My first triathlon of the season sneaked up on me. I knew it was coming, but it wasn’t until it was a week out that it hit me. I had a race coming up… soon!
I spent some time trying to come up with a time goal (both overall and for each sport), but nothing felt quite right. Everything felt arbitrary. I didn’t have much of a standard on which to base any time goals. The swim was in a 50 meter pool instead of a 25 yard pool. The ride was short (10.9 miles), but tough. I had ridden it in the middle of a long ride a couple of weeks earlier, and I knew that there were some steep sections that I didn’t know how to account for when predicting a time. The run depended on how cooked my legs were after the bike. Because of this uncertainty and the length of the race, I only had one strategy and one goal going into this race.
It was a sprint triathlon, after all.
Well, because brevity isn’t my strong suit, the plan was a bit more detailed than that. I wanted to swim hard enough that my arms felt like jelly at the end of the swim. Then, I wanted to get up those hills as fast as I could and take advantage of the downhill second half of the bike course to help my legs recover a bit. Finally, I wanted to run a fairly aggressive 5k. Not stupid-aggressive, but confident-aggressive.
The race start was just a few miles from Rob’s parents’ house, so I stayed there the night before. It was easier, less stressful, and allowed me to get an extra fifteen minutes or so of sleep. Plus, it meant a completely stress-free evening. I watched some TV and got to bed super early. And since 4:00am wakeup calls are not that unusual since I’ve been training, I didn’t even mind getting that early to get ready for the race (which started at 6:30am).
I had some water in the morning and managed to eat a pretty solid pre-race breakfast of a banana, a hardboiled egg, and a bagel. Since I had packed the evening before, all I had to do was fill up my water bottle, grab my bag, and head out the door. I was nervous about the race, but I kept feeling like I should be more stressed about actually getting there with everything I needed. But I had planned well, so it went really smoothly. I got to the pool around 5:30am and set up my transition area. That took me about five minutes, and then I kind of thought to myself, “Well… what now?” I was at this race on my own, so I just kind of wandered around. I snacked on some trail mix. I went to the bathroom. I went to the bathroom again. I looked at the pool and tried to mentally prepare myself for the long course. And before I knew it, it was time to line up for the swim.
The swim was 400m in a 50m pool. You swam down one lane, then popped under the lane line and swam back in the next lane. People lined up by their projected swim time. I guessed I would swim somewhere around 7:00 or 7:15, so that’s where I lined up. I was wearing my tri shorts, but instead of my tri top, I had on a bikini top. I was hoping the smaller, tighter top would cut down on drag. There were a few other swimmers doing the same thing, and it was a good decision, even if I did feel a little awkward standing there exposed for the world to see (I’m not used to bikinis… I’ve never even done a sports-bra only run!). They started us off every ten seconds. When it was my turn, I hopped in and took off. I swam the first 50m really quickly and caught up to the woman in front of me by the time I had reached the first turn.
After that, though, I settled into a bit of a rhythm. I felt strong swimming and continued to pass people who had clearly over-estimated their swimming ability. I was only passed once on the swim, by a teenage boy who was a little fish. The only problem I had were the turns. I knew that I would have to do a flip turn and navigate under the lane line while doing so. I thought it would be a pretty natural adjustment, so I didn’t bother to practice that particular skill. It was not natural. Almost every single turn, I’d flip and then be sure I was completely past the lane line only to come up and hit it with my back or my head or my butt. And every single time, I’d tell myself I’d pay more attention and get it right the next time. I never did. All my flip turns sucked, though my turns were faster than they would have been if I had done open turns, so I just stuck with the tragic flip turns. I climbed out the pool and glanced at my watch because I wanted an idea of what I swam (without the run to the transition incluced). 6:56! Off to a great start!
My first transition was comically long. I had my tri top all laid out with the number already attached so I could just pull it on quickly. But I was wet and the material kept sticking to me which caused the entire top to get all twisted. I was struggling to pull it on and just could not get it. It probably took me an extra 20-30 seconds just to get it all figured out. It was a little funny, and while I was slightly annoyed at the time, I was more amused and it didn’t affect my attitude going into the bike leg at all.
