Duck Poop Soup

he local kids refer to Almaden Lake in San Jose as “Duck Poop Lake” – and for a good reason. It happens to be an extremely popular restroom stop for nearly every duck, goose, and waterfowl migrating between Canada and Mexico.

But after a thorough taste-test this past Sunday, I think I’d rather call the place “Duck Poop Soup.” I gulped enough of it during the swim portion of the Silicon Valley International Triathlon to consider myself an accomplished – though very reluctant – “Duck Poop Soup Connoisseur.”

It also happens that I swam like duck poop.

Nevertheless, I can still say that my second-ever triathlon was a ton of fun – especially since the nasty aftertaste in my mouth was almost completely gone by the time I crossed the finish line.

The Silicon Valley International Triathlon starts and finishes at Almaden Lake Park. It is touted by race organizers as “one of the fastest international triathlons in the country.” USA Productions does a fantastic job of organizing the event, which is now a weekend series of races, and includes a long course triathlon and a sprint triathlon held on Saturday.

I live about 35 minutes from Almaden Lake, and figured this would be a good place for my first international distance triathlon – a 1500-meter swim, a 40K (25-mile) bike ride, and a 10K (6.2 mile) run. I’d done only one other triathlon previously – the Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon in May.

For the Birds

The bike and run routes for the triathlon were exactly as advertised – mostly flat, fast, and fun. The vehicle traffic was carefully controlled throughout the race, and the routes were scenic, well-marked, and easy to follow.

But the first leg of the triathlon, the swim, was another matter – at least for me. The problem is that Almaden Lake isn’t actually, well, a lake. It encompasses less than 30 acres, which just barely qualifies it as a pond. In fact, the lake is so small that it takes two loops to cover the required 1500 meter swim distance. Combine the aforementioned duck poop with 800 violently churning swimmers, and the net effect is that of swimming in a choppy, murky, smelly washing machine.

In all fairness though, I can’t blame my swimming troubles on the water conditions. I am simply not a very good swimmer. But I made the unfortunate mistake of thinking I was a somewhat competent swimmer, and started the race positioned too far to the front of the men’s 40-49 year-old age-group wave.

Within 60 seconds of the start of the race, I’d been thoroughly pounded, pummeled, and dunked – typical of most triathlon swim starts. However, the majority of (experienced) swimmers are able to shrug off the initial carnage and eventually settle into a comfortable swimming groove. But not me. I spent most of the rest of the swim trying to catch my breath, avoid other swimmers, stay on course, and find my swimming rhythm – and I never really succeeded at any of them. By the time I got out of the water – after nearly 40 minutes of frantic paddling, zig-zagging, and coughing – I was 44th out of 47 men in my 45-49 year-old age group division. Ouch.

Dry Land Mammal

Fortunately, I’m a much better bike rider than swimmer. After a smooth transition from the swim to the bike, I quickly got up to speed and began to work my way back into the race. I managed to hold a 23 to 25 MPH pace throughout most of the bike course, which featured only one significant hill near the 15-mile mark. Most of the course was comprised of gently rolling hills and only a slight wind. I was amazed that every single intersection on the course – there were more than 30 of them – was blocked off and patrolled by San Jose police officers. There was something menacingly satisfying about zooming unimpeded through one red stoplight after another.  >:-)

The bike ride was the complete opposite of my poop-soup-gulp-a-thon from hell during the swim. On my bike, I had abundant clean, fresh air flowing in my face, no traffic, and a smooth road. Now I was the one doing the passing. I think I was passed by only one rider – and I passed him up again later as he took a potty break alongside the road. I finished the bike ride nearly five minutes ahead of my goal pace, which almost made up for my poor swim.

Cramping Up

Next up was the run. Almost immediately, I felt the effects of trying to make up time on the bike because of the swim. As I slipped on my running shoes, I felt a massive cramp building up in my right quadriceps. I immediately hopped up and down a few times and stretchedout my legs. Somehow, the cramp subsided. Whew.

But my legs were fatigued, and I still had 6.2 miles of running ahead of me. At some point, I looked around me and noticed that every other runner also had a grimace on his or her face. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one who was tired. Comforted by the pain of others, I put my head down and focused on simply putting one leg in front of the other.

At several spots along the run course, I got a major jolt of energy when I saw my dad cheering me on – thanks Dad!While the bird poop water was indeed a major downer, the overriding positive aspect of Almaden Lake Park is the great access it gives to spectators. The looped run course follows a set of trails along and behind the lake, which makes it extremely easy for spectators to spot and support the runners. Most spectators lining the route cheered you on enthusiastically – whether you were a pro or a novice (like me).

Ahhh – the Finishing Touch

As I approached the final loop around the lake, I was hot, sweaty, and exhausted. I couldn’t help but notice that the local duck and geese population had settled back comfortably into their bathing area. However, my eyes quickly darted beyond the water. Off in the distance, I could see the brightly colored finish line chute lined with spectators. I could also hear the race announcer on a loudspeaker excitedly calling out the name and hometown of each athlete as they crossed the finish line.

Suddenly, I felt a slight spring in my step – and a bit of pride swell up in my chest. I straightened out the race number on my jersey so I could be easily identified. A few minutes later, as I entered the finish chute, I saw my dad again, cheering me on. I broke into a broad smile. Over the loudspeaker I could hear the announcer… “And here he comes… number 274… Steve… Smith… of… Morgan Hill!”

I crossed the finish line, and was immediately surrounded by a group of extremely efficient, well-coordinated, well-rehearsed race volunteers. One volunteer handed me a bottle of water. Another person put a finisher’s medal around my neck. Another person removed the velcro-attached timing chip from my ankle. And finally, best of all, somebody draped a dripping wet, icy cold towel over my head. Wow, did that feel great!

Despite taking a few lumps and bruises (mostly to my ego) during the swim, overall I was satisfied with the way the race went. During the bike and run, I managed to move up 10 spots in my age-group division and finished in 2:47:41 (about two minutes slower than my goal race time). 

At this point, I’m actually looking forward to the swim portion of my next scheduled triathlon, which is held in a former rock quarry in Pleasanton. Heck, rocks have got to taste better than duck poop… don’t they?


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