Guys, I did it. I actually freaking did. I completed my first — and hopefully not my last — triathlon this weekend in nearby Clermont, Fla.
As you may recall, I’ve flirted with the idea of doing a tri for years. My friend and co-worker Katy has been doing them for years, and for work, we’ve covered several tris and they’ve never failed to inspire me. But I’d never quite mustered up the moxie to sign up for one. Then, last spring, my friend Meghann, who’d just started working at IronGirl, approached me to tell me about the local event and to dangle a free entry in front of my face to entice me to finally bite the bullet.
So I did.
It was supposed to be in May but then got pushed back to September. All the more time for me to procrastinate training!
Over the past couple months, I’ve hit the pool and bike trails, although not as regularly as I should, but I was at least feeling comfortable that I could probably handle the super-sprint distance:
— a 1/4 (about 400 meter) swim
— a 7.5 mile bike ride
— a 2-mile run
Of those three stages, the one I took least seriously — the run — turned out to be the most challenging. More on that in a moment.
As race weekend approached, I started getting more and more nervous. What had I gotten myself into? My disastrous attempt at a final bike ride last week didn’t do a lot of boost my confidence.
Ready or not, though, I was going to do it. I had two goals:
1) To not drown
2) To not crash on my bike
Anything above and beyond that was just gravy.
Given my nerves, I decided to make the 35-minute drive to Clermont on Saturday to scope things out and pick up my race packet then rather than waiting until race morning. I’m SO glad I did that.
I was able to get my bike racked and to walk around the course a bit, particularly the transition areas, to get a lay of the land and mentally prepare myself for what I’d be doing on race day. And Meghann, who is doing a freaking FULL IRONMAN in a month, gave me a great pep talk and helped talk me through one of the things that was most stressing me out: my outfit for race day.
When I got home, I went over my packing checklist one more time:
— Sports bra
— One-piece suit
— Goggles (two pairs in case I had issues with one pair)
— Swim cap (provided by IronGirl)
— Compression shorts
— iPod (which is turned out I couldn’t use on the run per USTA rules. Dangit)
— Extra hair tie
— Running shirt, with bib attached
— Spibelt in case I wanted to carry Gu or a protein bar along
Extras: a towel to set all my stuff out on for T1 (the transition between the swim and the bike), an extra towel for drying off, water for drinking, water for rinsing my feet off after the swim, extra contacts/solution and my glasses just in case, a Paula race-day special (a PB&J) and a granola bar.
That’s a whole ton of crap, huh?
On Sunday, race morning, I left my house at about 5:15 to make the drive west, even though my wave didn’t go until 7:48. I wouldn’t have left that early but I was worried about parking and they were closing the transition area at 7 a.m. to all racers.
As I was pulling into the lot, I immediately saw Katy. After she got her stuff set up, she came over to my bike to help me make sure my transition area was all set up. Thank God for veteran friends.
By about 6:30, I’d done all I could, and I was as ready as I was going to be.
For the record, after much online research and consulting with my tri coach Katy, I opted to wear a one-piece suit with a sports bra underneath it for the swim … and no underwear. I include this because for some reason the Internet refused to give me this specific piece of information and I couldn’t wrap my brain around my top to bottom outfit for the longest time. Would a suit chafe me on the bike or run? Would swimming in shorts slow me down (even more)? I needed answers people!
After the swim, I put shorts on over the suit, and after the bike, I put on my running shirt, with my bib attached. Your timing chip is in the ankle strap that you wear the whole day. Your bike has a tag with the number, plus you put a number sticker on your helmet. So the only time you’re required to wear your bib is for the run.
At 7, the transition area closed so we all headed down to the beach, where I found some familiar faces.
I knew DadJovi and E were coming but I didn’t expect them to be there so early. So we all waited together. One of the cool things about triathlons is they write your age on your leg.
But it was also one of the most frustrating points because I was able to know for a fact that three 11-year-olds and several 70+ ladies were all about to kick my ass in the water.
