Yesterday I competed in the triathlon I’ve been (loosely) training for all summer. This was my second overall triathlon (here’s my first one last summer)– I had hoped to maybe race two or three this summer, but with the insane way my schedule worked out, I was lucky to get one in before school starts again.
At any rate, my training was not as high-volume or high-intensity as I initially planned for it to be. I’d been hoping to do 3 runs a week, two rides, and 2-3 swimming sessions, including speed training in each sport. Getting sidelined by that hip-flexor strain forced me to take it a LOT easier, especially on the bike, which I eventually realized was causing the hip problem. (When I eventually upgrade to a road bike instead of the road-commuter hybrid I currently ride, I am going to make sure the fit of my bike doesn’t allow this to happen again. Topic for another time!)
As I checked out the race site the day before, I thought about my goals. Going in, I knew I wouldn’t be making a hugely impressive showing, but I wanted to improve on last year’s triathlon experience in the following ways:
1. Don’t panic on the swim just because open-water swims are a little uncomfortable and there’s no zen-like black line to follow on the lake bottom. Don’t be last out of the water in my wave. Beat last year’s time.
2. Ride easy but fast-ish on the bike, not killing my legs but averaging over 13 mph (which I find it hard to do in training — my training paces are usually 12-13 mph with one recent ride at a whopping 14.1 mph). Don’t get a flat tire like last year! Beat last year’s time, even though this course is over a mile longer than last year’s.
3. Don’t wimp out on the run even though my legs will be sore and I’ll be tired and the heat will be up there. Keep running. Deal with discomfort. Beat last year’s time.
Did I reach these modest goals? Read on and find out!
Swim 400 Meters
This year I got in the water before the start to swim a few meters and check it out. I didn’t want to panic! I think this helped. Lots of folks were testing the water and it was a relaxed, chatty atmosphere. When it came time for my wave to start, I felt nervous for sure, but I was OK. As we ran into the water, though, I stepped on a huge, pointy rock! I was immediately worried I’d hurt my foot because it was pretty painful, but I quickly forgot it and it didn’t bother me. The first half of the swim went great – I kept up with the pack and swam with my natural rhythm. I think I went out too fast, though (keeping up with the pack should have been my first warning sign!) because I got out of breath a bit and had to start breathing more often (every two strokes instead of every four, that’s how bad!). I back-stroked it for a minute or two to catch my breath and heard a woman in one of the rescue kayaks beside me telling me I was doing a great job and was almost to the final turn buoy. I was so grateful for her words of encouragement! I turned back on my stomach and swam it in. People from the next wave were passing me, but when I saw the results I realized a beat five whole people from my age group. Success!
Time: 12:08 (three minutes faster than last year’s debacle!)
I threw on my Garmin and let it find satellites while I got my shoes on (running shoes as I don’t wear clip-in bike shoes) and put on my race belt and helmet. Uneventful.
Bike 13.25 Miles
The bike part was just pure fun, like riding a bike should be! We rode around the lake, spending time on some boring city roads, but a lot more time with wooded areas and scenic lake views. My hip flexor didn’t feel too hot during the ride and only ached mildly afterward, so that was good. For some reason, though, my left calf started bothering me. That’s never happened before and I worried it would hurt to run on it afterwards, but (Spoiler!) it didn’t. The course had some rolling hills but nothing major — effort wise it felt like I was just cruising along and was able to gain speed on a lot of the descents. Right out of transition a lot of speed-demons passed me whirring away, but throughout the race I rode along with a few other women (at legal distance of course!) and we passed most everyone we came by.
The one rough spot was where the open course hit a lot of superslow traffic in a construction zone — not ideal! I found myself yelling at a car with an open window whose driver kept weaving from one side to the other to “let me pass!” The cyclist in front of the car looked back and I was all, “sorry, yelling at the CAR, not YOU!” From then on she and I and the other 5-6 women near us made it our mission to get past these cars. We rode up the yellow center line, talking back and forth and getting our group safely past the traffic to where we could spread out again and ride fast. It was a nice cooperative moment in the middle of a competition, you know? Plus, it was funny — how often do you get to pass cars on your bike?
