Monday, September 12, 2011

My First Triathlon: Cottage Lake Super Sprint Tri

I survived the Super Cool tri, and I had an amazingly fun time! If there were extra points awarded for enthusiasm, I would have won the whole darn thing.

My mom lives really close to the race site, so I brought all my gear over and spent Friday night at her house. I had a fitful night of sleep and woke up kind of dreading the race on Saturday. All my nervousness about the swim came flooding in at once!

My stomach reflected that feeling and didn't help me out too much with breakfast. I choked down an apple and a slice of toast with almond butter, but it was a struggle.

I pawed through my bag of gear at least three times before I was assured I had everything, and then we were off! I think we left the house at 7:00 and pulled into our parking spot across the street from the lake at 7:03. Excellent race location.

I had already picked up my race packet and gotten body-marked the previous night, so I just headed straight to the transition area to get set up.

Once I had all my stuff laid out for each transition, I felt much more calm. I put my bike stuff near the front and running stuff near the back, according to the order of the transitions.

Transition 1 gear (swim to bike): Towel for drying my feet, socks, bike shoes, helmet, sunglasses, water bottle full of Nuun, Garmin watch (already turned on so I wouldn't have to wait for it to find satellites). Oh, and the bike.

Transition 2 gear (bike to run): Running shoes, chocolate Clif Shot, race belt with number attached, hat.

I also brought a bucket to sit on while I changed my shoes during each transition.

I grabbed my lovely gold-colored cap (provided in my packet) and goggles and headed down to the water to confront my enemy scope out the course.

The orange buoys marked the triangular swim course. We were to swim counterclockwise from the shore, out to the buoy on the right, over to the buoy on the left and then back to shore. It didn't look so far or scary in real life!

I started to get excited.

You may notice that I wore the tri top that I thought wouldn't work because it annoyingly rode up as I ran. I ended up just safety-pinning the top to my shorts to keep it in place, and it worked perfectly! The bright pink also helped my support crew/cheering squad (my mom, Don and my dad) keep track of me so they could yell the appropriate encouragements in my direction. Very important stuff.

The race began at 8:00 with the start of the elite wave, which consisted of a bunch of crazy people who did this triathlon twice — as in swim-bike-run-swim-bike-run. Let's not talk about how some of them did the whole thing back-to-back almost before I finished it once.

The wave starts moved quickly, and just minutes later, my group — women under 40 — was up! There was no time to be nervous, and I heard a lot of women chatting about how they, too, were going to use my awesome swim strategy: Stay near the back. Don't get kicked in the face.

I'd say 90% of participants wore a wetsuit for the swim, but I said, "No, thank you," to the $200 price of a new suit and the $50 cost of a rental. The lake turned out to be practically as warm as bathwater! Whew.

I began the swim with a little tried-and-true doggy paddle action. Do you see me at the far right, doing absolutely nothing?

I started with the doggy paddle to let the stronger swimmers pull ahead and to get used to being in the open water without freaking out. Once I decided that I could put my face in the water without being kicked, I began swimming freestyle... for about two minutes.

The murky water really threw me off and I began to veer toward the right, away from the buoy that everyone else was swimming toward. I kept having to pull my head up to find where I wanted to go, and I just felt like I was swimming incredibly slowly and inefficiently. I rolled over onto my back and found that I could go much faster that way, so that's what I ended up doing for most of the swim!

I was not nearly the only one who did this, and I was in no way ashamed to give up on freestyle. Survival was my goal!

Even though I struggled with the swim, I honestly had fun the whole time. I never panicked or gave up. I just kept alternating between swimming on my back, doggy paddling and attempting freestyle.

Don (who was also the fab photographer) yelled at me near the end to do some actual swimming, so I busted some moves for the final stretch back to shore. Do I look like I know what I'm doing? (Don't answer that.)

Swim (0.25 mile): 11:02

I was incredibly pleased to emerge from the lake still alive. I had quite a jolly time running to the transition area to get into bike mode. My weakest leg was done, and I was excited to get some work done on the bike and in the run!

The toughest part of T1 was trying to put socks on my wet feet. Even the towel didn't help much, so that struggle slowed me down. Otherwise, I put on my bike shoes, sunglasses, helmet and Garmin, and then took a big swig of Nuun before sticking the water bottle into its holder.

Transition 1: 2:33

The bike leg was fun. Have I mentioned how cycling is so much better than swimming?

I passed a lot of people, which felt really good after my slowww swim. The course was two 4.5-mile loops, and it seemed to fly by as I picked people off one by one.

There was one moderate hill that left my quads aching after each pass, but there was a nice downhill afterward that allowed me to coast and recover.

The course was entirely on streets surrounding the park, which meant I had to watch out for traffic. The cars weren't a danger so much as they were a nuisance when I wanted to pass people but couldn't. I often wound up stuck behind people going at a maddeningly slow pace because I couldn't exactly veer out into the busy street to pass. I'm very happy with my bike time, but I'm even happier knowing that I could have gone much faster if it weren't for the cars!

