Swim: 420 m/83,720 m
Bike: 18.9/696.1 miles
Run: 3.1/204.5 miles
I raced my second triathlon this morning, and now I think I’m starting to understand the infatuation. This was really fun! For so many reasons, this was a very different experience than my first race, which was only a month ago. I took many of the lessons I learned in that race and applied them today, with great results. The biggest lesson I took to heart: Have fun.
To illustrate my positive feelings about the race, I am composing this report before I’ve even seen my official splits. Right now, I don’t know how fast I rode or ran. But that doesn’t matter at the moment (I’ll fill in the times when they’re posted). What matters is the experience. Here’s what happened:
The setup: This race was closer to my house than the last one, so I didn’t have to wake up quite as early (although 5 a.m. is still pretty early for me). It took me all of about 3 minutes to get my transition area set up once I arrived. After the last race and some transition practice at home yesterday, I pretty much know how I like things laid out. I got my body marked and got to the start area with about 5 minutes to spare. It was a gorgeous morning and the water temperature was a balmy 85 degrees.
The swim: After my river swim a few weeks ago I was feeling pretty ready for this relatively short 420-meter swim. It didn’t even look that long as I was approaching the start. I had no time goal, and I intentionally lined up toward the back of my corral (the first wave). For that reason, it took about 15-20 seconds after the start for me to even cross the start buoys. There was some congestion at first, just like a road race, but I held back and moved slowly while the speedsters took off. Within a minute or two I had plenty of space around me. The water was very murky and I couldn’t see anything, so I’m not sure how many people were around me during the swim. I do know that my contact with other swimmers was pretty minimal. My sighting was good and I think I kept a pretty straight line.
The huge difference between this swim and my last one was that I was very calm. I was still breathing every second stroke for much of the race, but I was keeping pretty good form and was able to maintain a solid freestyle stroke for the entire distance. No treading water, no backstroke. I made sure to take in my surroundings – I remember, about two thirds of the way through, just seeing the trees and the sky as I rolled to breathe and thinking about how awesome it was to be swimming in a triathlon at that moment. I was still near the back of the first wave, but no one from the second wave passed me (small victories, people). I wasn’t feeling any pressure. I was just having fun. (8:46 – 321 out of 500)
T1: I wasn’t dawdling here, but I wasn’t rushing. I ran to my rack and went through the motions just as I had rehearsed. There was a little congestion at the mount line as the small group around me ran across and then stopped to get on their bikes without moving. I, however, have been working on the running-leap style of mounting, so I kept running a little past the others so I could hop on and ride away. (1:55 – 238 out of 500)
The bike: I was feeling pretty good on the bike today. It was a longer ride – almost 19 miles – which meant the bike leg itself was going to take me about an hour, with a 5k run still to go. Remembering my experience from last time, when I had trouble catching my breath after the swim, I kept things easy with a high cadence for the first mile or so, and then was able to open up a little. I wanted to be sure to save some energy – the first 9.5 miles of the course trend upward and I didn’t want to blow it all at this point of the race.
I was passed by a few people – mostly the fast guys from the second and third waves on their ridiculous bikes. I don’t mind too much being passed by a guy in an aero helmet and disc wheels. It was kind of neat to hear the whoosh-whoosh of the disc wheels as they approached and then watch them fly past me, only to look at my own computer and realize I’m traveling at 23 mph on flat road. Those guys were absolutely killing it.
I ended up playing leapfrog with a small group of riders – some would slow down on a hill or to take a drink and then speed up later. I also had a drink on my bike – I installed a new water bottle yesterday. In my one bad decision of the day, I filled the bottle with full-test Gatorade, something I had never done before (I usually take water in a CamelBak on my training rides). I thought the extra nutrition would help me, but it was so syrupy that it made my stomach feel very heavy. Next time I need to find something lighter.
When it was time for the big hill near the turnaround, I was ready. I am so happy I rode the course in advance and knew what was coming. I threw the front gear down into the small ring and breezed right up the hill, passing two riders on the way. And I wasn’t completely gassed when I reached the top. I knew the course was mostly downhill from here, and I told myself that now it was time to go.
I really started to push now, and hit a top speed of about 37 mph on the way down the big hill. There was a larger group that was attacking the hill on the way up, and a few of them were even walking. It looked like some kind of death march – they all looked so miserable. But I didn’t see them for long as I was flying past. I left behind most of the group I had been riding with earlier and passed several others on the return trip. I even flew past the site of my wreck last week and hardly had time to realize that I had passed it. Before I knew it I was coasting toward the transition area. (58:50 – 19.3 mph – 198 out of 500)
T2: This was quick and easy, and this time I did not forget my race belt! (0:39 – 44 out of 500)
The run: My bad decision from earlier was rearing its ugly head now. My stomach was not appreciating the Gatorade, and the longer ride had an effect on my legs. I already knew that this wasn’t going to be a particularly fast run because it’s mostly on trails with many sharp turns. I settled into a pace that I knew wasn’t my best, but it’s what I could do today. I passed a few people, and a couple people passed me, but it was a decent run through the woods. The race ended on somewhat of a straightaway, so I opened it up and passed the one last person that I could see in front of me (who happened to be a 10-year-old boy who was part of a relay team – sorry, kid, I’m not being beaten by a 10-year-old). This last sprint actually felt pretty good and I was a little sorry that I didn’t run more of the race a bit faster. I just tell myself that I did what I could, and I’m happy with it. (24:01 – 7:44 pace – 119 out of 500)
Overall: This was a great race and I had a blast. My first impression is that I think I prefer open-water swimming to pool swims. The pool just feels so clinical. I’ve never been a pool person and some subconscious part of me just gets jittery when I walk in and smell the chlorine. Like I don’t really belong there. But the open water is more, well, me. I love being outside, and swimming in the river just adds that element of adventure and excitement that the pool lacks. I will go ahead and say that I am a little scared of the 1,500-meter swim that awaits me in my Olympic race later this year. My first two race swims have been pretty short, and the idea of spending 30 minutes or more in the open water makes me a little nervous.
The bike course today was great – there was a nice mix of challenging hills and speedy descents. I feel proud to have ridden it like I did (again, I’m typing this before I’ve seen my split). The run was tough, but it was dictated by the conditions and so I’m OK with it.
I’ve waited until the bottom of the post to mention that I’ve been sick all week. I don’t want that to be an excuse for anything, but there’s no question that it affected my performance. I wonder if my lingering congestion was partially at fault for my breathing issues during the swim. I know the fatigue and poor nutrition all week were factors during the run. Also at issue was the fact that I haven’t gotten in many brick workouts in the last month (actually, I’ve only done one!). Despite being relatively unprepared, training-wise, for this race, I came out and gave it what I had, and ended up having a great time. There was no pressure to meet any time goals – in fact, before the race I hadn’t even calculated how long the event might take.
There’s something else I’ve thought about a lot since my last race – what is my goal with triathlon? Let’s be realistic: the competition at these races is fierce, and at this stage of the game – in my rookie year and with my level of training – I’m just not going to be competitive, even in my age group. For some reason, I let this get away from me in my first race. But with that possibility out of the way, I’m mentally free to focus on what really matters – having a great time and making myself a better athlete. Today’s race was exactly what I needed to set myself on the right path for the rest of the season.