*Swim. Bike. Run. Swim. Bike. Run.*
I’ve been chanting those words in my mind for weeks, preparing and leading up to my first ever triathlon. Well, I did it. Official Triathlete here. I completed my first ever triathlon on Sunday, June 1st, and it was awesome. If you had told me a year ago that I’d be racing in a triathlon in a year’s time, I would have laughed in your face. Me and biking never went so well together, and, while I love the beach, I prefer to stay close enough to shore to where I can touch the bottom and see what is swimming with me.
I woke up bright and early on Sunday morning (5am…so there was nothing “bright” about it, actually). After coaxing my wonderful boyfriend (what a trooper) and my sleepy puppy out of bed, we loaded up the car and began the almost 2 hour trek to the race site in Rock Hall, MD. We picked up my friend Pipe on the way, and met up with my friend Trey at the site. My mom and sister came to cheer me on as well, but due to a series of unfortunate events, they did not arrive in time to see my swim. They were there cheering though when I screeched to a halt on my bike! (Details to follow.) You’ve met my mom and sister in other posts, but perhaps not Trey and Pipe. These two clowns are among the unlucky/crazy few who chose Chemical Engineering as their major in college. So, we basically spent every waking moment trying not to fail together during our time at Lafayette College. (I exaggerate…a little…but Chem E’s do spend an insane amount of time together, so we are pretty tight…Sooo tight, that we make pacts to run triathlons together…Those crazy Chem E’s.) Now that you’ve met the cast, let’s get going.
Arriving a little later than planned, we didn’t have quite as leisurely of a time getting ready as I would have liked. To be more accurate, we were probably the last people to the starting line. Luckily, we were in the novice division, so our wave was last, starting 20 minutes after the first wave. Basically, we arrived to the race site, parked, and scrambled to get all our gear together to go pick up our packets and set up our transition area. I was bib number 484, in case you are interested. Which you should be. Obviously. Because I’m a big deal. Along with our race day packet and bib number, bike number, and helmet number, we got a sweet moisture-wicking triathlon t-shirt, and a pair of Rock Hall Triathlon socks! SWEET! I love free things! (Though, they weren’t exactly free, since I paid for my registration for the race.) Anyway, after we picked up our packets, we headed to the transition area to set up and drop of our necessary gear. Christian and Daisy chilled outside, since only athletes were allowed in the transition area. It was cool though – they enjoyed watching everyone and everyone enjoyed saying hi to Daisy.
For the transition area, I wanted to make sure to put everything I needed and nothing extra. I didn’t need any superfluous item that, in the frenzy and excitement of race-time, might confuse me. I also had to stick the number they gave me to my bike, and another one to my helmet. Thank goodness for duct tape, because that number did NOT want to stick to my helmet! Then, I racked my bike, laid out my towel, running shoes, sports sunglasses, socks (one in each shoe for easy access!), and two shirts – one for the bike part, without a number pinned on it, and one for the run part, with the number on it. My friend Hannah, who ran the International distance the day before my race, suggested I use two different shirts. Her reasoning was that if your number is pinned to the front of your shirt during the bike, you are moving so fast that the wind blows and it might get torn off and, if not, it could just be annoying. So, I took her advice and had two separate shirts. Oh, and I had a water bottle to down some water in between events. And that was it! I almost left my cap and goggles at my transition area, but thought better of it…how you gonna start the race without those Stephanie!?!? (Trey, however, wasn’t so lucky – he did leave his goggles at the transition area. Luckily, I had an extra.)
Once everything was laid out, we ran out of the transition area to get our body paint. (They wrote our bib number on both of our upper arms and wrote our age on our calf). Then we got our timing chip, which we put around our left ankle. From here, we ran to the bathroom (at which point Trey shouted, “You don’t have to run, Steph, we have time!” To which I responded, “But I’ve had to go to the bathroom since we got here, so I kinda do!”). We put on sunscreen at this point, which immediately wiped off most of the numbers they wrote on me…WHOOPS! We then had to run back to our cars to put our excess gear away, and then we ran back to where Christian and Daisy were waiting with our wetsuits. Once my wetsuit was on, I realized I left my swim cap in my bag, so Christian took one for the team and ran back to the car for me while Daisy, Trey, Pipe, and I headed toward the starting line. There are two important things to note at this point:
- Pipe and I lost Trey for a good 10 minutes. Apparently he was frantically searching his car for his goggles (which were at his transition area). When he finally caught up with us, we were in our wetsuits. He then had to run BACK to the car to get my extra goggles, and Christian followed right behind when I realized there were only two swim caps lying on the table and mine was the odd man out. AY CARAMBA!!!
