Saturday, August 4, 2012

I Tried It.

The name of my blog is runnerwendy. I am a runner. However, as summer began this year, I decided to do a triathlon. This was a big deal, because I have never been a swimmer. I never had lessons as a child. I knew how to frolic in a pool, but that was it. And I could ride a bike, but not well. I am married to a triathlete. I train with many of them, too.

So how did I get roped into doing this? I refer you to my previous blog post relating to the Burris v. Miller challenge. As it turns out, circumstances (a drought!) kept that actual challenge from occurring. However, that challenge kept me, at least, doing tri training when it is way out of my comfort zone.

My original plan had been to compete in the Cicero Triathlon on August 11. The swim there is around 400 meters, followed by a 10 mile bike, and a 5K run. In other words, short. And flat. I trained with these distances in mind all summer. However, in case you weren't aware, there was (and still is) a drought in Indiana. This resulted in Cicero being converted to a run-bike-run event. While that could have been fun, I learned to swim for that race. Again, I say...I LEARNED TO SWIM. It would have been highly disappointing to go from treading water to being able to swim comfortably in open water for nothing. So I decided to change my race, and set my sights on the Columbus Challenge Triathlon, which was today. The only issue was that the distances of the swim and bike were much longer than Cicero (the run, of course, was the same distance--go figure).

At Columbus, the swim is 880 yards--a half mile. The bike is 17 miles. Now, I knew I could ride 17 miles on my bike. Maybe not as well as I could ride 10 (I did not do long rides...longest was 32), but I could do it. However, I was not sure if I was capable of swimming a half mile in open water. I approached Bill and asked him to be straight with me--did he think I could swim that? He has seen me swim a lot, is an excellent swimmer, and also a swim coach. He did not hesitate in saying that, yes, I could do that. At that moment, I decided to do Columbus.

The only problem was that this decision was made just a week and a half before the race, and I left the following day for vacation (meaning that I could not get any riding or swimming in). And, though I started out well early summer, my training for the tri began to wane at the end of June. There were several factors. First, I was running a lot more. I took a long time coming back from Boston, and so I wasn't running that much until June. Once I hit 50 miles a  week, I was less enthused about doing the other two disciplines. Second, it became difficult to manage tri training between me and Tim since we have an (almost) two-year-old. I generally deferred to him since I knew I only had to do a short swim and bike. In other words, I got comfortable enough to know that I could do Cicero without any trouble at all. I rode 30 miles at the Jim-N-I the end of June, and then rode my bike a grand total of ONCE between then and the race. Every time I tried to make a ride, Rowan was sick, I got stuck at work, etc...something always happened. If I were more passionate about riding, I would have gone out on my own. But I'm not, so I didn't. I did a bit better with swimming, but not much.

So, given my relative lack of training, I was scared about competing in the Columbus triathlon today. Not nervous--scared. But I was determined to do it. And so it commenced.

The Race
Tim, Rowan, and I loaded up in the car at 5:30 this morning. We didn't have a sitter, so Tim didn't do the race, but he and Rowan came to spectate. I am so glad he came, because I had no idea what I was doing in terms of setting up a transition area, etc. I'd never even practiced transitions (not a good strategy). We arrived, I checked in, got body marked (new experience for me), and set up my transition area with Tim's help. It's all very complicated. Then I wanted to look at the swim. I needed to pick out sight markers. I walked down to the lake and could see the buoys. I also saw a race official and Tim asked him to explain the course. He did, and I was confused.

He said we were to go to the RIGHT of the buoys, and that they'd always be on our left. But Bill had told me (as have a lot of other triathletes), that the buoys should always be on your right. I breathe on my right side, so this works for me. Well, in Columbus they have you go counter clockwise...and thus the buoys are to be on your left. I don't know why, but that really freaked me out. I just stood there, staring at the lake...getting myself all worked up. I did a brief warm up swim, and all I could think about was how far I had to swim. I nearly got myself convinced that it would be impossible for me to finish the swim. The mind is powerful.

At the pre-race meeting, I ran into Rand. Tim Galloway was there as well. Rand tried to calm my nerves regarding the swim, and he listened to me gripe about them putting the buoys ON THE WRONG SIDE. Then it was time to line up.

