, “If I don’t complete the swim, then I can’t do the bike and the run.”

My parents were more prepared for their first race than I was for mine. I had youth on my side but certainly not experience. The two biggest things that I look back on and smile about were that I had no clue as to how to set up my transition area, and I had no idea how tough it would be to run after riding. For transition, I had all of my stuff in a bag next to my bike. I remember fishing through it to find my helmet and bike shoes during the race. As for running after swimming and biking first, I spent the entire run doubled over at the waist as if I were carrying a piano on my back, which is exactly what the run felt like.

My dad had a similar experience despite tips from me. He managed to set an impressive new family record for slowest T1. He had trouble taking off his wetsuit, he mixed up the order of putting on his helmet and glasses and had to redo it, he completely emptied his transition bag during T1, and he actually ran back to his racking spot after heading out for the bike because he forgot his shirt. Then, to top it all off, he had to take his helmet and glasses off to put his shirt on. Before he had even pedaled one stroke, he had put his helmet and glasses on three times. My dad said, “Practicing transition is no substitute for the real thing. In practice it is hard to raise your heart rate to where it will be in a race, and it is hard to account for your adrenaline as well.”

My mom fared much better in transition during her first race. When in doubt, she referenced the person next to her and copied her layout. In an effort of full disclosure, I think I did a better job of explaining things to her than I did to my dad. “The other competitors were really helpful and were out for a good time as well as the challenge of the race,” my mom recalls.

Another thing that stuck out for my parents was the body marking. Race numbers went on both hands, both arms, both legs; mercifully, only one calf got marked with their age. Seeing the ages of other competitors ignited my parents’ competitive side. “I remember seeing a woman who was in my age group just up the road from me on the run. I kept telling myself, ‘I can catch her!’” The run wasn’t nearly as painful for them as it was for me. They had lots of time to prepare and were more realistic in their minds about the challenges of the race.

For both my parents, their first race was a family affair, and it was nice for them to be a part of the race rather than spectators. Just as I predicted, the festival nature of triathlons and the euphoric feeling of crossing the finish line have compelled my parents to enter more triathlons. My dad said, “There was a distinct energy in the finishing chute for everyone. I got a real feeling of accomplishment when I crossed the line.”

One thing is for sure: I had no clue what I was doing my first time. I didn’t have anyone coaching me on how to set up my transition; I hadn’t really trained for it, unless you count visualization as training. Needless to say, I was under-prepared and overwhelmed. Even with that recipe for disaster, my first triathlon ended up sparking my new passion.

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