July of 2012 marked my first triathlon experience. Undertrained and emotionally drained from having recently lost my dad, I forged forward and finished the race. The swim nearly killed me – I lost my goggles, had to accept help from a lifeguard on a kayak, you name it, it went wrong. But, I finished. 2013 brought me back to the same race, but I skipped the swim in lieu of using my kayak instead. That race was a blast and I actually came in 3rd in my age group. Never mind that there were only 4 of us – that medal and pizza coupon were a small victory for me.
Fast forward to 2014 – I signed up for the swim version of the triathlon this year and left my kayak to Phil to use in the race. I anticipated using this race as a shake out for my Olympic triathlon that is scheduled for this weekend. And for $25, the price of this triathlon is hard to beat.
Day/Night Before: Phil and I watched the weather report with some anxiety. The debate is always whether or not to rack the kayak the night before any event. It’s a bit of a time investment and we were unsure what to do, given that the weather called for storms the evening before. We decided to leave the kayak off the car and just wake up a bit early on race day. We made it to packet pickup, grabbed our bibs and timing bracelets and headed home. No major drama. Lesson Learned: Failure on my part to check my tire pressure (more on that in a bit). Nailed It: The decision to rack the boat the morning of was perfect.
Morning: Race morning was humid and muggy. We successfully racked the boat and the bikes with no problem and I felt well-packed for the race. We ate a great breakfast (sweet potato, eggs, toast & peanut butter) and got on the road early to give ourselves plenty of time to get to the transition area. Phil’s was the first kayak on the beach and we got a great bike position in the transition area. About 15 minutes after we were setting up, Phil realized he had forgotten his running shoes. I was thrown by his need to leave and drive home, mostly because having him nearby keeps my nerves at bay before a race. But, off he went and he successfully grabbed shoes and returned to the race. I ran in to Alyssa, a friend from yoga and fellow Cleveland blogger Jess, and had a great time talking to them both. Small world scenario? They knew each other aside from the connection to me. I love when that happens! Lesson Learned: My tire pressure was near nothing when I finally checked. Thankfully, we had brought our own pump and Alyssa’s husband lent me a hand getting the tires ready to go. Phew. Nailed It: Early arrival got us a great start for Phil and a plenty of time for me to feel at ease. Or so I thought.
Swim: I decided to race in my Orca tri-suit, so I took off the tech shirt I had thrown over it and grabbed my cap and goggles to head to the beach. I should have gotten in the water. I repeat, I SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN IN THE WATER. The water temps did not bother me at all, but the minute I was in the water, ready to start swimming, my nerves got the best of me. A 500 yard swim was not going to be physically overwhelming for me. Mentally overwhelming is my bigger problem. As the swim started, I couldn’t figure out exactly where I should be – people around me swam to the right and left of our marking buoy. I tried to stay right, close to the line that divided us in to an out and back lane, but I just couldn’t get my head straight. Cue lots of breast stroke so I could see, combined with flipping to my back to try to lower my heart rate. 1/4 of the way in, I finally started to free style, but still struggled with sighting. At the 1/2 way point, I realized the water was so shallow that I could stand, and this gave me a huge sense of relief. I was able to freestyle and stop to get my wits about me, but I got out of the water feeling like I had failed. Lesson Learned: GET IN THE WATER BEFORE THE RACE STARTS. I need to feel warmed up in the lake, I need to feel comfortable before I start. Nailed It: The tri suit is a dream come true. Felt like I was in a swim suit, but slightly more covered. It didn’t budge, bunch or move. Love it.
Bike: My transition to the bike was fine. I got my feet sprayed off as I ran off the beach, stopped to dry them and shake off sand and slipped on my socks and clip-ins. Threw on my helmet and my race belt, which I had pre-pinned my bib to. The run out of the transition area in clip-ins is awkward, but I had not practiced having my shoes pre-clipped on the bike and didn’t want to try something new on race day. I rode up the hill out of the park and picked up speed quickly. I felt strong and confident on the bike – far better than years past, perhaps because of the shoes and the amazing new bike – that would make sense, right?! No issues here at all, outside of a couple that decided to ride side-by-side and ignored my request to pass. It’s a race, not date night people. For Pete’s sake, don’t take up the whole lane while you chat. Lesson Learned: Sunglasses. Forgot them again, just like last year. They were in my transition area, but I overlooked them. Would have helped slightly during the more windy areas of the course. Nailed It: The win again goes to the tri suit. I never had to think about changing clothes post-swim and my transition time is the shortest it’s ever been.
Run: Transition to the run was also good, just needed to drop the bike and change shoes. Note to self – un-tie shoes for future transitions. My hands were a little numb from gripping the handle bars and the un-tie/re-tie process was a bit cumbersome. Grabbed my fuel, picked up a small glass of water from the aid station in the transition area and made my way out. Easy-peezy. I started the run after clicking on my Garmin and immediately felt like my legs were fine, but my heart rate was out of control. After a few minutes, I glanced down to see that my speed was the culprit – 8:00 miles? Those were not my legs. I worried that if I kept this pace I would bonk after a mile or two of it. I walked for 30 seconds to lower my HR and ran again. The run course is not very scenic for this race – lots of industrial area, so I had to just keep my focus ahead and keep moving. I finally spotted Phil during the last half mile or so – he slowed down so I could catch up, but he always saves some energy in the tank so he can sprint to the finish. I had no such stores left and told him to go for it. Lesson Learned: Better shoe set up for next time. Nailed It: You guessed it – the tri suit for the win. Damn, do I love that thing!
Overall, I took away some important, but humbling lessons from this race. Well, really one lesson. I’m not ready for the Olympic swim distance. I’m ready for the bike. I’m ready for the run, but not the swim. My training being nearly 100% in the pool has left me with little open water confidence. My heart rate climbs, I lose my focus and my energy is sapped before I even have the chance to truly swim. And, as a dear friend pointed out, swimming includes the all-important fear of drowning. Biking and running have their own risks, don’t get me wrong, but I can always just STOP where ever I am. Swimming includes its own kind of stop, but treading or calling for help is a different kind of pause. I need more preparation. So, I made the difficult decision to pull back to the sprint distance for this weekend. The folks at Team in Training were understanding and wonderful – “we all walk before we run,” was the great line I got in an email from employee Ellen. She’s right – I’m still racing, I’m still in the water, but I don’t have to worry about trying to push myself beyond limits where I feel safe. And I’m not putting the Olympic distance off the table either. Check out these stats from Sunday’s race:
Swim = 23/24 in my age group, 94/110 women. THUMBS DOWN. However – check out those bike and run stats – vast improvement over the swim and a clear indicator of my weakness. I’m happy with my transition times, I’m happy with my finishing time – near 50th percentile, which is always a happy place for me to be. Important to note: this was my first race of 2014. I’m thrilled with a 31:08 5K that came AFTER a swim and bike and zero races since December 2013. So, I’m checking the calendar, I’m looking at race options and I’m going to keep practicing in open water. I’ll find my zen, I’ll get there.
If you’re looking for a great 1st triathlon, if you’re just looking for a great, inexpensive race, I can’t say enough about the work done by the Lake Metroparks to make this a great experience. Chip timed, tech shirt, post-race snacks and instant results, great volunteers, a high-five and great music at the finish line – you can’t beat all of it. I’ll be there next year – hope you’ll join me!