Triathlon is an amazing sport because you do not put continuous strain on the same muscles. Swimming, biking, and running all work different parts of your body thus preventing overuse and even worse…injury.
The challenge for the newbie triathletes like myself is was what to focus on. If I did not have much of a life, I would run, bike, swim, lift weights, and do yoga twice a week. Being a mom of three and not wanting to wake up at 4:30 AM every single morning and feeling ready for bed at 8:30 PM when the sun hasn’t fully gone down, I can only focus on one or two areas. I chose open water swimming.
After nearly crashing head on into a dock last summer and literally swimming in circles, I knew I had to tackle this. I had the wet suit (bought super cheap on ebay), the nice goggles (Mother’s Day gift), and access to a private lake. After several practice swims this spring and summer, I knew I was ready. A week before my triathlon, I swam in my friend’s lake and did not fasten my wet suit properly. I felt something dragging and rubbing against my neck, but ignored it.
The next morning I woke up with a chafed neck. My husband looked at it and had the nice response of: “Woa it looks really really bad.” Thanks. And it hurt like a neck injury. I could not fully turn my neck to the right without pain. Thankfully chafing heals quickly and by Saturday morning (the morning of my race) it did not hurt anymore.
I drove to Hagg Lake and left my house at 5:15 AM. I printed out directions from Map Quest, from the race website, hand wrote directions, and programmed the GPS. Obsessive? Probably. I almost missed the start of the Portland Marathon in 2006 because we were overconfident we could find the starting line in downtown Portland having only lived in Oregon one month. Never, ever again. I can still feel the panic.
I signed up for the “tri-it tri” which is for the novice triathletes who are first timers. We swim 1/4 mile while the sprint triathletes swim 1/2 mile. However we bike the same 12 miles and run 3.1 miles. I found out quite a few of my tri-it competitors were not first timers–they were just scared to swim 1/2 mile. I cannot say I blame them.
All we had to was swim to a green buoy, swim across to another green buoy and then swim back to shore. They gave us the instructions like four times which I was very thankful for–I think I need them that many times before it sticks.
We were the final wave of swimmers. When the gun went off it was a big crowd of people all swimming towards the buoy. I kept bumping into people and finally found a spot where I could push forward. At one point I looked back and there was hardly anyone behind me. Oh well–my goal was to swim open water not get first place. My anti-fog goggles fogged up the entire time but I could look up and see the green buoys.
I made it out of the water and headed up to transition. I’ve learned the art of transition and had all my items laid out in the order I put them on. This would be my first triathlon biking in clips–the last two I wore regular shoes and biked on the clips (which is probably more dangerous because there is very little pedal–but I felt safer). Running with the bike in clips is challenging and hopping on the bike and clipping in is nerve wracking, but I made it.
The best place to eat and drink is on the bike. I learned that on a Triathlon 101 video. I taped a packet of peanut butter gu to my frame. I ripped it off immediately and some of the gu got all over my fingers which got on my handle bars thus creating a sticky mess. And what I am supposed to with the empty packet? The video never said. I threw it to the side of road afraid I was going to get yelled at for littering.
Then I made Rookie Mistake #1. I grab the bottle of Gatorade, drink it, reach to put it back in the water bottle holder…and miss. It goes rolling down the road settling in the middle of the bike course. There is a whole slew of bikes coming. Do I leave it? Do I stop and get it? Because I am such a cheap skate and it’s my favorite water bottle, I stop and almost forget to clip out which would have sent me crashing on the bike course thus creating another barrier. I grab the water bottle just as bikers are coming and I yell, “Sorry just getting my water bottle,” feeling like a total dork. Later on the course I saw someone’s water bottle to the side of that road so I wasn’t the only dork.
That was the least of my worries. My friend told me this course is really hilly. No problem. I bike on hills. “No, like people actually walked their bikes up the hill.” Oh come on–how bad can it be? Wow! The uphills were massive. I actually cried (thankfully not too loud) on the last hill. But it wasn’t just the uphill it was the downhill too. I am terrified of going at full speed down those hills. I see myself wiping out or crashing into someone. I know I shouldn’t, but I still ride the brake.
It doesn’t help I did crash my bike on a hill in high school and messed up my face–and blacked out. I don’t remember falling. I remember seeing a kid in the road and the next thing I remember is being in the bathroom wiping up the blood streaming from my face. It also doesn’t help an elite triathlete who has given me advice and swims at the same pool as me had a bad crash a couple weeks ago. I was so grateful I made it and I didn’t have to stop. I just kept climbing up the hills. I was proud of my orange road bike that has nice low gears for climbing.
It was a relief to get back to transition and strap on my running shoes. Running–I can do this! Then I made Rookie Mistake #2. I pinned my number to my biking shirt which I was wearing over my tri suit. I didn’t want to wear my biking shirt in the run because it was getting very hot out. So I had to unpin the number and re pin in to my tri top. I had to choose running in layers when the temp is getting to the 80’s or get the worst transition time. I chose the latter and yes, I had the worst transition time of all the tri-it triathletes. But at least I was comfortable on the run.
The running course was partially trail, partially road, and a few rolling hills–pretty normal. My time was about 9 minutes more than what I normally get on a 5K. I had to take a few walk breaks because that bike ride nearly wiped me out.
My final time: 1:49:45. Of the 21 tri-it triathletes, I got 8th place. Of the women I got 5th. Of my age group I got first (ha ha–there were only two of us). Not bad!
What’s next? I have no idea. Probably no triathlons anytime soon and that isn’t because I don’t want to do another one. It’s more of a scheduling and cost reason. But maybe another open water one in the future? Lord willing, I’d love to do it again. And have my training focus on bicycling.