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by SS at 5:59 am on Tuesday 10th March

The BART (less the people and more the system) screwed me and a few thousand other passengers overnight when the holy trinity of delay-causing events coincided to result in hour long delays trying to get home to the East Bay. Having completed triathlon number one yesterday resulting in some stomach unease (as apparently is common for endurance athletes) and having had my rest cut short by the ogre of Daylight Saving Time, I was ready to go home. This wasn't to be and as I made my way back up to ground level to return to the office for an hour, I ran into Armin (who cycled with Phil and I down to Los Angeles last summer) and so we went to get drinks.

Yesterday's (and my first) triathlon was also my first Treeathlon, having been organised by the Stanford Triathlon Club (Stanford has a tree as their mascot, so you know, Treeathlon, get it?).

Being woefully underprepared for the mechanics of a triathlon, I drove down on the Saturday immediately preceding the event to pick up my race packet. It's spring now in California, which means that the weather is gorgeous and about as good as anything you could expect on the very best days in London (if a little cooler). With the sunroof down, I drove the 2004 Sodhsmobile down to Redwood Shores, a private estate consisting of a number of office buildings and a marina (I can't imagine why they didn't have housing here too but perhaps I wasn't looking hard enough).

Having eventually found the volunteer run registration tent, I picked up a t-shirt (groaning at yet another branded t-shirt which I'll probably wear only while training for other triathlons) and a mysterious assortment of numbers (one small, one large, and one printed on paper with a paperclip attached to it) in a plastic bag (thankfully recyclable). With some trepidation I asked the volunteer, a friendly college aged woman, if I could ask her some stupid questions. I asked her what time I should arrive, how the transition area worked and what most people wore for the bike and run parts of the triathlon. Her answers were helpful but left several details unclear to me - but assuming some bravado was necessary, as a triathlete, I hoped that these questions would answer themselves the next day, at the event itself.

I ended up staying up a little too late that night, having procrastinated after dinner and having forgotten to swap the cyclocross tyres that were currently on my Ti bike for some nice slick road tyres. The clocks went forward though, which really hurt the next morning when I woke up after 6 hours sleep feeling non-trivially rough. Still, the adrenaline got me moving soon enough (along with a couple of Trader Joe's new Cookie Butter Cookies, the next best thing in meta).

My budget Chinese smartphone, the venerable OnePlus One (AKA but not really as the "two"), decided it wasn't ready to wake up and do useful things however, and after fiddling with it on the highway for a little too long to be considered a safe driver (thankfully the rest of the car driving population were sound asleep at home), I ended up getting lost in Fremont for at least 10 minutes. I eventually managed to get the navigation system working in the 2004 Sodhsmobile (it's one of those old school DVD based navigation systems that looks like what you might imagine the avionics displays of a 90s fighter jet might render as) at which point the OnePlus One (Two) decided to start being useful again and I had two navigation systems barking at me on my way to Redwood Shores.

The scene here was significantly busier than the day previous, making me thankful that I had registered earlier. The queues for both the registration and the porta-toilets were significant. After wandering back and forth a couple of times and observing the horde of excitable college students who were all competing (for what I think was the first race of the collegiate series), I asked a student who was near my car what to do with all the numbers in the recycleable plastic bag. I then took everything but my wetsuit over to the transition area.

Finding a place for my bike was difficult - people naturally spread out to fill the space that is available and I ended up asking someone if I could slide his bike over to fit mine in. Underneath your bike is a surprisingly generous amount of space to lay out your possessions for the transition (another thing that was impressive is how triathletes pre-attach their shoes to their bikes, the idea being that you put your shoes on while cycling!). I also needed to get body markings, a procedure where a volunteer with a pen writes several numbers on your arms, including your race number (#551 for me, although he got this wrong on the first arm) and your age (27, written on your left leg so that people know whether they need to overtake you or not to do well in their age group).

This accomplished, with my bike being in a safe place, I then decided to queue for the porta-toilet. The queue was still long though, and I had about 6 minutes to use the bathroom, run to my car, fetch my wetsuit and return to the transition area before they shut it. While putting my wetsuit on, I made conversation with a man in full TeamGB kit. Soon enough it was the whole "where are you from?", "England", "yah, but where in England?" conversation with him and his carbon fibre Specialized road bike painted in a colour scheme that I could only imagine was inspired by a Cadbury's Creme Egg.

A young kid (who must have been 16) and his mother were getting ready just next to us, TeamGB fellow helpfully zipped my wetsuit up for me and joked that it'd get a lot more comfortable once I peed in it. I did not pee in it but was now (oddly, given the expectation that it's all basically sewage anyway) perturbed by the idea of accidentally drinking triathlete urine while swimming. Having stashed the keys to my 2004 Sodhsmobile in the toe of my bike shoes, I walked over to the swim start point. Just in front of me was a man struggling with the last part of zipping his wetsuit, I offered to help and this sparked a conversation where I found out that this hero had managed to train for an Ironman triathlon while working a job at a venture capital and raising two little kids. Epic.