It was a time trial start. They had us indicate, upon registration, if we are elite, above average, average, below average, or slow swimmers. I said I was average. But this ended up meaning nothing as we were left to organize ourselves. I didn't know where to go, and then I heard people saying that we should line up by numbers. So I tried to do that, but no one else was, so it wouldn't have worked. Finally, I just got in the very back. There were maybe 8-10 people behind me. I nearly got in the VERY back, as I kept telling myself "I'm not a good swimmer, they'll swim over and drown me." But I stayed where I was.

Standing there, I wanted to vomit. Again, not nervous--scared. Not that I'd drown (there are lifeguards), but that I was in for almost 20 minutes of torture as I tried to survive. Finally, it was time to get in. I ran in, dove, and had no idea if I was doing it right. I stayed relaxed and tried to remind myself to go easy, easy, easy until the end. I was not racing...I just needed to prove I could do this. Before I knew it, there were arms and legs everywhere. I was passing a big group of people. As I was sighting, I realized they weren't doing anything you could actually call swimming. Some were kind of breast stroking, but most of them were flailing wildly. One guy was walking through the water. It was then that I realized that there are, in fact, people who swim even worse than I (and Burris would have passed them all, too!). Anyway--they were all in my way. There were three or four times I had to swim off course to get around them. And they were unpredictable, changing "strokes" and direction without warning. I could hear them gasping for air. I did not expect this.

I made it to the first buoy, where I had to turn left, and I could see a whole clot of people there. They weren't really moving. Many of them were standing (it was quite shallow), and it made the turn very difficult. I was regretting, at this point, lining up so far back. I  was having to sight way more than I planned just to avoid them. That said, though, my swimming felt great. Not forced, I wasn't tired, and I felt like I could swim forever. I also swam freestyle the whole time, never taking a break and going side stroke.

Then I ran into a boat. Yes, a pontoon boat full of race volunteers. I had swung wide to avoid the aquatic acrobatics going on in front of me, and I went too far. I got back on course, and in doing so got in the line of a breast stroker. He caught my foot with his hand, and at that moment I felt my chip that was on my ankle loosen greatly. As I kept swimming, I felt it flapping. I just kept going, hoping it would survive. It was a feeling akin to driving a car on E and hoping you make it to the next gas station. Within a minute, I felt the chip slip off.

I stopped immediately and reached back. Too late--already under water. I looked up at the boat of volunteers and told them what happened. They looked at me wide-eyed, and one said "If you want a time you better get it!" So I went down and felt around for it. Could not find it. Went down two more times. Decided I'd try once more, then just swim on. I found it that time and then took a minute to re-attach it. Thank goodness for the drought or I'd have to have done that treading water.

Exiting the lake.
The rest of the swim was fine. I had to pass the flailers again, but I did it and came into the swim finish feeling actually very, very good. I zig zagged to the finish (had trouble sighting it), losing some time, but I was just glad to be alive. I saw Tim, put on my sandals, and ran (on the extremely slippery black top) to my bike. The transition was not fun. It's hard to get ready to ride a bike when you're wet and disoriented. I'm not sure of my exact T1 split, but it was slow.

I got out of transition, and had to make a dead stop to get on my bike. It's still a  production for me to clip in. I immediately went down into aero. When I first started going, maybe for the first half mile, I didn't feel comfortable. I don't know why, but it was hard. That faded, and I began passing people. A lot of people. My plan had been to survive the swim and then race the bike all out. And I did. It was much hillier than I expected, but I continued to fly past people. I decided to make a goal of passing 30 people by 10 miles.

Finishing the bike.
At the 10 mile mark, I had passed 32 people. One person (a 20-year-old guy) had passed me, but that was it. I decided to try and pass 40 people by the end. I was riding very hard. The hills were killing me, but I kept the pressure on. I was really racing this part. I passed two women from my age group, and that gave me an extra jolt. I continued passing people the entire ride--including on the hills--until the end. I passed a total of 48 people. Counting them was a fun, distracting game. In my mind, every one of them had a number. I climbed the final hill..legs burning..and I was at the finish of the bike leg. I've never ridden that hard for that long. It hurt. I had a bit of trouble dismounting, but did it without falling. I can say I had an excellent bike experience. Extra thanks to Bill for really encouraging/helping me to learn aero--it's a huge advantage. Onto the next transition.

