Triathlon #3!

After falling behind on posting, I have been attempting to write two posts every time I write a post and to catch up to the present day.  It’s clear that it’s never going to happen, though, so I need to revise my strategy.  I don’t need the extraneous, self-generated pressure of feeling like I need to archive every significant workout I do in written words.  So I’m going to jump straight ahead in time to my third triathlon, which took place on September 1st, and then just start posting in the present tense again.  And if I feel like going back to recount an experience I can, but I’m not going to try to catch them all up.  Just keep moving forward.

So, without further ado, here’s my race report for triathlon #3!

I sort of built my season targeting this as my ‘big race,’ even though it wasn’t all that different from the first two I did in all practical terms. I traveled to Ottawa to do this race (had friends to stay with) so it felt like a more exotic and exciting way to do a race. So it was a goal race for me in terms of being a culminating event of my season.

Pre-race

I haven’t done many triathlons yet, so I wasn’t entirely sure if my judgment was off or not, but my first impression of the transition routes was that they were terrible. They seemed to be really far to go, particularly for a sprint, and through some ungainly terrain. I wasn’t looking forward to running up a sizable hill from the beach, barefoot, on an unswept asphalt bike path. I also wasn’t looking forward to running super far in bike cleats — including up and down some small hills, across a football field and along a dirt footpath into a gully (I bike in socks, so I couldn’t do the shoes-clipped-in-already method; might be something for me to work on in the off season) But maybe I had just been spoiled at my other events and this was normal. I didn’t really have the experience to know. And anyway, there was nothing to be done but make the best of it. The transition area was in the middle of an Olympic-sized running track, which was fenced all around. Athletes could only enter from one end, so I had to walk halfway around to get in. Security was tight on seeing numbers and matching bike tags. God help you if you forgot anything. I appreciated the care taken to ensure people’s bikes were protected but I think the entrance could have been closer to the other side of things. I ended up having to sprint from the transition area to the beach in order to make the race announcements. My fault for not arriving early enough I guess, but I didn’t realize how long it would take to get everywhere.

Swim

The swim was pretty similar to the other two I had done, which is to say I don’t think there was anything too exceptional about it. It was in the Rideau Canal, which technically has a current, but I didn’t notice much. The water was a comfortable temperature, but quite weedy and murky. I was aiming to simply stay relaxed and find my own rhythm, and I was able to do that for the most part. Only got kicked a couple of times, which was an improvement over my other races so far. The guy who did the race announcements high-fived everyone as they got out of the water.

T1

I left the beach and ran for the track. As expected, it turned out to be an effort. I started on the asphalt but then started running on the grass, as my feet were hurting. I was a little nervous about what might be hiding in the grass to poke my bare feet (rocks? snakes? tiny Canadian leprechauns?) but I didn’t end up stepping on anything. I felt more winded by the time I got to my bike than I had when I exited the water. I got my stuff on without trouble and headed out with my bike. First out of the track area, then across a football field, down a forest path, down and up a gully, across a road and finally to the mount line.

Bike

Cycling is my strongest discipline and the one I look forward to the most. I knew my biggest challenge here would be pacing. The course was virtually flat, which was a disadvantage for me because I’m a Clydesdale and I get a lot of benefit from the downhills. With no hills to speak of, it was entirely up to my legs without much of a gravity assist. I paid attention to my heart and breathing, trying to keep things steady and not going overboard, while aiming for my mph average. I thought it went pretty well. I wasn’t breathing very hard for most of the 3 loops, and only really started to feel it at the end of the 3rd. I also caught a bunch of people, some even from the first swim wave that went out 5 minutes before mine, so I felt I was doing ok. I had been nervous about losing count of my laps, but they had people announcing your name and what lap you were on, which was awesome. It was also cool to see all the different racers on the same course, because it was a looped route. The iron distance folks were doing 9 laps to my 3. I nailed my average speed goal. Once I hit the dismount line, things got awful.

T2

Running after the bike is not comfortable, as we all know. For me, this was way worse because I had to traverse the same off-road route back to the track, in cleats, with jelly legs. I tried to run, but I mostly couldn’t and had to walk. My calves started seizing when I tried to run on elevation in my biking shoes, and having had a calf injury earlier in the season, I wasn’t willing to risk hurting myself. So I walked it in.

Run

My watch failed on the run – just wouldn’t work for me at all, so I had no idea of my current pace. That was frustrating. I felt pretty awful, which I have come to expect for the first mile or so. Usually it evens out and I find my stride, and things feel better after that. Not so today. I kept it going but I was riding the struggle bus the whole way. I felt underhydrated, especially in the sunny sections. The last mile was a mental battle. I ended up only about :15 off my goal pace, so it turned out it wasn’t as bad as it felt.

