Sunday, September 6, 2009

I am a triathlete!

It's official now! I am a triathlete! I have new respect for people that do this all the time, it's hard stuff!! I think I rocked my first race by meeting both my goal of 1h45 (8s over!) and also beating my friend that was also racing to the finish line by 21 seconds! It may sound like an exciting close call but due to the staggering at the beginning of the race, I actually had to wait 5 minutes to find out!!!
So let's start from the beginning. We got up at 5:30am and started packing up. After breakfast, I worked on my nutrition plan, mixing a heavy sports drink for the bike part and a lighter one for the run (just how I like it :). I also got a bottle with water for my spare on the bike in case I get really thirsty and loaded my running belt with a gel pack in case I needed a boost. We packed the bike and all my bags in the van and left in somewhat of a hurry, not knowing how much time I would need to get my transition zone prepared and do the body marking.

This is where I unknowingly took a cue from Judi and forgot a whole bunch of stuff at home. About 20 minutes into the drive, I realized that I did not pack my swimming goggles. It's funny because I actually woke up during the night, knowing that I forgot, but too lazy to get out of bed to pack them in the bag. I'll remember for sure I thought in the wee hours of the night. After rationalizing that at 7am on a Saturday morning, all stores were closed and that turning back would definitively make me late for the race, I decided to try my luck with the on site vendors. That worked out quite well since I got a pair of [probably overprice] goggles that I was told are the best non fogging goggles in the business. When it came time to unpack the bike, I looked and saw something missing.... My water bottles!! Shock! Horror!! They stayed in the kitchen with my running belt. I had brought a couple of bottles of Powerade for after the race so that would have to do for me. The vendors again saved me where I got 2 new bottles for my bike to hold said Powerade for a dollar each! I set up my transition zone a few times, practicing/simulating what I would do and make sure everything I needed was easily accessible and in the right order.
It's too bad I don't get the transition time from the chip because I think I did fairly well and I am pretty proud of my setup, especially for a first timer.

Next up was body marking which was pretty easy since there were lots of black markers and Alex was happy to use indelible ink on me :) We then headed to the beach after a quick stop to the washroom. I was really relieved that the water wasn't as cold as I had feared. Relative to the chilly morning air, the water was quite comfortable. I tried to listen to the instructions but I couldn't make sense of them, it sounded so complicated. What had I got myself into? I got the important bits from other participants and was determined to follow them since they seemed to know where they were going. Note to organizers: Just tell me in plain language what to do, no need to spend five minutes on it. Run into the water, swim to buoy A, turn around and head to buoy B, then buoy C and come back to the beach. It was actually pretty simple once you got into the water.
I was now ready to start my adventure. Just in time for the countdown:5, 4, 3, 2, 1. I did nothing at 1. I waited for everyone else to get their stuff over with and followed them into the water thinking I would be one of the slowest swimmers anyways. After a few seconds of being a deer in the headlight, and asking myself why I am doing this, I jumped in. Ran as far as I could and then settled into a breast stroke. The journey to the first buoy was chaotic, everyone seeking their place and paddling over each other. After the first buoy, things weren't getting much better. I even swam backstroke for a bit trying to get my bearings. Looking around, I wasn't the only lost soul.

As the crowd thinned up a bit, I finally got into a groove and started my crawl. I think I was pretty fast, judging by my breathing, I would say I never pushed that hard while in the pool. When I reached buoy 2, there was ample room to swim around unencumbered. I started heading to buoy 3 and I had such confidence at that point that I didn't even slow down to look where I was going. OOPS! I was zigzagging and almost collided with the second wave of swimmers. I adjusted my trajectory and got back into the groove only to look out of the water and realize I had overshot and was swimming away from the course towards the middle of the bay! I got back on the right trajectory and having learned from my mistake, looked out every 30 seconds or so to ensure I was going where I was supposed to. I reached buoy 3 and turned heading towards the beach. Even then, I was a bit too much to the left of the beach but I made it in time to see Alex, my mom and her boyfriend cheering for me! What a wonderful sight out of the water. It gave me the boost I needed to run the 500m or so to the transition zone.
Open water swimming is quite different from the pool. I think it's faster and there's currents you have to be mindful of. There's also no markings or rope to lead you in a straight line. And at Mooney's bay in particular, there was a lot of weeds. Even in the middle of the course, they would reach up all the way and sometimes if I dug in too deep while swimming, my hands would get tangled with seaweeds. Swimming was the part I was the most afraid of, because of water temperature, speed issues and not knowing how deep it is. It turns out that in retrospect, it was probably the funnest and most pleasurable part of my race.
I headed to the transition zone and quickly changed into my shoes and put on a shirt. There didn't seem to be a real sense of urgency to the transition as I had expected, maybe I was late to the party. My head was still spinning from the swim so I took it easy but I don't think I took too much time to get ready to head off on the bike.
I was quite surprised by how much running there was to the bike portion. The area is grass and rocky so I had to carry the bike for parts of it to be faster. That could definitively be better in some future races. I attempted (and succeded somewhat) a fly mount where I ran to get some speed, put all my weight on the handlebars and jumped on the saddle. I probably saved about 5 seconds for doing that but the pain that it caused me was probably not worth the extra time. I'm sure I looked like a total pro if anyone was watching ;)

