When I first got it into my head that I wanted to do a triathlon I wasn’t sure I’d actually go through with it. I took a few swimming lessons, then life got in the way and I didn’t train for several months. Almost before I knew it, the first triathlon I had signed up for was upon me and I wasn’t near ready so I deferred it to next year and started to focus on training again. This time I found two friends who were locally training for a summer triathlon with me so we started swimming and occasionally biking together. All of the sudden, it was race weekend again. Though this time I was better prepared, I still hadn’t done an OWS (open water swim) yet and was nervous about that part.
Race morning dawned bright and early. My friend Jenn picked up my bike since I didn’t have a mode of transportation for it and put it in her mom’s van to take it to transition for me. I followed behind them in my car. The night before I had carefully packed my transition bags and all the items I thought I would need on race morning; still I worried I had forgotten something (turns out I didn’t). When we arrived at the beach, I got my timing strap and fastened it around my ankle after setting up my transition area. I walked around chatting with some local acquaintances and my two training buddies. Everyone was so nice and helpful- offering advice, answering questions and just keeping me calm. Soon we were down at the water for the start of the race.
Several of us got into the water to get a few practice strokes in pre-race, but we mostly stayed in the shallow part where we could stand up at any minute. When we got out and the race director counted down to the start, we all ran into the water. My first goal was to maintain a steady stroke; my second was to stay with the middle of the pack. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to do either as the second I reached water deep enough that my feet couldn’t touch the ground I began having a panic attack. I couldn’t get a rhythm going with the waves crashing over me and I began to have severe difficulties breathing. I was out of breath every few strokes and had to stop swimming to catch my breath. Another one of the ladies noticed I was having difficulties and she stayed with me for about 100m or so, holding on to me and keeping me calm. Eventually I flipped over on my back for the rest of the swim. To top it all off, my goggles fogged up, even though I had anti-fogging wipes so I wasn’t able to see very well halfway through the swim. However, I was able to finish the swim, even coming in about fifth from the back in 13:30 (12:48 official race time).
I was annoyed with myself for losing my head in the swim so I wanted to have a good transition but the problem was now I couldn’t catch my breath enough to run so I walked back up the beach to the transition area. It was actually a pretty long walk from the water to transition- I think I would have preferred a transition area closer to the swim. By the time I got to my bike, I was rushing trying to get everything switched out so I could make up time on the bike because most of the other competitors had already gained a good lead on me at this point. I just knew I didn’t want to be last. After getting my swim cap and goggles off and putting my shoes and socks on, I took my bike off the rack, drank a few sips of water and hit the timing mat. (5:48)
I was hoping to gain ground on the bike, but I was also unable to do that. My biking speed is not where I want it to be yet and being that it was hot and I was already exhausted from my swimming panic attack I wasn’t able to get very far on the bike. I was at least able to maintain a steady pace throughout the ride and I began to count my pedal strokes as a way to get through the ride. While the ride itself wasn’t awful, I wasn’t very happy with my performance thus far which is what colored the experience for me I think. The best I can say is I tried to maintain a steady pace and I didn’t have any misfortunes on the bike, which is good. The course was out and back and then another turn before getting back to transition. The cops were very good at directing traffic around us bikers, so that was a plus. It was also my first ride on a heavily trafficked road. Up until now I have only ridden at parks and trails around me. Finished the bike in 51:31; I was hoping to be closer to 45 minutes, so that’s something for me to work towards in the future.
This was the easiest part for me; re-rack my bike, helmet off, race belt on, drink a bit more water and off on the run I went. It was about 40 seconds for T2 (I forgot to start my watch when I was in the transition area so it only recorded 19 seconds). My legs did feel like jelly though so I need to practice more bike/run brick workouts.
This is my strongest discipline and where I felt most confident. After regaining feeling in my legs from the bike I began my intervals of 1:00/30 and it went pretty well. It was 9:15 by the time I hit the run so it was super hot and I did not enjoy running in that heat. However I was able to pass several athletes that passed me on the biking portion because of my strong running ability so I was able to make up some ground there. My run was much slower than normal due to the heat and the fact that I was exhausted from doing two other things prior to this, but I maintained a steady pace and that’s really all I could ask for. I came in just over 37 minutes for the run.
My total finish time was 1:48:22. I was hoping to be about ten minutes faster and I think I definitely learned a lot of things this time around that I can apply to the next time I race.
Swim Grade: C
I think I’m actually being quite generous with myself here. I knew swimming was my weakest discipline and being in a pool is totally different than being in open water. As a friend pointed out though, all the practice OWS’ I planned on doing got cancelled due to storms passing through the area so I was unable to actually do an OWS prior to race day. Since this was my first OWS she told me to cut myself some slack; many people freak out their first time in the ocean. I definitely need to practice this and get better though. I think I could take some time off had I actually been able to maintain a steady stroke.
Bike Grade: B-
I think I did OK on the bike but I definitely want to be faster next time. I also think had I not been so winded from panicking during the swim that I might have had a better bike. At one point on the bike my HR was up to 203! I was trying to keep it down so I wasn’t really pushing to go faster because it kept spiking and I knew it was pretty dangerous to let it continuously be that high.
Run Grade: B+
For the heat index, time of day, fact that the run was entirely in the sand and the fact that I was coming off the bike, I’ll say the run went pretty well. Definitely think with more practice I could be better, but I’m going to say I did well on the run and made up some serious ground.
Transition Grade: B
For my first triathlon I think I did well in transition. I laid everything out and managed to not forget anything or start running with my helmet on or something like that. I think with practice I could get T1 down to a better time, but I did well for it being my first time.
Overall Triathlon Grade: B-
I would say I definitely have room for improvement and I have several areas I need to work on, but I think I had a solid first race and didn’t give up! That definitely counts for something, right?
Have you ever done a triathlon? What’s your best/weakest discipline?