“Maybe someone was fooling around with the starter's pistol,” I suggested.
“Sounds like somebody blew a tire,” said a volunteer at the body-marking station, where we'd just had our ages and race numbers scrawled in Sharpie on our arms and legs.
We shrugged, wondering which hyper-competitive nut had pushed the limits on his air pressure. It wasn't until half an hour later, when we returned from the first-timers' meeting, that we discovered it was Colleen's bike that had detonated.
Talk about a flashback. Two summers ago, in her first Iron Kid event, a broken chain led Colleen to push her bike over a mile before eventually finishing. Now here she was with a flat tire — and we hadn't thought to bring a spare.
Before we even had a chance to panic, though, a crew member wheeled Colleen's bike over to the Human Motor Works tent. Luckily, their bike technicians found a tube to fit her old-fashioned 10-speed.
As he worked, a guy named Terry quizzed Colleen's older brother about his tire-inflation method. Ben had assumed Colleen's tires held roughly the same amount of air pressure as our road bikes.
Turns out the tubes on her bike, which we'd bought secondhand a week earlier, were designed to hold only half that amount. When the sun came up and warmed the air, it expanded — with a boom.
Relieved that Colleen's first triathlon wasn't over before it started, we finished our preparations and headed over to the pool.
There were actually two beginner-friendly triathlons in Fort Wayne last weekend. But the American Multisport event was a bit shorter than the following day's race at Fox Island, and its pool swim was less intimidating than jumping in a lake.
Swimmers entered the pool 10-15 seconds apart, then swam “snake style” up and down all six lanes before emerging on the far side of the pool. A 7.5-mile bike ride and 2-mile run awaited.
Since Colleen was the only kid in the race, we went to the end of the line. If we finished last, at least we could say nobody passed us.
The swim went better than expected, though one cyclist had already returned before we mounted our bikes. This proved to be the toughest part for a kid who'd never rode on hills before and had only recently learned to shift gears.
“My legs are burning!” she wailed as we shifted our goals to A. not crashing, and B. pedaling up each hill without walking.
She succeeded on both counts, but returned to the YMCA parking lot more exhausted than she'd ever been in her life.
“I don't know if I can run,” she said. “My legs hurt really bad!”
I grabbed a water bottle and we started walking. At this pace, the finish seemed a long way off. What if everyone else was already done?
Finally we settled into a routine of jogging for 3 minutes and walking for 1. Up ahead we spotted two other stragglers.
“I don't want to try to catch them,” Colleen said. “But let's try to keep them in sight.”
With half a mile to go, race organizer and local professional triathlete Zach Ruble pedaled out to check on us.
“You're doing fine,” he said. “Take as long as you need.”
Finally, an hour and a half after we started, Colleen crossed the finish line. She wasn't last; I was.
“I think I've come up with a nickname for my bike,” she said, clutching her finisher's medal proudly. “I'm going to call it Shotgun.”