Part of the thrill of trying new sports is the anticipation of your first time out. I can still remember the first time I competed in a 5K run, a roller hockey game, a new softball league and a multisport event. That last one was a duathlon, so even though it was different and new, it didn’t come with the element of fear that my first triathlon, Trizou in Columbia, MO. came with. None of the other sports or ANY other I have tried came with the blatant admission that yes, part of it could, indeed, kill you.
Now, I have bombed down mountains on a bicycle at breakneck speed… could that kill me? Yes. But I was in control and could simply squeeze the brakes if I wanted to. But my perception of water has always been that I have no control over it. If I get in trouble… I’m dead. I know that this is actually a misperception and that most things that would kill you in the water would kill you anywhere (heart attack, breathing problems, etc.) but the PERCEPTION has always frightened me. I had already won the greatest part of this triathlon before I ever jumped in the water because I fought and won against my fear of the water itself. I doubt seriously I will ever be anywhere near competitive as a swimmer, but at least I can swim now, and I’m not afraid to jump in. That was a big victory for me.
So let’s talk races here. The thing that struck me immediately about triathlon, as I have mentioned before, was the huge amount of planning it took. Compared to running, where if I remembered my shoes and dressed right I could stagger out of the truck five minutes before the race and be good to go, you have to THINK about triathlons and plan for/pack for them carefully. Below is my race report, but I feel the need to start with pre-race because it is as much a part of triathlon as the swim, bike or ride. I know it will get a little easier as time goes on and I get experience so I know more what I need, but for now it is still a conscious effort.
The day before the race I spent trying to focus on what I thought I needed. The weather report was sketchy at best and there was at least a chance of rain all the way up until go time. The temperatures were forecast to be upper 50’s at race start time but depending on wind and rain there was no telling what I would need in transition. I tried not to empty the closet into my race bag and settled on a standard option, a longsleeved option and a “damn it’s cold” option. USAT sends you a laminated card to hang from your pack that has a checklist on it and I found this very useful. Mostly because my triathlon “stuff” had gotten scattered in the weeks previous to the event and I had to chase it down. My number belt, sun tan lotion, etc. were all over the place. The card also gives you a couple of blank lines to add your “stuff” to. One thing I added was a trash bag to cover your stuff in transition in the event of rain. Other than that, it had everything on it I needed AND, most importantly, kept me focused enough so that I didn’t put crap in the bag I didn’t need. I spent the evening cleaning my bike (my chain was gross) and making final tweaks to it. I raised my saddle another half inch and it really helped. I think I’ve finally got the bike dialed in as much as I can.
I also thought about nutrition a bit. I found when I was training for the marathon that supplements (Gu, Heed, et al.) didn’t really have an effect on me unless I was out for more than two hours so I bagged all that stuff and just decided to go with a water bottle in transition filled with Heed. My goal was to be in under 1:30:00 so I wasn’t too worried about dehydration or running out of gas.
I went to bed about 9pm, slept like crap (just like I thought I would and usually do before big races) and got up around 4am. My wonderful wife had pre-prepared the oatmeal and set the coffee maker so that I had a good breakfast waiting for me so I dispatched that as quickly as I could and then jumped in the truck, having pre-loaded everything the night before. I dressed in wind pants, my tri-shorts, a throw away shirt and a light jacket. A quick check of the weather before I left let me know that the rain would all go south, but I made sure I had the trash bag, just in case.
The transition area opened at 5am but I knew that, this race being on campus, parking would SUCK so I wanted to get to the site early. I rolled in at 4:30, got the best parking spot in the house and eased back and tried to relax for a minute. The combination of an extremely noisy (but very cute) robin right outside my truck window professing his love to the ladies and pre-race nerves finally got me to give up on that after about 5 minutes and I went down to the trucks to see if I could help. After carrying some tables and water around, I went back to my truck and got my stuff. The transition area opened right on time.
I got in line, got inked and then headed to transition. They had us categorized by age group. They used swim caps of different colors to differentiate us and then just put them on the ends of the bike racks as well. So all we had to do was go into transition and find out swim cap color and we knew we could rack our bikes there. I picked the rack closest to “bike out” (because I HATE running in bike shoes) and started my setup.
I picked an obnoxious towel with big white and red stripes on it as my transition towel so it would be easy to spot in my delirium. I laid out my bike shoes, the warm and cold options for clothing, my water bottle and race belt on the towel. I put my helmet on my aero bars because it fits snug and stays put.
The hardest part of all this for a newbie is “thinking” the race through in your mind. I almost forgot to leave my sunglasses and kept looking at the spot and wondering what I had forgotten. I had to wait until just before transition closed to go back and put my running shoes down because I forgot I was wearing them… heh!
At 7am we wandered up to the spectacular MU pool and the race was on.
The pool facility was jam packed with triathletes of all shapes and sizes. There were signs on the wall that simply had swim times on them and you were to line up in these groups. The times went from 5:00 to 15:00. I snuggled in with the 9 minute crowd and waited for the elites to go off. Promptly at 7:15 they were called to the line and the race was on. I have to say that it was worth the price of admission just to watch a legend like Simon Lessing swim. He looked EFFORTLESS. But yet he swam the distance in just under 5 minutes! It was awesome to see. Then, still mesmerized by the elites, we stood up and began our slow shuffle towards the starting line. They sent athletes off every 10 seconds. With nearly 700 athletes in the race, you can imagine it was painfully slow. We occupied our time with nervous chatter, broken up with an occasional cheer for someone we knew. Triathletes are awesome people. I met several people and we talked and actually made plans to meet at the next one (more on that later) as well as trading stories, tips and secret fears. I was surprised to hear how many people fear the run.