I had promised myself this transition would go more smoothly. It did, at first. I removed the helmet, hung up the bike, and changed my shoes. I was just about to put on my right knee strap, when something unexpected happened. As I bent down to grab it, a muscle deep in my abdomen (I think it was psoas) seized up. Hard. As're-not-moving-from-this-position hard. I yelped aloud and stood up. Tried to bend down again to put it on and it happened again. I did not drink at ALL on the bike (and only took a sip at transition before heading out on the bike). STUPID. I realized that I wasn't going to be able to put the brace on without risking a major cramp, so I simply carried the brace and headed out on the run.

To my surprise, people were WALKING from transition to the run course, thus blocking me from running. Finally on the course, I began to run. I had no intention of racing the run all out. I have chronic issues with both of my knees and my right ankle (that I tweaked on vacation) that are highly aggravated by speed. Before the race, I had promised myself that I would run the run steady/comfortably but not at all fast. It is not worth it to me to compromise my marathon training. I've run a lot of 5Ks...this was not the day for me to race another. I even ran 9 miles the day before the race to ensure that my legs would be tired.

I stuck to this plan. However, the run was still uncomfortable. Ironically, it was my least favorite part of the day. It was extremely humid by this point. I also couldn't feel my legs the first mile and a half due to the transition from the bike. I only did a few bricks this summer, none of them recent, and this was a mistake. I stopped once to put on the knee brace. It ended up being too tight, so I stopped again to take it off.

Finally, I was on my way. I decided not to look at my watch until the end of each mile and just run comfortably. I passed a ton of people. Many were walking. A lot of very fit-looking people were barely moving. I think the heat/humidity was getting them. At this point, I was glad that I've been running 50+ miles a week in this junk. I focused simply on running steady and passing people. I passed 42 in the 3.1 miles. 42! One thing I learned is that a lot of triathletes don't put nearly as much emphasis on running as they do the other events, allowing runners to pass scores of them with only moderate effort.

Though I wasn't racing the run, I wanted it to be done. I was hot, felt cramps coming on, and just wanted to stop. I saw Tim and Rowan around 1.5 miles and that gave me a boost. Before I knew it, I was done. I averaged around 7:20 for the run. Not at ALL fast...I was pleased with myself for sticking to the plan.

After finishing, I immediately was hungry and thirsty. This is rare for usually takes me a bit to want anything. But I was craving salt and fluids. I found Tim and Rowan, got some food, and felt pretty darned pleased with myself. I told Tim of all the swim drama and how I worked so hard on the bike. I daresay he was proud of his purist runner wife. I ended up taking third in my age group (a huge surprise), and was only two minutes off first. Tim and Rand did great as well, placing second and first in their categories, respectively.

I'm glad I did it. it was a challenge, and I had a lot of fun. My only regret is that I was quite undertrained for the swim and especially the bike. But I'm happy to know that my run fitness translated pretty well to the bike. I ended up averaging 18.8 mph on a hilly course. That is GOOD for me. I will most likely do this race again next year. Some takeaways:

-I am apparently a better swimmer than I thought. Next time, I will line up more midpack. However, the acrobatics I saw in the water were entertaining.
-You should always put the chip velcro on the inside of your ankle. ALWAYS.
-I actually really enjoy swimming. I didn't panic at all, and I felt really comfortable. I am planning to swim on my lunch hour three days a week at the indoor IU pool all winter. Shocking, I know.
-If I would devote some time to the bike, I could be pretty good on it. It might also hurt a little less.
-Transitions are difficult, and should be practiced prior to race day.
-Bricks are important.
-Drink on the bike.

And, with that, my first tri is in the books. Thanks to Tim/Bill/Jimmy/Rand/Allen/et al. for their inspiration, guidance, and help in this endeavor. I was completely ignorant of what these events entail, and all of them were more than willing to answer my questions. Special shout out to Jimmy who let me use his bike! Now...back to marathon training.