Saturday, July 11, 2015

Race recap: Triathlon for Hope (subtitle: I tri-ed it and I liked it!)

Whenever a running friend discovers that I swam at the collegiate level, the next question invariably is "Do you do triathlons?"  Well, now I can finally answer "Yes!"  Today I competed in the 5th annual Triathlon for Hope at Alum Creek State Park here in central Ohio.  I was part of a triathlon relay last summer (as the swimmer, of course), and I was immediately taken away by the sheer intensity and beauty of this sport.  I knew then that the question of doing a triathlon was not if, but when.  The biggest thing holding me back was the bike portion.  Road and tri bikes are extremely expensive, and while I can ride a bike, I had never done so for more than a few miles just for fun (and it had been years since I even did that).

After my forced running hiatus due to my calf strain-fracture combination injury back in late March, my sweet friend Carolyn offered me the use of her road bike.  I actually didn't take advantage of her kind offer until just five weeks ago. Since then I've logged an estimated 100-120 miles or so total on the bike, with my longest ride being 24 miles.  I'm definitely a newbie still, but I figured why not go ahead and give a tri a try!  This race really appealed to me, as it's all-women and small--a great first-time event, for sure.

I showed up to the race super-early, as I always do for races... in fact, this was the first of two things that I actually "won"--I was the first competitor in the parking lot!  (Bet you're wondering what the second thing is...well, just keep reading!)  I hadn't picked up my race packet ahead of time, so I wanted to get there early and get that taken care of, as well as figure out the transition area.  The day dawned amazingly beautiful.  We've had so many rainy days here in central Ohio, and I was beyond grateful--as were the other athletes!--that no rain was predicted for today.  We were greeted at the beach by this gorgeous sunrise.

You can't ask for better weather!  Well... maybe a bit warmer.   The air temperature was a cool 59 degrees, and due to all of the rain, the water temperature was only 68 degrees. Typically this would be a no-brainer--just wear a wet suit.  But for such a short race, it was a true quandry, again not just for me, but for the other athletes.  The majority of us went without (me included), as it would barely help in such a short race, and taking it off in transition would take too long.

Back to pre-race, though.  I got myself all set up and checked and re-checked my bike and belongings.  
Extremely proud of my set-up here!
I called my friend Erin to get my nerves calmed a bit. I walked the route from the beach to my bike, and from my bike to the "bike out" exit, memorizing how I would get from one place to the next.  I chatted with those whose bikes were racked around mine, and I was super happy to see a couple of familiar faces from my local running group.  

Connie and me, pre-race!
The time came all too quickly when we were ushered from the transition area to the beach start area, 400 yards away. 

Amazing... all of the strong, beautiful women about to race!
Pre-race sun-kissed selfie!
I started to get a teeny bit a lot bit nervous, as my awesome friends Amy and Jess were supposed to be coming to spectate, and I wanted to give them my phone before the race started.  They showed up just after the national anthem was sang, and I was super-happy for my pre-race hugs. 

I was in the second-to-last wave to start, and anxiously watched the other age groups begin their swims.  When at last it was my turn, I made sure I positioned myself at the front of the pack.  It was a water start, meaning we all waded in out to our waists and started after a short countdown.  

I am somewhere out there... maybe. Jess and Amy weren't sure which wave was mine LOL!
And we were off!  The shock of the cold water took my breath away.  I knew this would happen, but I just couldn't settle into this swim.  I dealt with the pack pretty well for the first 50 meters or so, having an overzealous kicker to my left that bothered me a bit until I got out of her wake.  My biggest concern was I just didn't feel like I could calm down enough to get into a good pattern of breathing and sighting.  

This next part is going to make me sound very conceited.  I don't mean to, though... so, I was not expecting to have to contend with many people at the start of my swim. I am a very strong swimmer, and felt that my training pace with Carrie would be more than sufficient to lead the swim based on last year's results.  When, after about 100 meters, there was still several people around me and (gasp!) even a few people in front of me, I was taken aback, and started to feel a bit down.  I immediately got mad at myself for letting these silly thoughts get into my head, and tried to just focus on my own stroke and the yellow buoys at the end of the swim.  I felt strong, but I couldn't relax.  My heart was racing and I honestly was just wanting the swim to end.  So funny, as this is my strongest leg for sure!  I ended up with a split of 7:19.3 for the quarter-mile swim, which wasn't even good enough for top 10 overall, although it would've been the fastest swim split a year ago.  Just goes to show me that you can't really judge a race by last year's results!  