- There was NO ONE else around us at this point, because the first wave was about to start (or, maybe it had already started…). We were, in fact, the last ones to reach the starting line. BUT WE MADE IT!
OKAY, SO, we FINALLY made it to the starting line with all goggles and swim caps and wetsuits in hand or on our persons. And with 10 whole minutes til the gun! So, we watched the two waves before ours head off, and took a few pictures.
Then, we went back to the start and jumped in to get a few minutes of water time before our gun. (I originally wanted to have a little more time in the water before the start to warm up, but it actually was fine that I didn’t get more). The start was an in-water start, so we all got to jump in and line up around the starting “line” to wait for the gun. And, luckily, the water was a very pleasant temperature with my wetsuit. It may have been a little chilly if I wasn’t wearing a wetsuit, but I was so high on adrenaline that the water temperature was the last thing on my mind.
Another note: Each wave had different colored swim caps. Our wave -the novice and relay wave – went last, and wore white caps. This made me sad, because white is boring, and the “women’s age group” wave wore pink caps. You know how I feel about pink. (#everythingisbetterinpink)
We floated and waited for a few minutes, and, as I turned to say something to Pipe, BANG! We were off! (Somehow I missed the “on your marks, get set…”) Everyone started swimming furiously towards the first buoy…except me…From the very first stroke, I was veering off course to the right of where I was supposed to be going. (This explains why a guy kept bumping into me at the beginning trying to get left.) Christian said it was hilarious and very obvious that I was going a different direction from everyone else. When I looked up and realized I was not swimming towards the giant orange buoy, I quickly switched my course, but the damage was already done. I had lost precious time which, I think, in the end probably cost me about 2 minutes. I say it was this much time because this was not the only time during the swim that I looked up to realize I was off course. This was merely the FIRST time I looked up and realized it. It seemed that every time I looked up I was swimming towards the docks again and had to steer myself left. I don’t know WHY this happened. It was so hard to see! You would think, big giant buoys floating in the water would be easy to see. Not the case for me. I think a combination of water droplets on the outside of my goggles, anti-fog lenses that were fogging up, the glare of the sun, and everyone else splashing around me made me very disoriented and made me have a hard time locating the buoys. I will definitely be practicing sighting before my next triathlon. I just couldn’t see where I was going! And I have no problem turning to the side a breathing during freestyle, but, I never practiced looking forward to see where I was going. In a pool, you always just look down and the lines on the bottom of the pool keep you straight! And, if not, you bump into the lane ropes and still stay pretty straight! I was ill-prepared for the “open-water” part of the open water swim! And, on top of not being able to see, looking out at the water and seeing where we had to swim and the huge loop we had to make was quite daunting! Despite the fact that I’ve been swimming since as long as I can remember, was on the swim team up until I graduated high school, and love the water and swimming, when I took those first few strokes towards (or so I thought) the first buoy, I couldn’t help but think, “Stephanie, what on earth did you get yourself into!?!?” It was, in fact, terrifying. All the people around me didn’t matter. The lifeguards in kayaks didn’t matter. It was still MY job to get myself from the start to the finish on the swim, and that was a tad bit more intimidating than I expected!
I remember during the swim chugging along like the little engine that could – once I found my rhythm, of course – and every so often scrambling to get my bearings and redirect myself. I wonder if the lifeguards in the kayaks saw me and giggled at my zig-zag-like swim pattern. Or maybe I was normal and everyone else was as zig-zaggy and disoriented as I was. I also remember the moment I looked up and saw the yellow wiggly man, blowing in the breeze, marking the finish line of the swim and shining like a beacon of hope for all us struggling tri-newbies (and veterans – I passed quite a few people with other colored caps, and felt quite proud of myself that I didn’t have to take a break or float on my back or slow down like them). Anyway, I sped up as I swam towards the wiggly man, and I looked around for the two orange buoys we were supposed to swim between as we came up to the wiggly man. I was never able to locate these buoys, so I put my head back down in the water, and just kept swimming, hoping I was going between the two buoys like everyone else. As I came up to the dock (which was a few feet above the water’s surface, I thought, “What the heck? How am I going to pull myself up THAT mountain?!?!” Luckily, there were steps hidden below the surface, and people waiting to help us out of the water (and make sure you didn’t fall right back in the water – we were pretty unstable between our frantic swim, adrenaline, and the sway of the dock). As I got my bearings on the dock, I began jogging towards the transition area, pulling down my zipper on my wetsuit and stripping down the top half of my suit as I ran. I passed Christian and Daisy as I jogged towards the transition area, and then I was on my way to switch over to bike-mode!
