In December of last year… I couldn’t swim. Oh I could splash and flounder about, but getting from one end of a pool to the other was an effort in convincing the lifeguards that I wasn’t drowning or having a seizure. But I learned that this race, The Redman Triathlon, was going to be the site of our club national championships. Since I grew up in Oklahoma, this was a sign. If I was ever going to actually “do” a triathlon… since I’m in a “triathlon” club… This was the push. So I signed up for a gym membership and this race on the same day. January 5th was the first time I had ever done a real workout in the water. My first “lap” in the water was right at 3 minutes for 50 yards.
Then there was the matter of my bike. A cyclocross bike that I used to commute. I knew it would be ludicrous to buy a triathlon specific bike (like buying a Ferrari for your first car). I am a mountain biker from back in the day but I had never “raced” on the road. I stuck some aero bars on it, scooted the seat as far forward as I could and called it good.
So of the 3 sports in triathlon, I was comfortable with one. Running. THAT, my friends, is what we call a “challenge”.
Now let’s fast forward to this race. Through rides in the snow, drinking lots of pool and lake water trying to learn to swim, a bike crash and 4 other triathlons, I stood in the water at the starting line of Redman as a rookie with more questions still than answers. Both overtrained and undertrained, with good nutrition and bad, feeling confident and terrified at the same time. Then the horn went off.
First, an all out compliment. Redman was VERY well organized and supported. Through driving rain on the full and half Ironman course, to a race site that was, in a word, boglike (if that is a word), they put on a professional race with smiles and helpful people all around. Also, props to TRI-OKC for providing the majority of the volunteer support as well. Besides being a tough club with a lot of good athletes (congrats on your National Championship!!), they seemed to understand what it takes to make an event great and showed up in numbers. It was great to see.
OK… Back to the starting line.
Due to an unfortunate lake level rise overnight, the buoys drifted offline and the course had to be reset. A minor 15 minute delay was all it took to reset the course from a square to a (sort of) olympic triangle. The start was in the water, the course went counter clockwise and the first leg paralleled the shore about 20 yards from the beach. This made it VERY shallow. Since I breathe to the right I started as close to the buoys as possible.
My strategy was to focus on the things I have been working on. Swim slowly and deliberately, finish every stroke, extend and glide, be smooth, relax. If I do these things, I am faster. The hard part is to zone out the hype and be calm at the start. When the horn sounded, I let everyone go. I knew that if I swam my race I would catch most of them.
The swim seemed long but I didn’t care. It felt good. The funny thing about swimming faster is that it causes another problem. When you don’t swim “off the back”, you are right in the middle of the scrum. Within 20 strokes I caught up to the pack and then there were elbows and feet everywhere. Finding a hole to swim in was a challenge. I must have been swimming faster because people were drafting on ME. THAT was a new experience… Sighting the first buoy was easy because there was a huge power plant in the distance behind it. It was very disconcerting, however, to be swimming and see people RUNNING in the water beside me (some even passing me). I didn’t know that was legal! No matter. I can’t imagine running half of your swim would help your legs when you actually got to the real run portion of the race!
The real challenge for me came when we made the turn. I could NOT sight the buoy. All I could do was be a sheep and follow the flock, hoping the fast guys knew where they were going. It worked. I finally caught sight of the final turn buoy about 200 yards from it and I was right on track, if a little to the right of where I wanted to be. During the whole back leg of the swim, I really tried to focus on swimming in the tube and gliding as much as possible. Except for the occasional crash from my scrum mates, I was able to do this most of the leg. Once I made the final turn and spotted the Red Bull arch, I had to smile a bit. That felt good.
As I stood up in the water I checked my watch. I was right at 17 minutes for the 820 yard swim. Right where I wanted to be and MUCH faster than my last race. Not fast, by any means, but average. The fact that I came out of the water surrounded by people with my color swim cap, a few with the cap color of the wave AHEAD of me and only got passed by one from the wave behind me was all I needed.
I heard the cheers of my teammates as I ran up to transition. I didn’t look or wave, but it really helped.
This transition area was well set up but for some reason it took me several times rehearsing my transition beforehand to actually feel comfortable with where my bike was. Everybody kept moving my landmarks, so as I came in to transition I just kept reminding myself to go to the “M” rack and turn. I ran right to my bike, stomped out of my wetsuit and then realized I had made a rookie mistake when I put my bike helmet on and it sat on top of my head like a beanie. The headlock straps in the back had slid closed during all the jostling of travel and it took a second or two to get them adjusted out. Also, my hands didn’t seem to want to work so I couldn’t get my swim cap off. All of this maybe cost me 5-10 seconds so it was no big deal, but it was disturbing. My T1 time was about 2 minutes. Not bad with the run in and it was top 25% for speed, so it was OK. I ran barefoot to the mount line and hopped on the bike.
