It’s free topic Tuesday on our Tuesdays on the Run linkup so what better time to share the nitty gritty details of my triathlon last weekend?
I can’t tell you how many times I entertained the thought of bagging this race. There were so many bigger (Berlin Marathon) better (Utah Valley Half) adventures to train for. But early in the year I committed to tri again. It’s been almost two years since my first triathlon, the Espirit de She, and despite doing 3 other triathlons since then, it’s no secret that I was still struggling with (and swearing at and hating on) the swim. I was looking to slay those water demons.
Let’s back up. Having backstroked the bulk of my first open water triathlon in 2015 and suffering through a concussion from being kicked in the head last year, I went back to basics when I chose this triathlon. I knew I wasn’t ready for another open water swim since I’d done zero practice on that front. I wanted a very unintimidating pool tri early enough in the year so it wouldn’t conflict with marathon training.
The Tower Triathlon is in it’s 32nd year and takes place at a YMCA half a mile from where I grew up. As a teenager I was a member here. Ironically I joined in order to learn to swim. I got in the water once back in the day, then joined a wonderful sunset yoga class and never looked back. There was definitely a comfort factor in knowing the area well.
When the teenager’s Sweet 16 party ended up on the same day as the triathlon, I considered skipping the tri. Who needed that pressure? Not I. I switched from the Sprint to the Super Sprint division to make the day shorter, but I persisted. When the final race info came out and I learned I was in the dead last wave of the event, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it. One might think I’d have felt relief to have a reason to not do the tri. I didn’t expect the wave of deep disappointment that swept over me. I emailed the race director to see if there was any chance to go off earlier. They could not have been kinder or more accommodating. Tri on!
After a poor night of fitful sleep, I was up and ready to go at 4:3oam. The part of me that loves a good comfy zone implored “Why do you put yourself through this?” We (ok the Caveman) loaded up my bike and we were off. Once I got my bike in transition and myself body marked, I found the race director and she told me who to see on the pool deck to go off early.
- There were two pools. A warm pool measured in yards for the men.
- Women had a cold but very bright pool measured in meters. I wasn’t thrilled about the temperature or the length but I have an affinity for sunny, bright water. I clung to that.
I hoped to go off by 8am to get on with the day so at 7:45 I started finding the people on the pool deck that could get me in the water ahead of my wave. They were ever so nice to me.
One last resting pool face before I took the plunge. Game on.
Before I knew it I was crossing a timing mat and carefully hurrying to the women’s pool. I’d share a lane and a lap counter with another swimmer. I’d have to stay to my side of the lane. I loathe sharing lanes. Heck I loathe sharing entire pools. Even a lifeguard makes me self-conscious because I imagine they’re laughing at my poor swim technique. Oh and did I mention that the women’s pool was 9 ft. deep at the shallow end going 12 ft? None of that mattered now because it was game on.
To be successful I knew I had to relax and stay calm in the water. Fight the urge to take in too much air, and be sure to exhale under water fully. Gasping for air and holding onto it is what gets me in trouble. I needed to relax and swim slow (what other pace do I have?) and not care about anyone around me. I got to work, not even noticing the water temperature but I did appreciate how bright it was. I stayed to the left of the line. When it dropped off to the 12 ft depth a mantra appeared in my mind.
A couple of times I got a mouthful of water. One of them made me cough. Somehow it was ok. I was able to keep my rhythm. I’m up here. I’m up here. I’m way up here. I thought I’d have to fight the urge to stop and hang on the wall to rest but oddly it never came. When I got to the wall to complete one of the laps the lady next to me was there as well. Not wanting to swim next to her, I waited so we’d be staggered, then continued on my way. When I got to the other wall though, she wasn’t there yet. Did I pass her? Seriously this was twilight zone material to me. How could I be passing someone? I kept on, just wanting to be away from her when I noticed a lady in the lane next to mine was resting on the wall. Someone’s resting and it is not me. Has hell frozen over? I wondered if the Caveman was watching me swim and what he thought of my stroke. I suppose I’d hear later. I think I’m owning it. Not drowning=owning it. Before I knew it I was on the last 25 meters. No one was more triumphant getting out of that pool than I.
