Monday, July 22, 2013

Oswego Triathlon Recap

It's official, I am a triathlete!

Heel-striking in style to the finish.
While I was definitely in pain out on the course, I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed my first tri. I'm already plugging in my training to target another around the end of August. I figure once classes start again in the fall, I'll probably be time-crunched enough that I'll be more stress-free if I can focus on my marathon training only. (I still hope to swim and bike once a week each, at least.)

My pre-race prep wasn't anywhere close exactly what I wanted it to be. I drove in with the Eager Feet Parents the day before for Eager Feet Nana's birthday. Five hours of sitting in the car plus a greasy dinner were not ideal, but I felt okay the night before. The one advantage to coming so early was getting to drive both the bike and run courses, plus view the swim course from a distance. (The swim and transition area were on private property, so we couldn't actually get close on Saturday.) This turned out to be a huge psychological boost during the race for me, and probably made up for everything else.

We held up neighborhood traffic and almost took out some kids on bikes for this picture.
Race day dawned with perfect weather. After dogging through 14 miles in 95 degree heat two days before, having to wear a cover-up over my tri suit while loading the car was heavenly. It was around mid-60's pre-race and might have been in the low-70's by the race start. I ate almost a whole bagel on the ride to the start, despite my nerves. Coming in as a runner, I have to constantly remind myself that I can swim and bike on a full stomach without dying.
I have an irrational fear this will be me if I even thinking about eating before a swim.
The race had an entire army of volunteers directing us to parking. There was also plenty of space, so no one was blocked in. Eager Feet Dad had fun using the car-powered tire pump while everyone used their hand pumps. This is probably the equivalent of wearing the race shirt for the race itself, but my bike already has my university registration sticker on it, so I wasn't going to get much dorkier.
I also have an irrational fear of bike tires exploding in my face when I pump them.
The parking was pretty close to the transition area, I only wish I had won my running shoes or gone barefoot. The ground was super uneven and hard to navigate in flip-flops while hauling my bike. After that hike, I stood around like a doofus and made several self-aborted attempts to go to transition. It seemed semi-logical to get body-marked first, and I wasn't getting any direction, so I left my stuff with the Eager Feet Parents to get body-marked.

I was this woman's body-marking tutorial. The resulting unevenness upset my OCD. FWP.
I then finally went to transition and got in without any problems. I'm still not sure if I could've done this first. I was expecting transition to be complete hell in a hand basket from what I've read in other recaps, but I had more than enough room. The racks were divided up by swim wave but otherwise open. I chose a spot near the exit because it was key to my strategy close to where I brought my stuff into transition and I just wanted to stake my claim. I had brought my Spartan towel to make my place easier to find in T2 (I figured I would be the only Sparty in Oswego), but there was so much room that it didn't even matter.

I even racked my bike without asking for help!
After arranging my transition, I departed and realized after hearing the beeping around the timing mats that I still needed my chip (and shirt). I didn't see a specific line for chips, so I ambled up to a registration lady and got them from her. I hate to be nit-picky (maybe), but I wish they had told me at packet pick-up the day before I would need to go to the registration table again. I just assumed there would be a separate table for chips and shirts, but it was no big deal.

In the next awkward timing moment of the day, I decided to put on sunscreen, subsequently smearing my body-marking. Excellent. I then proceeded to the lake to fine-tune my race strategy stare at the buoys with total dread. Queue encouraging comments from Eager Feet Dad such as, "Wow, that's a really long way to swim! It looks so far!" Confidence soared to an all-time high in this moment, as you can imagine.

I did opt for the swim warm-up. The water was almost 85, about 4 degrees warmer than the pool I train in.
At least I wouldn't get hypothermia?
I still had about 45 minutes to kill before the race started. I watched people bang out their swim warm-ups like it was nothing. I tried to enjoy the actually good pre-race music. I used the (crazy spacious and clean!) bathrooms twice. I redid my ponytail about 25 million times. I did actually enjoy the National Anthem and the USAT rules reminder. (Hey, I wanted my $12 worth from the official!)

Finally, it was go time. The swim was broken into four waves, and I was in the third. I went to mill around on the "beach" when the first wave lined up. I proceeded to defog my goggles about 10 times, for real. I had a sudden paranoia that they weren't suctioning to my face properly, so I kept putting them and checking the edges, only to take them right back off. At some point during this ritual, a lifeguard hauled a guy from the first wave back. Confidence went even higher.

