Our First Triathlon!!!!

12:14 PM

For the past 8 weeks, ever since the half marathon on March 1st, Kyle and I have been in training for our first sprint triathlon.  This has involved lifting weights 4 times a week, swimming at least twice a week, cycling several times a week, and running about 4 times a week, until my plantar fasciitis hit at the beginning of April.  Since then, I've run once or twice, but mostly taken off to give my foot a chance to heal. 

We really over-trained, given the distances involved in a sprint tri, but over-preparation is better than under-preparation, right?! The distances of a sprint tri, or at least most sprint tri's, is a 400m swim, 13 mile bike ride, 3.1 mile run (or a 5K).

The triathlon we entered was the "AIM High in Bryant Triathlon". AIM stands for All In Multisport, and it is a local triathlon club. This is widely known as being a great "first" triathlon. Largely because the swim portion takes place in a pool. Most triathlons are open water swims in lakes or oceans, and the open water part is often the scariest for newcomers.  It's also more challenging to practice open water swimming. And it helps if you have a wetsuit, which many first time triathletes don't. Given the expense of a wetsuit, you really want to be sure you're going to do enough tri's to justify the expense.

There were about a hundred entrants in this tri, but 87 finishers. 

The week leading up to this triathlon was one for the books. And not in a good way. A stomach bug wreaked havoc on my kids from Sunday through Thursday. First Wyeth, then Dorien, then Brooklyn and finally August. We're talking throwing up all over the place, low grade fevers and for Wyeth,  diarrhea. It meant lots of sleepless nights, lots of midnight baths to wash off puke, load after load of laundry washing sheets and towels and blankets, cleaning up puke in the car...it was not fun. Dorien was supposed to have tubes put in and his adenoids removed, but we had to reschedule. It was a mess. And rather than taking it easy, Kyle and I were, frankly, exhausted. Thankfully, everyone cleared up by Thursday evening and felt great, and neither Kyle nor I succumbed. You know it's a rough week when you view a triathlon as a relief!

The triathlon on Saturday was scheduled to begin at 7am.  Our friends, Emily and Brent, had graciously agreed to watch the kids while we competed. For my kids, it was the best news ever! Brooklyn got to hang out with her best friend, Hollis, and August and Dorien could play with Weston and Eli. Wyeth could generally cause mischief. We knew we had to get up at 5am in order to get everything ready, eat breakfast, drive to Bryant, drop the kids off, head to the site and get set up in the transition area.

To add to the occasion, the weather leading up to the race was STORMY! In fact, there was a 75-80% chance of severe thunderstorms at 7am Saturday morning.  Kyle and I prayed and prayed that God would intervene and change the weather, or at least give us a little window in which to race. We had been working so hard and looking so forward to this race. Friday night, storms moved through town, waking us frequently with lightning and crazy thunder.  I kept checking my weather app, and it still showed storms at race time. 

However, when my alarm went off at 5am, I was thrilled to check the app again and note that a window in the weather had miraculously appeared from 7am -9am. Storms were supposed to pick up later in the day, but we definitely had a break in the weather! We loaded up the car, nerves and all, and headed there! I was so nervous, I could barely eat a piece of toast and 2 little slices of cantaloupe. I would later regret that inadequate breakfast.

Fortunately, Kyle and I were stocked with goos and electrolytes for our water bottles.

When we arrived at the Bishop Park pool complex, the place was buzzing! There was music, lots of people doing warm-up laps or jogging, and lots of transition set up.  Kyle and I hadn't given ourselves a ton of time to overthink things that morning. Plus, we were super prepared. Our research had shown us what to pack in our transition bags, how to set everything up, what to do pre-race, etc. We were just trying to settle our nerves and get our heads ready.

We had already decided we would stick together this race. This first race was all about the experience of a triathlon, not pushing for our best time ever. It would be a baseline for us. 
The other cool thing about triathlons is that although you are technically racing, because of staggered start times, you essentially compete against yourself, to better your own times. You really have no way of knowing how anyone else is doing or will do on their race, regardless of whether they cross the finish line first or not. They might be a slow swimmer but killer on the bike. You just never know. It was also nice because I was given number 59 and Kyle was number 60. He'd be swimming right after me, which meant that he'd come out of the pool right after me, so we would be ready to start on the bike leg together, with no waiting around.

Here was the pool situation. 400yards. 8 lanes. You entered the water on the far left lane, on the blue and red pad where your timing chip was activated. You swam down the lane on the left, turned and came back down the left side of the same lane. That's 50 yards. You then turned and went under the rope, popping up in the adjacent lane and repeated that until you'd swum all 8 lanes. 

For Kyle and I, we had practiced "snake swimming" but never really swimming with other people in our lane. That was a little disconcerting. Even though you're supposed to stick to the left side of your lane, people tended to drift and you had to watch out for hands that might whop you in the head. It was also really difficult to make fast turns, like we'd been practicing. 

I was nervous about getting in the water and panicking. I love to swim. I have no fear of swimming, and I knew I could easily swim 400yards. It's just one thing to swim in practice and another in a race situation. Plus, you don't want to overdo it in the swim when you have to bike and run immediately after. In practice, we'd been swimming our 400's in about 7:30, or 1:40-1:45 100 yard splits. We figured it would be slower in the race, just given the lane changes and nerves, etc. 

Once I hit the water, I was fine. It was a relief to be in the water and moving.  I knew Kyle would be right behind me and that was reassuring. I just settled into a groove and tried to breathe steady. I checked my Garmin (this was my first chance to use my multisport function!!!) and my first 100 was 1:50, so I knew I was swimming slower than our practice times, which was ok. 