Once I got on the bike course, the first thing I noticed is the wind. Thankfully, I had lots of training under windy conditions so it didn't faze me too much. However, after putting in a good effort for the swim, I found it hard to get the bike into the higher gears. The Garmin says my average speed was 32.3km/h. I still managed to pass quite a few people on my first lap but nowhere near as much as I had hoped I would. Some guys (and even girls, yes, I got chicked a few times!!!) would pass me as if I was standing there doing nothing. They had the expensive bikes and the waterdrop helmets so I didn't challenge them too much for it. During the second part of my first loop however, someone name Nicholas passed me and that was too much, I decided that I would not allow him. I passed him back. We played this game back and forth for about 8km.
Once I was into the second loop, I started passing more people. Laggards from the swim that were in their first loop perhaps? I didn't think there could be that many people behind me after my less than stellar swim. I finally allowed Nicholas to pass me not able to put in the effort to keep challenging him. I was really glad to approach the end of the second loop. I had been looking forward to the run for the whole race.
I quickly transitioned into running (ie: dumped bike, dumped helmet, pick up hat, drink a bit and run away from the mess :). Ouch. My legs were heavy. Everyone says it, I've even experienced it in training a few times, but I can never be fully prepared for it. I just couldn't get any speed at all :( As much as I would push the machine, there would be no response. The run was embarrassing really. I call myself a runner. I love running. And yet everyone was passing me. Boys, Girls, Men, Women. I even joked about it with some girl on the course when she was challenging me and she said that if I didn't like being chicked, I should just run faster :) I was happy when I saw the finishing stretch where Alex was waiting for me.
After seeing Alex, I managed to get some more energy and somewhat sprint to the finish where my mom and her boyfriend were waiting for me. Coming up to the finish line, I was relieved to see the clock turn from 1:44:59 to 1:45:00. Despite the pain and the perceived slow spell that hit me today, I had accomplished my goal. I waited impatiently at the finish line for my friend to whom I had issued a challenge to cross. He started 5 minutes after me, so he had to come in at least 5 minutes after. He finallly showed up 5m21s after me, so that makes it a pretty tight race even if only for the clock.
For those that like graphs, here is the speed chart for my bike course:
You can clearly see the bits where I had headwind and the parts where it turned into a tailwind. I think having Nicholas challenged me helped a bit as well, I do much better competing against someone than being on an empty course. The run was also touch and go:
My first Triathlon was a lot of fun but also a lot of work. It's too soon really to take a decision about my future. If I had to choose today, I would stick with running. It's simpler, requires less equipment and generally easier to manage in the schedule. If I am to continue doing triathlons, I think it's obvious that I need to invest a bit in a crucial piece of equipment: a racing bike. I could probably shave a few minutes off my bike time by simply getting better gear. I think I would also go for a longer event such as an olympic distance. It would also be more even on the bike vs running portion. I would need to do lots of brick training also to get my running to where I don't get passed by everyone and their cousins. I felt that Triahtlons, especially sprint type events are more geared towards attention deficit disorder and strategy masters while running is more about being focused on the end goal. Triathlons are much more fun to watch however, so if I want to please my family and friends when they come and watch me at races, Triathlons is definitively the way to go.


  1. WOOHOO! Congratulations, triathlete! I love the report.

    What a cool experience. I always imagine that triathlons must be so chaotic. I'd be likely yo take off on the run before the bike or something. :p


  2. OMG, you having me in stitches....I am SO SORRY I missed you, by the time I got there, only the half and full irons were left...I figured you were long gone, so I didn't call.

    GOOD JOB! Welcome to triathlons, is is chaotic but manic, crazzy, fun sort of did so well, be proud and CONGRAT'S!!!

  3. Congratulations, you did amazing! Love the report!

  4. Congrats on the race!! I loved your report, and great pictures!

  5. Great report! I really want to do a tri--a sprint of course :) You made it sound less intimidating! Good work!

  6. Congratulations! I can't believe I missed your first tri report! You did so well.

    I liked what you said about open water swimming. In Australia we have a lot of it and interestingly, I read a book where a guy said you really need to spend as much training as possibly in the open water training (more particularly if it's an ocean swim i think) because the waves and currents can actually make you seasick!

  7. Congrats on your race!!

    I can't believe you did a flying mount on your first-ever tri. You must have really impressed some folks doing that, esp. with the bike you had. And funny to read your comparison of tris vs. running. Being a long-time runner, I find tris just so much more interesting. Then again, I don't do sprints because as soon as I've found my groove, it's time to switch. Too ADD for me :-)

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