Post-race

I had passed a couple of other Clydesdales (I could tell from body marking) and none had passed me, and I didn’t see anyone my age pass me, so I had suspicions that I did relatively well in the rankings. When the results were posted, I saw that I had won the Clydesdale category! I checked to see where I would be in my age group, had I picked that option, and I would have been second! I was the 17th male, and 20th overall out of 115. They were by far my best results, so it turned out it felt hard for a good reason. I got a ‘gold champion’ lanyard to add to my finisher’s medal and other race swag.

The race was organized pretty professionally and seemed to be run well; my only complaints were that the transitions were so challenging. It seemed like they were expecting more people – there were lots of empty racks and a ton of space on the field. Maybe a low year for them.

What’s next?

I’m not doing any more triathlons this season, but I’m excited to continue training and to work toward Olympic distance next year. I don’t really have any idea how to make that leap, but I’m motivated to find out!

Triathlon #2!

My second sprint triathlon was a solo endeavor.  The family was tied up doing other things, and the race was about an hour and a half from home, so I didn’t have anyone coming out to see me race.

I was kind of okay with that, for this one. So much of triathlon training is done in isolation, and my plan was to look at this race as a hard training session for my 3rd race at the end of the summer. so it kind of fit. 

I prepped my gear at home, wandering about in the same fog that settled over me the day before the first race. I felt incredibly tired, as if my body knew what was coming and was trying to get all the rest it could beforehand.  It probably was.

The drive down was fantastic, taking me though the mountains on some roads I’d never seen before. The race was taking place at a state park with a campground, so I had reserved myself one of the very last tent sites and borrowed a backpacking tent from a friend (our family tent was too large for me to want to deal with). I planned to head down in the late afternoon, set up camp, drive the course, get some dinner and have a relaxing, solitary night camping outdoors.  When I woke up, I’d already be at the race site.

That’s pretty much how it went, too.  I set up camp without trouble, then was able to drive the bike course (which included the run course), pulling back into the campground just as it was getting dark. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found – it was a 14-mile loop that was downhill or flat for the first 75% of the ride. There was one significant climb, but it wasn’t anything I was afraid of, having done a lot of climbing in my training over the summer. Then a flat run into T2. The run was on the same course, with some slight rolling hills.  

I picked up dinner at the local store, as well as some fuel for the next morning, and after a small fire at my campsite and a few minutes reading, I went to bed.

The next morning I woke up feeling pretty good.  I had slept well, which was good considering the extra variables that camping can potentially throw at you. After my morning routine, I suited up, got my transition gear on my back (in a backpack this time!) and rolled over to check-in.

The scene for the swim was amazing.  I couldn’t imagine a much more beautiful place to do a swim.  

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After I got set up in the transition area, which was quite crowded, I wandered around the beach playing the “age game.” Everyone had their ages put on their calves at body marking, so I would look at a person and mentally guess their age, then look at their calf to see how close I was. It was awesome to see so many people, particularly older people, in amazing shape. And plenty of others working hard on it. That’s one thing I’ve found about going to these events – the atmosphere is pretty inspiring. It always feels like a pretty good crowd to be hanging out in.

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Swim

  • 600 yd Distance
  • 12:14 Duration
  • 2:02/100 yd

The swim was a wave start from the beach.  It proved to be a much better swim than my first race, in terms of the crowd.  The swimmers spread out quicker and I wasn’t really fighting anyone for space the whole way. There were people close enough to me that I could have drafted if I had that skill in my playbook, but as of this point I’m still learning how to just get the swim done, so I just focused on what I was doing and tried to keep my rhythm.  I came out of the water feeling less tired than I did during my first triathlon, and felt ready for the bike.

The transition run was short, just up the grassy lawn from the beach.  I had no trouble getting into the area and locating my machine.

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Bike

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  • 13.94 mi Distance
  • 39:50 Moving Time
  • 621 ft Elevation
  • Avg Speed 21.0 mi/hr
  • Max Speed 40.7 mi/hr

As expected, the ride was a blast. I was able to keep a pretty high speed up for most of it, especially down a couple of big hills where my weight went to work for me. I passed a bunch of people without even really trying, letting gravity and inertia do a lot of the effort, and at the halfway mark I still felt very fresh and prepared to attack the hill. 

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I kept it steady on the climb, focusing mostly on my cadence and trying to keep my spin rate up. I didn’t want to sprint it, but I didn’t want to go too easy, either. I felt like I hit the right mark, especially as I caught a couple of people in my age group on the way. One or two superstars with full aero gear passed me on their way to the second lap of the Olympic distance course. I did my best to remind my brain that they were not my competitors; nobody was, in fact.  Just myself.

