Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I am a triathlete

Two weeks ago I have completed my very first triathlon ! We have been training for it for the last 3 months and I was really looking forward to it and I had a great time.
We signed up for the triathlon a few months ago and when we did, we also signed up for volunteering the day before the race. It makes the entrance fees go down a lot and it is a good way to get in the mood. The pre-race day was actually a very good day: not only did we get to meet all the people organising the race, but it also allowed me to know the race course inside out, as well as all the technicalities of the race. We also spent the afternoon welcoming the contestants and signing them up so I got to meet a lot of my fellow racers. The fact that there were people of all age, all genders and a lot of first timers made me a great deal more relaxed about the race.
We got up the next morning at 5 am and drove to the race course. It might be the crack of dawn, but the freeway is packed with cars heading to North East... The race welcomes this year 800 contestants. When we get to North East, the town is already buzzing with the activity of all the people unloading their bikes and walking / riding towards the race start.
We get to the entrance and through the “body marking”: a bunch of volunteers write with permanent pens on your arms and calves your Bib number, S for sprint distance or O for Olympic, and also your age. It’s quite funny to walk around and see all these people with their age tattoed on their calves and it can give you a good boost during the race when you pass a 19 year old kid... but a bit depressing when you get passed by a 65 year old...
Then you get to the transition area : this is where you leave all your stuff and where you come between each event to get the equipment you need. I find my spot, install my bike, my towel, my shoes and some food and drinks for the first transition. When ready, we warm up and go for a quick swim in the lake to test the water temperature, 81 degrees, quite nice. The swim part in the lake is for most people the more stressing part of the race : the visibility is very low (about 3 to 4 inches, which makes a big difference with training in pools) but also because each group counts about a hundred people going at the same time, which makes it difficult to avoid getting kicked and elbowed. I was myself a bit worried about the swim so it was nice to give it a shot before the race.
A last check in my transition area and then we head to the starting point. It is 7am and we are all here, 800 people in swimsuits and brightly colored swimcaps, waiting for the start of the race. The air is crispy and you can feel the excitment. The contestants are chating around, waiting for the signal. There are still a few anxious people asking last minute questions about the course, and the very anxious ones checking out where the safety canoes are. Last safety birefing : the contestants will have to go down to the dock where they will jump in the water and tread until the start, that way the race officials can spot right away the people that might be at risk. It seems to me that there is quite a few people here signed up for a triathlon when can barely swim... It’s a bit of a funny idea no ? 
Because there are so many contestants, the start will be staggered in waves : The Man is in the first wave, with the males from 25 to 39 year old, and wears a beautiful royal blue swim cap... Then the green caps, white caps, and then the females from 25 to 39 year old (me), wearing bright pink caps. Each wave will leave 4 minutes after the previous one, which means that I will leave 12 minutes after The Man. Having done a few races himself and this being my first one, we agreed that he will wait for me in the transition area after the swim...

7.30, the first wave goes. I stay on the shore watching The Man. I am not quite as anxious as I thought I was gonna be. I am actually pretty calm. I am just waiting for my turn. 10 minutes later, I am in the water, with a hundred other female contestants, ready to conquer my first 750 m in open water. 3, 2, 1, go ! I read a lot of articles before the race and they all advised to stay in the back of the  pack if it is your first triathlon : you only lose a few seconds, but that way you avoid a good deal of elbowing and kicking. So there I am, at the back of the pack. For the last 3 months, I have been training 3 to 4 times a week swimming free style for this race, thinking there will only be pro swimmers and I didn’t want to look like a complete rookie... First surprise : around me, I see people swimming the breast stroke, the back stroke and even some kind of doggy paddle... Some people are even hanging to the safety canoes for dear life, and I wonder how they will get through this... I even pass some people from the 3 previous groups still in the water !
The swim goes pretty well, I pass a reasonnable number of people (and not only the ones that can’t swim) and leave the water after 19 min and 25 secs, my best time ever. Light jogging to the transition area, where I dry off, put on my clothes and shoes and push my bicycle towards the bike course, where The Man is waiting for me.
The course is 25km long. A couple of weeks ago, we came down here to rehearse the bike course and I had a really really hard time... So I had prepared myself mentally and knew the bike would be the physically most painful event. Did the training do the trick ? Was my mental preparation that good ? Or did the adrenaline kill the pain ? In any case the bike event was a lot easier than expected. A few longish hills but really not that bad. I even passed a few people (and got passed a few times as well). In a race like this you can find a few different levels of investments : you will find the people that are using grandpa’s bike (like me), the ones that have the neighbour’s trail bike, those who invested in a entry level race bike and those whose front wheel costs 10 times more that my whole bike. Those ones passed us a lot.
Anyway, the bike went well, and thinking back on it, I think I could even have pushed it a bit more; but when it is your first race, all you think about is to keep some energy for the last part.
After an hour and 14 minutes, we are back at the transition area to put away the bikes and go for the last bit, the run. I don’t know if any of you ever trained seriously on a bike, but for those of you who haven’t, let me tell you that walking after a long time riding is something of a challenge. Let alone running. We wobble in and out of the transition area and start running. Slowly. Very slowly. The legs are shaking, the knees are in pain, the calves are cramping. After a while though, it all seems to relax a bit, apart from my shins that are killing me. I have had shin splints for months and nothing I did seemed to cure them. The only way I can run without hurting is to run the first 7-8 minutes at a very slow pace. Which I usually do, but today I got caught up in the race and was going a lot faster than I should have had. Ouch. Can’t run very long, I have to top and walk a few times during the 5k. Funny how the part that I was the most confident about is the one that atually caused me trouble.
Finally, after 2 hours and 15 minutes, we cross the finish line. I am very happy and my shins are really relieved. The time is not fast, but I finished and I am very glad I did it ! I really enjoyed the training and the race was a great challenge. People were very nice, helping each other and everyone was here to have a good time. I can’t wait for the next race.