It’s been hard for me to determine exactly what drove me to triathlon. Sure there were warning signs, but it wasn’t until this summer came screaming outta the gate at 100 degrees that I knew I had to find something other than distance running to keep my attention for the next several months.
I registered for SharkFest 2012 before I ever swam a lap in the pool (or even belonged to a gym WITH a pool…). That’s the kind of craziness I’m capable of rationalizing in this little brain.
But soon I was spending more and more time here:
And someday I’ll tell you the story of how I learned to swim laps on the internet. It’s good.
But the moral of the story is I started at the beginning, just like I’d done with running. Whaddaya know? And slowly but surely I could swim longer and longer without feeling like my lungs would burst. I eventually (from the internet) learned to breathe and learned to relax — and one day I realized I was just… swimming. I wasn’t hypersensitive about every movement I was making and I wasn’t thinking about breathing. It actually felt natural.
I began to think the SharkFest Sprint Triathlon might not be a total disaster.
So triathlon. I’m as newbie as it gets so I’ll do us all a favor and break down the basics.
- Swim. Bike. Run. In that order.
- The time it takes athletes to transition between those three sports counts in the overall race time. So Swim + Swim/Bike Transition (T1) + Bike + Bike/Run Transition (T2) + Run = Total Race Time.
- There are a handful of distances in triathlon. The most popular are Sprint, Olympic, Half, and Full. The one you’ve probably heard the most about is an Ironman. That’s a “full” distance and it’s 2.4 miles of swimming followed by 112 miles on the bike and a full marathon. I DID NOT DO AN IRONMAN
I chose a nice sprint distance for my first triathlon experience. 500 yards of swimming followed by 15 miles of bike and 3.1 miles of running (a 5K). I guessed that it would take me 2 hours. Well, I HOPED it would take me 2 hours.
So I did the training. I swam. A lot. I biked. Not nearly as much as I should. And I ran. Just enough to keep a 5K/10K fitness, but not enough that I might melt in this blazing heat.
And before I knew it, SharkFest was upon me.
I had packed and repacked (and repacked again for good measure) my bag, and I was still certain I was leaving behind something critical. Triathlon requires SO. MUCH. STUFF!
I got to the transition area and squeezed into the rack, laying out my stuff for the bike and run. Still certain I was forgetting something.
Ahh yes. 5 hr Energy. Breakfast of Champions. This is probably a good time to mention I had no idea how to eat for this thing. Two hours of running, sure. But two hours of swimming, pedaling, and running – add a dash of changing clothes/shoes twice – and I decided a 5 hr Energy was as good as anything. (SPOILER ALERT: I was very, very wrong.)
It’s go time.
SWIM: There were three waves of swimmers for this race. Yellow, pink, and white caps. Most of the women were pink – makes sense. I’m right there in the middle: pink cap, blue goggles, black suit.
There we go!
I’m the one in the pink cap.
My strategy to let the speedy people get out of my way worked pretty well. The gun went off and I hesitated for a second while everybody else kicked and thrashed each other in front of me. As we rounded the buoys I didn’t escape the kicking and thrashing completely, but it was minimal.
The water was green and warm. Pretty much the exact opposite of the crystal clear, cool water of the lap pool. But I found a rhythm and just swam my pace. Funny thing about the pool, though, there’s a big blue line on the bottom. It’s tough NOT to swim in a straight line. Beaver Lake? No big blue line. I had to lift my head out of the water every few strokes to make sure I was still headed toward the next buoy and not off into the abyss.
Out of the water! And look! There are even pink caps behind me!
GOALS FOR THE SWIM:
- Don’t panic in the open water. Just swim.
- Time: 12-14 minutes.
MY SWIM TIME: 12:52
I think I even startled Jeff with how quickly I was out of the water. Yay! So far, so good! I honestly felt like I’d won the darn thing when the swim went so well. Major confidence boost.
There was a bit of a run between the water and the transition area, but nothing terrible. My only goal for transitions was not to forget anything.
The above picture is a pretty good shot of my transition area. Bike, bag, towel and shoes. Transition (T1) wasn’t super fast, especially considering the run from the lake, but I didn’t waste any time. T1: 4:10.
BIKE: In nearly all triathlons, the bike portion is the longest. So it stands to reason it should be a priority in training, right? Well, for this first one I was so preoccupied with the swim that I didn’t focus on the bike like I should have. I did several long rides and was comfortable on my bike, but I knew I could cover the distance so I focused much of my attention elsewhere. (That was unwise.)
Coming out of the transition area, I was focused on not running into anyone and not riding in the wrong direction. Evidently, I was NOT focused on putting my sunglasses ON MY FACE. I’m sure at the time I was thinking I was saving time. Or something.
Sunglasses still hanging out of my mouth… And this is one of the race photos from further down the course… SO smooth.
In other news, the bike course about killed me.
Above. That’s the elevation of the bike course. See how the first 5 miles is uphill? Yeah, that was a little hard on my haven’t-spent-enough-time-riding-my-bike spirit.
Where the bars are darker, the climb is steeper. So the first few miles. And then again at mile 11.
There was a point during mile 11 at which I was moving so slowly up that hill that I thought I might actually topple over.
But I made it! I lost count of the people who passed me during the bike, but I made it!
GOALS FOR THE BIKE:
- Don’t crash.
- Don’t walk.
- Time/Pace: 15mph
MY BIKE TIME: 1:08:05, 13.2 mph
So… nowhere near 15mph. And the whole time I kept thinking, “if only I had clipless pedals… if only I had clipless pedals…” Because everybody knows expensive gear fixes everything, right?!
The transition from bike to run was quick because I didn’t have to change shoes, but it was a little rough considering I’d just spent every last ounce of leg power climbing the hellish bike hills. T2: 1:46.
RUN: Thank goodness this is the last leg of the race. I knew I could suffer through a 5K no matter how tired I was, but I hadn’t factored in the nutrition – or lack thereof – that I’d ingested during the race. Right, so other than the 5 hr Energy at the beginning of the race I hadn’t really had any other calories. I hadn’t made a plan for when to eat and what to eat, and the run really exposed that. I just ran out of gas.
After the bike, running feels SO weird. It’s almost like that feeling you get after you’ve been roller skating or ice skating – then put your street shoes back on. You lose your bearings a little. But my legs felt mostly normal again by the end of the first mile.
Running without music made it tough, too. I had to conjure up Kelly Clarkson in my mind.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone
What doesn’t kill you makes you fighter
Footsteps even lighter…
GOALS FOR THE RUN:
- No walking.
- Time: 32 minutes.
MY RUN TIME: 33:34.
Honestly. No energy left.
Lesson Learned the Hard Way: MUST EAT DURING TRIATHLONS. EVEN “SHORT” ONES.
Done! I finished! I smiled when I crossed the finish line and I FINISHED.
I love this picture and the fact that I am holding not one but TWO chicken sandwiches and a yogurt in my hand. Maybe shoulda cropped that out.
GOALS FOR FIRST TRIATHLON:
- Stay motivated to work out this summer.
- Overall Time Goal: 2 hours
OVERALL TIME: 2 hours 29 seconds!!
How’s THAT for accuracy?
So after all was said and done, I really enjoyed my first triathlon. I learned a lot. (A LOT.) But I had a great time. And it more than accomplished my original goal of finding something fun to do for the summer – when (half) marathoning wasn’t sounding so fun.
There were 9 women in my age group and when I glanced at the results after the race I was SHOCKED to learn that I was 8th overall. Even more shocked to learn that while I was 8th in the run and 9th in the bike… I was 7th in the swim! Of all things!
Ladies and gentlemen, I am a triathlete!