Yesterday was the “Tri to Make a Difference” Triathlon at Lake Tanglewood near Amarillo. It’s a huge triathlon run by a high school friend of Aimee’s. This is only its third year, but it’s for a great cause and has earned a reputation as one of the hardest tris in the state — mainly because of a killer hill in the bike portion and an up-and-down, hilly 5K run. Lots of out-of-state competitors in this one.

It was shorter than my first tri in July — only a 9-mile bike, as opposed to 12.6 miles — but the terrain and the open-water lake swim made it a bit, um, different.

So here’s what happened. The lake “turned over” this week, a natural phenomenon in which the water in the bottom of the lake flows upward and displaces the water at the top of the lake. This depletes the oxygen in the water and kills a lot of fish. So: 1) there were a lot of dead fish in the water. Which means: 2) it smelled really bad. And: 3) the water was pretty green and algae-filled, which may or may not have been the result of the turnover. Nonetheless, the water had tested safe, but we had the option to pull out of the swim part. This was gonna be my first open-water swim, though, so no way I was opting out.

In hindsight, this was probably a bad decision.

I didn’t have a very good race. I was prepared mentally for the chaos of an open-water swim, with 125 competitors swimming thrashing around at once, but that mental preparation didn’t mean much once the swim actually started. I was on the front at the floating start and out to the side. My intent was to stay way out on the edge to avoid the melee in the middle. I was unsuccessful. I started pretty strong the first 25 yards, until the guys on either side of me began to close in. On both sides, their shoulders started hitting mine, so I slowed to let them pass. Probably a bad idea. I ended up getting kicked in the face by one of them, which somehow resulted in me gasping and inadvertently gulping in a lot of nasty lake water. The shock of this sent me into a bit of panic mode — something I’m told all triathletes experience in the chaos of an open-water swim — but I couldn’t ever get my heartrate back down to a manageable level. I kept swimming, but was fighting my heartrate and started to (I think) hyperventilate a little. Totally out of breath. I couldn’t sustain a good freestyle for more than a few strokes at a time, which meant alternating with a sidestroke. I never could catch my breath. I felt awful and was wondering if I’d even finish the swim.

I threw up at the buoy marking the halfway point, but kept swimming. I don’t think anyone behind me could tell it from the water.

Eventually I got back to land. Waaaay at the back of the pack. (I’m a pretty good swimmer in the pool, so this was supposed to be my strongest leg. So by the time I barely finished it, exhausted, I was really disappointed.)

I walked…slowly…to the first transition, trying to steady my heartrate and not throw up again and catch my breath. Eventually I got my bike out and took off. After making my way up the killer hill — like most people, I dismounted and walked/ran my bike up it — I took a cup of water from the volunteer at the top, took a small sip, and gagged. Yikes. Started riding again.

About halfway through the ride, right after turning back onto the road back into Lake Tanglewood, I had to pull onto the shoulder and throw up again. That lasted another couple minutes before I started pedaling again.

Made it back to the next transition and got in and out pretty fast. The run was fine. I don’t remember getting passed on it, and actually passed a few people on the way back. Finish time was 1:18 — same time as my first, shorter race.

I was disappointed because I think I could have done a lot better. The open-water swim did me in. Next year I’m using a snorkel.

Race-time temp was in the 60s. Nice and cloudy. The water was 72 degrees. It, too, was cloudy.

Here I am minutes before the race. This is the best I felt all day. We wore red swim caps to make sure they could keep up with us in the water.

Here’s the swim start. I’m the one with my arm up, mid-stroke below. This is several seconds before The Kick.

Leaving the bike transition. Not feeling too good…

Returning from the bike. You can’t tell, but my right leg is covered in a combination of my breakfast and lake water.

Leaving on the run. (Check out that house in the background. Sheesh.)

Almost to the finish. I actually had some kick left at the end, and caught that girl behind me (in the blue) from about 25 yards back with a couple hundred yards to go.

I saw Aimee, Ellie, and Owen cheering for me at the finish, which was great. But I still didn’t feel too good. You can tell by my fake smile below, about ten minutes after the finish.

I smelled the lake water in my nose and sinuses until later that afternoon.

I didn’t enjoy the race much. But I’ll do it again, just to prove to myself that I can do better, especially in the swim. I shake my fist at Lake Tanglewood and its dead-fish murkwater. Someday I will conquer it.

Photos of my friend PJ are here. I fully intended to beat him in this race. He whipped me by six minutes. Someday I will conquer him, too.