I did my first triathlon of the season on Sunday in Cambridge, Ontario. It was technically a sprint, but it was a longer sprint than many — 750 metre in the open water followed by 30 kilometres on the bike and a 6 kilometre trail run through the woods. It was more than double the distance of the longest triathlon I’ve done so far. I trained super well for the swim, reasonably well for the run, and pretty much not at all for the bike. And it all showed. Here’s my race report.
Shade Mills Conservation Area is in Cambridge, about an hour and 20 minutes from London, Ontario. Check-in began at 7:30 and I like to be early, so Renald and I left London at 6 a.m. on a perfectly clear, sunny morning. Not hot or humid. Just right. I got all organized the night before, with my bag neatly packed for each leg of the race. The pre-race report said the water was 67 degrees F, and I was excited to check out my new wetsuit for real.
I had two bikes in the car — mine and our friend and colleague, Chris’s. She was doing the duathlon (run-bike-run) and wanted to make space in her car for her cheering squad — partner, Emma, who has blogged here about her treadmill desk, and their kids Finn and Una.
The days leading up to the event I felt tired. If I wasn’t already officially menopausal, I would have sworn I had PMS. From the 400 times or so I’ve had it over the course of my life, I know the PMS symptoms well: tired, legs that feel as if someone filled them with lead, emotional, and a particular sort of lower back pain that I only ever got right before my period. But I am menopausal, right? Haven’t menstruated since January 2012, right?
Well wrong. It felt like PMS because, surprise! It was! Perfect timing that the crimson tide should make a guest appearance just in time for my first triathlon of the season. I’d also been nursing a sore throat for a few days, gargling with warm salt water whenever the chance arose.
This is all by way of saying that physically, I was not at my strongest on Sunday. And still, I felt excited and even kind of relaxed when we arrived at the site.
Earlier in the week I had met with Gabbi, the coach from Balance Point Triathlon, who I’ve been swim training with since September. She had urged me to arrive early, give my bike a quick ride to make sure it was all in working order after being transported, get all set up, familiarize myself with the location of my stuff in the transition area, the various entry and exit points, and to get down to the water in time to do a warm-up swim in my wetsuit, and get a visual, from the water, of what the swim finish looked like.
This was the first year for the Cambridge event, so it was a nice manageable size, with only 219 participants (159 men, 60 women, and only 6 women in my age-group category of 50-54). The transition area was mercifully small, and my rack was especially roomy, which is not always the case. I racked my bike and had plenty of space to lay down my towel and arrange my stuff all out for smooth transitions. I mentally reviewed how each transition would go.
Renald was waiting for me down at the beach. I applied body glide to my arms and legs (I should have put some around the bottom of my neck at the back too, which is where the wetsuit rubbed the worst). I pulled the suit on, grabbed my bathing caps (double layer for warmth), and made my way down to the water for my warm-up swim. The water felt just fine. The wetsuit kept my body toasty warm, and unlike the frigid dip in Lake Erie that I had the weekend before, my hands and face and feet could handle it without any trouble. As you can see from the top photo, I felt pretty good after the warm-up, ready for the starting horn for my wave (wave 4).
The Swim (750m)
I had a bit of a rough start, struggling to find a position where I could swim comfortably, stay on course, and strike a good rhythm. It took me the first third or so of the swim to do that. In the pool when I’m training I have no difficulty breathing every third stroke. But at the beginning of the race, I lost my breath and had to breath every two strokes for quite awhile. I’m good at sighting, which is a necessary skill for open water swimming when you can’t follow the blue line on the bottom of the pool. But instead of rolling into my breathing after a sighting the orange markers (which we were to keep on our left), my stroke and rhythm got all messed up.
But as we rounded the first corner to the far side of the island that we were swimming around, I started to relax into the swim. My breathing got more steady and I felt strong and confident. By that time, I’d started passing people from the previous wave, recognizable to me from their blue caps. This bolstered my confidence even more and made it possible for me to stay calm even though there were lots of weeds that were getting all caught on my face and in my hands–that would normally prompt minor hysterics because sea life in general, be it weeds or fish, throws me into a panic.
But I kept my focus and made it out of the water in 17:48. Not the fastest but also by no means the slowest time. I was definitely in the top third of swim times. Yay for that! It shows me that my training has paid off big time.
I bolted out of the water and ran across the grass (quite a distance) to the transition area. I peeled off the wetsuit the way Gabbi had told me to do–down to the waist on the way to the transition area, then to the knees, then step on one side while I pulled the foot out of the other and vice versa. It was a bit chilly, which I hadn’t prepped for, so I pulled my new race t-shirt on over my wet clothing. I put on the helmet and clipped the chin strap, put the sunglasses on, then shoes and socks. Unracked the bike and ran out the other side of the transition to the mount line. Samantha and Jeff had arrived by then and were cheering me on at the sidelines as I hopped on the bike, clipped in, and rode off.
