September 14th, 2012
07:22 AM ET
Editors' note: Michael Martinez is a CNN Wire newsdesk editor based in Los Angeles who trained for his first triathlon with the Time Warner Fit Nation team. Martinez will race the Nautica Malibu Triathlon on Sunday with teams for CNN and Warner Bros.
Before the sun rises every Sunday, I load the bicycle on a car rack, pack goggles and running shoes, and join dozens of other weekend athletes preparing for their first triathlon.
Inspired by CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta and his example of average folk improving their health by entering in a “tri,” I’m at last readying mind and body for an endurance race of swimming, cycling and running.
This is no ordinary triathlon. It’s the Malibu Triathlon. And it’s Malibeautiful. Here, the mountains meet the sea. The long arc of Zuma Beach is the center stage, and it evokes all the beauty that makes Southern California a paradise.
So popular is the event that the “classic distance” triathlon on Sunday sold out to 3,200 athletes in three hours.
The newcomer learns a triathlon can be expensive. There are road bicycles priced from $1,000 to $5,000, made of aluminum or carbon fiber. There are also special shoes to clip onto the pedals, plus speedometers and even GPS accessories.
Me, I’ll be the old-school guy on race day.
I won’t be on a road bike. Rather, I’ll be churning my Schwinn mountain bike – a tank compared to the lightweight modern bikes, which zip by me like Porsches during our training on the 18 miles of hilly coastline that will be the race course on game day.
No matter. This throwback bike, a modern gift from my father 20 years ago, gives my effort meaning.
It also gave my teammates an opportunity for humor.
“Going camping, Mike?” the team coach playfully joked, referring to a cylindrical saddle pouch beneath my seat that could hold an elf’s sleeping bag.
I rudely entered the 21st Century as the only guy with a kickstand during an initial practice pedaling the mountainsides of Pasadena near the Rose Bowl. The kickstand was removed by the next meet.
Even my bike helmet seems ancient, worthy of Vikings. The black headgear is shaped like a Capitol dome. Its antiquity is proved by a manufacturing sticker of “April 1991” inside it.
Today’s helmets are colorful works of art, resembling windswept flames.
I won’t buy a new helmet. But I did give in on the bike bag, purchasing something less pastoral and more sporty for $15.
Of the race’s three legs, the ocean swim is the most daunting and satisfying. The monotony of strokes is meditative, and the metronome turning of the head for gulps of air is rewarded with a vista of the high chaparral of the Santa Monica mountains.
The waves, however, can be punishing. So, Los Angeles County lifeguards train all newcomers on how to negotiate sets of seawater 4 to 5 feet high, crashing upon you. It’s not uncommon to find teammates confiding, “I’m scared.”
The open water imposes two tests of strength: getting past the surf - after which some swimmers take their first rest - and then the long haul stroking through the swells. Don’t mind the vertigo.
We members of the Warner Brothers/CNN team (both companies are owned by Time Warner) trained for the ocean swim every Tuesday night after work, under the palm trees at the outdoor 50-meter McCambridge Pool in Burbank, California.
We also prepared for the triathlon’s foot race the same night at the Burbank High School track, as elementary and high school students used the infield for football practice.
As demanding as the conditioning is, it’s rewarded by immersion in the great outdoors. Burbank High is at the foot of the Verdugo Mountains, and the sunsets sent shadows dancing across the canyons and summits.
But the biggest panorama of nature doesn’t come easy - the 18-mile cycling course on a ribbon of asphalt between the Santa Monicas and the ocean called the Pacific Coast Highway.
Heavy breathing is common along the steep hills, but the exertion elevates cyclists to commanding views of the foamy shore, rocky ravines, and tony manses of Hollywood’s elite.
As scenic as the activity is, one still wonders why anyone would awaken at dawn to exercise three hours on what is supposed to be a biblical day of rest.
To get it over with early.
As race day approaches, team coach Mary Kane reminds new and veteran triathletes alike of a slogan that is useful for any great endeavor: You are a winner every time you get to the start line.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.