Sunday, July 3, 2011

Losing my Triathlon Virginity: The Firecracker Triathlon

Even though I have been training for triathlon for 2 1/2 years, and have shelves full of books on triathlon, and belong to Tucson Tri Girls, and write a blog in the title of which I refer to myself as a triathlete, until today, I had never done an actual triathlon. There were many reasons: a short distance one seemed like too much of a pain logistics-wise and not worth the reward but a long one was too scary; I thought the local triathlons were in boring places and the far-away more interesting ones cost too much to travel to; and then of course there is the fact that I hate the swim and still suck at it. But I decided that enough was enough and that a necessary first step in doing a longer-distance race on the way to my long-term goal of doing Ironman Arizona was to do a short race first. So I signed up for the Firecracker Triathlon. It turned out to be a perfect first triathlon. Originally I didn't want to do it because I was so familiar with the course that I was afraid it would be boring, but actually the familiarity of the course made it nearly impossible to get nervous about it.

I was there at 4:45 a.m. and bike racks were already crowded. I got my bike racked and then went and got body marked, my favorite part of triathlon. Don't ask me why; I just love having a number on my body. After that, I went back to my bike and spread out all my stuff on the towel next to my bike. I figured that I probably forgot something because it seems like most people have a story about how they forgot something crucial for their transition area on their first triathlon. One big surprise was that I didn't forget anything. Everything I needed was there. I guess having read so many triathlon books and volunteered in lots of transition areas was a good thing! 

I really wasn't ever nervous, not even about the swim which is always my worst sport by far. I predicted a swim time of 19:00 but thought I would be faster since my time in aquathlons last year was just over 17:00 on average. That made me #84 for the swim, which meant I got to start pretty early. (For those of you who don't do triathlon, in this race they started swimmers with the slowest prediction times first, beginning at 6:00 a.m. This is one time when I was glad to be a slow swimmer. Some of the fast swimmers didn't get in the pool until almost 8:00, maybe even later, which meant a much hotter bike and run.)  I hung out in the swim line waiting my turn and talking to #85, who was next to me. He asked if I was going to pull him through the swim. I laughed and said, "Ha ha, you're probably going to pass me on the first lap." I didn't actually think that would happen, but it did happen... he passed me during the first lap! All in all I was passed by about 5 or 6 people, and I passed about 3 or 4. I don't know what my swim time was but I am pretty sure I was almost exactly what I predicted, 19:00. Even for me that was pretty bad. I can only guess that I was slower because it was a 50-meter pool instead of the 25 yards I'm used to, so I had to swim for twice as long at a time and only got to push off the wall half as many times as usual. The pool was beautiful and clean, though, not like the Y pool which is always full of garbage from a day full of heavy use by kids, and where it is often not possible to see your hand in front of your face underwater. 

I felt great getting out of the pool and running barefoot through transition to my bike. When I first got out my arms were so sore I could barely lift them,  but that went away between exiting the pool and finding my bike. Off with cap and goggles, on with shorts, helmet, and bike shoes. I had brought my gloves but last-minute decided I did not need them for just a 12-mile ride. That was a good decision. I had also brought both bike shorts and running shorts, and wasn't sure right up till the time I got to transition which one I was going to use for the bike. I ended up just putting on my running shorts and figured I did not need the extra padding, again because it was just 12 miles. That also was a good decision. 

The bike course was 3 laps of a big square -- Campbell to Broadway, Broadway to Euclid, Euclid to Speedway, Speedway to Campbell. It is almost completely flat. There was a tiny little wind coming from the south but not enough to make any difference, I thought. For years I have been hearing horror stories about the road surface on Euclid and how bad it is to ride on. (I have never ridden on Euclid because of the absence of a bike lane.) All I have to say is, to someone who lives and rides on west side roads, Euclid seemed totally fine. I was expecting potholes the size of my bike from the way people talk about that road. It was a little bumpy, but not bad. I did have brief moments of wishing I had the bike shorts, but when those moments came I silently invoked Rule 5:

...and kept going. Apparently my daily 25-mile commute performed in either running shorts or work clothes has toughened up my crotch, because I remember when even riding 5 miles without bike shorts would have been excruciating. Not anymore!

The bike course felt pretty good the whole time. I passed a lot of people and was also passed by a lot of people. I actually felt better the longer I rode, and got faster too. It was almost disappointing to come to the end of the bike course and realize that now I had to run. I made it back to my spot on the bike rack (note to self: it's nice to count bike racks and know that yours is #7 from the west side of the parking lot; however, that does not help when you ride in from the east side of the parking lot). Off with the helmet and bike shoes, on with the tank top, cap, and running shoes. I also took my first drink of the whole race before taking off on the run. I had frozen two water bottles the night before and carried both of them on my bike just in case, but due to my extreme lack of coordination on the bike I can't drink and ride at the same time without slowing down excessively, so I just didn't drink at all even though by the end of the ride it was pretty warm and my mouth was pretty dry. Turned out the bottles were still frozen almost completely. That was OK because there was a water stop about 1/4 mile into the run course.

Let me say here that I have never once in training gone straight from bike to run (or from swim to bike, either). I was expecting horrible things to happen with my legs, but actually nothing happened at all. I slowed and walked through the water stop, drank one cup of water and dumped another on my head, and found my pace and kept it the whole time. The run course was 2 laps of the U of A mall, where I have run probably more than 100 times. It was a little tough running east straight into the by now very warm sun, but I just kept telling myself it's only 3 miles so go for it. One nice thing about being better at the run than the swim is that during the run I can usually pass a lot of people who passed me during the swim. That feels very good at the end of a race.

I finished in, I think, somewhere between 1:25 and 1:30. I have no idea whether that's a good time or not, but I was happy with it. Overall I can say I loved my first triathlon experience and can't wait for the next one. I also have a few observations:

* I really need to get better in the pool. I haven't improved in over 2 years, and that is my fault for just doing the same workouts over and over and not even attempting to improve my technique in any way. I doubt I'll make it all the way over to the Northwest Y for Tri Girls swim practice, but maybe Master's or lessons or something. Otherwise my slow swim will just continue to drag down my time.
*I also could stand to get a lot better on the bike as far as things like cornering, passing, using my gears wisely, etc. It might also be a good idea to actually train on the bike instead of just relying on my commute for most of my bike mileage. All those commuting miles give me strong legs and stamina, but no real speed.
*I need to learn how to change a flat. Words cannot describe how much I loathe getting my hands dirty -- it's seriously on the order of OCD how much I hate dirt, especially greasy bike dirt -- but if I had gotten a flat, I would have dropped out rather than fix it. And triathlons are simply too much fun to drop out of for something stupid like a flat tire.
*It would be nice to know how to use my watch properly too. I spent all this money on the Garmin 310 and use only the most basic functions. I know there's a way to set it up to do a better job of timing each leg of the race, and it's not like that is secret information; it's all right there in the manual which I have been too lazy to read. My times from today's race really don't even make sense to me since all I did was set it to "Other" mode and then try to remember to hit the Lap button every time I entered and exited transition. (I didn't seem to be able to remember to even do that.)

All that having been said, I feel awesome for having completed a triathlon and felt good the whole time while doing it. I have always said that if I liked my first short triathlon, the next step would be to register for the Soma half-Ironman in October, so that's what I'm going to do right now!