In CrossFit, we make the claim that we create "broad, general, and inclusive fitness," and that training our way "prepares you for the unknown and unknowable." I put this to the test on Saturday when I entered the Desert Sprint Triathalon...
The triathalon consisted of a 500m swim in Lake Cahuilla, a 14 mile bike, and a 5k run. I made a conscious decision not to swim a single lap, rode the road bike I borrowed from a friend once for a 5 mile ride, and I hadn't run a 5k in at least 6 months. Would squats, pull ups, cleans and time on a C2 rower carry me through? Would anaerobic training carry over to aerobic capacity?
As far as I know, the Firebreathing beasts we see performing amazing feats on CrossFit.com were collegiate athletes, had years of training, and were already strong and talented before CF took them to the next level. Unlike them, I never considered myself an athlete. Asthma prevented me from even participating in P.E. during grade school, I didn't have a competitive streak, and by the time I got to high school and wanted to play, I had no skills to compete. I owe every bit of athleticism I have to CrossFit. In the last year I have done several Mud Runs, placed 72nd/157 at the SoCal Sectionals for CF Games 2010, competed in the CF/USAW Olympic Weightlifting Competition, and completed a sprint triathalon. I never would have been able to do any of these things without the general fitness that CrossFit has given me!
The first wave of the race was "elite" (not me) and males under 34 (I'm in this group). At the "3, 2, 1, Go!" signal, I dove into the water and began to swim, feeling great as I passed some people and kept up with a big group. Soon, however, breathing became an issue! The pack pulled away and I alternated between freestyle, backstroke, and doggy paddle to get through the swim. My shoulders felt fine, but my belly was full of lake water! 12:27 after getting in, I was very happy to get out of the water and head for the bike. The top time for the swim was 7:21.
Transitions can win and lose a triathalon for top competitors. They can enter the transition area with a wetsuit on and leave on their bike in about one minute. I felt pretty good about getting out in 2:14.
I was lucky enough to have a friend loan me a very nice bike for the race. It ran well, and I had no technical issues. It being a borrowed bike, and set up for someone else caused my lower back to be very uncomfortable for the duration of the ride. My legs were telling me they could continue pedaling for another hour, but my back was screaming for relief. Another thing I wished for while riding was some knowledge of how to use the gears on the bike! I knew how to change them, but as far as which one to use, I had to guess by feeling. At my pace of 16mph, it took 52:20 for me to complete the ride. The top time was 33:36, a pace of 24.9mph!
The fastest second transition time was 49 seconds. I had shoes to tie, so it took me 2:04, and I have never been so looking forward to running 3 miles before!
The run was on hard packed sand around what was left of the lake I tried to drink. I passed quite a few people and was able to sprint the 200m to the finish. My best 5k fresh is 24 minutes and change. After swimming and biking 14 miles I somehow PR'd my run at 23:28! This gave me a total time of 1:32:33 (the top time was 1:04). My overall ranking was 250/534, and 22/33 in my age group.
So what's the conclusion? Did CrossFit prepare me for the unknown? Did my general fitness get me through? Did short workouts with 400m runs, pull ups, snatches and wall balls prepare me for an hour and a half of aerobic work? I think so. With ZERO sport-specific practice, I'm proud of placing better than half of the competitors. I think that with even a moderate amount specific practice- lap swimming in a pool to develop breathing and stroke technique, riding the bike a bit to develop gearing and pace setting, and setting up the bike for better anatomical position, I could be MUCH more competitive next year.
I didn't expect to win the race, that would be as foolish as expecting to beat Michael Jordan at one on one basketball. The elite triathaletes are amazing athletes and put in amazing volumes of training time to excel at their chosen sport. I train at my sport, which is CrossFit, one hour a day, 5-6 times a week. The great thing about training to do my sport is that doing so allows me to play other sports reasonably well. That is one of the things I love about CrossFit! So until I decide to put in practice at swimming, biking and running, I'll have to console myself with the belief that I doubt the first place finisher of the triathalon can snatch his bodyweight, do a double bodyweight deadlift, or do 50 pullups!