Motor oil lake

I’m standing waist-deep in the lake. “One minute, males 35 to 39,” says a voice through speakers on the edge of the water. The lake smells like sulfur, the visibility is maybe six inches, and I’m pretty sure I see oil floating on the water’s surface.

“30 seconds,” says the voice.

I woke up at 4:15 AM and paid 65 bucks for this—to swim in this gunk, to run barefoot across asphalt, to ride my bike as hard as a I can. I’m obviously not right in the head.

“8, 7, 6, 5,” counts down the voice from the speakers. I realize I haven’t reset my stop watch. Hell. I fiddle with it for a few seconds and can’t get it working.

“3, 2, 1.”

I look up. The race has begun, and I’m in dead last place. Damn. And I’m still standing in motor oil. Hell.

So begins my first triathlon of the year, dubbed the Rookie, the inaugural race in the Texas Tri Series.


Calling this race the Rookie is really a misnomer. Sure, I see a scattering of mountain bikes on the racks and a few out of shape dudes wearing baggy swimming suits.

But they’re the exception. The majority of the racers are serious about this stuff. Their bodies are skin and muscle and vein, their bikes are alien and aerodynamic and expensive. I suspect there aren’t many first timers out here.

The swim is Hobbesian: nasty, brutish, and short. My goggles fog up almost immediately, and as I swim, I bump into people and get kicked in the head and actually swim on top of one dude. I lift my eyes out of the water every few strokes to sight, but with 86 guys in my wave and the goggle fog and my right lens filling with water, I mainly see arms, legs, buoys, and lots of flying water.

I also eyeball a goat. I’m swimming next to a grassy island, and I look up, and there’s a goat chewing his cud, indifferent to all the splashing a few feet away. It’s a peaceful, bucolic picture, and it’s out of whack with the fist fight in the water here at motor oil lake.

After less than 10 minutes, I’m out of the water, out of last place, and running across pavement without shoes.

People cheer.

Part of me is smirking, thinking about how ridiculous I must look. But part of me is really into the race. A kid sticks his hand out, and I give him a high five as I jog past. Playing athlete is fun, even if I look silly.

The bike portion zips by. I crank by racer after racer going up the hills. They zoom back past me on the descents.

As I transition from the bike to the run, my calves cramp. The muscles suck in, forming knotty fists that make running tough and painful. But I keep going, slowly and awkwardly, more on my heels than toes. I get passed and passed and passed again.

About a half a mile in, the cramps weaken and then disappear all together. I’m able to pick up the pace, but I’m still not fast, puttering along at somewhere around eight minutes a mile.

And then, just like that, I make a hard left and cross the finish line and the race is over.

Standing around after, I chat with my friend Angela, who competed as well. We talk about the race and the crowds and our splits and the black sludge from the lake that stained her jersey.

She tells me she had fun. I tell her I had fun, too.

I load up my bike and my gear. I’m stinky. I’m hungry. I’m electric. I’m creaky. I drive home.


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