Swim: 300 m/76,300 m
Bike: 12/546.4 miles
Run: 3.1/146.9 miles
(Huge post alert!) At approximately 8:38 yesterday morning I officially became a triathlete when I crossed the finish line of my first sprint race. It was an amazing experience that brought a wide range of emotions, but in the end I’m so happy to have completed this and am looking forward to more training and more races. To keep this post from getting too long, I’ll focus on the race here and write more about the lessons learned and my next steps in another post. Let’s begin with…
The swim: This segment of the race was a huge unknown to me – I’ve covered thousands of meters in the past five months but they have mostly been solo in an empty pool. There’s just no way to replicate swimming in a pool filled with racers. The swim ended up being far worse than I ever imagined, and nothing like what I trained for.
I wasn’t nervous at all as I lined up for the start. Perhaps because it wasn’t a mass start but an ordered pool start – swimmers start 15 seconds after the person before – there wasn’t that anticipation of a gun going off or the palpable tension of a starting corral moments before a race. People just casually lined up when it was about time for them to start. With 600 participants going off every 15 seconds, the race had a rolling start across 2.5 hours.
When it was my turn, I hopped in the pool and got my goggles on as I watched the clock tick down the seconds. Then…go! The trouble started immediately as my breath quickened and my stroke fell apart. Before the end of the first lap I was breathing every second stroke. I wasn’t even thinking about my form, but only about my quickening pulse and my lack of oxygen. Every lap got worse – I actually had to touch the bottom with my feet twice and even covered about half a length on the third lap in backstroke, just to catch my breath. No one ever caught up to me and signaled for me to move over, but I pulled over at the end of one lap to let someone by, and later to let pass another group of three that were swimming very closely together.
It was messy for the rest of the swim, but no one else got very close to me. The only way I can describe it is like a panic attack – I didn’t have a specific thought of something bad happening (I was actually very calm and frustrated with myself in a third-person kind of way) and I couldn’t pinpoint what was going wrong. I didn’t think about my stroke the entire swim, and I didn’t count down the laps. Every second was it’s own moment that was unattached to the others, with the only mental thread being, “How is this happening?” It was so bad that I wasn’t even relieved when it was finished, as I had anticipated I would be. Instead, the crushing feeling of defeat lingered well into the bike leg that came next. Goal: 5:20-5:30 Actual: 6:52 (284 out of 600)
T1: There was a long run from the pool to the transition area, and I got behind a very slow runner in the chute. Rather than angle to pass her, I took advantage of the slow pace to catch my breath from the swim and think about the transition ahead. Once in T1 I ran past her to my bike, which was in a great location due in part to chance and also to the fact that I arrived early in the morning. I got through the transition pretty much as I had rehearsed, and I was pleased with it and my mounting technique, which went off without a hitch. Time: 2:11 (211 overall)
The bike: Like I mentioned above, the bad mojo of the swim stuck with me into the bike leg. I felt like I was really breathing hard at the beginning so I focused on increasing the cadence in a lower gear to help bring me down a little. By Mile 4, however, I started to feel pretty good as I pushed the pace and passed more riders. By the end of the 12-mile course I was really cruising and passing several more people. I was only passed by three guys (and I think I re-passed one of them later). By the end of the ride I was still mentally shaken by the swim but had been able to sort of accept it and prepare for the run. I actually hadn’t looked at my watch for most of the race, assuming that I would be well behind my target times. Goal: 36:00 (20 mph avg.) Actual: 36:31 (19.7 mph avg.) (145 overall)
T2: This transition was pretty fast – my dismount went very smoothly and I was quick to unload my bike and helmet and head for the run. Time: 0:37 (28 overall)
The run: At this point of the day the temperature was starting to rise and the sun was in full force. I started off at a pretty good pace and just tried to maintain it for as long as possible. The course has a lot of downhill on the way out, which translates to uphill on the return, so I tried to take advantage of it by running harder in the beginning. About a third of the way out I realized I had forgotten my race belt (which holds my bib) and was consumed by the thoughts of what penalty I would incur because of that oversight. I also decided to run without socks, which was a good decision except that the tongue of my shoe was folded under and started to painfully rub the top of my foot.
I was really starting to feel defeated – the terrible swim, an unknown bike (I hadn’t been keeping track of my splits and didn’t know what pace I had ridden) and now botching the race bib. But I kept going strong, and I passed lots of people (no one passed me on the run). In fact, I picked off every runner that I saw on the course in front of me – I didn’t see anyone cross the finish line ahead of me. (Side note: I finished 91st out of about 600 racers. My race number – and the place in which I started – was 158. I passed more than 70 athletes in the bike and run legs.)
I tried to push at the end, but the course is set up in a way that inhibits straight-shot sprinting to the finish – there is a sharp turn and a 20-foot segment that goes off-road. (It turns out there was no penalty for not having the bib, other than the photography company might not be able to identify me in photos from the run segment.) Goal: sub-22 Actual: 22:34 (59th overall)
The finish: When I crossed the finish line and checked my watch I was amazed to see 1:08:42. I had been telling people that I would like to finish under 1:15, and my secret back-of-the-mind goal was 1:09, based on estimations of my hypothetical performance. Yet despite hitting that time, I had a lingering taste of disappointment. Something had gone wrong, or at least not perfectly, in each area of the race. The awful swim has been covered, I felt like I could have hit the bike harder, and I forgot my race bib during the run – a rookie mistake.
But that’s what this comes down to – I’m a rookie. This was my very first triathlon, and no matter how much research I do or how many questions I ask, there are things that just have to be experienced. I would have been surprised if everything had gone perfectly, but even expecting to make errors doesn’t always prepare you for when they actually happen. The point of this race was the experience – to let me know what I need to work on and the areas in which I need to improve, and now I have quite a checklist of improvements!
In a future post I’ll detail my impressions of my performance and what my summer training holds in store. For now – I did it! I’m a triathlete!