My First Triathlon: 2018 Tri the Village
It's official - I've become a cliché: a lifetime, aging runner is taken out of the sport by an injury; she is told she can swim and cycle, so she buys a bike and learns to ride while recovering from her running injury; she decides she should continue to ride, as cross training has proven immensely helpful to her recovery; she can't resist signing up for her first triathlon, requiring her to learn to swim. Anyone know this story? Once again, never say never.
While training for my first duathlon, a couple of the friends with whom I run and ride began talking about Tri the Village, their first triathlon of the season; for some reason, I thought, "surely I could survive the swim. Right?" At the time, I wasn't swimming. I wasn't swimming at all. I was still holding my head above the water, like a turtle, because I'd never learned proper breathing technique. With about six weeks to make it happen, I started going to a local pool 2-3 times per week and managed to get in one open water swim.
The duathlon proved to be great practice for my first triathlon; I knew what setting up a transition station looked like and I became familiar with the feel of the run after the bike. Unlike the duathlon, on triathlon race day we were magically gifted with a much cooler morning than I'd expected; it was 66F degrees at the lake just prior to the start and, thanks to the support of friends, I was feeling excited and ready to go. I'd decided that if I could survive the swim, and maybe even finish in under two hours, I'd be ecstatic.
The race had three waves of swim starts: males 39 and under, males 40 and over, and then all females and relay swimmers. I can promise you that I was one of the very last people into the water, by design. Mass starts are scary and I really didn't want to have a horrible experience during my first race; I took my time and hoped I could return to the exit point.
With several breaks to catch my breath because, as a newbie, I have trouble controlling my breathing, I managed to finish the 500 yard swim in 17:38; no backstroking, but there was a significant amount of breaststroking. Whatever it takes!
I popped out of the lake and took off; Jonathan, who's really quick at transitioning, had already gone over the steps with me - get out of the water, get your legs underneath you, pull your goggles off and then your cap and just keep going.
Even though I've improved some since the duathlon, I've still got a lot of transition work to do; it took me over a minute longer (2:44 for T1) than the woman who bested me for first place in our age group to transition to the bike. It's going to get better, though, I just know it!
To say that the bike route is hilly would be a HUGE understatement; I'd been warned, but I'm not sure I could properly comprehend this course until I did it - GOOD GRIEF! Even though I said I wouldn't, I let seven surrounding cyclists get into my head and I walked my bike up the steepest incline; when I saw all of them walking and dismounting, I got nervous and followed suit. Nevertheless, I finished the bike (13.5 miles) in 56:14 with an average pace of 15mph and I'm happy with that!
Another way-too-slow transition to the run, I used up 2:04 during T2, but I got started on the 3.2 mile run course; the first half mile (at least!) consists of sand and trail and then we ended up in a paved residential area that felt like we were going straight up! After my experience at the duathlon, I decided that I would not look at my Garmin and I would focus on controlling my breathing and running by feel; this ended up working to my advantage, since I managed to negative split the run in 28:18 for an average pace of 8:51.
One of the most interesting (and exciting!) things about triathlon is that, as a sport, it's not about the individual events but how well they are managed together; how well can I handle a fast run after swimming and cycling? Not surprisingly, running is my strength; even though they all smoked me on the swim (except for the one dude I passed at the last buoy - was he lost?), I outran the majority of my competition and that's pretty rewarding to see.
Thanks to my friend Sarah (of Sarah's Book Shelves), who is a highly skilled swimmer and former swim coach, I have received some feedback on my technique (or lack of - ha!) and I have been watching swim videos like a maniac. I've got my second triathlon coming up in just over a week and, while I may not be able to swim any faster, I think I'm going to be better prepared (thank you, Sarah!).
Before I jump ahead, I'm going to celebrate this accomplishment; I completed my first sprint triathlon in 1:46:58, earned the second place spot in my age group, and when I crossed that finish line I felt good. Who knew that cross training would not only help me recover, but also bring me such joy? Back to the cliché, I wish I'd started this a long time ago and I'm looking forward to so much more fun!