Saturday, February 14, 2009

I can get off!

Ah, the transition. Everyone's favorite part of the triathlon. The part that separates the men from the boys. The women from the girls. The coordinated from the not... so... coordinated. Changing of shoes, putting on of helmets, stripping of wetsuits, mounting of bikes, barefoot running on asphalt and gravel... Perhaps, truthfully, the most stressful of all aspects of a race. Triathletes, we train and train and train in the water, on the bike, and in our running shoes. We follow complex workout schedules, eat specific and (oftentimes) borderline goofy diets, and buy all the best gear to get us to the finish line quicker and easier. We'll do anything to go faster. Because we like to win. But... those awkward minutes spent between events... What about those? Every triathlete remembers their first race. Excitement. Nerves. More nerves than excitement, really. They anticipated using their transition time as a chance to catch their breath and sort of mentally re-group. No big rush. No hurry. The only goal then (and rightfully so) was to finish. To get that first race under their belt so they could move on to bigger and better things - or maybe just so they could say they'd done it, and then move on to something else. But they also remember seeing people racking their bikes, whose cycling shoes were already clipped to their pedals, maybe held in place with... are those rubber bands? What... ? But why? Surely they weren't going to try and put their shoes on while on the bike... ? Those people who really looked like they knew what they were doing, like they were somehow comfortable with the nerve-wracking atmosphere that surrounded them, like they belonged... Those people that we all wanted to look like at some point, who breezed through the transition area as effortlessly as through the three events.

I remember the first time I saw two of the guys from my team practicing the rubber band technique - and thinking to myself, "Yeah, right." No way. No. Way. I always tell people that I have no coordination - and that's why I do endurance sports, instead of sports involving me trying to aim for... anything. But triathlon has this little dirty secret called transitions that, if done properly and efficiently, require just as much coordination as a lacrosse pass or a basketball shot. They require athletes to have deep level of comfort with their equipment, and, in some cases, the ability to manipulate it in ways previously unexpected. They require the clutzes (such as myself) to find a way to control their unintentionally self-destructive impulses in order to spend as little time as possible on something that is not one of the three events purportedly being competed in - but is still very much a part of the race.

So a few months ago my coach uses one of his cheesy lines that I totally love (no joke), and tells me, "Morgan, I want you to come in FIRST at Nationals... in transitions!" Ok ok... So this weekend, he and myself, and a couple of folks from the UNT team all get together in a big empty parking lot on campus, on a cold, rainy afternoon, to attempt to make us look less like fools in the transition area.

We begin with, well, what we're beginning with... Aaron (my coach) has us set up our transition area as we normally would before a race (thank you Playtri for letting us use your bike racks!) - he tells us not to change anything, but to just do it exactly as we normally would. So we all go about laying out towels, shoes, helmets, etc. Getting our bikes racked in our position of choice. Then Aaron makes us all get a ways back from the bike rack, looks at us and yells... "GO!" and we all run at our bikes and start trying to get on shoes/helmets/bikes, ride off, come back, get off shoes, get on shoes, get off helmets... well, you get the idea. We were slow. Which, of course, was exactly what Aaron was hoping to demonstrate - just in case there was any doubt about why we were paying him to be there! Mandy curled up into the fetal position under her sweatshirt. I started to giggle. Andrew, who actually already had some working knowledge of transitions was already over by the truck airing up his tires and making us look even slower. Aaron is, I think, trying not to laugh... too hard.

Ok... that's why we're there!

So in case you haven't already realized, the transition can be broken down into a fine science, particularly everything having to do with the bike, and Aaron has broken it all down into a step-by-step learning process for us:

First - learning to stand with both feet on the same side of the bike, left foot on pedal, right foot pushing.
Desired result: riding in a straight line, turning, and coming back - all without the left foot touching the ground.
Actual result: Mandy and I wildly veering off towards the road and finally, after many repeated attempts, making it to the turn-around, hopping off, picking up bikes, turning them around, and wobbling back to the starting point, while occasionally veering off into other parts of the parking lot. Aaron says "do it again! You have to get this so you can swing your right leg over the saddle!" Mandy and I laugh.

Second - learning to mount the bike while moving.
Desired result: swinging right leg over the back of the saddle and ending up on the actual saddle in a seated position.
Actual result: Mandy and I, after finally being able to ride on one side without veering all over the parking lot, spend about 5 minutes doing some awkward back leg movements that probably end up resembling retarded flamingos trying to do ballet as we repeatedly try and fail to actually get our legs over the seat.

Third - learning to dismount the bike while moving.
Desired result: swinging right leg back over seat and back into its original position right behind left leg.
Actual result: I pedal in circles for 5 minutes. I swear, I'm going to bring it back over eventually...

Fourth - wait. Three and a half.
Desired result: perform steps one-three gracefully and smoothly WITH SHOES ALREADY ATTACHED TO PEDALS.
Actual result: I ride in three giant parking lot-encompassing circles, and during that time manage to 1) get my right leg over the seat, 2) get my shoes on, 3) get my shoes back off, 4) swing my right leg back over, 5) dismount yelling "Hey guys, did you see that?!! Did you see that? I CAN GET OFF!" 6) watch everyone fall over laughing and see guy on the street look at me like I just grew a second head.

Over-all desired result: smooth, precise athleticism.
Over-all actual result: complete hysteria.

Reason #179 that triathlon is in fact the greatest sport ever.

For those of you wondering... yes, we did in fact manage to finally do all the steps appropriately and even somewhat quickly, perhaps even looking like we knew what we were doing (probably not, but at least we felt cool and, as I think I've mentioned before, triathletes are not above a desire to look cool). In all honesty, the clinic was great, and we'll all be a lot faster for it. But I'll never drive past that parking lot again without seeing myself coasting along on the left side of my bike yelling at everyone to look at how I got off...

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