Swim: 1,500 m/108,645 m
Bike: 30.3/1,220.6 miles
Run: 7.7/450.1 miles
Nine months of training and anticipation finally culminated Sunday with the completion of my goal race for the year – the Naylor’s Beach Olympic triathlon. It certainly didn’t unfold as I might have planned it, but I think I took the bumps in stride and came away with a very positive experience. There’s a lot for me to digest and analyze about my performance, but, for now, here’s what went down:
The setup: It had been raining for the better part of a week, and the humidity was equally thick. But I tried to prepare by hydrating all week and watching my diet closely. I also put in some specific taper-week workouts according to my training manual. I was feeling good in the week leading up to the race, like my peak and taper had somewhat come together. The morning of the race was heavily foggy, warm and humid, but thankfully it remained overcast for most of the race.
Pre-race: I got my transition area set up quickly – after some consideration last week I decided to put on my cycling shoes in T1 and simply click in after crossing the mount line, as opposed to leaving them attached to the bike and slipping my feet in as I started to ride. The reason was because of the saturated ground – I didn’t want to have to worry about wiping the wet debris off my feet as I was riding and before I slipped into the shoes. I took a gel about 20 minutes pre-race, and headed to the water to get in a brief swim to acclimate myself to the water. It was pretty chilly at first but I warmed up quickly. I was one of the few people not wearing a wetsuit, but I didn’t feel uncomfortable. Soon enough it was time to get to the start area.
The swim: I was in the second wave, and I lined up toward the back of the pack. With only about 160 total participants, the start waves were pretty small and I didn’t have to deal with much wrangling as the horn went off. I was happy I warmed up earlier, and I started into a somewhat comfortable swim. But only about 100 yards in I felt my ankle timer slip off and had to quickly reach down to grab it. I tried to put it back on, but it’s hard to tread water while using both hands to put something on your ankle. So I tucked it into my jammers and continued on, but not before losing precious time.
After what seemed like an unusually long time I reached the first turn buoy and swung left onto the main leg of the swim. The next turn buoy was so far away I couldn’t see it, so I just started to try and find a groove. I was mostly breathing every second stroke and was feeling a little out of breath, but I focused on staying relaxed and swimming smoothly. Soon enough the swimmers from the second wave passed. They were all on the inside line, and I found that I was having trouble staying on course – I would take a few strokes and look up to find I had turned away from the line. This zig-zag pattern kept up all the way down the main part of the course – I started to realize that I was just doing a terrible job of sighting even though my swimming was actually feeling pretty solid. There were a couple instances where I looked up to sight and could see nothing but open water – I had turned completely away from the course, like I was just going to swim out to sea.
It was at this point that I started to understand I was taking a very long time on the swim. Soon enough, swimmers from the fourth and final wave started to pass me. When I at last reached the second turn buoy to head back to shore, I saw evidence of the strong tide I had been fighting against. That’s right – we were swimming against the tide for most of the swim. At the buoy, I would take several strong strokes and look up only to realize I had hardly moved in relation to it. This happened three or four times before I finally made it around the buoy. To make it all the way around, I flipped onto my back as my legs were swept under the buoy and against the rope beneath it. Once free, it was a straight shot to the shore, and I felt very strong on this segment.
I finally touched the shore almost a full hour after I started my swim (I generally do the distance in the pool in about 30 minutes; I was planning for about 35-40 minutes in the open water). I stooped down to reattach my timing bracelet and almost tumbled over, dizzy from the time in the water. But I was relieved to be finished, even though knew I had a tough bike and run ahead. When I saw the time on my watch I knew immediately that a sub-3:00 finish time was almost certainly out of the question, but I was still not ready to completely write it off. (52:16, 153 out of 163)
T1: I hurried through transition – I got everything I needed and didn’t have any undue difficulties. I used the flying leap to mount my bike and was able to get clipped in pretty quickly, and then I was on my way. (1:45, 44 out of 163)
The bike: I started out with some easy spinning, but the course has a gentle beginning so I was still averaging around 20 mph with only moderate effort. I immediately got down some nutrition and started to get into a cycling frame of mind. I could only see one person in front of me, about 200 yards away. But that would change soon enough. The one good thing about being one of the last people out of the water is that there’s a course full of people to pass on the bike and the run. And that’s what I did. After being passed by, oh, everybody during the swim, I was only passed once later on the bike course (and I later re-passed him).
