Today I am a (slow) TRIATHLETE: my first triathlon

Phew. What a race!

First, the setup. My sister Julie and her family live in Vermont. I was idly poking around trifind.com (yay for the “sort by date” option) and saw that there was a triathlon over the July 4th weekend in Shelburne, not far from her home in Montpelier. I had originally thought about running Tri for Old Glory in Huntsville, but the mountain biking portion of the course put me off a little bit. A Vermont triathlon sounded like a great excuse for a visit, so I registered and started making plans, which included buying a wetsuit, flying, and so on. The organizer’s pre-race mail described the course as “rolling and challenging – Vermont isn’t flat!” That worried me more than a little, since this particular race had a long bike leg and a 500m swim (longer than I’m used to) and it was my first wetsuit swim and my first open-water swim. Oh, and it was my first triathlon, period. So I was a little disconcerted by that message. Julie was kind enough to drive me over to Shelburne to take a look at the course. We found the swim entrance easily enough, but the race map provided by the course organizer didn’t seem to match what we were seeing on Julie’s in-dash GPS. As it turns out, what we drove was not the course, but I didn’t know that at the time, so I went to bed last night thinking “hey, those hills aren’t too bad.”

Pregame

Last night I ate a normal meal: steak salad (plus some extra steak), some guac, a Fourth of July-themed cupcake, and a Heady Topper. I went to bed at a reasonable time and woke up, for no good reason, at 3am. I managed to get back to sleep until about 330am, but after that it was game over. I finally got up at 445, showered, put on my tri suit, and hopped in the car with Julie. We got to the race staging site half an hour early (who knew there wouldn’t be any traffic?) so we headed back into Shelburne for a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee stop. Registration was quick and easy, and I got a good spot on the rack with plenty of time to set everything up.

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My setup in transition; note camera on handlebar mount

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Julie, acting as my pit crew (she was super helpful— thank you very much, J!)

The weather was cool and windy, as you could see from the video I shot if my balky computer would upload it. However, the scenery on the beach was gorgeous— mountains in the background, a nice variety of low clouds, and the water itself, complete with whitecaps.

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a panorama of the lakeside pre-race

After posing for a few pre-race pictures, I got my wetsuit on and got ready for the warmup swim. Several of my TRI101 peeps had recommended taking a warmup swim before any open-water action, and I’m glad I did. The water wasn’t as cold as I expected, thanks to my wetsuit and earplugs. It was, however, choppy, but the course was set so that the longest leg was parallel to the shoreline, so we were swimming parallel to the waves too. The race marshal herded everyone out of the water and gave us a quick safety brief, during which he described the bike course thusly: “You’ll go under the railroad overpass, then get to the first big hill…”

Uh oh, I thought. We didn’t see a railroad overpass yesterday. Maybe we went on the wrong bike course… But at that point there was nothing I could do about it, so I joined the single-file line for the swim and marched down the boat ramp into Lake Champlain.

The swim

The swim started in a single wave. The water was no more than about 2’ deep where we started, so it was easy to wade out to the starting point. I deliberately hung back because I knew if I got in front, I’d get run over by faster swimmers. Laura, Rachel, and a bunch of my other TRI101 peeps had all advised me to just treat the swim as a fun outing, so I did.This proved to be a good decision. At the starting gun, we all started swimming: 100m out to the first buoy, a sharp right turn followed by a 300m leg parallel to the shore, another turn, and 100m back to the boat ramp. I was surprised at how good I felt during the swim, though I got a couple of snorts of lake water from poorly timed breathing. I didn’t have much of a sighting technique, in large part because I hadn’t practiced; shame on me. (I hope Lisi isn’t reading this!) The only negative to the swim was that the inbound leg got shallow really quickly so I had to wade in because it was too shallow for me to swim. This made my legs get wobbly in transition, but I still felt pretty fresh overall. I exited the water, dropped off my provided swim cap, unzipped my wetsuit on the run, and got into the chute.

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As far as you know, I’m up in the front

T1

Coach Rick was right: it’s hard to put socks on wet feet. It’s also hard to remove a wetsuit without a) looking like a stork or b) falling over. I chose option a). The TRI101 transition training was really helpful here, as I had already neatly laid out shoes, socks, helmet, and sunglasses so I could get everything together. However, my transition time was longer than I wanted. It didn’t help that the camera fell off the mount that Paul and I had attempted to repair the night before, so I had to pick it up, adding a little bit of time. Then I stupidly forgot to push the right button on my watch, so my transition time and bike leg measurements are a bit jacked up.

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Luckily I didn’t fall over

The bike

ACK. The course was indeed “challenging”.

