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Wednesday, October 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Allen: Tri, tri again Part 2: Testing the waters

This is the second in a six-part series of stories called “Tri, tri again,” as a Spokesman-Review sportswriter trains for his first triathlon with no guarantee of finishing. The arduous journey continues.

I had that sinking feeling even before I stepped into the pool at my local fitness club.

Suddenly my cargo pants weren’t feeling too cool – or aerodynamic – which could be why everyone else had Speedos and goggles. Oops.

Lap swimming implies that you’re actually going to complete a few laps, but I lasted about 5 minutes before my lungs gave out and my eyes burned from the chlorine.

Three days later, I was back, feeling less like a triathlete and more like a 57-year-old kid at his first swim lesson: yellow fins on my feet and hands and a pool buoy between my legs. I drew the line at grabbing a floatie and got in the water with three other lap swimmers.

This time I lasted about 8 minutes before I almost passed out. Then I hit on the bright idea of pretending to adjust my goggles just so I wouldn’t look too silly. I wore an annoyed look: super swimmer hampered by bad equipment.

Everybody does that, right? And on it went: freestyle flailing for a couple of minutes, fix the goggles, then rinse myself off and repeat the process two days later.

The problem is I am learning how to swim – again. It turns out that regular swimming is nothing like triathlon swimming, where the whole idea is to be swimming as slowly and efficiently as possible to conserve energy for the bike and run.

I turned to the Internet. It offered little help. One site advised to “Keep your head down,” which worked fine until my head hit the other end of the pool.

“Control your breathing and maintain a relaxed rhythm,” another one offered. I tried that and started to sink.

And my favorite: “Only inhale when your face is out of the water.” That’s funny; I didn’t know there was an alternative, short of reverse-evolving into a salmon. And that would be okay, but a fish out of water would have a tough time on the bike leg.

Flailing myself into a premature heart attack also wasn’t an option, so I turned to YouTube, which has roughly 7,384 videos on triathlon swimming. The common theme: swim like this Rob Lowe, not like this Jim Allen. Honestly, every bad example looked just like me.

The videos helped a bit, but then work got in the way. In the past two weeks, my sportswriting job has taken me all over the region for March Madness. Ten of the last 13 nights have been spent in hotels, starting with a LaQuinta in Missoula that was nice enough, but had a fitness room that measured 8 by 10 feet and featured a NordicTrack bike from the 90s. The 1890s.

The latest stop: Corvallis, Oregon, where I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express. I felt smarter but not fitter, since the entire fitness area was being remodeled.

My travels are over. I’m up 3 pounds and my mind is racing.

I still don’t know how to swim, and it’s only 10 weeks until the Troika Triathlon. Help!

Coming up: Part three, I seek professional help

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