This past spring, after running two marathons in just three weeks' time I developed a passion for... triathlon. I wanted to keep up the good aerobic work without running into injury or staleness and so I started swimming at lunchtime a couple of times a week. From there to my first triathlon, in July, it was very easy: lots of "morning coffee" runs, some swimming, a few bike rides when I could find the time. Okay, let's say I jumped into it without knowing anything about it. And I fell in love. This past Sunday I was challenged by my friend Paolo Pagliotto to run my second triathlon (his third, after a long time). The setting was ideal: a small lake in the mountain village of Osiglia (Italy) in the province of Savona, not far from the Italian Riviera. Here's how we told the story to our friends.
Paolo - A day I could have done without: beaten by Giorgio Pogliano. Okay, it's the only negative side of a wonderful Sunday spent in giving triathlon another try after years without training for the swimming or the bike portions. I bought the bike on Wednesday, which barely gave me the time to adjust the seat, test the gears around the house and then... off to my race!
Giorgio - "I beat Paolo Pagliotto!". This is how I wanted to start the story, despite an unwritten rule that each should talk about his own race. But now, after Paolo's start, I feel a bit guilty...
Paolo - I was hosting Giorgio Pogliano. This way I knew I wouldn't be last.
Giorgio - "Hosting", in Paolo's language, means "challenging". No comment on his other remark.
Paolo - He had driven more than an hour to get to my house and after that I took an unnecessary detour and forced him to a very long drive to get to the race so he would tire out before even starting.
Giorgio - Actually Paolo is from the region of Liguria [where the politically incorrect stereotype is that people are very cheap]. Being a good Ligurian boy, he just wanted to avoid the highway toll. But I must say the places he showed me during our very long drive to Osiglia were just wonderful. From Borghetto Santo Spirito to Calizzano we climbed a very curvey road with the sea behind us and Heaven not too far ahead.
Paolo - We get to the Osiglia Lake, where the race is. We unload the bikes and the psychological pressure continues: your tires are flat, your pump doesn't work, your front wheel seems out of place, etcetera. Useless: he's not impressed. In fact it doesn't even look like he has a race to run: he keeps looking at athlete #75 (not at her eyes either) during the briefing. He talks about the sea, the beach, politics, you name it. He's totally deconcentrated as we march along to have our numbers marked like cows.
Giorgio - That's stretching it quite a bit. I would hardly have noticed athlete #75 if I hadn't followed a sudden slant in Paolo's gaze...
Paolo - The swimming portion. I must say that, in spite of being from the Riviera, I'm to water what Samoan Misapeka is to 100 meters. I say to Giorgio: "Take full advantage of the water part. After that I'll be wearing my number on my back so you can recognize me". He seems to smile behind his king-size water goggles and then he jumps into the lake almost before understanding which markers he's supposed to leave to the left and which to the right. I'm not very good at swimming straight and I immediately lose ground against my direct rival, who gets to the other side of the lake 3 (!) minutes before me (in just 400 meters!). But that was foreseen from the start. I'm dizzy from the effort when I get out of the water.
Giorgio - Before diving I took off my watch, as I will do from now on at every race. I had only one goal: to have fun. Okay, I had one hope too: to keep ahead of Paolo for the longest possible time. I never thought I could beat him since we ran five half-marathons together and he always beat me by at least twenty (!) minutes.
I loved the start. In order to get ahead we literally had to fight. A teen-age Mr. Muscle ran over me as if I were some kind of weed and pushed me underwater. I struggled back and (unintentionally) hit an unidentified but pretty soft spot. The crowd and the sandy bottom made the water very muddy at first. How nice it is to swim in the draft of faster swimmers. It slows them down and speeds you up! A triathlon start is purely physical: exciting and primitive.
Swimming in the middle of the lake, when the water became clear and deep blue again, was delightful. I caught myself wishing the swimming portion could be much longer.
Paolo - Bike (17 k's). I get on the bike with my running shoes and running shirt, so I won't waste any time at T2, and I'm off to chase Giorgio.
Giorgio - I try out my new bike shoes instead and I waste some time putting them on. I know expert triathletes block the velcro straps so they don't come out of their buckles, but I'm not an expert triathlete, so I didn't bother doing anything of the sort. More than half of the bikes were there when I got out of the lake, but many are gone by the time I finally start off.
