Yesterday, I competed in the 2011 Mayo Lake Triathlon in Roxboro, N.C.  This was a special triathlon for me for several reasons.  First is that I have family in the Roxboro area.  It is neat to be able to compete in an area where you have family ties.  And as an added bonus, the bike course took us right by the church where my parents were married way back in 1971.  Second is that I got to take my new bike out on the course.  The bike came to me courtesy of my friend Steve Jordan.  Steve has enough bikes and bike parts in his garage to start his own bike shop and he graciously agreed to let me use a true road bike– a Specialized from about 1995 or 1996.

But the most significant part about this tri was that this was the fourth and final triathlon of 2011 for me.  I never would have thought back in January when I began training for my first tri that I would have pushed on to continue training and do four triathlons in one year!  I’ve found triathlon to be one of the most challenging and enjoying sports that I’ve ever participated in.  And after taking an opportunity to reflect on the past 8 months of training, I can definitely say that I’m in better physical shape than I’ve been in for several years and I’m mentally tougher in each of the sports than I was back in January.  For those two reasons alone, I’m marking my first year in triathlon as a success!

Recap of the 2011 Mayo Lake Triathlon
Now, the actual Mayo Lake Tri itself brought a new first: competing in the pouring down rain!  My good friend and

My transition area setup before the downpour!

training partner, Brett “Chick” Ciancanelli and I arrived at the race site just a little before 6 a.m.  As we setup our transition areas and walked the area to become familiar with the surroundings, the sun was rising, the temps were moderate and it looked like it would be a good day.

We headed down to the water to start the race.  Unlike the other open water Tri we competed in (the Mission Man Tri 3 weeks ago in Burlington), this event only had a two-wave start for the men: all men 39 and under and all men over 39.  I felt better prepared for this event than the last one and made sure that I got out to the right edge of the group to stay away from the pack of swimmers.  As the gun went off, I started with a good pace and focused on the new stroke technique I’d been working on.  All was well for a while, until I found myself swimming off-course.  I began to correct it, but found myself swimming in the same area as another competitor and kept bumping up against him.  We then came to a shallow area in the lake where I actually had to walk through an area before resuming the swim.  And that’s when my “swimming yips” (I know, it’s a golf term, but it works here, trust me!) kicked in.  I had a brief moment of panic where I felt I couldn’t go on.  It lasted for a few minutes and I did have to grab hold of a kayak a couple of times to get my breath and re-focus.  However, unlike the Mission Man Tri, I was able to re-focus and continue pushing ahead (in my mind, I shifted to thinking about the bike portion and what I wanted to do there).  I set small distance goals, varied my strokes and continued pushing ahead.  At last, I actually caught up with a few of the swimmers ahead of me and reached the shore to exit the swim.  After a long jaunt up a steep hill and around a bend to the transition area, I made it back to my bike & equipment and got ready for the ride.

As I headed out on the bike, I noticed that there were some dark clouds off in the distance, but didn’t give it a second thought because I needed to keep moving.  I used the first mile of the bike to recover a little and get my legs acclimated to the ride.  This was only my second time on the new bike and I felt great.  And then it happened: first it was a few drops, then the bottom dropped out and it poured down rain.  In fact, it would continue to pour for the rest of the race and for some time afterwards.  When you’re on the bike and you’re not yet halfway through the race, you simply can’t worry about a little rain (or in this case, a lot of rain!).  So, I kept plowing ahead.  The bike course had a lot of hills on it and the rain definitely hampered my ability to go all out as I’d hoped, but I felt really good on the bike.  I’m sure that during other conditions, it would have been a scenic ride, but in this instance, I was pleased to have caught several competitors while climbing the hills and continue pushing ahead.  The new bike really made a huge difference since I was carrying about 10 fewer pounds compared to the bike I’d been riding.  As I came into the transition area, I noticed that my socks and shoes were saturated from the rain.  That would certainly come back to get me!

In the transition area, I swapped out my helmet for my visor (normally for the sun, but today, it helped keep the rain out of my eyes.  As I took off on the run, I noticed that my legs felt really good– lots of spring in my stride.  The only real issue was that I felt like I was carrying an extra 5 pounds since my shoes were so water logged!

The run course was tough as it was a trail run.  Mix in all the rain and there was a lot of standing water on the (skinny) trail.  Several competitors were slipping around me, so I made sure to keep my footing as stable as possible.  That was a good move for protecting myself, but a bad move on my overall time.  I moved a lot slower than I’d hoped and the trail really took a toll on my legs.  At last, I turned the corner and could see the finish line through the driving rain.  I dug down deep and poured everything I had left in me to run as hard as I could to the finish.  As I crossed the line, I noted the time: 1:57:57.  Less than 2 hours and in difficult conditions.  That may not be a high mark to some, but it was good for me on this day.

Jon Parks and Brett Ciancanelli of The Second Wind multi-sport ministries at the 2011 Mayo Lake Triathlon

My mom came to the race and it was nice to see her.  It was even nicer to see that she was holding an umbrella!  Chick, my mom and I made our way over to the covered shelter where we lamented the driving rain.  Chick shared the scare that he endured of hydroplaning while on the bike heading downhill at nearly 40 miles an hour.  And then, I remembered that my bag was in the transition area.  And it was totally soaked.  Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem.  But I keep my phone in my bag while competing and, you guessed it: it was damaged.  (fortunately, the phone spent a little time in rice later in the day to draw out the water and it works as good as ever.)  As we wrung out the towels, socks and everything else, Chick and I threw on our shirts for The Second Wind, a multi-sport ministry that we’ve started at our church.  This is the first time that we’ve had the shirts for an event and it was great to be able to get a photo of us at the finish line (even if it was pouring down rain!).

So, that was it.  I completed my fourth and final triathlon of the year and I’m heading into the off season.  Though I won’t be competing in any more triathlons for the remainder of 2011, I am planning to run in a 5K in October and a 10K in November (this one with The Second Wind group).  I’ll likely take a week to 10 days of only light workouts at best and then I’m pushing ahead on preparing for my 2012 triathlon plan!  I’m building out a race calendar now and am looking to ramp up the intensity, seek faster times and perhaps even tackle a longer distance race!

But for now, I’ll celebrate the success of 2011 and enjoy my new found excitement for triathlon!