I'm smiling to pretend my first open-water swim isn't two minutes away.
And then, all of a sudden, I was in the water. My hypothesis is the lake is actually filled in quarry. It had a steep drop-off but no visibility, so it was extremely awkward deciding where I should swim versus wade. I tried to get into a rhythm and not swim completely off course. I'm awful in the pool and refuse to try bilateral breathing because I will probably die, so I was stuck sighting on the non-buoy side. This turned out to be less of a problem than I expected, as the woman in front of my switched to backstroke approximately every two seconds, so I followed her flailing feet.

I can judge because I clearly have the form of an Olympian.
I switched to breast-stroke more than I would've liked, but it was mostly to sight and because I couldn't establish a rhythm. I think I should have lined up about two rows forward, but I'd rather be too far back than too far forward. Things were starting to settle down when people from the next wave caught us. (Nothing makes you feel slow like a person three minutes behind you blowing your doors off.) I let them pass rather than fight it so that they could compete for their AG finishes.

The final 200 was miserable because it was directly into the sun. I literally could see nothing at all. I again latched onto to someone's wake so that if I went off course, I at least wouldn't be completely alone. I eventually discovered the boats off to my left extra-blinded me with their reflection, so I could finally judge my position on one axis. It was, however, very disorienting to not know how far I was from the swim exit. I wasn't too tired, but I kept changing my stroke to try to see where I was. Because the water was so clouded, I didn't want to inadvertently plow face-first into the shore.
This adequately depicts my five minutes of blinded misery.

I was so grateful to be done! This was the one part I was legitimately scared for, and I had finished it. At points I felt tired, but I never felt uncomfortable or panicky, even when I was getting hit in the beginning. I was ready to tackle the bike.

 600M Swim Time: 16:14 (2:42/100)

I proceeded to celebrate my survival by doing T1 in probably the most inefficient way possible. Trying to put on cycling gloves with wet hands when the fingers are all jammed inside-out is difficult. I also realized that while having to turn my bike sideways and carry it under the bike rack is annoying during set-up, it is extremely stressful when the clock is running. I did haul it out finally. Don't worry, I then fumbled with my toe clips like I'd never seen such a thing in my life.

Be sure to notice the Gatorade that would be impossible to drink while biking. I'm a font of great ideas.
 T1 Time: 3:03

Once I finally figured out how a bike worked again, I pedaled off. I thought knowing the course would give me a better sense of my distance. (I had my bike computer running, but I'm used to a sort of internal measurement of distance I've developed through running.) However, every single road was surrounded by high corn. I could see no landmarks and was going too fast to easily read street signs. I felt like I was in a horror movie because it was corn and then more corn and then more corn and then soybeans to add some flavor. It was very pretty to ride through, just disorienting. I could never quite orient myself to the transition area.

At this point, I became super thankful that we had driven the course the day before. There were some killer hills, and if I hadn't known the last few miles were downhill followed by a flat run course, I think I would have been on the mental strugglebus.

As it were, I had hopped on the physical painbus. On some of the hills I was in my lowest gear and still having to hammer on the pedals. After the finish, I heard a more experienced woman saying she felt like she had run out of gears too, so I'm glad it wasn't just me. It also hurt that we had a pretty significant headwind on the flats. There were no mile markers and I had my bike computer on distance, so I had no idea how fast I was going. I had my watch showing total time, but I was in no way capable of doing the mental math to figure out my bike time as I went.

I tried to keep my heart rate up without dying, especially on some of the hills. There were two really scary spots with tight S-curves. Some guy decided to draft off me leading into one, so I felt too uncomfortable to brake, and then rode next to me the whole way through.
I kept picturing all the crashes from the Tour de France and internally screaming.
However, I made it through the bike without any issues. I was a little thirsty but nothing unbearable. I'm also glad I took people's advice and spun in a low gear for the last half-mile or so, even though I kept getting passed. (I would have spun longer, but it was too hilly.) The scariest part of the bike might have been the run down the hill after the dismount line into transition. It was awful in my running shoes, I can't even imagine trying to do it in cycling cleats. Eager Feet Mom reported some lady illegally biked down it; I don't know how she didn't die.

It looks fine, but I swear it felt like I was running down Mt. Everest steering a runaway train.
20K Bike Time: 55:51 (avg. 13.8 mph)

In T2 I got a little smarter and racked my bike opposite from my towel and then ran around the rack. (I contemplated this dilemma a lot during the bike to try to distract myself.) This saved lots of time and energy, but I'm pretty sure some spectators thought I was totally lost. Don't worry, I still spent about an hour taking off my helmet and taking a quick drink.

T2: 2:13

Finally, it was time for my favorite part, the run! I hadn't done a brick for over a month, so I had no idea how my legs would feel, especially after the hills. Surprisingly...they felt normal. I was again disoriented because there were no mile markers, and the mental math required to estimate splits in my head might as well have been astrophysics at that point.

