Last Saturday I was fortunate enough to participate in a beginner triathlon put on by the San Diego Tri Club. The Tri Club is so supportive of beginner triathletes and this monthly summer event is just one of the ways that they support us newbies. The event actually seemed to be very similar to a real triathlon – with a finish line including a clock and all. However, I didn’t use a chip, didn’t have my number marked on my leg and didn’t wear a bib of course.
Transition Prep and Course Talk
Mike and I arrived at 6:10 a.m. to prepare for the 7 a.m. event. Mike was there to support me, not to race, as he has completed several triathlons on his own, including Ironman Cozumel in 2009. There weren’t any stands for bikes like there will be at a real triathlon so many people just laid their bikes on the ground. I found a pole to lean mine on. I pulled everything out of my bag and started arranging it. Shortly afterward, my good freinds Asia and Jeremy showed up. I was thankful to have friends joining me in this adventure! After chatting for a bit, one of the Tri Club organizers called us over for a talk on how to set up your transition area. He explained that when you come out of the water you are quite disoreinted and may forget things. He said to make two piles on top of your towel at your transition zone – one pile for all necessary bike gear and one for all necessary run gear. Leave all “maybe” items in your bag (such as Gu or an extra shirt or something like that). Set out your towel and put your cycle shoes, cycle socks (if applicable), and sunglasses (if applicable) in a pile with your helmet on top. Next to it put a pile for your running gear, including your running shoes and a hat (optional). After the talk, I went back to my transition area and set it up accordingly.
Next was the course talk. The race director had us raise our hands if we were first timers. I’d say at least 50-60% of people raised their hands. He then explained that the swim course was a 300 meter swim in the bay, with two buoys. It was a simple course but the bay was very muddy. The bike portion was a 7 mile there and back down the Silver Strand in Coronado. He explained that we must stop at stop signs and red lights and yield for cars. This made me nervous since I literally had only just learned to ride the bike on pavement the night before. Stops were still not my strong suit. The run course was just a 2 mile there and back down to the Coronado golf course and back. Easy enough.
Although I had the foresight to order my Xterra wetsuit over 2 months prior to my race, unfortunately my size was backordered and had not been shipped as of the practice triathlon. I also hadn’t had time to purchase a tri suit, so luckily for me, tri suits are made of spandex and can esentially be one size fits all. I borrowed Mike’s tri suit for this event (a tri suit is either a one piece or two piece suit worn during races and is a stretchy, lightweight material so that you swim in it and it will dry quick enough for the bike and run. It also has some padding on the butt to protect from saddle sores but not as much padding as typical bike shorts) and although the top was a bit large on me, the pants fit pretty well! Although the bay was muddy, it was warmer than the ocean and I was thankful for that since I didn’t have a nice wet suit to protect me.
They weren’t kidding when they said it was muddy. As I reluctantly stepped out off the beach into the water, my feet sunk several inches into the mud with each step. It was cold, but not as cold as I had expected, which was nice. Some of the participants walked deeper into the bay and did a few practice strokes. They advised that you should dunk your entire body in the water prior to the start, but I was too cold to do that. I decided to just go for it. Shortly after I got in the water they announced that everyone needed to come back in and get to about waist deep to start the swim. Very quickly after that, they counted down and blew the horn. We’re off!
300 meters is a very short swim. It is only 12 lengths of a standard, 25 meter pool (6 times there and back). At first all I could focus on was not running into other swimmers. I kept my head up for nearly the entire time on my way to the first buoy and didn’t get much quality swimming in. However, once I rounded the second buoy, the crowd had cleared a bit and I was able to get some quality swimming in. Not much though because I had to navigate the second buoy. After the second buoy I was headed home and I really kicked it up a notch, swimming in freestyle for quite a while without looking up. As I got closer, I started looking up to the shore to make sure I was on track and luckily I was. I swam until my fingers touched the muddy ground, got up, and jogged slowly up the shore to avoid slipping in the mud (I don’t like mud).
I made it out of the water and to my bag within about 6 1/2 minutes and was surprised that it had only taken that long. Shortly after I got to my area, Jeremy came up behind me and we chatted about the swim as we got into our bike gear. I left the transition area ahead of him as well.