This time was probably the worst part of the whole day. The swim was my most dreaded part of the event. I’m not exactly a strong swimmer. Oh, I can swim in a backyard pool or the ocean just fine but I seem to be freestyle challenged. I learned it as a child but it’s just never been a strong stroke for me. For some reason, breast seems to be my most comfortable stroke. Oh, and side stroke, which my husband mocks.
My wave — the 39 and under super-sprint, was the last to go. So we watched as five waves went ahead of us. And I freaked out more and more with each passing moment. I could have sworn that the buoy marking my turn 2 moved further out into Lake Minneola. The funny thing is that DadJovi came up to me at one point and said, “Did your buoy move out?” SEE!
His slightly panicked look was also freaking me out. It was a real swim. Of course, the sprint distance, a half-mile, looked even more intimidating, but the super-sprint distance was no joke.
We started by standing by the pylons in the water, swimming out toward that first orange buoy (keeping it on our left), turning left toward the first yellow buoy in the middle, then swimming toward the front orange buoy on the left (again, keeping it on our left), then swimming toward shore. The sprinters swam in more of a rectangular pattern — following the same path at the start but going straight out to the last yellow buoy on the right, turning left and heading toward the yellow buoy all the way on the left, then, swimming toward shore with the orange buoys on their left.
That’s a lot of swimming.
Finally, it was time for my wave to head into the water.
The water was actually a perfect temperature — 77.9 degrees. Since it was under 78 degrees, people could wear wetsuits if they wanted. But it definitely didn’t feel too cold. In fact, the entire day was perfect weather — probably low to mid-70s at the start with a cool breeze, which did kick up the waves more than I would have liked.
The airhorn went off and we all started stumbling toward the buoy. I ran for about 15 or 20 yards before diving in and taking my first strokes. It was everything I’d feared — I was getting kicked like crazy from all directions and probably doing my own fair share of kicking. It was just a mass of bodies to get started.
Before we hit the water, they asked by a show of hands how many were doing their first tri. I’d say about 80 percent of my wave was first-timers like me. I think this fact explains the funniest part of all the kicking — the water was filled with one sound, “I’m sorry!” “Oh, sorry I kicked you!” “OOPS!” Everyone was so nice and trying really hard to not kick each other. The attitudes of all the women around me really helped ease my nerves.
I decided to swim toward the right and fall back a little just to get away from the crowd. I knew I was going to be slow anyway, so I figured falling back for a minute wasn’t going to make much of a difference. I felt pretty good hitting the first buoy. About halfway between it and the turn point in the middle, the woman next to me starting freaking out. Like really, truly panicking. She and I had been swimming next to each other for a bit so I didn’t want to just leave her. I told her to raise her hand in the air for the swim angels (the people with noodles in the water) as they’d taught us. But she kept saying “I can’t do it. I can’t get my arm up.” So I started treading water, raising my arm and yelling for help. Two other women stopped too and one was great at really talking the woman through the panic and getting her onto her back until help could get to her.
Once we knew she was taken care of, we swam off again. Almost immediately I felt my energy sapping and my goggles were starting to fog up.
The last third of the swim was very, very difficult, not only mentally but physically. I kept trying to alternate freestyle with breast and side just so I could keep moving forward.
Even though I couldn’t really see, I thought I was getting close to shore. I tried standing up and was happy to find my feet finally touched.
So I ripped my foggy goggles off and ran the rest of the way in.
I wasn’t the last one out but I was definitely in the back of the pack. My time was 12:03, putting me in 131st place overall (out of 169) and 22 in my age group (out of 25).
Yup, not a strong swimmer.
I didn’t care though. I was just so happy to be done with the swim.
And then I fell flat on my face crossing the timing mat coming out of the water, so that was awesome.
Now, in theory, one runs from the lake to the transition area but my legs were dead. I tried to run a couple times but my legs felt like lead.
Even though I had everything laid out, my brain just wasn’t working. It took me forever to get my shorts, socks and shoes on. I felt so dead I even took a couple squirts of Hammer Gel, which I hate, but I knew I needed something. The consistency of all gels just really bother me and my stomach but I needed a burst of something.
But I knew I was heading into my favorite part, the bike, so I was eager to get going. It ended up taking me 05:08 to get through that transition. Yikes.
