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My first tri – a learning experience

April 11, 2011

I just finished my first sprint triathlon this weekend. This triathlon consisted of a 500m swim, 17.5k bike and 5k run (which is pretty standard). I’d pondered doing one in 2010, but it didn’t come together – one of my coworkers suggested in December that a group of us sign up for the MRU tri.

I started training in January, pretty much from square one. I couldn’t swim very far without getting out of breath and couldn’t run at all.  I (very) loosely followed an 11 week training program that I found online – I didn’t much pay attention to the swimming part and once the bikes got over 15 miles I didn’t follow that as closely, but I used it as a guideline for where I should be at each point.

At about 1 week out from the tri, I got a pit in my stomach that lasted until about Friday evening. I’m sure it was just nerves. Unfortunately, I let it get to me and I didn’t do anything in terms of training for the last week before my tri (I’m still trying to justify it as tapering). I think packing my “transition box” (items I’d need during my transitions) on Friday helped me mentally prepare for the race, though, and I felt better through to the race.

Let me just say the weather was perfect.  The past two years there’s been snow on the ground & it was a lot colder – we got really lucky this year despite the big dumps of snow in the weeks prior.

It’s a lot of “hurry up and wait” when it comes to a triathlon, especially for me as I was seeded 13 out of 14 heats (more about this later). My swim went well – as expected. The bike was a little tougher but not too bad, but the run was much more difficult than I’d anticipated. I did some “brick” workouts (a bike and then a run afterwards to get used to the sensation) but, thanks to Calgary’s weather, I wasn’t able to get in any outdoor biking before the race.

What didn’t work so well

  1. My swim heat – this is probably the biggest factor in how my race unfolded. When they collect your race information, they say that the swim time doesn’t matter that much as long as you stay within a 2 minute range up or down, but that’s a bold-faced lie. A 2 minute difference in stated swim time can mean 3-5 heats earlier or later. When  you factor in 12 people per heat, that’s 36-60 people before or after you. They start the slower people first, and put the fastest people last. I put down a swim time of 10 minutes, being honest (and optimistic) and I was seeded 2nd last out of 14. But my swim closer to 12 minutes, at best – I am NOT a fast swimmer. The swim itself doesn’t matter so much… ok, so I’m with the fastest swimmers and they’ll leave the pool 3 or so minutes faster than me… BUT, they are also faster bikers than me. They are also faster runners than me. Yes, I was literally the last (read: not slowest (by a long shot), but definitely last) person to finish the race, by a long shot. It turns out that most people fudge swim times so that they get to swim earlier. What I thought was a conservative time turned out to be a “fast” time – and there were a lot of far better swimmers in the first few heats. The biggest impact? Mentally… I was all by myself so I didn’t have the exciting race experience, especially for my run. The volunteers were waiting on ME, I was the only one on the course for the last half of my run, and almost everyone with the race has already “checked out” by the time I got to their station. It’s disappointing and I wish they’d put more emphasis on swim times when collecting them, or taken peoples’ projected bike and run times into consideration as well. Very difficult lesson learned.
  2. The bike part – I wish Calgary’s weather had cooperated so that I had March to get outdoors and do some real biking. It’s immensely different from biking indoors on a stationary bike and I don’t think I was prepared enough for the transition from bike to run. I did brick training indoors, but it felt far different. I also think my tires could have been a little more inflated – should have checked with Ridley’s Cycle before the race.
  3. Eating (which leads to 3.1, weight) – I didn’t change my eating at all while training for the triathlon. I continued to eat and do whatever I wanted. I’m not talking about strict diet, but I should have done a better job of eating whole, healthy foods to feed my body what it needed. This resulted in me not losing a pound, despite training like crazy for most of the year so far – I’m one of those people who could workout all day and still maintain my weight (or gain) if I don’t modify my eating habits. And I didn’t do well enough Sunday morning… my st0mach was growling when I was waiting to start the swim. I should have eaten my banana. I got stomach cramps during my run… my fault.

What went well

  1. The transitions – I was pretty worried about the transition, especially from swim to bike, as I’d heard that it can really throw you off if you’re not prepared. I packed everything I thought I’d need, and then some, the two days prior. The day of, I unpacked it all onto a towel (suggested by my friend). I kept it simple… I did not use bike shorts (I have a cushy seat cover & figured 17.5k wasn’t killer) nor bike shoes so I only had to pull on one pair of each. In my mind, I had budgeted far more time for my transitions than I needed. Thanks to my friends, we also had awesome bike spots fairly close to where the bike and run started, which eased the stress just that much more.
  2. My training overall – considering I started training from square one in January, I think I did fairly well… with the time I had, I pretty much got myself up to speed for all of the sports. I did a good job at cross training and trying to improve all three of running, swimming and biking. Again, being able to bike outdoors would have been nice but you roll with the punches. I was sick a couple of times this year and my training program fell apart in the last few weeks, but I’m pretty proud of how hard I worked towards this.
  3. Miki waiting for me to finish my swim
    Miki waiting for me to finish my swim

    My support sytem – this is a huge one. I can pretty much say without question that if I didn’t have the friends and family in attendance that I did, I may not have finished the race, or it would have been a much more painful process. Not only did I have two coworkers/friends who did the race along with me (3 swim heats ahead of me, however) but my sister was also a cheerleader (along with Miki, of course, pictured right waiting for me to finish my swim). There was supposed to be a bigger group but they dropped like flies for various reasons, so sign up with many so that there’s at least two of you guaranteed at the end! I got a lot of advice and help with my questions in advance, having a veteran like Katie was infinitely helpful, and without their persistance at the end of my run, I may have thrown in the towel and walked the whole thing since I was the only one anyway (not to mention the race organizers would have forgotten about me and packed up shop.) All the congratulations from my friends and family afterward also makes the entire race that much more worth it.

All in all, it’s the toughest thing I’ve physically done but I’m glad I did it. I’ll be honest and say that this experience wasn’t the greatest, mainly due to my late heat & being the last one on the course; solely based on this race I probably wouldn’t try another triathlon… but thanks so much to my friends and family (and my stubbornness to pull off a triathlon that I’m personally proud of), I will jump in again. I’m 95% leaning towards Canmore in July, but there’s also a few people trying to convince me to run WASA near Cranbrook, BC in June.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be back in training, with healthy eating also on the agenda (feel free to keep me on the up and up). I’ve got a plan and I’ll be sure to tap into my support system as needed.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2011 12:01 pm

    CONGRATS LADY!! This is a such a huge accomplishment and you totally did it the right way. I definitely agree that mentally it would be hard crossing the finish line last, but you know were you weren’t last and the race people sewered you there. Next time you can get in the first heat and be first across the finish line!

    I agree with you about the support system too. I hate races where no one cheers me on. I know it’s kinda lame to say that out loud…but it’s true. I know i’m running it for me, but having no one at the finish line makes me walk more than i have to…and sometimes, I even think about not finishing. Miki looks adorable! So happy to see Mom on her big day!!

    Seriously, be very very proud of yourself tho, there are few poeple who can accomplish this, mentally and physically, and you blew it out of the water!!! This will most likely only be the beginning to something much bigger and even more amazing for you. Congrats friend!

    xoxo!

    Jenn

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