I made it through my 8 lanes uneventfully, coming out of the water in 8:24 (or 1:51 splits - so I was pretty dang consistent on my pacing, which was what I wanted to do). I hustled out into the transition area to slip on my bike shoes, don my helmet and sunglasses, grab my goos, unrack my bike and clop my way to the bike starting point. 

This is the transition area. Rows of bikes racked with everyone's individual stations set up. 
There were no assigned spots. You tried to pick a spot that would place you most conveniently to easy exit and so that you could easily spot your bike. Kyle and I squeezed in on an end.

Here's our set up. The red towel is mine and Kyle's blue backpack is to the left of me.  You hook your bike seat over the frame they have there. Some people had buckets to sit on and later haul their stuff out. Kyle and I didn't go that route.

A closer look at our transition set up. This is post-race, so it's not all laid out as it was in the beginning. My backpack (or transition bag) contained my race belt with my number attached, bike cleats, sunglasses, helmet, garmin watch, goos, tennis shoes, visor, body glide, extra water bottle, towel...the idea is that you run out from the swim area and your bike shoes are ready to go. Your helmet is upside down with your sunglasses inside. You stand on the towel to dry your feet some while you put sunglasses on first, followed by helmet. Quick squirt of water on your feet if you have grit to knock off. Otherwise, stick a goo in the back pocket, clip on your race belt, slip on your shoes, unrack your bike and run it to the bike starting point. 

You can't hop on your bike until you pass that starting point. And you want to move through T1 (transition from swim to bike) as fast as possible. More experienced triathletes have fancier tri-bike shoes which don't have as many velcro straps as mine do, and they do a flying mount. This involves keeping your shoes clipped into your bike and literally hopping on your bike barefoot immediately and slipping your feet in your shoes and strapping them on one at a time (usually one simple velcro strap), all while riding. This would be impossible with my current riding shoes.  

But it definitely shaves off time in transition. 
In our case, since it was raining, or had been while we were swimming, we had put trashbags over our set up to keep things dry. And I didn't put on socks or cycling gloves. 

We headed out on the bike leg. I let Kyle take the lead, because he's a more proficient cyclist than me. I knew he'd set a good pace for me. The other thing about triathlons is you can't draft. Which means you have to ride at least 3 bike lengths from any other riders. And if you pass another cyclist, you have 15 seconds in which to do so. 

My biggest fear about the cycling leg was a) getting a flat and b) riding on wet roads. Fortunately, I didn't get a flat and the wet roads weren't a problem. I was careful on the turns, and everything went well.  I was really jittery at the beginning of the bike leg. I could tell my blood sugar was too low. I managed to eat a goo and drink some of my Nuun water and that helped pretty quickly.  Then I settled in to enjoy the ride! Cycling is so much fun! Not painless by any means, but fast and beautiful. I like figuring out what gears to be in to maintain the right speed and cadence. Oh, and for grins, my Cateye bike computer which tells me my speed, decided to quit working. I had my Garmin which could tell me, but everytime I looked down, it was on a different screen, so I really had no idea how fast we were going. Turns out we averaged 18mph, which isn't terrible given the wet conditions.  

We managed to hang together on the bike, cruise into T2 (bike to run transition), re-rack our bikes, slip off our helmets, slip on our running shoes and visor/hats and hit the run.
I opted for no socks, which given the rain, was a mistake. My feet were wet, and by the end of the run, my left foot had a blister where my insoles rubbed against it.

The thing about the bike to run transition is that you initially experience something called bike legs. You feel like you're running on stumps. Your leg muscles have been working hard on one motion for the last 43 minutes and suddenly, you are asking them to run. They try, they really do, but it's just awkward. On top of which, for me, this was the first time I'd really run in 3.5 weeks. I had taken some Ibuprofen before hand to numb any pain my heel might give me. But I knew from experience that the first half mile was gonna hurt. And then it would ease off.  Sure enough, that was the case. The thing I was NOT expecting was that I could just not catch my breath. I was kind of wheezing. 
I felt really strange. My body is used to running, but either I had lost running cardiovascular strength while taking off the past several weeks, wasn't used to cycling so long and then running hard, or I am developing exercise-induced asthma. I have no idea.  I actually had to stop and walk a few times to catch my breath. I did NOT like that feeling. Poor Kyle, he could have left me, but he stuck with me.

The other crazy thing is that I felt like we were crawling, barely moving. And yet even with our brief walking periods, we maintained an avg pace of 8:38/mile.  Ideally, my 5k pace should be faster than that, but I also ideally would have been running more pre-race! 

We finished our bike leg in 43:27 and our run leg in 26:56.

And we crossed the finish line side by side!

We both loved the whole experience and definitely want to keep doing this. It was so much fun! 
We both loved meeting other athletes, both new at triathlons and experienced. We loved every element of it. Plus, the body marking is so cool! And you wear a timing chip on your ankle!

There was even a father/son team that competed - the boy was 10! I was so impressed.


You don't even KNOW how tough we are! (If I can get that wheeze under control....)

We finished in 1:22:14 (Kyle) and 1:22:35 (me - I waited for Kyle to enter T1 after his swim).
It felt pretty decent for our first ever triathlon! 

To put our times in perspective, the overall winner (a guy) finished in 1:01 and the top woman finished in 1:06.  So, there's room for improvement, which both Kyle and I feel confident we can make!  I ended up placing 1st in my age group (35-39) and 6th overall out of the other 27 women. I can live with that! It was a great experience, so much fun, and a great start to my Mother's Day weekend!

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