Getting in my shoes on the bike went much better this time. After reading some articles from professional athletes about getting in your shoes on the bike, I realized that my mistake from last time was just trying to do it too quickly. I took my time, got up to speed and then got in. It worked much better.
I just wish I had been able to train more on the bike. My work schedule just didn’t allow it. I was hoping that my swim and run fitness would transfer to the bike but I knew better. Biking will help your run. But more running doesn’t help you on the bike. I could feel it even in the first 3 miles. I could spin fine, but I couldn’t hold it. I could climb fine and, in fact, was where I did the majority of my passing (thank you Columbia hills!). But on the flats (read: majority of the course) I just couldn’t push a big gear (or spin a smaller one) as fast as I knew I should. The course went out across the dam and turned into city streets. It was mostly smooth, devoid of scenery or spectators, but well marked and supervised. I was passed by course marshalls no less than 5 times in two laps of this 7 mile course. I got passed 4 times and passed about 10 people. There was little wind and it was mostly overcast and cool. Perfect conditions. Too bad I couldn’t take advantage of them. I had hoped to be over 21mph for this race, but I came in just a tic under 20. Disappointing, but I can’t say I didn’t expect it.
I got out of my shoes with about 200 yards to go to the mount line and stepped off easily and trotted into the transition area. My legs felt surprisingly good and, although tired, were not wobbly at all. I attribute this to NOT KICKING on the swim thanks to the wetsuit. Anyway, I found my spot quickly got out of my helmet and into my shoes and I was out in 1:20. This was a GOOD transition for me.
MAN… Was I glad to be out on the run…! I settled into a comfortable pace and then pushed it just a bit. I ignored my legs for the first mile because they actually felt better than they said they did and just tried to focus on breathing and tracking down the guy in front of me. And then the next one… and so on. My only indication of pace was the fact that, other than one woman who I traded paint with a couple of times before she finally stepped on it and pulled away, all I did was steadily pass people the entire run. There were no surprises from behind and when I made the final turn and heard our now really loud crew cheering for me I knew I was done. My average for the 5K run was 7:50. Decent. Not great. But decent.
My overall finish was 1:27:42. I was 82nd overall and 11th in my age group out of 25. I was disappointed I didn’t score any points for the club, but I would have had to go 2:30 faster to catch 10th place, which I could have done if I had been better on the bike. Kind of a felt like I let the club down a bit. I don’t think it would have mattered in the grand scheme of things because TRI-OKC beat us by 40 or 50 points, but still, it was a personal thing. Being with the club was awesome. What great people. Long after most people had gone home we were still there cheering on the final competitors. Didn’t matter if they were on our team or not. That was cool.
I don’t know… No more triathlons this year. This begins my “off” season. I want to play and have fun now. Maybe some mountain biking an trail running? For sure I will keep running and swimming. I need to come up with a training plan that lets me bike more. The writing is on the wall for triathlons. If you REALLY want to be faster, be better on the bike. You spend the most time on the bike and even a one mile an hour improvement can shave minutes off your time. I also want to stretch and lift this winter, just to change things up.
Whatever I decide, I know several things. I love triathlons. I love what they do to me, physically (lost 35 pounds this year!) and emotionally. They challenge me to do things outside my comfort zone. But all the time I’m out there, I feel so much better. I love being a part of the club. And finally, I really enjoy the variety. Although running will always be my favorite sport of the three, the monotony got to me sometimes. Now when I run I WANT to. I look forward to it again.
These are my mental snapshots of the weekend and the event.
- I questioned myself about mid season. I’m old… will I ever be able to improve… Then I had the privilege of standing at the finish line and watching Rodney Adkinson from our club WIN the FULL IRONMAN distance at 47 years old. I was humbled and a bit ashamed. Great job Rodney.
- Two words: Red. Mud.
- Definition of toughness and heart- Lisa Wells comes into this race with a back so painful she had to have a shot to numb it. Then she crashes on the bike. While I would have been done at that point. She gets back on, finishes not only the bike but the RACE as well. She broke her collarbone and will have surgery Thursday. THAT is guts.
- Swimming the first leg of the course and looking up while breathing to see Ron Chapman RUNNING beside me in the water (and gaining). Could have killed him (if it wasn’t so funny). I almost choked to death trying not to laugh.
- Beer for breakfast.
- So many great compliments from other competitors about the club. The best one was “Man! You guys are everywhere!” …that’s right baby. And proud of it.
- Cleaning up trash at the race site until 7:30pm with new friends from Edmond (who roped me into it while I was trying to pack up my stuff!). I realized as I drug myself into a restaraunt at 8pm that I was still in my race gear and REALLY stinky. But hey… at least my feet were red.
- Tony Rigdon in a green cape and Speedo.
- Uwe, that damn Jager still hurts.
- Going for a run at the race site Monday morning before I left in my CMC jersey and having someone recognize it and say thanks. That was cool.