Atascadero News photo courtesy of Cassandra Sherburne · Walker Larson proudly finishes his first ever race — the library 5K fun run in February. The end of that race was the beginning of his racing career. • Atascadero News photo courtesy of Walker Larson · Atascadero resident Walker Larson, resplendent in Go For It Sports triathlon shorts and Def Leppard shirt, finishes the mountain bike course at the Wildflower Triathlon in early may. His first ever triathlon and second official race ever, he finished fourth in his class.
Atascadero resident Walker Larson is friend to many elite North County athletes thanks to his job as a mechanic and sales person at Go For It Sports. But he’s a late bloomer when it comes to sports.
The first race Walker ever ran, the first sporting event for which he was assigned a number, the first time he’d ever run three consecutive miles in his life was on Feb. 10, when he ran the 5K race at the Atascadero Lake Park to support the library.
“It was too late to do any training,” he said. “I woke up and did [the 5K] in about 19 minutes.”
And it wasn’t like he really wanted to run it, either. Larson said he allowed himself to be talked into it by his sister. Still, he did it and did well and had a good time.
“The course is easy to understand, but it’s hilly,” he said.
The truth is, it’s not fair to say that Larson was a couch-potato before the 5K. He’s hiked Half Dome and Mount Whitney. He’s surfed most of his life and even recently finished building his first hand-made surfboard.
Still, he said the library run was a life-changing event. He said it was a lot of fun and gave him permission to pursue his next race: Wildflower.
Larson said he’d wanted to do Wildflower even before he ever raced the 5K — he’d volunteered two years in a row at traffic crossings. But it was the 5K sort of jump-started him to begin his training.
Which, he said with a self-depreciating grin, wasn’t a whole heck of a lot better than for the 5K. One of the items in the goodie bag for 5K finishers was a pass to Kennedy Club Fitness. Larson used his pass to practice swimming a couple times.
“I had two sessions to practice swimming,” he said.
The sessions may of sabotaged him a tiny bit. When swimming laps in a pool, a swimmer has to turn around at the end of the lane. That turnaround gives the swimmer a bit of a rest, something Larson said he’d gotten used to.
But when it came time to hit the lake and swim a quarter-mile around some giant orange buoys, he didn’t get the rest. Still, he finished in 7 minutes. Part of his quick finish, he credited to a fellow named Tim that he met in the transition area before the race.
“He taught me so much about triathlon swimming before the race,” Larson said.
He rode his Santa Cruz Superlight for the bike portion of the race. The mountain bike course, he said, isn’t really much of a mountain bike course; it’s more a sort of unpaved road.
“Everybody had their tires up to at least 65 PSI,” he said.
There was one patch of sand on the 10-mile track. That, coupled with highly inflated tires, was a bit treacherous, and Larson said the fellow immediately ahead of him took a minor spill on the sand.
Larson was passed only twice while on the trail, something Larson is justifiably proud of. One of the people who passed him was his new friend, Tim.
“The bike ride was absolutely flawless,” he said. “I was in the zone the whole way.”
The run was a little off. He said he was a little confused about the length of the run, so had trained for a 5K — two laps around the perimeter of Cuesta College, where he is an engineering student. He’d gotten his 5K time down to 17:35 or so. But the run at Wildflower was only two miles — about 3.2K. That meant his pacing was off and he lost some time.
Also, he added, it’s hard to go running after a 10-mile bike ride.
“My legs got exhausted,” he said. “The run was the part I lost the most time on.”
Larson finished his first ever triathlon fourth in his class and 49th overall.
He said he learned two major lessons about racing that day.
“It went flawlessly,” he said about the first, “other than finding out about socks. No one else in the transition area had socks.”
The second lesson is a lot less competitive.
“It’s a cheesy, overused [lesson], but what I learned was, ‘have fun,’” he said, still grinning.
There are more races coming up in San Luis Obispo County, but Larson doesn’t have concrete plans for any of them yet. He said he’s mostly just focused on remaining outdoors.
“All through high school, I was inside,” he said. “I spent most of my time doing calculus at a desk. I’m over it.”
And so he spends a lot of his time on the coast. He has a small sailboat he can fit inside his car that he enjoys sailing. He’s also got that hand-made surfboard. But on his next day off, he can probably be found riding his mountain bike at Johnson Ranch.
“It’s a well-groomed trail,” he said with his ever-present grin. “And there’s lots of college girls there.”