Hard core and intimidating? Hardly

Much delayed, but I promised to share my experiences from my first triathlon, so here goes:

There’s something that seems very hard-core and intimidating about a triathlete. Which is why I laughed in my brother’s face when he first suggested I race a triathlon.

But the truth is, I very much wanted to become comfortable on a bike – I loved the idea of using it as a primary mode of transportation, and if I wasn’t so scared of being out there I might actually be able to … I never cared much about swimming laps as exercise, but I enjoy spending time in a pool so that can’t be all bad, right?

And I know myself and workouts, and I’m more consistent if I’m training for something.

Was my training perfect? Hardly. My first problem was my training program was way too easy. It was intended for someone who had never worked out in their life. By the time it had me “up to” 20 minutes of cycling, I was already doing 2 hours of cycling. So I followed the training loosely but without a specific structure. There were some negatives to the non-structure, such as I didn’t swim for about 3 weeks before the tri. Oops.

But, here it was: race week. Ready or not.

REI just happened to be hosting a triathlon clinic a few days before my race, and going there (I dragged Chris with me) turned out to be such a blessing. It was mostly refresher for me – telling me things I’d already heard from Scott or my brother or reading online or in books. But I did learn a few new things and I also had a very vivid image of how to prepare for race day.

Mine is # 88 (the bike in the background. With two wheels.)

Race morning came and the transition area opened at 6 am. I was awake at 4:15, at the race site at 5:50. Have I mentioned I’m not a morning person? That’s the hardest part about racing, in my opinion. Jeff not only was right there with me, but he had camera in tow. Now that’s support. I set up all by myself using the knowledge I’d gotten from Kevin and the REI clinic. When Kevin arrived I had him check my work and I’m pleased to report I did it right.

The race didn’t start till 7:30 but there was plenty to do. Transition area setup, bathroom breaks, mixing Heed into a bottle for my bike. We had to “get marked” – in black marker, on my thighs and arms were my race number; on the back of my calf was my age (Why? I’m told it’s so those behind me on the course can see if I’m in their age group, and if so, can try to pass me). There was a warmup lap to swim – this was in order to get my swim cap on and make sure my goggles weren’t leaking.

I knew a few people competing in this one – Kevin, Scott, Alex and Vince. Also, Jeff was there with camera in hand (he was a trooper when I woke him up at 5 am). Amy and her girls showed up to give cheers right before the race started. Her husband Scott was directing traffic at one of the intersections on the bike leg (he’s a state trooper). Jenn and Mia and Sadie came to cheer us on too. I gotta tell you, nothing warms my heart more than hearing Mia yell my name as I go by. Chris came to cheer me on and check out the race, as this came just a few weeks before his Very First Triathlon.

So, after getting everything ready and about 20 trips to the bathroom (I was trying really hard to be hydrated the day before and morning of …), it was time to begin.

The swim

Waiting to tri

I wrote previously about the swim, so I won’t go to0 much into it again. But if first impressions are key, and the swim is the first impression, I’d say it was love at first sight. The waiting in line for 20 minutes before I began was really nice. I liked making new friends while I waited to join the other athletes in the water. I did realize I was hungry as I was standing in line to swim, and I wondered if that would come back to bite me later.

The 300-yard swim went by very quickly. I was surprised! Swimming in a pool for a tri was different than I had practiced (I only learned this at the REI clinic a few days before.) I had mistakenly assumed we’d be swimming up and down our designated lane, doing 6 laps or 12 lengths until the 300 yards was achieved. I was curious how they were going to keep count.

I was wrong, though. The way the swim (for this tri, anyway) works is this:

Get in the pool on the far right side.
Swim the first length. Turn around at the wall.
Swim back, in the same lane.
At the wall, duck under the rope into lane 2. Swim up and down lane 2, then duck under the rope to lane 3.
Lane 3 to lane 4, etc.
Continue until you’ve reached the far left side of the pool, then get out and you’re done!

I preferred this method, hands down. There’s a visual representation of your progress – you can see how close to the end of the pool you are, versus just counting laps. It went by really fast for me. Like I said before, if I had passed the two people in the water that I should have passed, I believe I would have been done much faster. The last couple of lanes for me were super slow. Hindsight is 20/20, though, and this tri was a learning experience. I learned! And I did pass two other people!

(Correction to previous post regarding swim rules. Went to a USA Triathlon (the people who make the official rules for most tris) meeting the night before the Ballantyne tri a couple of weeks ago and they mentioned that it is perfectly acceptable to walk along the bottom, according to their rules. Not sure why there’s a descreprency with the Baxter tri officials yelling at people to not touch the bottom, and it was a rule I’d heard before that as well. So, to be safe, I’ll plan to actually swim the swim portion of future tris – who would have thought? – but if you choose to walk then according to USA Triathlon, that is okay.)

Swim time was 7 minutes and 9 seconds, and it was 300 yards.

The swim-to-bike transition

From left, Lexi, Amy, Emma

I got out of the pool and started running toward the transition area. I saw Amy as I got out of the pool and that gave me a burst of energy! As I ran, I saw other swimmers were walking. I almost paused to walk, being in the mindset to follow what others around me were doing, but forget that! So I ran (it was a short distance anyway.)

Reached the transition area, dried my feet, and sat down to put on my running shoes (I didn’t wear my bike shoes since I’m still not clipping in.) I took an energy gel, which I know is something I could have been doing on the bike instead of in transition, but I am still not 100 percent comfortable multi-tasking on the bike. With the hunger I felt waiting to swim, I figured the gel was a good idea. I put my helmet on and made sure the chin strap was fastened (you can get disqualified if you get on the bike without your helmet or chin strap fastened – it’s a safety thing.)