My hamstrings and quads were feeling very heavy at the outset, and I was worried that it was going to be a long, slow ride. Once the course started rolling I was only averaging 18-19 mph and my legs were feeling dead. I made it up the first of the course’s three major hills after dropping into the small ring. But then things started to warm up. Once I started to pass more people I gained some confidence and I wanted to stay strong so I wouldn’t be “that guy” who makes a pass and then slows up in front of you. I passed two people at the second major hill and then I was rolling from there. I attacked the series of rollers between miles 12-15, passing several people as they struggled along. I have to say that I was really feeling good at this point. I was in aero for most of the course other than the three major climbs and kept up a solid cadence for the entire ride.
I was fueling regularly and trying to drink, but I still didn’t end up emptying my bottle during the ride. I was starting to become aware of my stomach and wanted to be very careful about eating too much and starting to feel sick.
The back side of the course was so much fun. I was really on a roll and passing people regularly. It made me feel strong to blast by people in aero as they puffed along. I bombed down the last descent at close to 40 mph – my cheeks were flapping in the wind – and handled the last major hill with little difficulty. I was home-free now, and the last 7 miles of the course seemed to fly by. As I neared transition I flawlessly took my feet out of my shoes and downshifted for some easy spinning to loosen my legs up for the run. (1:24:04, 81 out of 159, 18 mph avg pace)
T2: Another quick transition. Since I jogged through the area with no shoes on, I took an extra moment to sit at my rack and wipe my feet off before slipping on my running shoes (without socks – a decision that would later haunt me). I also decided to hit the run without a shirt because of the high humidity. (1:11, 66 out of 156)
The run: The run started well. I was well fueled and hydrated and was feeling OK. It was very muggy on the course – almost 90 percent humidity – and I knew the conditions would be more apparent during the run than on the bike. My passing streak continued – I passed someone about every 30 seconds for the first couple miles – and no one passed me at all on the run. Things were pretty smooth and steady for the first 15 or 20 minutes.
But soon my sockless, wet feet started to squeak in my shoes, and hotspots quickly became blisters (today I counted a total of nine blister wounds on my ankles and toes). Also, my shins started to hurt very noticeably, a feeling that I haven’t experienced in my training this year. I wondered if the road had something to do with it – the aggregate surface just seemed harder than nicer pavement. I was wincing in pain and finally stopped at the water stop just past the 2-mile mark. I only stopped for about 5 seconds, enough time to drink a small cup of Gatorade, and then I was on my way again. Things felt fine at first but the pain quickly came back, and I ended up stopping at the water stations at miles 3.1 and 4, but just long enough to swallow some liquid. Once I passed Mile 4 I just ran through the pain, knowing that the sooner I was finished, the sooner I could take off my shoes. I finally crossed the finish line at 3:06:54. (47:40, 31 out of 155, 7:40 avg pace)
Overall: So, here’s the thing about this race – it was a challenge for me. I had a very poor swim – one of the worst of any athlete that day – and it was only my fault. As much as I could try to blame the current or the conditions, the fact is the other competitors found a way to conquer it. My friend and training buddy John finished the swim in less than half the time it took me. The bike course was challenging and the humidity and leg pain hampered my run.
But when you look at the pictures of me from every transition you’ll notice they have something in common – I’m smiling in all of them. I was smiling when I crawled ashore from my 52-minute river expedition, I smiled when I was leaping onto my bike to go face off with some treacherous hills, and I was beaming when I was running toward the finish line after three hours of vigorous exercise, ignoring the bleeding wounds inside my shoes.
I think a small part of me was happy that it was finally over – all that anticipation of swimming, biking and running this course was in the past now. And I had succeeded. Maybe not in my actual time goals for this race – I had hoped to finish in under three hours – but in the simple act of doing it. To me, this is what an endurance race is all about: adversity and effort – not necessarily pleasant at the time – that leave you with a real sense of accomplishment when it’s all over. I certainly wasn’t among the fastest racers on the course this weekend, but I’m not really interested in comparing myself with others. I swam, biked and ran my very own race, and I accomplished something new. And that’s exactly what I set out to do from the beginning.