Although most find the swim to be the most intimidating leg of the tirathlon, for me it is the bike. Mostly becuase I am comfortable in the water and swam in high school, but also because I have a fear of hurting myself (although I did ride a motorbike 7 hours through the cities and countryside of Vietnam without having had more than a 3 minute lesson, but that was a different -i.e. more crazy- time in my life!). This was similar to my Vietnam motorbike experience in that I had absolultey no road biking experience prior to this trithlon. I had a lesson on clipping in on Tuesday and a lesson on shifting on Friday, and that’s it. I clipped in pretty smoothly and started to make my way onto the bike path. I got passed by several people right away. I wasn’t about to pusht he pace here. I had no idea where these stop lights and stop signs would come from, and I wanted to make sure that I could clip out and not fall on my face.
After a few minutes of riding, I loosened up a bit. I was very cold, my arms covered in goosebumps at first, but those went away about half way down the strand as I warmed up. More and more experienced bikers passed me, but I kept the satisfaction that I outswam them at least! Eventually I got up more courage to go a bit faster. About this time, a woman passed me and then reached down for her water bottle. She drank out of it, then put it back. About 15 seconds later, she veered to the side, road onto the gravel and fell over into the bushes! I have no idea why/how she fell, but I felt bad for her. That is my worst nightmare!
Besides having to dodge a car coming out of a parking lot, the ride to the turnaround was smooth sailing. By the time that I turned around, I was feeling better and knew that I had a lot of gas left in my tank. I definitely cruised the first half. I turned on the jets and started passing people. I think I may have passed about 7-10 people that had passed me. However, about 1/8th of a mile to the finish, I hit a stop light and had to unclip. Three people caught up to me at this point – 2 were the ones I had passed and one was Jeremy!
I unclipped quickly at the finish and ran my bike to the transition. There were race supporters on the sidelines cheering me on and telling me what a great job I was doing. It felt great! Jeremy hadn’t been wearing bike shoes so his transition was super smooth. He was off and running in seconds. I had to change my shoes and put on my hat. I was glad to see the clock was only at 37 minutes when I left transition. I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this triathlon but I had guessed my finish would be about an hour. Now all I had left was a 2 mile run, and I was confident I could do that in less than 23 minutes.
My feet were completely numb from the bike. I’m not sure if it was the cold from the swim, but my feet felt very bizarre when I started running on them. However, all that marathon training came in handy becuase I started passing people left and right on the run. I’m so used to running with my Garmin GPS watch which tells me my pace instantly, that I had no idea how fast I was going. My legs felt a bit heavy and my breath was very hard, but I figured I was running a 8:30/9 min/mile. I was very out of breath and very excited to see Jeremy rounding the cones and heading back for the second leg of the run. I was nearly halfway!
The second half was tough but I just focused on going as fast as I thought I could maintain. I passed several more people on the way back. Toward the end, a woman on the side of the road, said “Oh yeah! Looking strong! You got this!” I powered through the last bit of the run and came in at 52:15, which meant that the run only took me about 15 minutes, 15 seconds, which is a 7:37 pace (I didn’t actually look at the clock when I started the run so I can’t be sure but I know I came into transition from the bike at a little over 36 minutes). After I finished I gave the volunteers my name and they filled it in under 27th place. Not too bad considering there were about 100 participants!!!
Now the Real Training Begins!
Last week was highly focused on learning – learning to change a tire, learning to clip in, learning to shift, learning swim technique, learning to enter the water (we did that the day after the practice tri), learning how to transition, etc. Now it’s time to really start training – swimming workouts, bike rides, spin class, interval and long runs, etc. I was very relieved that I really enjoyed the triathlon. Although the bike was a little boring at times (due to the fact that the Silver Strand is barren and straight and flat and boring), overall I had a great time and really enjoyed myself. At this point I’m pretty invested in trying a few races since I’ve purchased quite a bit of gear and I want to get some use out of it! Luckily, it seems that I’ll enjoy the races and the training, as I have already. Stay tuned for plenty more blog posts on my triathlon adventures!
Always inspired by other newbies to the triathlon world. My local races are brilliantly beginner friendly too. The inclusive nature of the race organisers helps with the nerves and personally it gave me the enthusiasm to race more 😀 Keep up the good work