Our First Olympic Triathlon

4:57 PM

August 15, 2015
TriArkansas Olympic Triathlon at Lake DeGray
Swim: 1500m
Bike: 26 miles
Run: 10k (6.2 miles)

Kyle and I raced our second ever triathlon on August 15th.
In the above picture, we are standing in the transition area after the race, about to unrack our bikes, pack our gear and head home after an extremely enjoyable, yet incredibly challenging Olympic/International distance triathlon.

If you read this blog with any degree of frequency, you know that I am a goal-setter of epic proportions. I need goals to fuel me the way cars need gasoline to run.
I particularly like goals of an athletic nature.

In January of 2014, I set a goal of training for and running my first marathon (the LR Marathon in March 2015) with the intention of transitioning from that into triathlons.  I even managed to get my cyclist husband semi-excited about training along with me. I have been a gym rat since high school. Very much internally motivated, I love working out, but after year after year of just working out and struggling to find creativity on that front, I needed a different, bigger challenge. I needed to TRAIN for something. Boy, does that really make all the difference in the world. Once that entry fee money is spent, there's no way I'm slacking on a workout.

So the training began in earnest during the summer and fall of 2014. Then, around November I began having knee trouble which led to knee surgery at the end of the year, altering my planned marathon to a half-marathon. Although disappointed to miss my goal, I was pleased to run the half at a decent pace only 2 months after knee surgery! The next scheduled race was our first Sprint Distance Triathlon on May 9th which was a ton of fun and got us excited about triathlons. We then rode the Arvest Gran Fondo together - my first really long bike ride (69 miles). Then we started on a 12 week training plan for this Olympic Triathlon. 

I should add here that Kyle and I decided that we were going to do the first few triathlons (at different distances) to establish a baseline. We trained together and stuck together during the races. This will probably not be what we continue to do (I mean, we will keep training together, but on race day, we'll each race our own race). This has been an experimental process for us, and one that has been incredibly rewarding. And painful at times.

Which brings me to this race. This race was the first of its distance for us and our first open water swim race. We also knew it was going to be really hilly on the bike course.

My sister Rachel was awesome and stayed at our house with us Friday night, so the kids could sleep late and not have to get up at the crack of dawn to go to Arkadelphia with us. We got up crazy early, drove down (nervous and jittery), checked in, got our numbers and put them on our bikes and on our race belts and set our stuff up in the transition area. We attended the pre-race meeting, waited our turn for the pre-race-nerves Port-a-Potty visit, then donned our swim caps and headed to the boat ramp.  As you can see by the tiny map from my Garmin Connect page, we started at the boat ramp and swam around a little island, following buoys back to the boat ramp.

I really wasn't too nervous about the swim. Or rather, I wouldn't let myself think too much about it. I love swimming, so I kept telling myself that. I love swimming! I knew I wouldn't be the fastest by a LONG shot, but I shouldn't be the slowest either. What I had never done, and what was very confusing, was to start swimming in a wave start - where everyone just starts swimming at the same time. Correction: the guys started 3 minutes before the women. It was all legs and arms and splashing and woah! How on earth is anyone supposed to swim in this madness? I attempted several times to plow into it, before getting a foot in my face...so I backed off, treading water for a second to find a spot that I could swim in that wouldn't lead to a kick in the face.  I probably spent a good 3-4 minutes getting my own "swim lane" situated. I did have a few "fear thoughts" that sped my breathing up too fast, so I rolled onto my back and took a few deep breaths while doing the backstroke. 

That really helped, and I told myself, "Ok, Ash, this is just swimming. Put your face in the water, find your rhythm and go. Enjoy this. This is your job right now. To swim." So I sighted the first red buoy and headed there. Steadily, not fast. I had to veer around people and people passed me, but I got into a rhythm. I was mostly doing right side breathing, even though when I train in the pool, I breathe every 3 stroke, so bilaterally. In this case, my heart-rate was up, so I took a breath when I needed it. 

Next thing I know, I was rounding the little island and on the next straight-away. I found myself slowly passing people, which was a good feeling. The water felt great, the sky was gorgeous, it was a great day! As I rounded the last "corner" and headed to the boat ramp, I heard someone say, "You caught me!" I had caught up with Kyle! I was shocked! He thinks he must have circled a buoy or something. Hehe. Then, it was up the ramp, smile for the camera and into transition!

Transitions are something you're supposed to get faster at, which I'm sure we will.  My T1 time was 3:09 which is about 2 minutes slower than the first place woman! For several reasons: I put on socks because I knew I was going to want socks on for the run, and I scarfed down some banana, and I don't do flying mounts onto my bike. After donning my helmet and glasses, I actually have to put my shoes on, hustle out with my bike, hop on and then clip in. Flying mounts are where your tri-specific bike shoes are already clipped on your bike, you just throw on your helmet and glasses, race belt and run your bike out, hop on and slide your feet in the shoes once you're moving. My shoes aren't the kind that I can do that with. The flying mount saves tons of time both going out onto the bike and returning from the bike. 

