I survived my first triathlon!!!
I had SUCH a blast and it wasn’t nearly as scary as I had thought it would be! I was nervous about getting swam over or kicked in the head, drowning, getting in a bike crash, not being able to finish, plus a whole host of other things, but of course none of them happened.
On Saturday I had to drop off my bike at transition, pick up my race package, and attend a mandatory meeting at 4pm. I had some business to attend to earlier in the afternoon but figured we’d have no problem getting there in time. As usual I underestimated city traffic on a hot sunny day, plus the lack of parking at the beach on a hot sunny day, so I was a little stressed by the time we got to the race site.
Waiting in line to pick up my race package my boyfriend was nice enough to point out the fact that it looked like I was the only person without a proper racing bike. And he was right. Here I was with my little city-hybrid I bought at Sport Chek, surrounded by bikes that were most likely worth more than what I had in my bank account. I’ve never been to a bike event, so I was pretty fascinated by all the fancy fixings a lot of them had.
I was starting to feel a little self-conscious with my crappy bike and lack of a proper sport bathing suit. Triathlon can be a VERY expensive sport, so I’d already told myself that I’d have to make do with what I had for now, and if it was something I really enjoyed THEN I could spend thousands of dollars on bikes and tri-suits and wet suits. But being the competitive person I am, once I was in the thick of it I didn’t want to look like the noob!
And then this happened:
There were special green caps for nervous swimmers, which I definitely qualified as, but of course they were out by the time I got there. So instead my swim cap got marked with two giant “N”s. It was official. I was the Triathlon Noob. At that point I figured I might as well just embrace it. (But also secretly hoped that there would be at least one chick doing the swim in a bikini – thankfully there was!)
I was up at the crack of dawn on Sunday and actually had a pretty great sleep despite the heat so I was feeling good. The pre-race jitters didn’t kick in until a couple hours later so I had no problem scarfing down my bowl of overnight oats before heading to the race site.
I was trying to be strategic about my hydration, so I wanted to consume as much water as possible until about 2 hours before the race, at which point I would just take a few sips here and there. I made sure to drink extra water the Saturday night and my plan seemed to work – no need to pee during the race and no feelings of dehydration! At least I did something right 😉
We got there two hours before my wave started which gave me lots of time to get myself ready in transition, get in a practice swim, and watch the other competitors dash off into the water. Watching the Pros, it didn’t look like the swim would be so bad. I had visions of chaos as everyone dove into the water, and these guys looked relatively calm.
But then as other waves started I realized the calmness was only because there were less people in the Pro wave. It WAS chaos. Arms flailing, waves splashing, human-made currents. I was definitely sticking to my plan of walking in the water after everyone else had gone in.
About 45 minutes before my wave started the jitters started to kick in, so I did the logical thing and drank my Vega Pre-Workout Energizer which largely consists of sugar and caffeine. I had a couple of energy chews and that was that for my pre-race fuel.
7:23 quickly rolled around and it was time to start! I saw a girl with the green swim cap I should have been wearing and secretly wanted to roll her for it. But before I could think about it any further I was walking into the water and swimming to the first orange buoy a couple hundred meters away.
It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected. The water was so calm that early in the morning so it was easy to stop and tread water or float on my back when I needed a break. About half way through my stomach started to get a little knotted and I couldn’t tell if it was from nerves or from food. I was starting to get tired near the end and felt a little panicky, but I made it out of the water without getting pulled out by a lifeguard!
In transition I discovered why tri-suits are handy: so you don’t have to pull clothes on over a wet bathing suit. Getting dressed, getting my shoes on, and un-racking my bike took me 6 minutes on the dot, so reducing the amount of time I spend in transition is definitely a goal for next year.
The bike course was also much different than expected. I envisioned being in a tight pack of cyclists and unable to move to the left or right without getting crashing, but there was hardly anyone around me! I was really enjoying myself until the hill climb started. I was totally unaware of this hill.
The course map marked a triangle where the hill was, but I kind of just assumed the hill would be just like the triangle – up and then right back down. But no. This was like a 6 or 7km steady hill climb. We weren’t allowed headphones or anything to play music so I was stuck with me, myself, and I the whole time.
“In 1 minute you can stop and take a break.” “Okay, you made it a minute. Just go for another 30 seconds.” “If you stop now it’ll just be harder to get started. Think about something else” “Think about what you want to eat. What are you going to eat after?” “Okay, stomach feels like shit. Don’t think about food. Don’t think about food.” “My ass hurts” “Sweet baby Jesus please let this be over soon.”
And then it was time to turn around! Hallelujah, this would be alllll down hill. But it wasn’t. There were flat parts, and lots of them. “Where the hell were these flat parts before? I swear to god this was all uphill.”
THEN I got my downhill. Relief. I was starting to feel really good at this point. My stomach still felt like I had an animal rolling around inside or something, but I was getting pumped. It was almost time to run and I had plans to sprint that shit.