As I entered the mounting area, I heard E cheering for me.
As I always do, I put my right foot in the pedal’s cage and started pedaling, trying to get my left foot situated as I went. But I just could not get my foot in — the straps were stuck under the pedal. Awesome.
Rookie mistake not checking the pedals. Finally, I was off.
The first half mile or so was tough as I tried to work out my legs from the swim. But after that, I really settled into a nice groove. Heck, I was even passing people like crazy, so that was fun.
I had one pet peeve with the race — too many cyclists were riding right in the middle of the road, not on the right as we’d been instructed to do. The roads weren’t closed so there still was some occasional traffic. Yet some of the riders kept riding right smack in the middle of the right lane, forcing me to either pass them on the right or in the opposite traffic lane. It made me nervous every time.
The ride was beautiful. It circled the entire lake on these lovely country roads. The first 80 percent of the course was pretty flat … until the end. Oh the end.
First we hit this steep but mercifully short hill at about 6.3 miles, according to my watch. A woman and I were riding near each other and pushing each other one to get up that hill. “It’s our last one!” she yelled out. Oh, how wrong she was.
Right at about the 7 mile mark, we hit a long, steep hill that seemed to last foooreeeever. Not cool.
The good news is that it sent us down a pretty fast, albeit somewhat curvy, hill to finish. I went flying by E and DadJovi yelling “EEEEEEE!!!!!” I think people thought I was yelling “WHEEEEEEE!” like that pig in the Geico commercials.
I ended up completing the 7.5 mile ride in 32:29, good enough to finish that leg 97th overall and 13th in my division. Take that swimming!
I ran my bike into the transition area, expecting to take right off. But my stupid shirt, on which I’d already pinned my bib, got all tangled up and I seriously had to put it on and take it off two different times. I grabbed my visor and took off — well, walked off.
I ended up making it through T2 in 2:18.
I told myself that I was walking at the start to switch my Garmin over from cycling to running (which took me an annoyingly long time to figure out, despite the fact that I’d practiced it), but in reality, my legs were just dead weights. I seriously underestimated how difficult it would be to run, even a short distance of 2 miles, on those tired legs.
I was spent.
But I had DadJovi yelling at me (in the nicest possible way) to start running, so off I went … slowly. I convinced myself to run intervals — I’d run 3 minutes, walk a minute (or 2), then run again.
Two things were killing me at the start: a) I thought there was supposed to be a water station at the .5 mile marker, so I didn’t drink anything in transition and I was dying for a drink. It turns out the water stop was at the 1-mile mark. b) I had to pee so freaking bad. Like every time I tried to run, it was coming out. I probably should have just peed myself — I was wearing a wet bathing suit after all. But I just couldn’t pull the trigger.
When I got to the 1-mile mark, I nearly cried happy tears to see a bathroom — a real one, too!
After my pit stop, I sucked down two cups of HEED and did much better on the run back.
It also helped to know someone was very eagerly awaiting my arrival.
I knew there was one thing that could make me run faster — my speed demon runner daughter. So she paced me for a few hundred yards (which I’m pretty sure probably broke some rule but I told her to stay in the grass).
I think I could learn some things from her stride. Look how much higher she gets her foot up than me!
And finally I was crossing the finish line, officially becoming a triathlete.
I ended up finishing the run in 24:18, which shockingly was good enough for 94th overall and 15th in my division.
When you add all those numbers together, it comes out to 1:16:16, which means …
13th place in my division for my first? I’ll take it!
And my tri mentor Katy completely ROCKED her first post-baby tri, taking 9th in her division.
Audrey really liked that medal!
Y’all still with me? Sorry for the novel but I get a pass — it was my first time. But will it be my last? Halfway through the run, I was thinking, “This sport is crazy. Who does this?” But then once I started looking at my times and of course comparing them I started thinking, “Dangit, I could have done so much better in my transitions and the swim.”
So yeah, I have a feeling it’s not my last.
Thank you again to IronGirl for the opportunity to finally take the plunge. See you next year. Wait, did I just type that?
Have you ever done a tri? Would you? What’s on your fitness bucket list?