I remembered my friend Jen's husband's advice about the end of the swim, to keep swimming until my hands were grabbing sand.  So even when people around me were walking, I just kept swimming until I touched sand with my fingers.  I then quickly exited the water and took a few slow breaths as I started an easy jog up the beach into the transition area. Sometimes I get dizzy after a swim, so I was cautious but felt good, even though my heart was still racing a mile a minute.  I was able to quickly find my bike and get prepped for stage 2 of the race.  The transition went swimmingly... in fact, this is the other thing that I "won"... I (along with two other women) had the fastest T1 transition times (1:19.5) for the race!  Pretty proud of this, especially for my first tri!  I had mentally rehearsed my transition dozens of times so I knew what to do.  

The bike was the best part of the race for me, hands down. From start to finish, I felt good.  I knew I was biking well without having to push the pace too hard.  I passed a few people, and was passed by more than a few people.  I just felt totally at ease.  This will come as no surprise to my running friends: I met a friend on the bike!  After passing another rider and having her pass me back, we started to talk a bit about the race.  I was so excited when I realized she also didn't clip in (use cycling shoes).  A man who was out on a training ride buzzed by us at one point.  "Wow, I thought that was one fast chick!" I yelled back to her.  We took turns complimenting the other riders on the course--both those who passed us and those who we passed.  Most were very kind in their responses, although I feel like the speedier ones who were whizzing by us were a bit taken aback by our praise.  Again, for me this part of the race was just plain fun. I didn't even mind the huge hill at the end--not too much at least!  It's helped that I've biked this course six or seven times now, so I'm very familiar with it.  My split for the bike stage was 43:49.0, which is about 17 mph--a bit faster than I've ever rode before.  Pretty happy with that!  I was in the top 25 for the bike.  As a few friends have mentioned to me, this isn't too shabby for someone who literally just started to ride, is on a borrowed bike, and doesn't clip in. This is definitely the stage where I have the most room for improvement time-wise, but I loved every part of it anyway.

Getting ready to dismount...
...and almost falling LOL!
The results didn't record a time for T2, but I think was pretty speedy here too, as all I had to do is rack my bike and put my helmet on the ground, as I was already wearing my running shoes.  I headed out of the transition area and felt pretty good. I downed a cup of water as I hadn't taken the time to drink on the ride. 

Grinning for Amy and Jess... and yelling that my butt hurt from the bike!
Within about two-tenths of a mile, I realized that this was going to be a tough run for me.  My calf felt tight.  Super tight.  Tight... like I felt it was going to just pop again.  Not good.  I decided the best thing to do was to simply relax and run.  I knew that pushing the pace could result in another injury, so I did something I've never done in a race: I held back.  I did it out of fear, but also out of preservation.  I knew that if my calf did tear again, I'd be limping the rest of the race.  So I breathed and I prayed.  I prayed a lot!  I asked God to please let my calf not cramp up.  I bargained with Him, promising I'd take off a week, two weeks from running... just to please let me make it through this race!  At times I'd try to go a bit faster, and I immediately would feel the pressure in my leg and pull back again.  It just wasn't my day to run fast, and I needed to realize this.  

I was so happy to see my friend Erin at the half-mile mark of the race.  I knew she was going to try to make it to the race after the class she taught, but I hadn't seen her yet and wasn't sure if she'd found a way to get to the race.  I smiled my best for her, despite the way I was feeling. 

 It was honestly the longest two-mile run of my life.  I was so happy to see the one-mile turn-around at the top of the dam, and even happier to run by Erin again with a half-mile to go. 

 It was very difficult to not push myself for the final stretch of the race.  When I felt a runner passing me with only a few yards to go, I wanted to scream, "I am faster than this!  I just can't risk my stupid calf exploding!" 

I was ever so grateful to see the finish arch and my smiling friends Amy and Jess there to give me hugs again.  My run split was 17:27.8, good enough for 6th overall among all of the runners.  This is a pace (8:43/mile) at which I am able to run quite comfortably during training with my friends, though, so I know I have so much more in me.  

My final overall time for the triathlon was a 1:09:18.  I ended up in 8th place overall out of 150 triathletes, and 4th in my age group.  I was actually only five seconds away from the 2nd place finisher in my age group, who won the AG award (since the top finisher in my AG was 2nd overall).  The woman who whizzed by me at the finish was actually 3rd place in my age group--she beat me by two seconds.  I can't help but play the "what if" game... as in, what if my calf hadn't given me fits... but I know this is a silly game and doesn't help me become stronger mentally or physically.  So I'll just say that I am pleased with the results of my first-ever triathlon. I can't help but want to sign up for another one immediately!  I know what I need to do though, and that isn't to race... it's to rest this dumb calf and continue with my PT exercises to strengthen my glutes.  There is, however, an open-water swim competition in a couple of weeks, and I am probably going to enter this, as I feel it is one area I really can improve on (being comfortable swimming in a big group).  I am going to continue to swim and bike and hopefully get back to running again in a couple of weeks--I've gotta make the most of the final six weeks of summer break!

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