Now, my T1 transition time was quite atrocious. It looks like most people average in the 2 to 3 minute range, but I was over 4 minutes. OOPS! (That doesn’t really count, does it?) I don’t know what happened…I didn’t feel like I took that long…Though, I did spend a good amount of time drying my feet and getting my socks and shoes on. Hmmm…Anyway, with a little practice, I can knock a minute or two off my transition time, easy. I basically wiggled out of my wetsuit (very unglamorously, I’m sure), dried off my feet, pulled on my socks, shoes, biking shirt, sunglasses and helmet, and then remembered I probably should have been downing water that whole time. So, as I finished fumbling around my transition area, I gulped as much water as I could manage, took my bike off the rack, and headed towards the start of the bike leg.
At this point, I thought to myself, “What the heck!?!? There is MORE?!?! I have to go get on a bike now?!?! I want to go take a nap!!!”
I have my one complaint on the organization of the race at this point: The signs for mounting and dismounting your bike at the start and finish of that leg. As I jogged up to the start, I see the MOUNT sign. Two words would have made this infinitely clearer: after line. MOUNT After Line. But no: Simply, “Mount.” So, I , like countless others, was slightly confused as to if I was supposed to mount my bike before or after the line. Luckily there was a guy right in front of me who tried to mount before the line, so I knew I was supposed to mount after crossing the line. I’m just saying. They wouldn’t have to direct people so much and put out hands and such if they added those two words. And same with the end. The sign said, “DISMOUNT.” Add, “before line”, and so many problems are avoided. Take me, for instance: The guy at the DISMOUNT sign had to put his hand up in my way and I screeched to a halt just before I crossed the line. Christian said one guy he saw come up to the line and high-five the guy who put out his arm to stop him! Whoops! I wonder if he got disqualified or if they forgave him…haha. So, all in all, I didn’t do half bad!
As for the actual bike ride, it went smoothly and happily. And I beat my goal time of 1 hour by 3 minutes! Quite a feat considering I averaged 1:15 in my practice rides! Anyway, during the bike ride, I passed a bunch of people and got passed by a bunch in the first few miles, but, mostly, it was just me cruising along, motivating myself with words of encouragement and Tay Swift songs in my head. I did like how, though, almost every time someone passed me, they shouted words of encouragement my way! (After the first few miles, it was only the really legit bikers that were catching up and passing people, and they were so supportive!) I must say though, I was kinda terrified to switch gears, for fear of popping a chain off and having to waste precious time struggling to get it back on (this had happened the previous day in my last-chance practice ride, so I was extra caustious!) Anyway, no such disaster struck. There was only one minor hiccup when I came to the last few turns and the guys were not clearly pointing which way to go, but I managed and made it to the end!
As I skidded to a halt at the end of the bike, my sister, mom, Christian, and Daisy, were all waiting for me cheering and it was awesome! I smiled and waved and ran on into the transition area!
After my graceful dismount (ha!), I hobbled/ran into the transition area, fumbled to get my bike back on the rack, and started to reach for my water, when I hear Christian yelling, “Come on! Get moving! What are you waiting for!?! Go!” Boy, was I surprised! Some might think this cruel, but his words did the trick and I sped up, stopped dilly-dallying, switched into my running shirt (with my bib number pinned on it), and hurried on to the start of the last leg – the 5k run. Now, on a normal day, a 5k run is normal for me, even a short run sometimes. On this day, however, this 5k run was the most daunting task I had faced yet! As I exited the transition area, still shaky from my bike legs, I couldn’t help but think, “What on Earth was I thinking!?!? I have to go RUN now?!?!”