I consciously held back at times on the bike, knowing I needed to run on these legs in a little while, but if I’d been more aggressive I know I could have ridden faster. I was actually 2 minutes slower than last year’s bike, but, again, on a longer course. Happy with my average speed!
Time: 53:22 (15 mph)
Ditched the bike and helmet, grabbed a headband and my handheld water bottle.
This was the toughest 5K I have ever run. I started out with a kind of high heart rate (I don’t wear an HR monitor but it was practically busting out of my chest) and the race course started with about two miles of solid uphill. While I *do* generally eat hills for breakfast, I am forbidden from running hills when my hip flexor is hurting, so I’ve done far fewer hill workouts and it showed. Coming out of transition I was easily running at an 8:30 pace, which quickly dropped to around a 10:00 pace as we climbed the first steep hill right away. I honestly couldn’t believe it as we rounded turn after turn only to see the road still sloping up. How was this possible?! Oh yeah, it was a point-to-point run and not a loop or an out-and-back. It had a net elevation gain. Even though the gain on the course isn’t THAT extreme (my old neighborhood here in Auburn had several 3-4 mile routes with double the gain) it was just hard as hell at the time. I felt like I was still running 8:00 miles but struggling to keep my pace below 10:00 (my usual “easy” training pace).
As I ran, I came up behind runner after runner, sounding like, I imagined, an entire herd of cattle as I stomped with my cement legs and did enough heavy breathing for an entire army of phone harassers. I was struggling. The thing was, I passed every single woman I saw on the course. No one passed me. A lot of women were walking or walk/running the 5K, and the few I saw straight-up running were going at slow enough paces that I easily passed them, too. As I passed, a lot of women asked me how far along we were, and I was glad to be able to give them the mileage details from my Garmin. People were hurting out there, for sure.
I was bummed to see a time over 30:00 on my watch as I neared the finish line (That’s a good time, don’t get me wrong, but it’s usually an “easy effort” time for me, and I was hoping to run somewhere between 25-27 minutes), so I kicked it as hard as I could for the last 0.1 miles to finish strong. After I crossed the line, one side stitch suddenly became 10,000 side stitches as every muscle in my trunk cramped up. It was super sharp and painful for a good five minutes, and a volunteer had to get my timing chip off my ankle for me because I couldn’t bend down myself. Ouch. Looking at the results, I saw that only 10 women in my AG broke 30:00 on the run, and I in fact placed 11th on this leg (quite an improvement from 43rd on the swim and 29th on the bike!).
Time: 30:44 (9:46 min/mile)
Over-all Time: 1:40:01 (Oh, to have been two seconds faster!) 26th of 48 in my age group
So it’s safe to say I met my goals! I am happy with the race, even though I still think it could have gone a bit better if I’d trained the way I planned to and hadn’t let injury (and a busy life, too, honestly) get the better of me.
Plans for my next triathlon: 1) invest in a road bike before next summer and make sure the fit is great! I don’t want any more hip flexor issues; 2) spend more time swimming, possibly get into a class so I can learn how to be faster; 3) keep running like I already do!
I have to give a shoutout to Zoot Sports — I bought some tri shorts and a tri top from them for training and racing this summer and they worked out great for me! The outfit was light and easy to swim in, the shorts with their thin, quick-dry chamois were comfortable on the bike, and the whole thing stayed in place and didn’t chafe on the run. I did require a sports bra underneath in addition to the built-in support, but I am a 34C, so most built-in support is a little lacking for me. I definitely recommend the brand for anyone else looking for running or triathlon gear! And hey, Zoot, if you’re reading this, feel free to send me some gear to test out for the blog! I am more than willing to accept sponsorship!
I also want to mention that the race site was gorgeous and clean, the volunteers were AMAZING (I never saw the woman in the kayak who encouraged me on the swim but I heard her voice and I am so grateful) and the race as a whole was run very well. Women in the AL-GA area, I recommend this race!
So there you have it! Next on my athletic list: the Savannah Half Marathon on November 5th. Training has officially begun. Oh yes indeed.