Speaking of multitasking, I still haven’t mastered the art of reaching down to my bike’s cup holder to grab my water bottle. I know, that seems crazy, but because of this I’ve been biking with my Camelbak pack. Seeing as how I was going to be running after, I figured hydration was extremely important, so I was the dork on race day with a backpack. I didn’t see anyone else with one of these so I think I need to practice reaching for my bottle while on the road …

So, backpack, check. Helmet, check. Shoes, check. I was ready to ride!

Transition time was 2 minutes and 32 seconds. I can probably shave some time off of that next time with minimal effort.

The bike

Scott
Scott

So, I’m a slow cyclist. And I’m okay with that – I’m still just a little amazed that I’m even doing it at all. I figure as the comfort level improves, so will the speed. And when I started the bike ride, I was uncertain of what to think. It seemed like a long road ahead of me!

Yeah, those people I passed in the swim? Blew by me on the bike. I found out later one of them works at the bike shop and is a professional cyclist. Well, then!

I saw Scott at one of the intersections, directing traffic, and that was really fun to see someone I knew. I rode past and said, “Hey Scott!” and he said “Hey Melissa” in his deadpan humor, as if this happened every day. Loved it!

I saw the other Scott (triathlete Scott, as opposed to Trooper Scott) about a quarter of the way into my bike ride. He was on the way back and he was walking. “Oh no!” I said. “What happened?” Turns out his chain had gotten messed up and he was having to walk on the uphills and coast on the bike on the downhills. I saw Kevin close to the halfway point – he was on his way back too.

I reached the halfway point and turned around. I knew from test rides that the second half of the ride was an easier portion, so I was looking forward to it. I actually ended up passing a few people on the way back! Didn’t expect that to happen. I did see Scott walking with his bike again, and this time I passed him. Sucked he was having bike issues!

Bike time was 1:05:58, and it was 16.75 miles. 

The bike-to-run transition

The guy in front of me almost fell as he dismounted his bike, clearly having Jello legs. “Poor guy,” I thought as I coasted up behind him on the dismount area. I got off my bike and almost fell too! I thought I’d be ready for that feeling, as I’d practiced lots of brick workouts (bike, then run right after to get used to it), but apparently I’d pushed a little harder on race day because that was the wobbliest my legs have ever been! 

I stumbled into the transition area, racked my bike, took off my helmet and put on my race belt, which already had my race number on it and a gel inside the pocket. Took one last gulp of water and ran out!

Transition time was 1 minute and 5 seconds.

The run

running across the finish
running across the finish

Man, that run was hard. The first part was uphill, almost none of it was shaded, and it was getting really hot out there! It helped that my “cheering squad” was out in full force by this point, but I felt like I was crawling.

Scott actually caught up to me on the run. I was shocked, seeing as how he’d walked a lot of the bike portion. He said someone actually was able to help him near the end, so that was a good thing. He passed me on the uphill (which he always does in races; he smokes me on the uphills, I get him on the downhills), and he was kind enough to remind me that he’d been walking a lot so he had fresh legs, and also that he was seeded higher than me so I had already beat him anyway (meaning he got a head start since he was a faster swimmer).

I passed a few people on the run. The highlight was a woman standing in her driveway with a hose. “Want water?” she asked as I approached. For a second I’m sure I looked at her like she was crazy, then I realized what she was offering. “Sure!” I said. She turned on the hose and sprayed up, and I ran underneath it. Felt wonderful.

Near mile 3 I saw Kevin in the distance. “I’m gonna catch him,” I thought. He was walking and I was running (albeit slowly.) I was getting closer and closer, but the finish line was getting near and he was doing a walk/jog combo that was keeping him just out of my reach. So when I finally realized I wasn’t going to catch him in time, I figured I’d encourage him. So I yelled out, “Hey Kevin! You better not let me catch you!” He turned around and saw me and started running. Mission accomplished!

I ended up finishing just behind him. That was pretty cool. I heard people cheering for him as I rounded the corner to the finish line, and I was the next person to finish after him (for the record, I have to brag that I beat him by two minutes – he was also seeded ahead of me, so started earlier than I did. He had hip problems on the run, hence the walking.)

Run time was 32:54, and the run was 3.4 miles. 

Things I learned:

after the race
Joining my friends, the triathletes. I'm one too, now!

= I look like a dork in my tri suit, bike helmet, and Camelbak backpack. I need new sunglasses too.
= I’m a faster swimmer than I gave myself credit for.
= The one-piece tri suit is awesome during the race. When it’s not awesome? Bathroom breaks.
= Running is hard. Running is really hard after swimming and biking.
= Triathlons are not intimidating. In my group at least, everyone was just as nervous as I was!
= Triathlons are fun, and I stayed injury free all during my training – no aches and pains or anything. I will be doing more of these.

Sally, Kevin, me
Sally, Kevin and me at the bike-to-run transition. We had the fastest T2 of any of the other relay teams! And we tied for fastest T1!

Seriously, I cannot wait to do another one. Lots more. Since I waited so long to blog this I can add a quick note that Kevin, Sally and I did a relay at the Tri! Ballantyne a few weeks later, and I did the run portion. It was awesome being part of a team! I felt like I “cheated” on the calorie burn that day – with all the activity, it was just as invested as if I’d done the entire race – there’s still the transition area to set up, the time to get marked, the excitement of the day – but intead of burning 1,048 calories as I did in the Baxter tri, I burned only 279 calories. However, it was a great motivator – as I was running, I was realizing it wasn’t just me I was running for – it was Kevin and Sally too. That certainly pushed me a lot, and I actually got a PR! (27:35.)

Read Kevin’s race report here about Ballantyne. Read his Baxter report here. See more photos from the Baxter tri (taken by Jeff) here.

Oh yeah, and I am a triathlete! That feels freakin awesome to say.