That’s the look of post-swim relief and euphoria. And swim-cap hair.
I hurried around the deck, out the door, around the building and back to transition to grab my bike. I hit on my Garmin what I thought was the button that would stop swim mode and start T1 but I realized later that I paused my watch. Doh. I never saw my swim time and I’d have no idea of pace here on out.
I had no goals for the bike leg. Just effing ride and hope not to crash. Simple.
The mental victory already happened in the pool. I rode and replayed the epic swim in my mind, still incredulous I did not lose my sh*!. The bike course was a bit (ok a lot) of a freakshow. Half the course was oil covered “rough grooved surface” you find right before they pave. It was literally hell on wheels. I felt bad for the people with screaming hot tri bikes. In the first mile I heard a metallic sound as if something fell off my bike and onto the pavement. I waited for a wheel to go flying off but it never did. When we finally made it to pavement, I had to fight brutal wind. 3 laps of that: unpaved then wind. No picnic to say the least. I did what I could. I passed some people. Some people passed me. As I rode, more and more runners were on the course. I tried to scope out where the running turnaround was for the super sprint but could not find it. Other than that the course was very well marked with plenty of course marshalls.
I got my bike racked and felt like I made a pretty quick T2 out to the run. My legs felt heavy but come on, who can’t run 2.5k? Out to the “rough grooved” surface I went. Ouch, I swear running hurts the most. It was an out and back. I plodded along and felt slow but couldn’t have cared less. The victory was in the pool. Are you sick of hearing that yet? Having no Garmin to go by, I had no idea how far I’d run and was looking for the turnaround. I finally asked a course marshall and learned that I’d already passed it. I’d run too far. How far too far? I don’t even know. I did a rapid about face and was happy to head in for the finish. I saw the Caveman waiting at the turn to the finishing stretch and as I passed he said “that was fast”. Fast? Me plodding? Is he kidding??
The crowds were smallish but very supportive. I brought it in for an enthusiastic finish, got my medal and grabbed a drink before heading back to transition to pack up my gear. This turned out better than I could have imagined.
Before you go thinking I’m some kind of wonder woman, know that the super sprint division is very small. Only 13 people total. Four men and nine women. There were four ladies in my 50+ age group.
- Swim: 7:38 5th overall women, 2nd AG
- T1: 3:03 1st AG
- Bike: 24:09 3rd overall women, 2nd AG
- T2: 1:07 2nd AG
- Run: 13:46 2nd overall women, 1st AG
Total finish time: 49:45
Finish place: 3rd overall women, 1st AG
Honestly I was suspecting I’d finish last (or close to it)so this comes as quite a surprise. I’d planned on dropping triathlon completely after this and running back into the comforting arms of marathon training but this gives me pause. Have I finally made the breakthrough that will lead me down the path to being a better, more confident swimmer? I know I’ve got a long road ahead of me with swimming, should I choose to continue. According to the Caveman, I “look more confident” in the water but I’m still lifting my head and need to swim more efficiently. All that aside, I’m pretty thrilled because this was the first time ever I’ve not had to flip over and backstroke to catch my breath and regroup. I’ll take that as a major win.
Final words: This is a pretty basic, but very well-run triathlon. The bike and run courses are flat but have lots of turns. This year paving issues made the road surface very difficult to navigate The medal and shirt are nice. The race director and course marshalls could not have been more helpful or enthusiastic. If having people cheer you on is important to you, I highly recommend getting a Wattie Ink tri suit (or in my case trisCuit). All day long I heard “Go Wattie Girl” ” I love your Wattie Kit” etc. from fellow athletes and spectators. It was lots of fun. Wattie Ink kits are pricey but worth it.
How do you pull yourself together mentally? What has pushed you furthest out of your comfy zone?