I got a second wind as I started passing people. I had been going back and forth the entire time on the bike with this one lady. It was driving me crazy because she would speed past me on the downhills, only so I would have to pass her on the subsequent uphill. We weren't in the same AG, so I didn't see any point to what she was doing. (And on these downhills I was pedaling in my highest gear, it's not like I was trying to be a roadblock or even going particularly slow.) She looked like she was dying about 1/4 mile into the run, and it felt great to overtake her for good.
Don't worry, I was very sportsmanlike.
I had had some Gatorade at T2, but the water from the aid stations really helped settle my stomach. People also had their sprinklers running, and lots of the volunteers directing runners were very supportive. One group of middle school-ish boys were particularly hilarious and acted like every runner was in contention to win the race.

I wasn't sure how to pace myself because I had no idea where I was at or how fast I was going. My HR was elevated but I wasn't dying, so I tried to pick it up when a volunteer let me know I had a mile left. I was also struck by how supportive everyone was. Every person I passed cheered me on, and people coming out to start the run when I was heading in really gave me a boost.

Who knows why they thought I needed it.
At this point I couldn't really believe I was almost done. While the time is between a 10K and HM effort for me, it felt so much shorter because I was spending time in three different sports. Again, I nearly died navigating the downhill to the finish (but at least without a bike this time). And then...I had finished and become a triathlete!

And some people can't understand why this is fun, psh.
5K Run Time: 29:54 (9:38/mi)

The post-race food was amazing, but I knew we were getting lunch shortly, so I just took some orange slices and a banana. I normally strongly dislike oranges, but they taste like Jesus himself grew them after a race. I also waited about ten minutes for a stretching session from a local sports medicine clinic. It gave me time to clean up my transition area, and it felt so amazing! I try to be really diligent about stretching, but the therapist could manipulate me in ways I can't myself. (Bonus: I got to hear the woman next to me tell the story of her gluteus medius three times!) I was worried about getting super stiff during the car ride home, but I actually felt better afterwards than I do on a daily basis.

Overall Time: 1:47:15

Like I said earlier, I had an absolutely amazing time. I don't think I'll ever fall in love with tris enough to give up running as my main sport, but it was a fun new challenge. It really pushed my outside my comfort zone. Of course, I have a healthy fear of the marathon distance I'm training for, but I know deep down I will be in shape to at least walk it in if I have to. Doing a tri was way scarier than that, and it was really empowering when I finished. I didn't drown, I didn't crash, and I didn't blow up.

Eager Feet Parents seemed to have a really great time spectating. Eager Feet Dad took all the awesome photos of me in this post. He went above and beyond, running all around the course and transition area to get shots of me.

This picture didn't fit anywhere, but I think it's my favorite.
So, other than having tons of fun, how do I feel about my results? My tentative goal was to beat 2 hours; when I saw I would be able to knock that out during the race, I changed it to 1:45, which I came really close to. While 16/18 in my AG doesn't seem very impressive, I was honestly expecting to be dead last in the swim and possibly the bike. For my own personal benefit, I want to re-rank myself within each sport. Feel free to peace out now, it will probably only be interesting to me.

I won't judge you if you feel this way.
Swim: 17/18
I knew going in this was my weakest sport, and it shows. However, a lot of it was not being able to get into a rhythm and the whole sighting issue. I wasn't necessarily trying to swim slowly, I just kept crashing into people. While I'm going to obviously work harder in the pool, I think lining up differently next time would help as well.

T1: 15/18
I lost a lot of time here wrangling my bike and putting on my cycling gloves. I think with a little more effort, I could easily shave some time off.

Bike: 14/18
I don't necessarily want to judge myself too harshly here. There are almost no hills for me to train on, and they were a huge factor on this bike course. My average time was still almost a mile faster than on my training rides, so I'm happy that I did well despite the challenge. Having toe clips and a commuter bike instead of clip pedals and a tri bike also probably make some sort of difference here, but I don't want to invest in either of those, so I don't really want to complain.

T2: 18/18
I really don't know what happened here. I did stop to rehydrate, but I'm not sure what I spent the rest of the time doing. Practicing this transition should be a big priority after the swim.

Run: 10/18
While I clearly was no superstar on the run, I did significantly better here than in any other area. Less than a year ago, I really had to push myself to run a sub-30 5K on its own, so it's really motivating to see how well I did at the end of a tri without my usual pacing tools. If I can pick up the pace in the other sports, I might even be able to a be a mediocre triathlete. Some people close to my run time finished far ahead of me, so it seems there might be hope.

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