The Bike Leg (30K)
Here’s what went well on the bike leg. I wasn’t nervous because I had done it a couple of weeks before with Sam and Chris. I had a good supply of Clif Block Shots in a little pouch that I attached to my handlebars, as well as my water bottle which I am now able to drink from without stopping. So I was able to keep myself nourished and hydrated. It was also perfect riding weather — clear and dry, not hot but not cold either — and the course was well-marked and well-monitored, with OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) at major intersections so we could ride through safely. They also had clear markers at 5K intervals.
But I lost a ton of time on the bike. It started with a climb that didn’t bother me at all on our test run, but left me completely winded and gasping this time around. The descent that immediately followed kind of scared me, and I felt myself reaching for the brakes a couple of times instead of just letting fly. I did pass a few people at the beginning. But for the most part people blasted past me. Psychologically, I admit that this kind of demoralized me when it happened. It’s not just that I got passed. It’s that people were maintaining speeds that I can only dream about at this point. So the negative tape in my head started to play about how slow I am, and then I just stopped really pushing myself. I kicked into gear on hills, telling myself that they were meditations. That got me to the top of the only really challenging climb of the course back.
I had estimated I could do it in about an hour 20 minutes. I came close, at 1:23:58, one of the slowest bike times of the race.
When I came back in Sam, Jeff, and Renald were all at the bike dismount, yelling “Go, Tracy!” I unclipped and dismounted without incident. Grabbed the bike and ran to the transition area.T2 (1:54)
Someone had racked her bike where mine was supposed to go and that threw me for a brief few seconds. I racked my bike over a bit, removed my helmet and my extra shirt, kicked off the bike shoes, donned the hat, grabbed the shoe horn to slip on my running shoes (I had the laces set exactly where I like them already), grabbed my fuel belt (I hate being reliant on the water stations) and ran to the transition exit. On the way out, as I tried to turn my race bib number to the front, I ripped one of the holes and it was hanging askew. I tried tucking it in without much luck as I ran to the run course.
I ran without any gadgets at all — no Garmin, no watch, no music. This meant that I had no idea what kind of time I was making, but I knew it was slow. I had to lose 30 seconds to re-pin my number to the belt (a makeshift belt — I want a real one). By now the sun had risen quite a bit in the sky. Thankfully, the run wound through a beautiful, cool wooded trail. I saw a few people at the beginning of the run, but other than a couple of women whom I passed (and who were younger than me by 20 and 30 years!), I ran alone. It was so shady in the woods that I had to take off my sunglasses. The marker for the first kilometre came up quickly. That felt like a good sign but my energy started to wane.
I felt like I was shuffling along by now, hardly picking up my feet. I did a mix of running and walking. By now, I knew there was no question of not finishing. In fact, that hadn’t entered my mind at any point. One of the women I passed earlier passed me on one of my walk breaks as we approached the 5K marker. I wanted to run the last kilometre. I probably could have but my mind kept telling me to walk. Anyway, my run pace was dreadful — at 7:56 per kilometer it was well over a minute slower than the pace that I train at! Run time: 47:36When I got the finish chute and approached the finish line, Renald, Sam, Jeff, Chris, Emma, Finn, and Una were all at the side cheering me on! I felt like I had nothing much left but I think most of that was in my mind. I kind of breezed to the finish line. Smiling. All in all, it was a fun race.
The race felt long. And for me, it was–the longest I’ve done so far. Just a little bit shorter than the Olympic Distance coming up in August.
Renald commented that most of the athletes, by the look on their faces, didn’t look like they were enjoying themselves. For me, there is no point if it’s not fun. I have to confess, though, to feeling somewhat disappointed with my result. It’s not that I feel 2:34 is a terrible time. I was actually pleased enough with that. It’s that in comparative terms, it feels kind of shitty to be 6/6 in my age group and almost last in the race (yes, only 5 people came in after me and 2 more didn’t finish at all).
Sam made me feel better in a couple of ways. She suggested that this year I complete, next year I compete. She’s also quite sure I can improve my bike speed with some effort. I can tell you this: I will not be taking another full winter off of cycling. I’m getting a trainer and I also plan to do spin classes.
And finally, I need to work on my running stamina. The walk breaks are fine, but I want to run faster when I’m running. And if I’m going to take walk breaks, I want them to be at regular intervals, not just when I feel like it. Why? Because the more tired I get, the more I feel like it. And much of that is just in my head. A few times during the run I just took stock of what was going on with me. The answer that came back was revealing — there was really no good reason for me to slow down to a walk. That kept me going through the last K.
Next up is the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon on July 13. I’m now signed up to train with the Balance Point Triathlon Club for the rest of the season, and will continue with them through the winter. My summer is a bit broken up with travel, and I’m not sure how much regular training I’m going to get in between now and the week before Kincardine. But as Sam said, this summer I’m completing, next year I’m competing.
And I am enjoying myself quite a bit. Here’s the picture to prove it:
Next time I’d just like to cross the finish line before all the food is gone.