Despite my exhausted body and my parched throat, I crossed the start line for the run portion and I was off! My legs felt like lead and it was at this moment that any questions as to whether or not you had to be in shape to complete a sprint triathlon left my mind. Yes. You do. I was dying for a couple minutes there.
At the start of the run, there was a water station, and I graciously grabbed a water cup from one of the volunteers. Then, I made the mistake of drinking it. A lot of it. After just taking several gulps from my water bottle during the transition. Poor decision. By the time I made the first turn – just a few minutes into the run – I had a cramp in my side from all the water I had just inhaled. I pushed on though. (I learned during my many years of soccer that pressing on the cramp while running does wonders to alleviate the pain. I don’t know if this is a legitimate remedy, but it has always worked for me!)
After several minutes of running (probably around 5), I found my rhythm. My legs didn’t feel quite so much like lead, my cramping went away, and I felt like I might just make it to the finish after all. At this point, I was passing quite a few people. Old, young, men, women, in shape, overweight…everyone. I was zooming by. Ok – maybe not zooming by. More like huffing and puffing and dragging along, but passing people nonetheless. Passing people on the run was motivating, because every time I did, the next person in front of me became my target. I think this made me run much faster and encouraged me to keep pushing. The ultimate motivator was when, less than a mile until the end, I ran into Pipe at a part where there was a turnaround and I was on my way back and he was on his way out. In that moment, as we passed each other, high-fived and cheered, I thought, He. Shall. Not. Pass. (LOTR anyone?) Anyway, that really gave me an extra surge of energy because I knew he would have that same surge to try and catch me! Spoiler Alert: He did not catch me 🙂
The final push: At the start of the run, there were people ringing a cow bell for the runners finishing the run to signal the end was near. Let me tell you: There was never a more beautiful sound than the first ring of that cow bell that came within earshot as I neared the finish. In that moment, I really picked up my speed and began my sprint to the finish. As I rounded that last bend, I came up to Christian, my mom, sister, and Daisy once again cheering me on before I sprinted the last 100 yards past them to the finish line. As I crossed the finish line, I heard my name called out over the loud speaker and they put a water bottle in my hand (ice cold), a cold towel on my shoulders, and medal around my neck.
YES! I survived!
It was a truly triumphant moment and I was so happy and high on endorphins. I feel like I should have felt much more tired than I did, but that would come later. I was on cloud 9. Then, just 46 seconds after I crossed the finish line, Pipe ran across on his way to glory. It. Was. Awesome.
Trey had crossed the finish line a good 11+ minutes before I did, and he met me after I exited the “winner’s circle” as I like to call it.
Overall, the race was a great success. I swam 2 minutes slower than I wanted to, but beat my hour goal for the bike by 3 minutes, and my 30 minute run goal by 2 minutes. It was especially surprising and challenging considering I never knew how far along I was in any leg of the race. Apparently there were mile markers throughout the bike and run legs of the race. I never saw one. I spent the entire race chugging along having no idea how fast I was going or how much was left.
Yes, I was wearing a watch, but when I looked at my watch when I came out of the water and saw I was 2 minutes slower than I had been in practices, I really lost faith in the accuracy of my goal times as a gauge of how fast I would go or how far I had gone and how much longer I had to go. This turned out to be accurate I guess, because I beat my goal times for the bike and run by quite a lot! Not to mention I felt like lead on the run and it seemed like I was going much slower than I apparently was!
In conclusion, I had a great time and will definitely be doing more triathlons in the future! The Tri Bug has bit me! I definitely want to tackle the International/Olympic distance at some point as well, but need to time it right to make sure the more time-consuming training can fit in with my lifestyle. (Training over the summer is difficult since Christian works and my workout schedule has to be flexible so we can make sure Daisy gets her exercise and playtime and such.) So, in the immediate future, I’m on the prowl for my next sprint triathlon. Let me just give you a breakdown of my race times versus my ranking (I know, me and my spreadsheets again…), and then leave you with a few happy pictures!
* Out of 46 Novice Females and 30 Novice Males
** Out of 207 Femals Overall and 248 Males Overall
*** Out of 455 Overall Participants
If you want to check it out for yourself, here is the link for the Rock Hall Sprint Triathlon 2014.