First Triathlon Try: the Tri That Wasn’t

tri-allAs Sam said the other day, WE DID IT! But the “it” we did isn’t the “it” we originally set out to do. But what a rush it was anyway, and I’m now hooked on triathlons (without even having done one!).

Leading up to the day of event was a nerve-wracking time. It felt like there was too much to remember. I lamented the challenge of attempting to train for a multi-sport event.

I felt woefully under-prepared for the cycling portion of the triathlon but knew I could finish the ride. For all my running aspirations and fairly consistent training, I’ve never managed to sustain a good pace without needing walk breaks. And though I was more than prepared to do a strong swim, even with a wetsuit the lake was mighty cold.

As it turns out, it was too cold even by official triathlon standards. That meant that on the morning of the event, just as I approached the bathing cap table to pick up the pink cap for the 45-and-overs, they announced that they’d made the difficult to decision to cancel the swim.

The water was a chilly 10 degrees C (50 degrees F) and fell under the regulation minimum of 13 C with a wetsuit and 14C without.

Now, Sam had already changed her registered event to the duathlon a couple of days before. My friend Tara was elated at the announcement because the swim was the part that was scaring her the most.

But Sam’s daughter Mallory and I were kind of bummed. Both of us are strong swimmers who’d been counting on the swim to get a head start.

For those who don’t know, a duathlon is a run-bike-run event. So, like the triathlon, it still involves two transitions. In the case of the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon, the duathlon was a 3K run + 12K bike ride + 3K run.

There was no way I was going to quit just because my strong event had been cancelled. At least, unlike Mallory, who chose to do the whole thing in bare feet, I had shoes!

It was a warm summer day and the sky was bright blue. The whole event took place along the water, and Kincardine has a beautiful long sandy beach along the shores of Lake Huron. My husband, Renald, and I had sailed up to start our summer vacation the day before and the marina was conveniently right beside the event site.

Tara drove up with my bike and spent the night on the boat. So in the morning we just wheeled the bikes out of the van and over to the transition area. On the way there I noticed I had a couple of screws missing from the rack (I know, I should have stripped the bike) that I use for my panier when I’m commuting. A generous man with an Allen key helped me out but in the end I discovered that thing is really on there and I’d have needed to remove the back wheel to get at it properly. So forget it. I rearranged the screws and asked Renald to grab me some electrical tape so it wouldn’t rattle around.

We arrived pretty early but there were lots of people there already. The buzz and excitement fills the air at these things. I loved the energy. A volunteer came around with a bike pump and offered to check my tires. A good thing because they needed air.

The announcers did a great job providing non-stop information about transitions. I guess they figure the more they announce about not touching the bike until you have your helmet on and not getting on it until your at the mount-dismount line the less likely anyone is to mess that part up. They were also upbeat and encouraging.

In the port-o-potty line-up I chatted with a few women about the cancelled swim. The swim clearly divides triathletes. Some were so relieved it surprised me that they hadn’t signed up for the duathlon to begin with. The other half felt like I did — sad that their strong event was not to be, a bit apprehensive about doing two runs.

We went in three waves–under 35, 35-44, and 45 and over. There were much more finer grained age categories, but at the starting line these three waves mattered. Mallory went in the first wave, then Tara three minutes later, then Sam and I.

You kind of get caught up in the thing in the sense that there is no time to think. Before you know it, you are running. By the time I got back to transition there were hardly any bikes left. Like, even fewer than I’d anticipated but off I went on my commuter bike hoping to make up some lost time! Renald cheered me on from the sidelines.

Sam blasted past me on the bike around the 4K mark, but I did manage to pass a few women. Despite my concerns about the cycling portion, I enjoyed it the most. I really felt good on the bike and wished for more of a performance bike.

They say to prep for the run in the last part of the bike. I started obsessing about how I was going to make it (not exactly prepping). A final brutal hill when there was about 1.5K left in the bike ride took my mind off of it kind of, but at the bottom of that uphill you can clearly see the half way point turnaround of the run, and there were so many people already on their way back, looking spry and game, that I had a brief moment where I felt disappointed in my performance.

The final run was challenging, but I ran alongside some other women, walked a bit, and managed to keep running, albeit slowly, for the final kilometre by using lots of positive self-talk. The volunteers and lots of wonderful onlookers were also amazing with their encouraging words. That really kept me going.

I felt really amazing when I crossed the finish line. I wasn’t the fastest person by any stretch, but it’s the most demanding physical thing I’ve ever done. Never in my life have I moved continuously like that for so long (it took me an hour and 22 minutes).

Here are the seven things I loved about the event, in no particular order:

1. The age, size, and ability range inspired me. Most amazing to me were the women in the 60+ categories who did this thing in an HOUR. I’d have to shave 22 minutes off my time to do that. Something to aim for by the time I’m 60! If I shave off 2 minutes a year…

2. The body marking. They wrote your number (mine was 200) on your left arm and your age and event on your right calf in black magic marker. I’m not sure why but it made me feel really badass — like a real competitor. It also gave me perspective, like when 62 year-olds flew past me on the bike! Or when I passed women who were younger than me (it happened, though not often!).

3. The timing chip. It was on a velcro strap around the ankle and you didn’t even know it was there. But it meant you could get your times on the different parts of the event. This helped me see that, despite how I was feeling, my first and second run times weren’t all that different after all.

4. The cycling part. This came as an amazing and pleasant surprise to me. I have never found cycling to be anything other than a leisure activity. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed it, but I don’t think that’s the only reason. I really was pushing myself and I wanted to go faster. My training and my bike limited me a great deal. But I felt like that was something I could work on.

5. The fact of being able to train for endurance where it’s not all about running. I have been talking on the blog quite a bit about wanting to increase my distance. But I think that my difficulty getting a good race pace even for a 3K tells me that running may not be my “thing.” I love the multi-sport idea now, where running is only a part of it. I’m sure I can aspire to a decent 5K or even 10K, and if I stick to triathlons those are perfectly good running distances that, when coupled with the two other events, give me an “endurance” experience.

6. The volunteers and people who lined the route cheering us on. There were even people with sprinklers and hoses cooling us off. I especially loved the older woman who stood on the running route high-fiving the competitors and telling us “you can do it!” Thank you! Her little pep talk is what got me not to take a walk break in the last 1K when all I wanted to do was walk.

7. That it was a women-only event. I found this really supportive and really moving. I totally believe in women-only events as a way of empowering women to try things that they might be too intimidated to try otherwise. It’s just really inspiring and a great opportunity for sisterhood. Having the guys involved in different supporting roles was also amazing. I know Renald had a fabulous time taking pictures. He found the whole event so wonderful that he spent much of the morning in tears!

So that was our duathlon experience. I still haven’t tried a tri, and I am determined. We are sourcing late summer events and will report!

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