June 8th, 2013: Well, first of all, what a great weekend it was for a race! It was my 3rd year in a row at the Blue Lake Sprint Triathlon (though last year I was limited to the Aqua-Bike because of my foot injury), and the first of those years it’s actually been warm and sunny for the days leading up to the race. And this meant…water that was warmer than the low-60s!!! Yay for me!!! (I’m such a cold-water-weenie…)
If you’re interested in my splits, standings, or other race info, here’s a link to my online race report. But the following is a more general report about the experience.
First of all, I’m working towards the goal of completing my first Olympic-distance triathlon at Hagg Lake in July (more about that later), so this race was more of a tune-up/progress check than anything else; hence, I was MUCH less nervous about it than in my first season. (I’m pretty sure it’s just because I’ve been obsessing so much about the Oly that I actually forgot to freak out over this one.) Regardless, I was pretty relaxed coming into the sprint tri, bolstered by the confidence that I’ve been training for TWICE the distance, so this should be no problem!
I also had the benefit of having attended an open-water swim clinic at the very same lake the week before, which did a lot to settle my nerves after last year’s famous panic attack.
So when race day dawned, I was surprisingly at ease. I got up, ate breakfast, loaded my gear into the car, and followed the single handwritten instruction I’d left by my water bottles the night before: “Don’t Forget Your Bike.” I drove the 45 minutes to the park with the radio blaring, singing along to my favorite songs with the abandon that can only come from knowing you’re alone in the car and the traffic is minimal because most sane people are still in bed. I got to the race site plenty early (in contrast to the previous year, when part of my panic was probably due to the fact I showed up too late to warm up properly.) I set up my transition area, walked down to the lake with a 15-year-old newbie to show her the course, and jogged a little to get warmed up. I shared the comical experience of getting into my wetsuit with a couple of rack-mates (nothing fosters instant friendship like squashing someone into neoprene while forcing their zipper shut, does it?) I made it back down to the beach in plenty of time to get in the water and get warmed up, time made even more plentiful by an announcement that, due to the traffic jam of cars waiting to get into the park, the race start time would be pushed back 15 minutes.
I said this to a couple first-time triathletes, and I will echo it to anyone reading this post who might ever want to do a tri: NOTHING helps ease the panic of an open-water swim like getting in the water ahead of time, and getting used to it. Swim a little, swim a lot, but make sure you get your face in it! I probably swam a total of 150 yards, and splashed around a little more, before I felt ready to go.
When my wave waded in, I found myself near the front; not necessarily where I wanted to be, as I know I’m only an average swimmer, but looking around, I couldn’t figure out who looked slower than me (it’s really hard to tell, you know?) so I just stayed where I was, and dove in fast when the horn blasted. There was a little contact in the beginning, but nothing too major, and I settled in to a rhythm pretty quickly. I even managed to draft a bit off someone in front of me, until she veered off in a direction other than the one I was following. I found a pace that felt fast but comfortable, and actually enjoyed myself as I rounded the first bouy and headed towards the second. After I rounded the third and headed into the last 200 yards or so, the water felt a little choppy and I got a bit queasy. Not sure if it was nerves or seasickness, but I talked myself through it and made it to the finish in what turned out to be a tie of my PR of 17:17.
Transition went smoothly enough, and for the first time I managed to get my wetsuit off and my bike shoes on without sitting down! The little accomplishments mean so much…
The bike leg…I said it a couple years ago, I said it last year, and I said it last fall, before completely ignoring my own advice and blowing off bike training: I REALLY NEED TO GET BETTER AT THE BIKE!!! I’m on my way to building up endurance since I’ve been riding consistently since March, but it’s going to take awhile for the passee to become a passer on the bike course. Once again, I don’t think I passed a single rider, and I got passed by so. many. people. I consoled myself with the fact that I’d probably gotten out of the water faster than some of them, and I might catch one or two on the run.
T2. It happened. Wasn’t interesting.
The run. I opted to go Garmin-less so as not to be annoyed by trying to remember to turn it on, wait for it to find a satellite signal, etc. Consequently, after pounding out my bike leg as fast as I could so as not to be TOTALLY humiliated, my legs felt pretty rubbery, and I had no idea whether I was running fast, slow, or somewhere in-between. I did remember to hit the “lap” button on my stopwatch, and was shocked to note that I hit mile marker 1 at about an 8-minute mile! In other words, about 36 seconds faster than my mile pace from my previous 5K PR. “Better slow down,” I told my rubberlegs, but I don’t think they were taking in any messages from my brain at that point. So I concentrated on ignoring the side cramp I’d developed (probably a result of breathing harder than I ever had on a run before!) and not falling down as I navigated the course through some long grass and a treacherous downhill dirt-and-rock trail that led to a (fenceless, unprotected) walkway along the lake. (I’d really like to talk to the mastermind of this particular triathlon run course…It’s very strange.) I crossed the finish line with nothing at all left in my legs, then probably caused massive internal eye rolls to the teenage worker collecting timing chips as I fumbled with the safety pin holding the velcro of my timing chip strap in place. (Hey, I was being extra cautious, you know?)
After the race, I walked straight down to the beach to reclaim the neoprene swim socks I’d ditched at the last minute outside the starting corral, then headed over to the food tent. I met up with my transition-buddies, shared race reports, glanced at my official race results, then packed up and headed home just in time to shower before heading off to my son’s T-ball game.
All in all, I was pretty proud of my performance at this race. It was an overall PR, a tie for a PR in the swim, and a HUGE PR in the 5K. The only thing it was missing was a lightning-bolt style revelation to tell me whether I would or would not be ready to do an Olympic-distance triathlon on a super-hilly course in just a month. In fact, the only revelation I got was that I can run a 5K much faster than I thought I could, and I’m definitely solid on the sprint distances.
So the next step is to keep building up the bike volume, and maybe do a test ride on the course I will be facing in July. If the distance and the hills don’t seem too daunting, my Olympic-distance debut will happen July 6th at Hagg Lake. If I’m not feeling ready, or if it seems too stressful and anxiety-provoking, I’ll do the sprint and try not to beat myself up about it. After all, this is supposed to be a fun hobby, right? There’s always another race in the future…Like maybe the Portland Triathlon on September 22nd? An opportunity to swim (upstream) in the lovely, less-polluted-than-it-used-to-be-but-still-not-pristine Willamette River? Sounds good to me! I’ll keep you posted…