The energy levels (and, for me, a rather bilious nervousness) rose the closer we got to the start of the swim. The collegiate men's wave had yet to depart and were thrashing about in the water warming up. I wandered closer as a group of men who looked like they were all within the 18 to 34 years old group that I was part of crept closer to the edge of the water. The ramp was slippery, covered in damp green algae. The water lapping up the ramp was a murky brown in colour, a far cry from the almost sapphire blue coloured water I normally swim in, closer to the mouth of the Bay in Berkeley.

Once the first collegiate wave departed, I walked into the water, deliberately ignoring thoughts about its contents, and swam a couple of small laps. Looking down into the water through my goggles, it was a cloudy grey/brown colour. I lost track of the other nervous newbies I had met on the ramp so ended up lining to the left of the starting line, under the assumption that the lower density of people here would reduce the probability of me getting kicked in the face by another 18 to 34 year old.

With my watch ready to go in "Multisport" mode, and holding my arm above the water to prevent it losing satellite reception, I waited for the buzzer. Before long it was ten seconds left to go.

On the count of 4 I hit the start button and got ready to thrash.

It hit 0 and the water became choppy. I started swimming, but kept my head out of the water to avoid swimming into a fellow triathlete. I forgot how to breathe, at first. Soon, after turning around the first buoy (or booey, as Americans pronounce it), the field cleared up a little and I was able to swim and breathe more normally. After what felt like a short time (and was actually a short time, about 10 minutes), I saw what looked like the end. Sure enough, it was!

Climbing out on the slippery ladder up to the slightly rocky pontoon, I started the 0.75 kilometre run back to the transition area in my wetsuit. It was entertaining trying to slide my arms free out of the wetsuit after removing my goggles (in retrospect I should have kept the goggles on until after) and while still wearing my chunky watch. I'm sure I felt my left shoulder subluxate a little in the effort it took to pull my arm free from the wetsuit, but whatever.

It took me about 4.5 minutes to change out of my wetsuit and don a full cycling suit (lycra jersey, padded shorts and SPD shoes) which I'm quite proud of. I had a brief conversation with my 16 year old neighbour who, sadly, had apparently been kicked in the face by another swimmer and had lost his goggles as a result!

The bike section itself was pretty uneventful (and, I might add, somewhat boring), leading us up a road for 1.5 miles, back down the same road, and around the Redwood Shores estate itself. I saw a middle aged woman on a cruiser bike and thought it was excellent, although her facial expression was one of near terror.

I never understood the stereotype of triathletes being underwhelming cyclists but it was pretty amusing watching people try and overtake badly, particularly when using ridiculous aerobars (on a 12 mile bike ride, absurd).

The transition to a run was simpler still, taking me just a minute to put my bike away and change shoes. At this point I realised my thumb was bleeding although, a day later, I still haven't figured out where exactly the blood was coming from.

I'm not a great runner and by this point I was wishing hard that I had urinated earlier in the marina like the other triathletes. Still, I soldiered in the belief that 3 miles couldn't really be all that bad. The first thing I noticed (other than my full bladder) was that my back was kind of sore and wasn't at all happy about being subjected to the impact of foot after foot hitting the tarmac. I ignored it and kept going.

Later, TeamGB guy (who was in the 35+ wave, which started ten minutes after ours) overtook me. He yelled at me, "if you're going to wear a Cambridge jersey, you're going to have to run faster!". To which I replied, "but I was a cyclist at Cambridge".

Feeling my legs cramp up a little, I picked up some sort of isotonic drink from a volunteer next to the track but drinking while trying to run was the most awkward enactment and I'm sure most of it ended up on my Cambridge jersey.

With just under 2 miles to go, my watch helpfully vibrated an alert at me "Recovery time: good". I'm still not sure whether it told me that because I was going so slow it /assumed/ I was recovering or if it was telling me my pace was on track for a good recovery.

Having turned the final u-turn to get back to the finish line, I was overtaken by the collegiate athlete from Brown but trying to discern which university he represented was very difficult because he was wearing nothing but a pair of Speedo style swimming trunks, on which his university name was printed.

At some point ahead of me a Stanford athlete went through to great applause and cheering from her friends on the course. I came through to deathly silence afterwards but that, perhaps, is my fault for insisting that none of my friends come to spectate. Once I was through the silence I strolled through the finish line to be surrounded by over enthusiastic undergraduate triathletes and people making peanut butter sandwiches from a Costco supply of peanut butter and wholewheat bread.

Overall I came 78th out of 162 entrants in the men's age group (essentially all adult men). In my age group (25 to 29) I was 11th, coming 10th in the swim, 6th in the bike and 14th in the run. Onwards to Lake Berryessa in April!

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"Our thoughts define our reality." - Anon.