So immediately, we head up a giant hill which levels out and then proceeds to climb, climb, climb steadily for 6 miles. There was a nice decline, then a short, steep hill to the turn-around point and back the way we had come. Do this twice, and that's the bike. You can see the green elevation on the picture above. At this point, Kyle left me because he is stronger on the bike. He averaged 18 mph on the bike and I averaged 17 mph.  For perspective, the overall male winner avgd 23.9 mph and the female winner avgd 20.5mph. It was a pretty ride and we had a tailwind going out, so I felt like it was easier than it was. The hills were no picnic, though. I got down to about 9mph on them and in my smallest chainring. But I. Did. Not. Get. Off. My. Bike.

I did get kind of bored. I sang songs to myself, hilariously...songs like "This Little Light of Mine..." whatever came to mind...I wished I'd had headphones on or something, but that is totally not allowed at all on a triathlon. In hindsight, I could have probably pushed myself harder at key points, but I had no idea what my legs would feel like afterwards, so I didn't want to overdo it.

The most hilarious part of the race to me is that Kyle finished several minutes ahead of me off the bike and waited for me to ride into T2! He confessed that it took him a good few minutes to actually find his bike on the long racks of bikes. Which helped me, because as soon as I dismounted and ran my bike into T2, I saw him and knew where to go. My T2 time was much better - 1:33. The female winner's T2 time was 0:43 seconds. I have less time to shave off there! Good news!

So after ripping off helmet, slapping on my visor and shoving a few goos in my pockets, we headed out onto the run. Right up a steady little hill. Yippee! On my very wobbly legs! We jogged up a bit, then I realized I had a killer stitch in my left side. Cursed stitches! I NEVER get stitches. What's up?!! I tried all the tricks, leaning over, digging my hand into the pain, slowing down, nothing. It was like a knife gouging me. I had to walk. I ran/walked the first mile, hoping the stitch would go away, but it just did not budge. I was hoping to run the 6.2 miles around an 8:30 min/mi pace, but it was not to be. Worst of all, it mentally threw me for a ginormous loop and I lost myself. I found that I would run about half a mile, and then just have to walk. It was like a mental block would just lower itself over my head and my feet would not run. I had enough nutrition, there was no reason I couldn't go faster, I just mentally shut down. The worst part was that Kyle was running with me and I held him back. I played all the wrong sorts of mental games, too. Instead of thinking of positive thoughts, I berated myself in my head. I was very unkind to myself. Had one of my children called a sibling some of the things I was calling myself in my head, I would have spanked them. It was, quite simply, a cruddy run on my part. 90% mental. 10% stitch.

I even took a bathroom break! So perhaps my embarrassing avg pace of 10:27 min/mi is actually not that bad, considering that part of that time I was actually in a little restroom. Hehe. No excuses, it was pathetic on my part. The only positive is that I am a really fast walker, so my walking pace forced Kyle to jog beside me. That's good, right?? There was a guy ahead of us, always within sight, who was slowly jogging the whole time, and we managed to catch and pass him, even at our highly erratic pace. A positive! 

We finished strong, though - and together. We crossed the finish line side by side, and while not under the 3 hours I'd hoped for, it was not an unrespectable time. In a field of 18 women, I came in 11th for a time of 3:18. In a field of 66 men, Kyle was the 55th. ALTHOUGH, if you subtracted his hilariously long T2 time when he was waiting for me to finish my bike ride so he (saint that he is) could run the last leg with me....it would have put him more around 50th spot.  

Kyle gets irritated at me for even mentioning my frustrations on the run, but it is a very real part of this triathlon experience for me. It's even more irritating for me that I am supposedly a runner, and that was my weakest part. I did have a great time, overall, and I definitely want to do more. I even have a revised strategy for dealing with the bike/run aspect of training. The thing I'm learning is that part of training for triathlon is being prepared mentally. Not just training physically. Not just lifting weights or getting in the rides or runs. It's knowing how to talk your mind up and out of the holes that you might find yourself in along the actual race-course. 

I believe I have it in me...I've managed to deliver 4 children naturally...so there's some mental toughness there, I'm pretty sure...I just need to learn to apply the same sort of strategies to the toughest part of my mental race. 

So, there you have it. We can officially say we are Triathletes as we have, in fact, completed more than 1 triathlon in a year! (as per an article I read somewhere...) There are, God willing, many more in our future. Two baselines have been set, and good times were most definitely had. 
Until the next time...

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