Sure enough, after the initial outbound leg, I went under the railroad overpass and… damn, that’s a long hill. And double damn… there was another one after it. The course also featured a long downhill stretch where I set a new speed record on the bike (29.8 mph), plus a stretch with an epic crosswind, plus beach scenery. The whole thing was rough, mostly because I had been riding exclusively on the flats in Alabama. It didn’t help that I stopped a couple of times: on the outbound leg I noticed that my watch wasn’t giving me speed data, so I stopped to adjust the speed sensor, which had gotten knocked out of position. (The cadence sensor, which Paul helped me fix yesterday, performed flawlessly, so yay.) A few miles later I stopped to move my watch to my Cajun handlebar mount, and then later still a cyclist passing me said “your back wheel looks loose!” as he passed. Or maybe he said “That’s a big heel goose.” He was going faster than me so anything’s possible. To be on the safe side, I stopped and checked it too. For the record, it was not loose and there were no geese evident.

I went back later (in the car, of course) and took a video of the course that I hoped would illustrate the hills, but it doesn’t; it looks like driving in the car, so you can’t really see the badness. The route is on MapMyRide, if you use it. Here’s an elevation map that helps tell the tale. That big knuckle around the 3.16mi mark is the first big hill, and the one before the 9.47mi mark is the second one. I had to walk up the first hill on the second course loop, as my legs were just gassed. As I found out when the official results were posted, I finished last on the bike— a little embarrassing, but I finished the ride and that’s what counts. (Plus, since this race didn’t have any professional photographers there is no record of my facial expression on the hills, for which I am grateful!)

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T2

T2 was slick as maple syrup: I got in, parked the bike, put on my running shoes, strapped on my belt, and took off. It could have gone faster; I think my time was around 1:50, but I didn’t drop anything, fall over, swear audibly, or drop dead, so I consider it a success.

The run

The run was a simple out-and-back, with a little bit of elevation on the first leg (the same road as the first 1/2 mile of the bike course, in fact). I took an easy pace, with several walking breaks, but still managed to turn in a respectable time: just under 30 min for 3.0 miles. I drained both of the bottles in my race belt, though, because I had very little water on the bike. I froze my water bottle overnight because I figured that way I’d have plenty of cold water to drink. Sadly, the 3 hours between taking the bottle out of the freezer and trying to get my first drink was not enough to melt the ice, so I got periodic trickles of melted water on the bike but that was it.

Results: “Who you gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?”

78th overall (out of 80). My goals for the race were a) finish and b) not be last.  These might not seem super ambitious, but I expected both the bike and swim to be harder than anything I had done to date. And I was right, so yay me! I ran the race at close to my normal training pace, which I thought was pretty good after the abusive bike ride, and I’m pleased with my performance in the swim.

Event Official result Paul’s watch
Openwater swim 14m20s 292yd, 10m53s
T1  — 3m49s
Cycling 1h13m 13.83mi, 1h11m
T2 1m50s
Run 32m49s 3.0mi, 29m49s

My struggle with the Ambit 2S continues. The results it gives me don’t always agree with what I expect, particularly in pool swims, but today represented a new low. I was careful to make sure that I had “triathlon” loaded as one of the two multisport activities, and I gave it plenty of time to get a GPS lock before the race. The race organizers claimed the swim distance was 500 yards, and the watch credited me with 292. It’s possible that the course buoys were, accidentally or on purpose, sited to make the course shorter, but it’s also possible that the watch just gets confused by swim distances. Once I can plug it in (I didn’t bring the sync cable, oops), I can look at the track it recorded and figure out where things went amiss.

Interestingly, they didn’t time transition separately. The swim was a gun start, and we didn’t have individual chips, but the bike had a chip tag and so did my run bib, so it seems like they should’ve been able to calculate the T2 time at least.

Important things I learned during and after the race

  1. Before you register for a triathlon, look carefully at the course map. This is the most important tip I can possibly give you.
  2. If you freeze your bike water bottle the night before, it might not thaw before the race starts and you will have nothing to drink on the bike.
  3. If you leave your glasses on your transition mat, the very nice lady next to you might stomp on them; if you are very lucky, your brother-in-law will fix them for you.
  4. The salted-caramel flavor of Gu is pretty decent, at least as energy gels go.
  5. The water in Lake Champlain tastes way better than the water in the Madison Wellness Center pool. It’s probably because of all the zebra mussels.

Executive summary

I am a triathlete. Suck it, Blerch!

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3 Comments

Filed under Fitness

3 responses to “Today I am a (slow) TRIATHLETE: my first triathlon

  1. ray

    go cat go. wore me out just reading about all that racing. 78th is better than 80ths, and it would have been 81st for me had i entered and survived. got to run. thanks for sharing.

  2. Nice Report. Congrats You are a triathlete!

  3. Missie

    Awesomeness

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