Monday, August 13, 2007

The Official Race Report (a.k.a. My First Tri)

Somehow I managed to sleep well on Saturday night and woke up ready to go on Sunday at 5 a.m. After I zipped on my tri-suit, I triple-checked that I didn’t forget anything (but I did) and headed out to Mentor Headlands. (My mom was nice enough to join me at that ungodly hour… and I think I might have collapsed of nerves and loneliness if she hadn’t. Thanks mom!)

We made it to the race location around 6 a.m.—plenty of time, I thought, to get my bike together. It generally takes me about 20 minutes and at least 35 new curse words to put on my back tire. But in the early morning darkness of my first triathlon, it went straight on. About 2 seconds flat! Woo hoo! My brakes weren’t as cooperative, but more on that later.

So, I went through the body marking (bib number on my arms, age and tri-race on my calf) and set up my transition area before I headed to the beach to find my starting position. By 6:45 a.m., I was ready to take off. Start time, however, wasn’t until 7:45 a.m. for my age group.

I'm in the blue-and-silver knee-length tri-suit, arms stretching behind me. We're waiting to get kicking.It was pretty cool on Sunday morning—it couldn’t have been more than 70 degrees outside—and I was a little, umm, concerned about hopping in the water. We all know what a wimp I am about water temps. But about 30 minutes before start-time, I tipped my toes in the water, which was surprisingly warm. In fact, it was probably a few degrees warmer than the air. Whew!

Within 10 minutes, I jumped into the water to warm-up a bit. At first I slowly walked into the water and then dived right in. The shock of the cold water and zero visibility of Lake Erie water scared the bejesus out of me. And I started to panic. I haven’t swum in open water/zero visibility in about 20 years, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to make the half mile. Eek!

But before I knew it, I was standing in the second row of my age groupers and listening to our starter count down the minutes. I felt like I was back at a swim meet again—and that familiarity calmed my nerves a little bit. The crowd (which included my mom, my step-father Philip, Neil, my cousin Natalie and my uncle Ermano—thanks, guys!) gathered around and started cheering for our start. How cool!

Group swim!I don’t even remember whether the starter said “go!” or “swim!” or if he sounded a horn… I just remember going into this group dive/scramble for the water, and off we went! I got kicked in the face thrice within the first 100 meters and smacked a couple more.

While swallowing and inhaling about 70 gallons of lake water in this stretch, I was able to keep moving, mostly swimming with my head above the water.

Getting used to the zero water visibility kept me in a panic until I reached the first buoy. I was worried about how to make the turn, how to get around people, how not to drown. But the crowd had loosened up and it was time to swim the major straightaway in the race. The biggest challenge: swimming straight.

I'm the blue cap... and I didn't even know that guy was near me.Let’s just say I swam a little bit off the beaten path. Like into Coast Guard territory. There were a number of boats on the outer edge of the swimming area, and I was right next to them, being waved toward shore. I mean, I was out there… Canadabound! I thought I had been doing a great job spotting the far-end buoy, but I couldn’t quite tell I was zig-zagging until I was way out.

Finally, I reached the second buoy and took the turn. I tried to bury my head and bring it home, but I was still swimming astray. Shore came faster than I expected, however, and I was a little bummed the swimming was over. I wasn't really winded and I kind of wanted to do it again!

Despite swimming farther than necessary, I clocked in at 17:30 for the first leg of my race. Woo hoo! I swam as far up onto the beach as I could and then trekked up the beach, where Jen C. and her husband were part of a much-appreciated volunteer and cheering corps (!), and into the transition area.

My next challenge: getting the sand off my feet. I didn’t really have a strategy for the sand removal, but I was very particular about getting my feet as clean as possible—biking 12 miles and running 3 with glass in my shoes sounded like bad news. So, my first transition was a bit long at 3:26. I figured that since this was my first race, I wanted to take my transitions slowly and make sure I did everything right.

Trying to ride a bike. If you look closely, you can see that I'm already smirking.Feet cleaned, helmet strapped, I walked my bike out of the transition area and tried to hop on. Tried. I had forgotten that I raised my bike seat recently because I had apparently been riding about four inches too low. So, as I pushed off into the cycling portion, I started laughing and almost wiped out at the starting line. Ahh, I never claimed I knew how to ride a bike.

The rest of the bike ride was pretty laughable as well. I started out onto OH-44 not yet sure how I had done in the swim. I pedaled up and down some mild hills in Mentor and Grand River, watching as the much more serious-looking cyclists flew by. At one point, we passed a roadside speed radar on which I registered 19 mph (I must have been going downhill!). Just then I could hear another cyclists whizzing toward me; he clocked 40 mph. Wowzaas!