Bike (9 miles): 32:53 (16.8 mph)

As I rode into the bike dismount area, I passed a few ambulances — apparently someone had gotten confused about where he was supposed to go for the dismount and changed his direction suddenly, crashing into someone else and causing a pretty bad accident. Yikes!

By the time I got there, volunteers had jumped in to make it very clear where we were supposed to go, so I dismounted and ran to the transition area without incident.

And the following photo is the best one from the whole event, thanks to this dude's bold fashion choice.

My bucket really came in handy for changing my shoes, although it doesn't exactly make for a flattering photo...

I exchanged my helmet for a hat, changed into my running shoes, put on my race belt, grabbed the Clif Shot and took another big swig of Nuun. Oh, and I switched my Garmin setting from cycling to running, which took me some precious time to figure out in my hurry.

Transition 2: 1:47

Now for the thing that I really know how to do!

My legs felt a bit heavy, but other than that, I was thrilled with how the race was going and felt so excited to finally be doing my strongest leg.

I was also really happy whenever I spotted my family, as you can see here. HEY, GUYS!!!

As with the bike ride, I passed a lot of people on the run. Since it was only a 1.6-mile stretch, I was surprised that there weren't more people busting it out on the last leg. I was starting to feel tired, but my legs were on auto-pilot and couldn't have slowed down even if I wanted them to.

I have to say here that during this entire race — but especially during this leg — the volunteers who directed us along the course were excellent. There was enthusiastic cheering, clapping, dancing, etc. going on for all the participants, and I busted out more than a few fist pumps and cheers in appreciation. Yay for awesome volunteers!

I ate about one-third of my Clif Shot for a little boost during the run, and it helped power me through to a strong finish.

Run (1.6 miles): 12:13 (7:38 pace <---- word!)

Why yes, I did fist-pump across the finish line! Check out the little girl to the right — her face!

Official time: 1:00:30

I had such a blast with this race, and on top of that, I actually placed third in my age group!

OK, so it turns out that there were only four people in my age group anyway. But I'm not going to let that put a damper on the accomplishment, and here's why:

You'll see that I was the slowest of the four girls in the swim (by far), but I was the fastest on the bike and in the run! So yes, I'll proudly take third place out of four people, complete with domination of two out of three events.

Of 200 overall participants, I came in 71st place. It's funny to see how my placement in each of the three legs shows how I go from weakest to strongest across the sports:

Swim rank: 140
Bike rank: 75
Run rank: 21

I know my swimming will only improve as I practice, and I look forward to the challenge! 

I really, really loved doing this triathlon — it was the perfect first tri because it was short, well-organized and low-pressure. Mary Meyer Life Fitness did a fantastic job of running the event, and especially succeeded with making it fun and inclusive of anyone who wanted to "get out there and tri" (as the t-shirt says).

My focus now shifts back to marathon training, but I've officially been bitten by the tri bug! I feel like my post-marathon goals will revolve around completing longer tris and flirting with the idea of those races that have "Iron" in the name.

I recently came across this very applicable statement:

“Triathlon is addictive. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you’ll just do one to get it off the bucket list, because it will just change from one triathlon to one 70.3 to one Ironman to 10 Ironmen and so on. Triathlon is athletic heroin and if you wanna be inducted into the club, you gotta be ready to pay up for the high.”


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  1. So proud of you getting out there & doing it. And you did a GREAT job! Congrats!!

  2. You were almost 1st! Awesome Devon. If you were just better at putting on socks that gold medal would have been yours. ;)

  3. I'd always thought tris looked like the antithesis of fun, but you made it look awesome! Great job :D

  4. @Jessica: Thank you!

    @Caleb: Haha, yes, the socks were a pain in the butt. The other girls had such speedy transitions. I think maybe they didn't use clipless shoes and didn't have to do the extra change? And I never practiced transitioning beforehand. Definitely something to work on!

    @avvy: Thank you! It was SO fun. I think if you don't put too much pressure on yourself, it's easy to have blast!

  5. I agree with Avvy! I am so fearful of the bike, and not a good swimmer, but you may have just put a little bit of a "maybe" in my brain about this tri thing. Not this year for sure, but I may check in with you next summer to potentially ask you to be a training buddy. Awesome job on this! Good luck in your marathon training!!

  6. Thanks, Meg! Trust me, if I can get over my swimming anxiety (and also a little bike fear), anyone can. I'm definitely happy to help out in any way and/or train with you!

  7. Congratulations on finishing third for a first timer. I'm sure that you trained hard for that race. Thanks.

  8. Welland is a great first time race! It's a great course ( flat flat flat!) and in past years the swim has been a time trial start ( I.e All the racers line up and one person goes every 5 seconds) which is less intimidating than a mass start. Plus it's in the canal instead of a lake so the water is calm. The run back from the swim to the transition zone is kind of far and goes over pavement, which can be a bit rough on your feet. The run can be hot, so I'd recommend wearing a hat and drinking water while on the bike so you'll be hydrated. Otherwise, my advice would be to go at your own pace, have fun and enjoy your hero burger and chocolate milk at the end! Oh and try and get in the water and dunk your head in before your start the swim, so it'll be less of a shock on your system when you start swimming:) Compression socks running


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