My first triathlon….I chose the Olympic Distance, a “5150”, which is becoming the hottest trend in triathlons. Also referred to as an international distance, it is measured in kilometers and the total distance gives it its name. The event consists of a 1.5 kilometer swim (.93 mile), a 40 kilometer bike (25 miles), and a 10 kilometer run (6.2 miles). Total = 51.50kilometers.
The night before, I was nervous. I felt solid about my cycling abilities, but had considerable anxiety about the open water swim, and was downright scared of the run….an odd thing to hear from someone who got into fitness via running. I’ve completed countless 5K runs, 2 half marathons and one full, but injury pushed me to back off my running, and training for the swim also seemed to push the running portion of my training into the backseat. Once an 8minute miler, I found myself struggling for 9 1/2 minute miles in my last few training sessions, and not even for the full distance. So I knew going into the day that I would be slow on the run, and I just accepted it and tried to plan for it. I wanted to finish in 3 hours. Based on my pool times, I was expecting 32-33 minutes for the swim and about 1:18 on the bike. That would put me at 1:51. That would give me an hour and nine minutes for transitions and the run. It was doable to be sure! I took a nice warm bath, shaved my legs and used a nice sugar scrub to make my skin really smooth (and thus fast), then I crawled into bed and was asleep by 11
So, race morning…my alarm went off at 5am. 6 good hours of sleep…or 6 hours of good sleep. either way, I was feeling rested and ready. David made coffee while I suited up and braided my hair. We woke the kids at 5:45 and by 6am we were out the door and on our way. We arrived and got parked by 6:15am. Then THING #1 THAT I WASN’T EXPECTING happened. The place devoted to parking was campground #3…three quarters of a mile from where the transition area was. With a bike and all my stuff, plus a husband and two still-sleepy kids in tow, it took about 15 minutes to get there to set up my stuff, and the transition area was set to close at 6:45. I got checked in and found my spot, about smack dab in the center of the aisle on the outside. If you happen to be reading this blog because you are also doing your first triathlon (and wildly googling and reading anything you can find on the subject of first triathlons as I did), setting up your transition area is a surprisingly big and important part of doing a triathlon. I have to say, I could NOT wrap my head around the concept of how exactly I was supposed to hang my bike from this metal bar. My husband did it for me, and although I watched, I really did wonder if I would be able to do it myself after finishing the ride. I looked at what the other more experienced triathletes had done and tried to do something similar. I laid my towel down in front of my bike, put my bike shoes on it with the socks rolled down inside, and a Gu leaning against it, partially torn open in preparation for coming out of the lake. I put my water bottle (actually an ice bottle…I froze it solid the night before, knowing it would melt about half-way from the time I set my transition to the time I would be riding, and the rest would melt while I rode) on my bike. OOOh, and here’s a tip. If you use Gu or other brand of gel, use duct tape to attached it to your bike, just across the top, above the tear strip, then you can rip it off your bike and rip it open at the same time. Don’t remember which site I read that on, but it worked like a charm. My helmet was hanging on my bike’s handle bar with my sunglasses open and inside it, phone was mounted on my bike and ready to start run keeper. I just can’t bring myself to completely turn the passcode off, but I made it a single character so that it would be easy to unlock (thumb print unlock doesn’t really work when your thumb is pruney from the water) Behind that, I had my running shoes with another Gu inside. Then I think I rearranged and OCD-neatened everything at least 3 times. Youngest daughter, Daphne was still holding my chip, which had to be put on my ankle. Another tip I read somewhere but wouldn’t have otherwise thought of: Wear your timing chip on your LEFT ANKLE so that it doesn’t interfere with your chains on the bike. Glad I’d read that. Finally, they announced that the transition area was closing. Probable a good thing, or I’d have gone for stuff-straightening session #4. Now for the waiting….
