Not Yet on the Podium

By Earl M. Furfine

Earl NewIt is a great thrill for me to be added to the Endurance Racing Magazine family. As a 7-time entrepreneur, 30-time triathlete, 2-time Ironman and 1-time Chesapeake Bay Swimmer, I hope to be able to bring a new and interesting perspective to the “Everyday Gal or Guy” who races for fun. I have always had the dream of standing on the podium as an age group winner. At this point, unless I make it to age 110 and am still racing, I sure don’t see it happening. But, after many triathlons, untold marathons, half-marathons, 10Ks and 5Ks, my goal is to bring new ideas, thoughts, humor and joy to any of those people interested enough to read this column.

So the first question for everyone out there is, What would you like to hear about? I have the next few months planned, but surely can and will tailor this column for all of you. I won’t provide race guidance other than anecdotal from my own experience; I assume most of you have coaches and or online guides for that. I am happy to relay some of my and your more humorous experiences from racing… beginning with my very first time in a wetsuit. So here goes…

I started racing in 2001, just after the 9/11 tragedy. My first race was the Cure Autism Now Sprint Triathlon in Bethesda, Md. It was about 38 degrees that morning in early April, but luckily the outdoor pool was heated. We all had to stand in a the water’s edge for a long time before getting in, which was brutal…but not as brutal as getting out and on the bike. I was not prepared at all for cold weather riding (this will be a common theme for the first few years of my racing). This is when I first asked, “Why am I doing this again?”

I’m sure there is not an athlete out there that has not had this moment (or in my case, repeated moments). I got through the race just fine and decided to do my first open water swim. It was at the Inaugural Potomac Triathlon in Dahlgren, Md., at an Army Base on the Potomac River. Once again, lack of preparation came back to haunt me as I had no wetsuit for open water. I had no coach at this point, either, and I used for my training schedule.

I was probably the only one without a wetsuit, and I had done absolutely no open water swimming. The race course was a big square, and I was fine until I hit the first buoy and had to make a 90-degree left turn. The sun was bearing down on my eyes and I was splashing around a lot, and ended making about a 170-degree turn. Needless to say, after a few minutes I was alone, swimming around in circles and freezing my butt off. Best I can guess is that I swam in a very lovely, perfectly sculpted letter “M”. Oh well, a PR  is guaranteed for  next 1500M swim.

The rest of the race was uneventful other than the strange bike-to-run transition. It wasn’t like I did any bricks to prepare. I got home, passed out for a few hours and headed over to the triathlon store to buy a wetsuit. (I try not to make the same mistakes twice.)

Next, I entered the Osprey Sprint triathlon, a lovely, flat and picturesque sprint triathlon on the eastern shore of Maryland. My first wetsuit race! I was so ready.

Earl IM ArizonaNow, there is a very little-discussed but pervasive theme about the start of a race and wetsuits …most all of us do it, most all of us know it, most all of us just don’t discuss it. For lack of a better analogy, think of a little kid in the baby pool;  it’s expected behavior, and in my case, consistently necessary. Well, for my first race, I had no idea about this. Just go in your suit and it will flush itself out. Pretty logical. But no one ever said anything. At the prior tri, the water was so cold it pretty much scared the pee back up into me for a week. But this was different, and I really had to go. I had about 2 minutes before my wave and I was (at least this time) a little grossed out by the whole process, so I had this great idea. It was a ¾ wetsuit, so I unzipped the back and pulled the front and let a bunch of water into the suit to flush it out. What water rushed in, I felt a little more savory, and I zipped up and let go.

Picture the Pillsbury doughboy …but it is not dough. It is water. And whenever I moved, the suit, jelly-like, moved with me. I tried to do a test swim and went down pretty quickly. Adios buoyancy. Adios pee. If I did not get this fixed — adios Earl. Thank goodness the water is pretty much 3-4 feet deep the entire way. So, 1 minute to go. I am a rubber tube full of water, jiggling with each passing wave and step. Unzip again, I did. I wrapped my arms around myself and squeezed up like a tube of toothpaste  — and water came shooting out the top, into my face, my mouth, my eyes (anyone remember why the water was in there in the first place?). Nasty. Nasty. Nasty. I got about half of the water out right about the time the horn went off for my wave.

It was a strange 800M, that’s all I can say. That and the amount of water that spilled everywhere in transition was commendable. Only one person asked if I had a hole in my wetsuit. I just said “Probably,” and hopped on the bike. Argh.

Lesson One learned. Until next time.


“Faith, Pace, Focus, Strength”

Earl Furfine can be reached at