Paolo - 8.5 k's sharply downhill and 8.5 k's sharply uphill, that's our race. First k: my chain falls off. I yell out the names of all Saints in the calendar plus a few who are not there yet and waste a full minute replacing the chain and making myself all messy with grease. To bridge the gap I pedal like a madman downhill and tire my legs considerably before the nasty uphill portion.
Giorgio - I begin pedaling slowly and then slow down further out of plain fear. Some hills are so steep that my speed indicator reaches 30 mph! There are many turns and cars coming up the other way! I have a family, a pretty family at that, and so I slow down.
Paolo - One mile before the turnback point I meet Giorgio, who's already climbing up. He screams something at me, but I'm too busy pedaling to understand what he's saying.
Giorgio - I called him "Paola Pezzotto", which is almost the name of an Italian Olympic female mountain-bike rider.
Paolo - After a while I realize I'm about two miles behind him and try to speed up, but a bicycle with a person on top is a lot heavier than just the person, so I find the climb heavier than I would on foot. At any rate, no one passes me on the uphill portion and I don't pass anyone either. My time on the bike: 34.10.
Giorgio - I do some passing. I like biking uphill and my special shoes give me an advantage on Paolo. I shift into first gear only when it's very steep and I never even get close to stalling.
Paolo - Running (4.5 k's). Okay, we're in my territory.
Giorgio - I was about to say the same! But I guess Paolo is right. It's his territory. I start running slowly and feel an impending cramp in my left calf. I slow down a little and I feel another cramp, this time in my right calf. I don't stop. I take a deep breath, relax and hope it goes away. It does. I try going a little faster. It works. How wonderful! I'm able to run well after swimming and biking. It's a beautiful day. I feel... alive. Now Paolo will reach me, I'll try to keep up with him for a little while and then he'll beat me as he always does. But I don't care. I pass a few runners and only one passes me (but I'll catch up with him before the end).
Paolo - I remember in my previous two triathlons going from biking to running was traumatic. Not this time, I'm too psyched up.
Giorgio - I cross the bridge on the lake and turn around to see if Paolo is behind. I don't see him. One mile to the end. Maybe I'll beat him.
Paolo - I pass ten athletes before I reach the bridge on the lake. It's the turning point of the race: on the other side I see him, 250 yards from me, not impossibly fast. What would you have done at this point? What's the best approach? To scream "I'm coooming!!" so he turns around, sees how fresh I am and breaks down? In any case I knew he would have turned around at the end of the bridge anyway. It was just the logical thing to do. So I screamed. This tactics had the opposite effect, though: he sped up, borrowing from his hidden power reserve.
Giorgio - If you hadn't said anything you would have reached me for sure. But from there on it was pure competition. I yelled back: "Slow down!!" and accelerated just a little bit, very gradually. I caught up with the only athlete who had passed me during the running portion and sped up again.
Paolo - I had a hard time bridging the 250 yards gap between us. When I was no more than 15 yards behind him, with 200 to go, my strength suddenly went out and, at the very same time, he threw his heart beyond the obstacle and sprinted like Carl Lewis used to do in the last 20 meters of his 100's. My time on the run: 17.28, with a final collapse on the mat near my bike. But he was pretty tired too.
Giorgio - I wave to Simona, Paolo's wife. I shouldn't have bothered. Instead of supporting me she runs toward her husband and screams: "He's here, just ahead of you! Go!". At this point I give it my all. I pass my car, which is parked 100 yards from the finish line. It looks at me with its round headlights... my only supporter today... and seems to tell me I can make it. So I make it. I, who could never sprint in my life, leave the ground and fly! Two triathletes ahead of me try to fight back and one makes it, but the other one lets me pass. Nothing personal, you guys, it was just between Paolo and me!
Paolo - Okay, he won, but he had to suffer to get there. Enjoy your victory, because it's not always an Osiglia TriathLake!
Giorgio - I know, Paolo, I know. On the night before the Turin half marathon you'll stay at my house, where I'll make you drink like a fish. The next day you can beat me again by the usual twenty minutes. But today it was unbridled and childish joy. I could never have run that fast if you hadn't yelled you were going to get me.
Ciao to all, Pagliotto & Pogliano (not necessarily in that order :-).
Giorgio Pogliano’s morning coffee doesn’t come in a cup, but he can still find it everywhere. Running each morning is his daily “coffee” – it gives him the surge of energy, something good to reflect upon during the day, and a reason to look forward to tomorrow. Just like the different types of coffee found around the world, Giorgio finds different surroundings as he runs.