My swim wave was set to go off at 7:23am, so I had about a half an hour to wait. I apparently ignored (didn’t hear) about half the questions my husband and kids were asking me that morning, responding to only some of their questions or comments, completely at random. Eventually, I made my way into the pack to get closer to the announcer. I found other women in my age group and stuck with them. One in particular was very friendly and really set my mind at ease. I have no idea what her name was, but it was huge mentally. I had heard the rumors about triathletes being REALLY competitive, even fiercely so…warnings of being kicked on the shoulder by someone trying to push off me and gain power still lingered in my mind, even though I’d been told that realistically, any kicking that might happen is usually completely unintentional. It was an in-water start, so at about 7:21, we made our way down the ramp and into the water, the air horn blew and I kicked my legs to transition from treading water vertically to a horizontal swimming position. I’d planned to start with sidestroke until the pack cleared a little and then switch to crawl. I did get kicked a few times, but since this was a nearly mile long swim, no one was doing super powerful kicks, rather they were endurance flutters, so it didn’t hurt, but it was interesting, not something I’m sure I could describe. About 5 -10 strokes later, I tried to make that switch, then the thing weirder than being kicked happen…someone swam (partially) over me. I didn’t let it freak me out, but I did go back to sidestroke pretty quickly for a bit. I used the head-above-water stroke to scout around and try and look for a clearing. The thing was, we were all still pretty packed together, and when I found an open stretch, it seemed that someone else had seen it too, and we all ended up converging on the same stretch of water. There was also a REALLY strong cross-current that day, so I just decided to stick with sidestroke a bit longer, no big deal. I’m actually ridiculously strong at sidestroke, and I was keeping up with people doing the crawl, and even passing some. I’ve come to realize this is not normal. I think it must be due (at least in part) to my ballet-built muscles….long lean powerful leg muscles. Finally, I got to a place where I felt less clustered, and I switched back to crawl. I had been advised to count my strokes and I new approximately how many strokes it takes me to go 50 metres. After about 25, I peeked and realized WHY I was able to swim full strokes without running into anyone….I was totally swimming at a diagonal…AWAY from where i was supposed to go. Darn current. So back the opposite diagonal I went, and eventually found my strokes getting shortened due to the blockade of other swimmers. Back to side stroke, but even with that, it was still a challenge to site the buoy and continue on a straight-ish path, and holy crap was it a long way out there! Finally I reached the orange buoy and made the left turn, now going directly into the current, I actually was able to swim probably the straightest path of the entire swim, because i just had to stay perpendicular to the waves. Then the left turn back, and I realized I was over halfway done. I had no concept of time though. I thought about going back to crawl at that point, but I found myself passing several swimmers with my sidestroke, so I stuck with it. I had also managed to garner the attention of one of the guards who was in a blue kayak. I think at first he was concerned that since I was doing sidestroke, maybe I needed help, then I think he was just surprised by how aggressively I was swimming with what is usually a relaxed stroke. I had even pulled my goggles up onto my head so that I could see more clearly. I didn’t really switch to crawl again until I reached the final orange buoy, which was the turn back toward shore for the sprint tri folk. And when I did make that change, I stopped kicking and just let my arms pull me through the water. I could heard shouting at the docks by this point and was able to use the sound to guide me in. When I felt my leg hit the carpet-covered concrete of the boat dock, I became vaguely aware of hands reaching out for me and people talking to me. Something about carpet being kind of slippery and to be careful. I took one hand and then a second as I got my land legs back under me, and then broke into a run as I got past the carpet and onto the cement or asphalt or whatever it was. I saw my little blonde girls bouncing up and down and was able to then see my husband, who called out my time – 38 minutes. WAY slow..6 minutes slower than my last calculated pool time for that distance. I even shouted back an obscene word…right in front of my kids. ooops. BUT, that was mental win #1. I didn’t let it bother me….instead, it pushed me to just plan to be faster in the transition and on the bike. Transition time: 1:34. BOOM.
