Swim: 0 m/108,645 m
Bike: 0/1,220.6 miles
Run: 5/455.1 miles
My long-anticipated Olympic triathlon is in the books, and what kind of triathlete would I be if I didn’t analyze every last aspect of my performance? I’ve spent the past few days reliving many of the moments from that race, and I’m left with a very positive feeling about the whole thing. I had a lot of fun even though it was a hard race, and I’m proud of myself for my effort. Here are some thoughts about each segment:
The swim: I still have no idea what happened here. A venture that I anticipated would take 35-4o minutes ended up lasting 52 minutes. What’s odd is that I actually felt good during the swim, after the initial few hundred meters. My stroke was smooth and I was breathing evenly. I had plenty of energy and wasn’t feeling tired at all. Even as the swim wore on I never found myself thinking, “When will this ever end?” I was just swimming, and enjoying it for the most part. In fact, I almost find it more impressive that I had so much energy during the swim and later in the race even after swimming for almost 20 minutes longer than I originally anticipated.
I really think the major issue was getting off-course so frequently. There were so many times when I was just completely headed in the wrong direction – it seemed like I had turned off-course after every breath or sighting attempt. It made me wonder if something about the motion I made when sighting or breathing was twisting my body and pointing me off of my straight line. I only breathed on my left side, and now that I think about it I always got turned to the right after breathing, making me think that bilateral breathing would help even out any directional changes. I also wonder if I subconsciously altered my body roll to account for the undulations of the open water, which was pretty calm that morning but still more disturbed than the pool.
I’ll freely admit that I’m not a particularly fast swimmer, but I don’t think my poor performance this weekend hinged on swim speed. I think it had more to do with my inexperience in open water. I’m not sure how to get better other than by practicing more in those conditions, and focusing more on my breathing form – both by getting comfortable with bilateral breathing and by focusing on proper body roll.
Despite missing my time goal by some 60 percent, I actually never found myself despondent after the swim. I looked at my watch as I exited the water and saw how far off my time was, but I didn’t get upset. And it’s not like I made a conscious decision to not be upset – I just wasn’t. The swim was over and now it was time to focus on the transition at hand and then the bike course. My family was at the swim exit cheering loudly, and I saw my daughter with a huge smile as she recognized her dad coming out of the water. I didn’t have time or mental room for disappointment. And now, three days later, I’m still not disappointed. As a relatively new swimmer, I can still be proud of getting through the swim at all. And with my time being so far off my prediction, all I can do is take it with a light heart and focus on getting better.
The bike: I had a goal of hitting at least an 18 mph average for the bike, finishing around 1:23. And I did just that. I spent a lot of time in the weeks before the race planning how I would approach the different parts of the course, both in terms of effort and nutrition, and I executed the plan well during the race. After some initial lethargy, I found a groove and never felt very tired on the ride. In fact, I thought it passed quickly and almost would have liked the course to be a little longer. This was probably the most fun I had during the race, and that feeling was likely fueled by the fact that I was passing so many people and riding relatively well.
There’s still a lot of room for improvement on the bike, and the strategy is the same as it has been – more time in the saddle and more hill/interval work. This course was very hilly (which is why I am happy with a pace around 18 mph) and the only way to get stronger on hills is to ride hills.
The run: My goal for the run was to hit 45 minutes, and I was about 2 minutes off from that. Even at this late stage of the race I felt like my energy was high, but I suddenly had to deal with new pain from several blisters and the pounding on my lower legs. The immediate prescription for improvement would be to wear socks! I had done several shorter training runs without socks, and I ran sockless in both of my sprint triathlons, but this race was a different animal. Not only were the conditions far more moist to begin with, but the run was longer than I’d done sockless before. Even so, I’m pleased to have hit a 7:40 pace for the run, including brief stops at three water stations. For those keeping score at home, this pace was faster than the 5k I ran at the end of my second sprint tri in June.
Overall: Looking at my splits, it’s funny to see how they brightly demonstrate my comfort and ability in each of the three disciplines. I was one of the slowest swimmers overall, my bike was almost exactly in the middle of the pack, and I was 31st overall and 4th in my age group on the run (and three of the top four in my age group were less than 40 seconds apart). I would have told you the same before the race – I am a novice swimmer, a mid-pack cyclist and perhaps a back-of-the-front-pack runner. This race confirmed what I already knew – to get better I need to really concentrate on swimming form and cycling strength, and let the running ride.
Now that it’s all over, I can only say how happy I am with this race. It’s almost like a kid’s well-loved stuffed animal – it has some dings and imperfections, but it only belongs to me. It’s a reflection of my effort and training, for better or worse, and I had such a fun time racing it (even though I was ready to be finished about halfway through the run!). Feeling the satisfaction that comes from finishing a race like this, I can’t imagine what it must feel like to complete a longer triathlon. Maybe one day I’ll find out, or maybe not, but for now I’m going to soak in the feeling of a job well-done.