I finally got out of transition and started the bike. There was a short portion right at the beginning of the course that was downhill, and then the uphill grind began. I’m glad I rode the course a couple of weeks ago because I knew what to expect. Additionally, since I was starting the course fresh instead of an hour into a long ride, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered. I passed a couple of women and men early on in the course and was passed by a few men early in the course as well. However, for most of the bike, I was racing alone. The first climb was tough, but there were still a few people ahead of me that I could catch, so it went quickly. The second climb is longer, but I was able to put my bike in a pretty low gear and spin without mashing the pedals too hard. Because this course was hilly, my particular bike was an advantage. When I got my bike, I opted for a compact crankset, which basically means you have a few more easy gears and a few fewer hard gears. That allowed me to keep my cadence pretty high, even on the steeper climbs.
Of course, what goes up must come down. The second half of the course was awesome. The descents were fast, but not so fast that I had to give up free speed and use my brakes to stay safe. I was able to pedal easily but without spinning out in my hardest gears for a large part of the descent. Before I knew it, I was almost done. As I mentioned, I had seen a few women, but (much to my surprise) I hadn’t been passed by any. I knew I had been near the front of the swim line and had passed one or two women both in the swim and on the bike. I started to wonder if I was the first woman. I knew I was up there with the leaders, and that kept me working hard during the end of the bike leg where it would have been easy to hold back and conserve energy.
I made my way into T2 and chatted with a woman waiting for her relay team member while I changed my shoes. She mentioned that I was the second woman to come into the transition. I was pleased to hear that, but I’ll admit I was a tad bit disappointed that I wasn’t the lead woman like I thought I might possibly have been. I ran out of transition, ready for that 5k.
My legs protested as I started the run. I usually run really easily off the bike, so I was somewhat surprised. It’s supposed to be easy right now! I’m not supposed to start hurting yet! I reminded myself that the first part of the race was a false flat and that I was running uphill, even if it didn’t look like it, and tried to stay positive. Sure enough, as I kept running, I felt better. Based on my times when I crossed the various mile markers, I’m not 100% sure they were accurate. I wasn’t too concerned because I really was running on effort. A mile or so into the run, I saw someone up ahead with long hair. She didn’t look all that strong at the time, and I thought there was a good chance I could catch her. She was pretty far up there, though, so I wasn’t sure. Before I gain any significant ground, I heard someone breathing behind me. Based on the tone of the breaths, I guessed it was a woman, and, sure enough, a couple seconds later, a woman blew by me. I remembered that one woman mentioned having previous run a sub-19 open 5k on this very course as we were standing in line before the swim. Because of that previous conversation, I wasn’t exactly surprised to see her, and since I could guess how fast she was going, I didn’t try to go with her. There was no reason to burn myself out halfway through the 5k.
Instead, I just focused on running my race. I passed several people (and was also passed once or twice myself!) and continued to gain on the woman that I had seen ahead of me earlier. I still wasn’t sure if I’d be able to catch her by the end of the race, though. Then I remembered that I already had a head start. Because I hadn’t been passed by any women in the swim or on the bike and since I had passed the woman right in front of me in the swim, I knew that this woman started at least twenty seconds before me. So I didn’t need to actually catch her—just get close! For some reason, this mental boost is all I needed. I picked up my pace a bit and started gaining faster. I saw the last big hill on the run course and decided to push it up the hill to close the gap. I ended up passing her right after the top of the hill and just kept going. I was about half a mile from the finish when I passed her, so I tried to keep that pace through to the finish.
After recovering for a few minutes, I went and checked the results. Sure enough, I finished second place overall! It was a small triathlon, but I was still thrilled with the results. Better yet, I actually placed second in each of the different legs (I was beaten by a different person each time) which gives me hope that I’m a fairly well-rounded triathlete without an obvious weak point. I waited around for the awards and got to go up and get my medal for placing first in my age group (only the overall winners got awards for their overall place). This race was a great start to my season and was exactly the confidence booster I needed.
Age group place—1/10