I had a *bit* of trouble getting started on the bike. The mount was on a slight incline, which just sucks, and then, I got my right foot clipped in no problem, but then I got a massive calf cramp in my left leg, and I had to stop and try again..but hey, I didn’t fall, so that’s good, and on the second try, I got going and I made it up that incline and was rewarded by almost a 1/4 mile of flat road to get my spin going before the first hill, which is fairly substantial (about 60 feet over a half mile). Shortly past the crest of that hill, my bike and I rekindled our love for one another and I settled in to a good pace. I was passing people….a LOT of people, and I started feeling like I really could make up my swim deficiency. David had told me that he figured I’d probably pass some people on Dam hill. (100 foot climb over about a half mile) He was so right…I think I overtook at least a dozen on that hill. I’m a particularly good climber AND I have the advantage of riding that route regularly, so I’ve had the opportunity to experiment with gearings and when to shift. Shortly after that, I passed Wakarusa school, where my mom and sister were waiting to cheer me on. Apparently, I was faster than they expected, and they hadn’t quite managed to get their signs held up properly, (but they DID manage to have it in place on my return, which happened right about 9am, just 11 minutes before I would officially turn 38) The whole bike course was like an old friend, and I knew it wouldn’t let me down. I pushed myself to go faster, even into the wind, while still knowing that after the turnaround, it would be at my back for the majority of the return to the docks. I used the time to have a talk with myself about the upcoming run, knowing that that, too, would have to be faster if I was going to make up for the swim. Runkeeper was clocking my average speed around mile 15 at 18.5mph. I really wasn’t sure about my transition speeds, but I calculated 2 minutes each and did the math on my bike, figuring that if I did the ride in an hour, eighteen minutes, and if I could do the run in an hour flat, I could still hit my 3 hour time, but it would be a pretty serious push to make that happen. Then I was thinking if I could push it even harder on the bike and make up a little extra time, every minute saved on the bike was an extra minute for the run. As it turned out, run keeper was a bit off on my speed, and my final bike time based on the chip was 1:23:21, an average speed of 17.9mph. BUT, I nailed the transition – 1:46.
On to the run. yuck. I was not looking forward to this. The course was an out and back, up that same first hill I had for the bike (60 foot climb, if you recall) and then around campground 3 to the far back side of it (at least it was shaded) and then back down the hill, only to have to do that WHOLE THING again. The weird thing about all this is that I started out as a runner. I did my first half marathon….more than double this distance, at a pace of 8:43, so why was I now struggling to be under a 10 minute mile? Well, 2 reasons – 1, an ongoing injury/weakness has minimized my running for the last year and a half, AND I spent way too much time focusing on improving my crawl stroke in the pool. (In retrospect, I could have skipped all that crawl work and just planned on sidestroke from the get go, and worked on my running endurance and speed instead). But, I consider it a win that I pushed through the running and completed it. I pointed out to myself that I was well over half-way done with the whole event, I allowed myself to walk every so often and I was still smiling about the whole thing. By the second lap, I knew I wasn’t going to hit my 3 hour mark, but I did know I’d be fairly close to it, and I realized….I was seriously almost done and I would have completed my first triathlon, and an Olympic distance at that! PLUS, it’s downhill for the last (almost) mile. Once again, coming in toward the finish, I saw little blonde heads bouncing, and I knew my whole family was there. I felt my Dad with me too, and I had saved up just enough stamina to sprint to the finish (and beat him). As I crossed, I heard the announcer call out my name AND PRONOUNCE IT CORRECTLY! Also, I didn’t feel like i had to puke or pee, so I think that’s good stuff too. So, first Triathlon in the books. Total time 3:09:09.89, about 9 minutes and ten seconds slower than I had originally hoped, but a very respectable first, and good enough to nail a first place finish in my division and qualify me for Nationals, which is in 5 weeks…in Des Moines, IA….hmmmm…stay tuned!