The five-minute warm up began and I eased into the water and did a gentle lap.
This was going to be fun.
The Carlson MetroCenter YMCA in Downtown Rochester held its ninth annual Super Bowl Y-Tri as a fundraiser for its "Invest in Youth" campaign.
The event is a great introduction to multisport. Participants swim in the facility's pool for 15 minutes, hop in a spin bike for 15 minutes and finally run laps around the small indoor track for 15 minutes. Winners are determined on a formula based on how far you go in the time limits.
But this is not an event about winning.
It's about beginnings.
This was the very first competitive athletic event I ever did. At this time last year I had just stopped interval run-walks on the treadmill and was into my second round of swim lessons.
I remember describing the event to someone very close to me.
"But you can't swim for 15 minutes," he said.
The remark hurt in large part because it was true and indeed I struggled mightily on the swim last year. I floated on my back. I took long rests at either end of the pool. Heck, I stood up in the shallow end.
This year was different. My goals were modest, but I wanted to improve on my swim and my run.
I wanted to swim for the entire 15 minutes.
While waiting for my group to start, I struck up a conversation with a woman who was in the wave after me. She was nervous about the swim and began to ask some logistical questions about the race. She appeared to had just recently started her fitness routine and her trainer at the Y encouraged her to do this event.
"He said I could doggy-paddle if needed to," she told me.
This was the other cool part about returning to my inaugural event. I could do for others what strangers did for me last year -- calm me down and support me.
I told her my tale of last year's swim and my ultimate bottom line in any event: You do what you have to do to get to the finish.
In the pool this year, the whistle went off and I concentrated on smooth, long strokes. And I tried to go fast but speed was relative in this situation. I still had to bike and run so I needed to save some energy. Additionally, there were nine people in the pool among three extra wide lanes. I wanted to avoid drifting into the next lane as much as possible, which meant paying closer attention to my form.
By the time the final whistle blew, I had swam for the entire 15 minutes without a break and completed 12 laps.
Off to the bike.
The transition to the bike is difficult because participants have only five minutes to get from the pool into the spinning room. I got to the room and put on my bike shoes, no problem, but didn't have time to adjust my seat. Luckily one of the volunteers came over and moved the seat down and forward. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite forward enough to be completely comfortable.
The resistance was pretty reasonable so I flew as much as I could. I finished with 7.85 miles -- right about where I was last year.
Now, on to the run.
It occurred to me on my first few laps that the last time I had run was exactly a week before -- in the Miami half marathon. I also realized that I left a lot of energy on the swim and the bike. This run was not going to be pretty.
But I kept going. I started to count laps, but I quickly lost my place. This is a very small track -- it takes 14 laps to equal a mile -- so runners are constantly turning, getting that dizzy feeling.
Then, there's the smell.The inside of the track is open space which looks down to the second-floor gym. Along with bagels and fruit, organizers have chili for the post-race party. The chili may be delicious, but it doesn't smell particularly good when you're trying to run hard.
I think the wizard found a new way to beat me up -- via smell.
And meet the wizard I did. I tried to catch up to him, but my core muscles were on fire. It felt like he was beating them with a wooden spoon. And the chili smell didn't help, either.
But I finished strong and completed 23 1/2 laps.
In all, I did better in all three disciplines than last year.
Which was the point of returning to this race -- to see how far I've come and to pay back the encouragement that I received from so many.
I'm not sure how my friend from the swim start finished, but I did see her on the track, alternating between running and walking.
It made me smile. Because it doesn't matter if you're running six-minute miles or ripping off 20 laps in 15 minutes. What matters is that you took the leap to try.
And if you keep at it, keep working, keep moving forward, an entire new world of possibility will open up for you.