I crested the hill and then cruised the last two or so miles on the flats around the back side of the lake back to the transition area. No troubles again on transition; just racked my bike, switched my shoes and headed out.

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Run

  • 3.10 mi Distance
  • 27:47 Duration
  • 8:58/mi Pace

I was able to shake the jelly legs at about a mile, and then felt like I had my feet back under me. I found that the small climbs and descents on the run course really helped; working against a little elevation seemed to clear out the dead feelings somehow. I did get passed by a few people I had caught on the bike, but I was expecting that, knowing that running is probably my weakest discipline. I kept at it and was able to finish feeling pretty strong. For my current state of training, my final pace was really fast.

Results were posted live on a screen next to the transition area, so it wasn’t long before I was able to see how I did. I was expecting to see something like my first race, but was pleasantly surprised to see my name considerably higher in the standings – with my overall time of

1:23:52.5, I finished 4th in my age group, and 26th overall out of 166!  Later, the results sheet was revised to remove the top 5 finishers out of their respective age categories, leaving me 2nd in my age group! My transition times improved over my first race, at 2:14 and 1:25.  The results also confirmed my internal convictions that the bike is my jam, especially when there are downhills: I had the 12th fastest bike ride of the day.

After picking up my race shirt and watching some more folks finish, I went back to pack up my campsite and drive home.  I felt satisfied and very happy with what I had accomplished.  I was already looking forward to the next one.

My first triathlon!

I finished my first sprint distance triathlon! Getting here was the culmination of 10 weeks of training, with a focus on changing my eating habits and trying to lose weight. It was a milestone I worked hard on, and I was proud to achieve it.

It took the week beforehand off almost entirely, doing only an easy swim where I tried out a couple of techniques I had seen online. Other than that, I didn’t exercise at all. I knew I was really stretching the definition of “taper” but considering my recent calf injury, which had only just begun to feel normal again, I thought it was best to go the route of complete recovery.  Certainly nothing I did in the week beforehand would make much a difference fitness-wise; it was up to the 10 weeks prior to see if that was up to snuff or not.

I spent the day before the race in something of a haze of nerves and intermittent preparation.  I ended up taking two separate naps by accident, and it took me probably 4-6 hours to actually get my kits together.  Mentally, I was in a fog. Eventually I did manage to get things laid out, though, and then packed them up into two reusable grocery store shopping bags, for T1 and T2.

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On the left we’ve got tri suit, race-provided swim cap, sunscreen, goggles and earplugs, and race manual. In the middle is T1 – spare bike bottle, helmet, gloves, numbers, bike shoes and socks, 2 towels and large water bottle. T2 has running shoes, an energy snack, another large water bottle and a towel.

The race was about an hour from my house, so the wife and I were up early to get there. I had my usual breakfast of oatmeal, and hydrated on the drive.  The weather was perfect, so I was glad to see that wasn’t a factor I’d have to contend with.

The logistics of transition setup had me more nervous than almost anything else.  The two transitions were in two different spots, as opposed to being in one location, and I didn’t really know how most people would be traveling from one to the other. Everything seemed roped off, so parking at T2 didn’t seem to be an option. Parking at T1 wasn’t an option either, for that matter; we had to park at a 3rd location and then walk (or ride) to the Ts.  So we ended up walking pretty far, carrying my shopping bags, which almost immediately demonstrated how poorly chosen they were.  Why it didn’t occur to me to use a backpack, or at least a duffel with a shoulder strap, I have no idea.  The fog was pretty thick the day before, I guess.

I got my stuff set up at T2, then headed to the beach for T1.  After being handed my bike stake, I asked someone why people were leaving their bib numbers at T2 – because the race manual said you had to wear it on the bike.  Did they get two numbers somehow, did I miss something?  No, they said, they’re just not following the rules.  Cool.  At least I knew I wasn’t screwing something up.

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T1 setup

I got my T1 spot set up, then headed to the overlook just above the beach to check out the swim course. It looked to be a long way, standing on shore. It was hard to tell how it measured up to the training I had been doing. Only one way to find out, though.

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Swim course

Due to how the timing mats worked, they had us all line up in a crowded mass on a pathway before entering the beach area, and once we were there, we weren’t allowed to leave.  Due to the low water level, it was going to be a water start, so everyone waded out to a first set of buoys to await the start signal.

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Getting set for the start

The start was in two waves, with the men going first and the women and teams going second. I positioned myself to the outside and toward the back of the pack, thinking that would be safest and easiest to manage.  I had never swum in a pack before so I had no idea what it was going to be like. I was just hoping I wouldn’t get panicky.