As our time grew closer I was pleased at the convenience of the bathrooms as I had to deal with one last cup of coffee before we started. As we made the turn around the pool deck I ditched my shirt, started my warm up and dealt with my secret fears of failure in the water. My turn was up and I was counted in… 3, 2, 1… go.
You cross the starting mat and then jump in the water and take off. My goggles stayed on and I was very happy to have taken my shiny new swim cap to the pool the day before and swimming with it. It would have really been a distraction had I not because I had never swam with one before. As it was, once I started swimming, I forgot about everything but my training. I started off breathing every 4 strokes and trying not to kick too much. I just wanted to be in a rhythm and relax. The pool was deeper than I train in and twice as long. I actually found this to my liking as I could get in more of a rhythm. The markings on the pool bottom were different though and I borked my first two turns by cruising a little too much and crashing into the wall on the half stroke. Getting under the lane lines was easy except for one turn where I got to the wall at the same time as a couple of other swimmers who were faster than me. That was a mess but worked itself out quickly. I was passed twice in the water and re-passed one of them back on the last lap as he tired near the end.
I know this is going to sound weird but the swim seemed short. I found myself surprised to look up and see the last lane coming up and briefly worried that I had missed something. One last turn and I was at the wall. I grabbed the ladder and hauled out, disoriented but thrilled to conquer the swim. This triathlon includes the run from the pool to the transition area in your swim time. My swim time was 10:57. Subtracting a minute or so for the run would put me at about 10:00 for the swim. Not great, but missing the turns and ducking under the lane lines slowed me down a bit. Either way, I’ll take it.
My disorientation coming out of the pool wore off quickly and I headed out the door to transition. I found myself analyzing the weather all the way to the transition area and debating what to wear. Ultimately as I crossed the timing mat into transition I settled on the warm weather option. I briefly saw my family waiving at me, gave a weak smile and a wave back and headed to my rack. Putting on a tight tri jersey over a flabby, wet body is a real pain in the ass. I did the “my shirt is stuck” dance around in circles next to my bike for at least 15 seconds before it finaly gave up and pulled the rest of the way down. I jumped in my shoes, forgot to get a drink, clipped on my belt and out the door I went. My T1 time was way over a minute due to that stupid jersey.
The bike was a blur. I passed so many people I lost count. There was no wind, I was dressed perfectly, the hills still sucked but they sucked for everyone and I felt like I had lots of power. My computer pick up had gotten bumped out of place but intermittently picked up just enough to let me monitor my progress. It seemed like I was going faster than usual but I’m wasn’t sure. I just tried to be consistent and spin the pedals. The machine took care of everything else. At one point a friend who was on corner duty as a volunteer jumped out from behind a car when he saw me and yelled a cheer at me, which served to scare the crap out of me as well as give me a good laugh. Thanks Steve…! I felt good in the aero position and the bike performed well. I was pleased with my first effort in race conditions and came in just over 45 minutes. As I came into transition I did remember to step out of my shoes (I feared I would forget and have to run in my shoes), hopped off at the line and wobbled into transition, realizing at this point that I had gone WAY too hard on the bike.
On shaky legs I staggered to the rack and dropped my bike off, got out of my lid and stepped into my shoes. Good, fast transition (still forgot to drink) at about 50 seconds.
My legs were PISSED at me for hammering so hard on the bike. I felt slow and sluggish as I crossed the run out and headed up the slight hill into campus. My first big challenge was a set of 5 steps we had to go up and I nearly crashed into the top one when my legs protested the “UP” command. The first mile was slow at about 8:00. However, shortly after that, my legs came back and I started to feel good again. I focused on turnover and tried to enjoy the fact that I was just about to finish my first triathlon. The campus is beautiful and was well stocked with volunteers on the windy course. My second mile was a 7:31 and I knew I had it in the bag at that point. I had been steadily passing people on the run but got passed by one of the guys I was at the pool with. He pulled out a bit of a lead in the first mile but I could tell I was getting closer to him so I jumped on it and made catching him my focus. I caught him with a half mile to go and never looked back. I crossed the finish line under good power and my last mile was a 7:04. I almost wish the run was longer. I really felt like I wanted to keep going!
Final time: 1:22:01. I have no idea where I finished. 211 out of 700ish? I don’t care. I’m a triathlete. That’s cool…
Thoughts of a first time triathlete:
I did it. I love it. Columbia Multisport Club is awesome. I could never have done this without the support of my family. I need to lose 30 pounds if I want to be competitive. When is the next one. All of these things come to mind… But the one thing that keeps coming back to me is that even though this was hard, it is DOABLE. I CAN do triathlons. Maybe not Ironmans, but very few people can. The sport of triathlon is outrageously fun, addictive and DOABLE by the average person. Yes, you train a lot. But for sprint distance it is no more of an impact than half marathon training. It’s a challenge, but it should be. Shouldn’t it?
I’m taking the day off and then I’m back on the trail and bike and training hard for the next one coming up in June! This will be my first open water swim so that should be fun. I think I’m more afraid of the wetsuit than the water…