It was about then that I started realizing how ill-prepared I was for the cycling portion. And I started actually laughing to myself that I had a) never ridden my bike 12 miles in one stretch; and b) thought riding my bike to work a few times would actually prepare me for the race. What's more is that my brakes were rubbing against my tires and squeaking at various intervals... and that just made me laugh even harder at myself (at least the tires made it onto the bike!). Nevertheless, it was a beautiful ride and a tough ride for me. I watched as cyclists flew by and tried to get a look at their technique, equipment, pedaling cadence and posture. And I was way off on all of them!

I must have been passed by pretty much everyone in the race, but I realized that I had done well in the swim. It wasn’t until about mile 6, in fact, that I saw a bulk of the sprint racers from my age group zoom by. They were, however, all passing me. So, I tried to stop dilly-dallying and pedaled a little harder to finish the 12-mile bike in 55:57. Just under my goal. Another woo hoo!

Almost there and happy to hear the finish lineMy second transition wasn’t as bad as the first. I had pinned my bib onto a t-shirt (I couldn’t swim with the bib and I didn’t want to dare pinning anything on me during a transition), so I threw on a t-shirt and shorts over the tri-suit. It didn’t turn out to be the coolest solution, but only took 1:39 in transition time. I chugged some Gatorade and made my way to the running course.

Many thanks to the Greater Cleveland Triathlon planners: the running course was relatively flat. The last thing I needed in my first triathlon was a St. Malachi/HOF-sized hill at the end of my race to make me cry!

I started off onto the path at a pretty moderate pace, allowing my legs to warm up to the situation (they weren’t quite sure why they were running so soon after cycling). Neil met me about 1/8 mile into the run, cheering me on and running with me for another 1/8. Then I meandered through the park and actually started passing people. My goal was to run about 10:00/mile, but I could tell that my increased adrenaline and pre-race calorie intake made room for a faster pace. I probably ran about 9:30/mile for the first half of the run, and then brought it home in about 8:30/mile.

Jogging to the finish... but that other lady is walking!On the last stretch, I was passing a bunch of people from the international and sprint races and tried to cheer them to the finish. I started picking up my pace, but didn’t run too fast because I was honestly having too much fun! I could hear the hoopla at the finish line and I thought, “I’m actually going to finish a triathlon! I don’t want this to end!”

So, I kept pushing toward the finish, passed my family fans around the bend and saw the end. And again I had finish-line problems! There was a mat about 25 yards in front of a big archway with a clock on it. Visually I thought finish was the archway. Duh, right? But the first mat beeped when you crossed it, people cheered, and the two people in front of me walked the rest of the way. Hmm.

I crossed the first mat, it beeped, and I slowed a bit, but jogged into the archway. And that, as it turned out, was the actual finish. Darn it! I could have cut a few seconds from my time, but who cares? I just finished my first triathlon!

And then we ate.My 5K time was 27:33 (8:52/mile) and my final overall triathlon time was 1:46:04. I headed through the finishing tent, collected my medal and free stuff, and then we ate!

That’s the long and short and long of it. As you might have guessed, I learned more about triathlons than I could have imagined—registration, timing chips, prep time, transition area, open water swimming, cycling with intent, running after cycling—and hope to use all of it in my next race.

Officially a triathlete. And a stinky one at that!But for today, I’m just going to relax and take it all in. Tomorrow, I start my training plan (yes, I actually have a plan!) for the Akron Half Marathon and the Portage Lakes Triathlon. Maybe I’ll learn to cycle for that one ;-)


The Salty One said...

I feel like your mom! I am so proud of you--heee! So cool that you didn't want it to end and so cute your experience on the bike!! I should do one with you just so you'll feel like a superstar as I try to get my pink huffy banana-seat up to speed :) Seriously, your swim time looked incredible! I don't know anything about it but you were way up there on that portion.

So so awesome!!! And now you even have a plan! Woohoo, G!!

B Bop said...

Congrats on completing your first tri!! Sounds like you were more than prepared, if you didn't want it to end. There is alot to learn in this sport (seeing how it is actually 3 sports rolled into 1).

Swimming in the lake is quite different from the pool (even on a calm day, like yesterday) but it sounds like you managed quite well, even if you added a little distance. I look foreward to hearing about the next one, after you apply what you've learned.

miss petite america said...

frickin' awesome chica!!!!!!!

sounds like you had sooo much fun! and kicked ass all at the same time! seriously makes me wanna try a tri!

kelsalynn said...

I am so proud of you and inspired by your story. CONGRATULATIONS on your first tri! You rocked it out!


MissAllycat said...

Way to go - you are awesome! I love reading tri recaps - with each one I read, I realize more and more that I need to try one. Thanks for the inspiration!

Charlie said...

Well done.
Hope to see you at many races to come.

Jim said...

Such fun to read. Awesome job, and the beginning of a new era for you. Way cool.

DaisyDuc said...

Yeah!!!! Congratulations to you!!!

Sounds like everything went pretty smooth for you! Perhaps I will get to see ya out at Portage Lakes!