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First wave start

The signal sounded and we were off. I took a few steps, plunged in, and almost immediately it was chaos.  People were thrashing and kicking all around me. I got kicked and whacked several times right from the start. Because it mostly happened underwater, it didn’t really hurt, but it was always unexpected and somewhat disorienting. It was hard to find a route forward that wasn’t full of arms and legs. The pack didn’t really thin out until we had rounded the second corner and were on the way back toward the beach, so I probably only had about 40% of the course when I could really swim comfortably and try to find my own pace. The rest of the time was spent primarily fighting my way through and trying to navigate. The water was terrible, too – almost uncomfortably warm, full of weeds and smelling like boat fuel. Not the most pleasant environment to swim in. 

I ended up working pretty hard on the swim.  By my watch, I was out of the water in about 10 minutes, not including the run up the beach, which was 3-5 minutes faster than I expected. I think I swam a lot faster than I had trained.

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Out of the water (on the far right)

It was over soon enough, though, and I was back on the beach, heading up for T1. As I ran up the hill, I discovered that one of my earplugs had suction-locked into my ear, and I couldn’t for the life of me get it out. There was nothing I could do but leave it in and do the rest of the race with one ear plugged. I hoped it wouldn’t affect my balance.

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Drying my feet and getting ready for the bike

I dried my feet and got my biking gear on, then jogged my bike out to the mount line and headed out on the bike course. I wasn’t really paying much attention to the transition times, since this was my first triathlon. I primarily wanted to get through them successfully, so I didn’t mind taking a little extra time.  As it turned out, I took a lot of extra time and had some of the slowest transitions of the entire field. 

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Heading out on the bike

Cycling is definitely my strongest discipline, and the course was pretty flat, so I was eager to put down a good time. I realized right away that the effort I’d put out on the swim was definitely too much, because I was eating people up left and right in the first mile.  That meant I could have swum a bit slower and made up time on the bike.  Lesson learned.

As I rounded a corner to head up one of the only hills, passing another cyclist on my right, I learned another hard lesson – never forget to check your tire pressure.  Like, with a gauge.  And a pump. My tire seemed to roll out from under me and go soft, and I was sure I’d blown a flat.  I stopped at the top of the hill and got off my bike to check.  My rear tire was soft, but it wasn’t flat.  It was rideable, and I wasn’t about to take the time to pump air into it with my little hand pump.  I decided to keep riding as far as I could.  If it went flat on the course, so be it.  For the time being, it was low but usable.

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The low tire definitely slowed me down.  I couldn’t corner very well, for fear of losing stability, and whenever I tried to stand and power over small rises, the back end of the bike went all wobbly.  It didn’t feel safe at all. I kept it conservative when maneuvering and put as much power in as I could when the road was straight. That got me to the end of the course with an average of about 19 mph.

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Coming back in to T2

I found my transition spot easily enough and put my bike down. I basically ignored everything else there except for my running shoes. I carried one of my bike bottles with me for a short distance to douse myself with before tossing it to my wife, who was there cheering me on, then bricked on out to do the run.

The legs felt dead and weird for the first mile, as expected, but my pace was good and my calf felt great. I felt the exertion in my lungs but I still had legs, so I pushed it pretty much as hard as I had left.  The course wound through some residential areas and back along the lakeside, finishing up along a bike path.

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I came into the finish with an overall time of 01:21:34. I didn’t have a fixed goal to shoot for going into this; I was aiming just for completion.  But under 1:30:00 seemed to be fairly respectable, and I was placed somewhere in the middle of the field, both in my age group and overall. The distances for the race were allegedly 500m in the water, 12 miles on the bike and 3 miles on the road (but I’m not sure I trust their measurements, either, particularly for the run).

I say somewhere because the timing for this event was completely messed up and none of the splits ended up being reliable.  The only time I trust from the official results is the overall.  When I got home, I checked the results and saw one set of split times and placing; the next day, they had completely changed. Neither of them made any sense, either, and didn’t align anywhere close to what I had on my devices during the race. 

Luckily, the times didn’t matter all that much to me.  This one was about learning how to do a triathlon, completing it and having a foundation for the next one.  In terms of those goals, it was a complete success.

The biggest racing takeaway I got was that I don’t need to go that hard on the swim. I’m not such a good swimmer that it will make much difference, except to tire me out. Meanwhile, I’m much better at biking so I can easily make up the time on wheels. Logistically, the biggest lesson was to pare down my transition gear, to put it in a backpack and to not take so much stuff!  I brought two giant water bottles I never even touched during the race, and I had way too many towels. I also didn’t need any food for such a relatively short race.

I didn’t walk away with any medals, but I got a cool training shirt, some free food and a whole bunch of knowledge. It was a good day.