Yesterday I competed in my first sprint distance triathlon race, “My First Tri”, at Lake Lanier Islands in Georgia. The race includes first timers competing in a “My First Tri” category, and another group “My Next Tri” which is open to everyone. There were 252 participants and 3 swim wave starts. There were 3 minutes between each group and I was in the 3rd.
The swim was along the shore so that anyone who needed to could stand at any point. I positioned myself on the outside towards the deep to avoid getting caught up in any shoreline messes. The swim was 1/4mile (400m = 16, 25m pool lengths). My partner and I had done a few time-trials and were swimming about 2min per 100m in the pool. We expected to do very well at that rate, however the open water + cluster F of people is not exactly swimming pool laps. The water was warm and my partner and I swam alongside eachother the entire time and sighting wasn’t really a big issue. I felt pretty relaxed until a swimmer cut over my path which kinda sucked and threw me off for a bit. The distance felt much longer than it had in the pool – I think pushing off and catching an extra breath at the end of each lap had been a huge advantage. I was anxious to be done sooner than I had anticipated and felt much more tired coming out of the water than I wanted. There was probably almost a 1/3 mile between the swim exit and transition and it was all uphill. While others had pep in their step – I walked, I was really out of breath and couldn’t run. I felt I needed the break to get ready for the bike. Swim time: 11:36 (although I’m betting my actual swim time, not including walk to transition was probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 10.)
Transition 1 went very smooth. There was nothing speedy about my transitions, but they were without complication and I needed the breaks. The bike was a VERY hilly 12 miles. In training I spent about 1/2 my time on a trainer and 1/2 outside. For the most part my outside rides were fairly smooth. I was riding somewhere in the realm of 13-15mph. My heartrate on my trainer rides were always about 130ish. Hot, sweaty, boring as hell – but controlled. My heartrate was through the roof at the race and I could never get it down until after the finish. I was pretty miserable within the first 3 miles of the bike. It seemed like one hill after another and they were brutal. I never got off my bike or had to walk – but there were times I passed folks who did and I thought it sure looked like a good idea. It was all I could do to stay on top of my breathing. Bike time: 45:44 (16mph – 49th overall on the bike)
As I entered Transition 2 and hopped off my bike I felt like total crap. I had NO ENERGY. I was zapped. My partner looked in such better shape, I was incredibly envious that she seemed so…alert. So ready to go. I felt like I was going to pass out or puke. My body felt terrible – its not even that my legs were stiff or sore, I just couldn’t move. In training I had been running 8:45 pace runs off the bike. I had actually planned to be holding myself back for the first mile so as not to ‘burn out’. HA! Hardly. My partner kept looking back at me as I was dragging myself forward and I told her to go on without me. I really believed I would just quit. So I spent a good solid minute walking and cursing and trying to convince myself that all was lost and I should just bail. And then a I looked up and saw Zack and Oban squatting down with camera and all waving and yelling at me. Oh for Christ Sakes! I couldn’t quit then. I jogged by and yelled out about how terrible I felt and Zack said “Slow and easy, slow and easy”. So that was my mantra. I just had to keep forward momentum and finish. So I walked/jogged it. It was awful. Those 3.1 miles hurt worse than my half marathon hurt. Run time: 33:07
My expectations for the race were that I would have a solid swim, a challenging but slow bike, and a strong run finish. I consider myself a runner. What I ended up with was a solid swim, a kick-ass bike time that kicked my ass, and a horrible run. After the swim it was all pretty much downhill. My heartrate was high 170′s through the bike and run – REALLY high for me. I felt weak and tired, and as though I struggled through most of it. So here is what I learned:
1) I was dehydrated. When I returned to transition to pick up my bike after the race – my water bottle that I had filled with gatorade for some calories – was practically full. I had taken two swigs on the bike and was so wrapped up in my breathing I didn’t feel like I could concentrate on hydration. That morning I had a bowl of oatmeal and a banana. I skipped my regular morning coffee. I had a RAGING headache the entire day/night after the race. Next time I will have my morning coffee. Dammit.
2) Riding a steel-framed bike on a relatively hilly 12 mile bike course as hard as I did, worked me. Without adequate hydration it worked me so good, I literally had nothing left to keep me going through the run. There is a running/biking term for this hitting the wall from lack of calories – its called BONKING (i love that word), and I was on my way to Bonkerville fo sure.
3) In light of facts 1 and 2, I should have paced myself on the bike. Had I taken a few minutes longer on the bike and finished my water bottle during the ride, I’d have had something to give on the run. It may not have affected my overall time all that much, but it would have made for a much more efficient and controlled race experience.
My race time was 1:33:37. Overall (My First Tri & My Next Tri participants combined) 98/252. Women 25/132. Age Group “My First Tri” 1/16.
You can only imagine my shock to discover that despite my having to walk half the run course I had placed 1st in my age group. And yet…when I went to pick up my medal they were ‘out’. As in “We’re sorry, it seems that some of the medals have been swiped. Would you like a bronze instead?” Umm, no thanks. I am awaiting my little gold nugget in the mail. It may be the only one I ever get as I won’t ever be competing against a bunch of first-timers again. I got lucky ;-)
Soooo, all in all. It kicked my ass. I’ve been able to recover more quickly physically then when I ran the Half Marathon in March – but I’d say that the effort of a triathlon is more intense. Hence the ‘sprint’ bit. So I’d say for me, because I have so much to learn about this type of racing, that it was harder both mentally and physically. But I’m totally ready to do it again…and I need a road bike.
Zack’s got it right – Tri’s in the summer, Runs for the winter. I’m hooked on the training for races bit – it’s totally addicting.