This weekend I headed up to Lake Lanier Islands in Georgia to race in “My First Triathlon.” I had a shitload of things to pack.
I signed up for this back in September and (while also doing all the various running races I’ve done this year) have been training for it since.
I wrote about some of my worries here before: mostly that I would get a flat tire on the bike, get eaten by a wild lake monster, come in last, and so on. This that could well happen, but probably wouldn’t. So did any of my fears come true? Read on!
I’ll break this down into the different sections of the race and give you my impression of each one.
TRANSITION SET-UP: I set up my bike plus everything I would need for the bike and run (helmet, shoes, water bottles, etc.) at my space on one of the hundreds of bike racks. Tons of people were milling about and I very much enjoyed the opportunity to gaze upon the attractive dudes in their triathlon outfits, let me tell you.
I started noticing a lot of folks with triathlon suits on (light-duty shorts like bike shorts but less padding, tight tank tops — you wear it for all three events. Some come in a one-piece version that looks like a wrestling singlet, sort of. People who are Serious about Triathlon tend to have these.) I also started noticing tons of fancy bikes with race wheels and aero bars, and one man with an Ironman logo tattoo on his calf. Wait just a doggone MINUTE, I said to myself; this is My First Triathlon. Who has an IRONMAN TATTOO at an event like this? Well, it turned out that you can come back the following year, do the race again (“My Next Triathlon”), and see how much you improve. So I guess that dude, in the intervening year, had done Ironman. No big deal. (<– lies)
SWIM: The swim, especially because this was a first-timers’ event, was designed to go along the shoreline of the lake to stay in shallow water. This made it a point-to-point race (instead of an out-and-back). We had to head down to the beach about a half mile from the transition area, swim about a quarter mile back in the direction of the transition area, and then run, barefoot, in our swimsuits, back up the huge honkin’ hill about a quarter mile to transition.
They started by waves, having the “My Nexters” go first, then the 30-39 men, then the 30-39 women, then, uh, everyone else in their waves. By the time my wave started, I was pretty nervous and ready to go. As soon as I started swimming, I started to freak out a bit. The water was so churned up with sand (due to its being so shallow, I guess) that it was like sticking my face directly into a mud puddle. All I could see in front of me was opaque brown. I and all the other women in my wave kept our heads out of the water for a bit to get our bearings, but I just couldn’t seem to find my groove. I hated having my face in that wall of brown water and couldn’t keep my breathing at its regular every-three-stroke rate (nerves? excitement? ack). I back-stroked for a little ways and then finally was able to flip back over and make my way slowly to the swim finish. Ugh. I was the last woman in my wave to finish. I guess everyone else wasn’t as freaked out by the opaque brown water (WITH TANGLY SLIMY PLANTS TWISTING ALL AROUND YOUR LIMBS!!!) as I was.
I hit my stopwatch when I got out of the water at 12:00, but my official swim time of 15:30 includes the barefoot quarter-mile run back up to transition.
T1: I chatted with my bike-rack-mates as I tried to pull socks onto my wet feet, strap on my helmet, and so on. It was still super cloudy, so I left my sunglasses behind. Time was 3:24.
BIKE: You all know this was the leg of the race I was most worried about. I had driven the route the night before just to get a look at it. The race website had promised a “steep hill” that would be done twice, out and back. “Athletes may stop and walk,” they said. Uh oh.
Well, on my drive-through I couldn’t really tell where this steep hill was. I figured it was one of those illusions where a road seems relatively flat in the car and one doesn’t become aware of the elevation until trying to run or ride it.
I did eventually figure out where the hill was, but I’m pleased to say that I didn’t find it that bad at all. It’s just like any number of big hills on my training routes here in Auburn — and any one of my loops has 4-6 hills like that. I guess it pays to train in our rolling-hills terrain here!
The bike ride itself was just pure fun. People who would pass me or whom I passed chatted back an forth and exchanged words of encouragement. I was able to drink plenty of water, eat an energy gel, and enjoy myself. I hit one snag going back up the steep hill on the return — I was passing people as I went up (thank you, local hills I trained on!) and got behind a woman who was really struggling. She was weaving all over the place, clearly just trying to keep it together as she ground up the hill at super slow speed. I gave her plenty of warning that I was passing, but she still managed to swerve out in front of me, causing me to have to stop all of a sudden and walk about 10 feet to the top to re-mount my bike. No big deal, though, really.
As I came back into the resort area, one woman I passed gave me the friendly word: “only one more mile!” It was maybe 30 seconds after that when I realized my rear tire was totally and completely FLAT. Yes, a FLAT TIRE, the number one thing I feared happening in the whole entire race and it happened and there was nothing I could do. I didn’t have a portable pump or a tube with me. I was only a mile from the bike finish, though, so I just ground my way back up the long, slow hill for the next mile and finished.
My time was 51:55, but I feel sure I could have gone under 50:00 without the short walk and the flat. These things happen, though, and I’m mostly just thrilled that the bike went so well. I’ve never averaged a speed that fast before!
T2: Not much to say about this: I ditched the bike, grabbed my hand-held water bottle for the run, strapped on my race belt with number, and tried to get my legs under me. My time here: 1:43
RUN: The reason I’ve been doing all those “brick” runs this spring, where I bike and then run a couple of miles afterward, was so I could get used to the weird, weak, wobbly leg feeling you get when running right after biking. Your legs have been tasked to do one thing – bike – for so many miles that they’re all indignant and confused and surly when you tell them to run. I’ve gotten used to this and knew it was coming, but it was still frustrating to feel not so spry out of the gate.
It had gotten hotter, too, and I was definitely feeling it. I squeezed some water over my head a few times (thank you, hand-held bottle) and carried on. A lot of people were either walking or taking walk-interval breaks, so I passed quite a few folks. I took the liberty of walking up a couple of short hills, though, when my quads were screaming at me. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t done that. I don’t think I really needed to, but it felt like a relief at the time.
On the last mile of the run, spectators and folks who had already finished were lining the route shouting encouragement. One woman was still there long after I had finished, cheering in the last few runners. It was definitely a boost to pass by people like her. As I turned in to the forest path that led to the finish, I started gunning it as much as I could and the spectators were all encouraging me along, and I felt really great as I approached the finish line and heard the announcer call my name.
All the anxiety from the swim and the flat tire and the walked hills left my mind and I felt fucking fantastic, I won’t lie.
My run time: 33:21 (ugh, super slow for me)
My total time: 1:45:51, nearly ten minutes faster than I predicted.
Over all, I have to say that this was a really great adventure. There were so many of us all going through the same experience — our first triathlon. Never mind the “My Nexters” with their $5,000 bikes and their Ironman tattoos — this was on the whole an atmosphere of excitement, encouragement, celebration, and shared positive experience. There were people of all ages, shapes, and sizes. I saw lean athletes, plus-sized women, “big-and-tall” men, pre-teens, and folks long past retirement age. Why do we do it? Because we want to; because we can; because moving this way is joyful.
So, that was my first triathlon. When will I race my next one? I’ll let you know.