After re-racking my bike in transition and downing a Gu I ran as fast as my wobbly legs could go. My pace felt a lot stronger than it had during any of my brick workouts so I felt like I was on track to finish in at least 30 minutes. “COME ONNNNNNN MOTHAFUCKAAAAA YOU CAN DOOO THISSSS. RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN” was pretty much all that went through my head for those 5km.
As I neared the end I almost missed the turn-off for the sprint participants to head to the finish line, but once I got myself back on course I saw the clock which said 1:53. I was going to do it in under 2 hours! GOAL. CRUSHED. Two goals crushed actually, since my first goal was to not die in the ocean. My overall time was 1:50:16, with a 17:13 swim, 59:44 bike, and 25:44 run.
I felt amazing afterwards. It was the perfect distance to feel challenged yet not feel dead at the end. I wanted to ride my bike home! After a quick scare of being told we wouldn’t be able to leave the parking lot until 3pm (it was 9:30am at this point) we managed to get escorted out of the lot by a traffic controller and headed off for a delicious breakfast. I usually go for things like french toast, waffles, or pancakes as my victory meal. But since I was feeling so good I wanted something a little healthier, yet still filling.
I had a delicious bowl of ashoura wheat, a chilled Middle Eastern breakfast bowl with wheat berries, raisins, nuts, and vanilla, with some fruit and yogurt on the side. And of course picked at hashbrowns and eggs off others’ plates 😉
I had such an amazing time and am already looking forward to tackling the Olympic distance next year. With everything that’s been going on with my IT band training for this triathlon has been a big relief. I had a big, scary and exciting goal to work towards with training sessions that left me both invigorated and exhausted, but without any of the pain and frustration I dealt with while training for my last two halfs.
If you’re interested in tackling a triathlon, here’s a few things I recommend:
- Unless you already kick ass at running, cycling, AND swimming, start with a sprint. While the distances are shorter (300-750m swim, 20-25km bike ride, and 3-5km run), becoming efficient enough at each to be able to do one after another is challenging, yet totally doable. You’ll still have to work hard and push yourself, but with some proper training under your belt you’ll be able to finish the race feeling as exhilarated and pumped as I did to complete another one. Not only that, the amount of training required for a sprint is considerably less than what’s required for the longer distances
- Know your course and practice accordingly. I was NOT prepared for that hill climb. A few little inclines around the Seawall and one steep block made up the extent of my hill training. If the run portion is on trails you better find some trails to hit, and likewise, if the swim is in open water…you better find some open water to practice in
- If you’re swimming in open water find out whether wetsuits are recommended or required, and if you plan on wearing one, practice! I say this from…lack of experience, shall we call it? As I mentioned in my last post, I hummed and hawwed about using a wetsuit for awhile but didn’t give myself enough time to train with one. I’ve heard it can change the dynamic of your swim, I’ve heard it can’t. But I didn’t want to risk swimming in one for the first time the morning of. I also watched a few people struggle for over 20 minutes to slip into their suits Sunday morning, so becoming efficient at putting one on and taking it off is a whooole other task
- Just as with any sporting event, practice your pre-race fueling. I think I got the hydration down pat, but I still need some work in the food department. This goes for half marathons too. Unless I’m pressed for time, oatmeal is pretty much always what I eat before a training session and I never have any problems, however my stomach always seems to rebel during half marathons and did again during the triathlon. It could be the addition of nerves, or it could have been the fact that I probably had too many gels and chews on Sunday (they just taste so good!), but this is something I have to continue working at
- Don’t feel the need to buy into all the fancy gear until you know this is something you want to pursue further. Between wetsuits, tri-suits, cycling shoes, running shoes, goggles, sun glasses, and the racing bike you could easily spend tens of thousands of dollars if you wanted to. I made-do just fine with my bathing suit that was given to me by someone who bought the wrong size, my bike from Sport Chek, my tank top I bought four years ago for $10 and some discounted shorts I bought at a race expo. The morning of I kept talking about how I was hoping there would be at least one more person with crappier equipment than me…at least one person with a cruiser bike….at least one chick in a bikini. Then I wouldn’t feel so bad. Finally my mom said “why don’t you just be that girl?” And she was right. I embraced my poverty triathlon and didn’t even come in last 😉
- Have fun with it! This is something that was so totally terrifying for me, yet felt so freaking AWESOME to finish, and even train for. I loved the high of doing brick workouts. While I can’t say I enjoyed my swimming lessons and pool sessions very much, I had a lot of fun splashing around like a fish in the ocean the few times I did get out there. I loved telling people I was training for a triathlon. Going to the “athlete’s meeting” and being in the “athlete’s area” made me feel like such a badass. If only in my own mind, I’m now a triathlete. Half marathons are sooooo 2013 😉
So now it’s time for me to enjoy a week off from training, then it’s five weeks until my next half marathon in August. How ’bout you readers? What are you training for? Any experienced triathletes have any more tips for us noobs? Feel free to share them! 🙂