Saturday, September 19, 2009
Morning and pre-race
Race day! We woke up early at 6:00, after a somewhat fitful night of sleep (due more to a thrashing toddler than to nerves). The weather was great -- high of 64, not a cloud in sight, and a bit windy (hey, you can't have everything). We threw on some clothes, put a pajama-clad Audrey into the car, and left our campsite. We ate breakfast at a small local place called the "Sunshine Diner," where Tara and I both had biscuits and gravy with eggs. After picking up my friend, colleague, and co-racer colleague Tobias from his hotel, we headed to the park where the race was being held. Even at 7:15 there was a line forming at the entrance, but we got in with little delay and found parking.
Having registered the night before, we were able to go straight to "Body Marking" -- a curious tradition where cheerful volunteers color numbers all over you in permanent marker. I couldn't help thinking that it must help them to identify body parts if one gets eaten by a shark, but it turns out the main reason is so that the timing crew can identify you as you leave the water. After body marking, I dropped off my bike in the transition area and laid out all of my gear on a towel. Then there was nothing to do for a while, so we watched the tide finish flowing in, changing our swim course from a muddy wasteland into ... well, something wetter. As the start time approached, we made a last-minute restroom stop, then put on wet suits and headed to the start location.
After a brief pre-race announcement program, the race was on! Well ... for the professionals, anyway. With 800 participants, people must be sent out in waves. First are the "elite" athletes -- those considered most likely to win. After the elites were the collegiate teams. Then men under 34. Then women under 34. Men under 42. Women under 42. Then highly-trained animals, and so on. I stopped keeping track somewhere in the middle, as the nerves kicked in at full throttle and caused the nearby porta-Johns to look suddenly appealing again. Wandering back to the start location, about 15 minutes after the start, I watched the fastest swimmers begin to complete the swim, and wondered if the race would be over before we started. Finally, however, it was time for the novice wave, and we headed out into the water with our blue swim caps screaming "newbies!"
Before today, I had never participated in an organized swim event. But as doing a triathlon has been at least a "pipe dream" for some time, I've practiced swimming on and off over the last five years, and could make it for a mile relatively early in my training. Still, since the swim is the only event in which drowning is a potential hazard, it was the event I was most concerned about initially. But a month or so ago I bought a wetsuit, and upon learning that I could essentially nap in that thing without sinking, my fears abated.
The triathlon had a water start, which means you swim a few meters out to the starting buoy before your wave gets sent off. It was during this swim to the buoy that I experienced the major technical glitch of the event -- my goggles were not working. With a sickening feeling, I remembered how Audrey had taken the strap off of the lenses several days earlier. I apparently re-attached it incorrectly, and it would no longer stay tight! With just seconds to go before the send off, I frantically tried to tie the straps into knots to keep them from slipping (as if I wasn't nervous enough!). But it was to no avail. The race started, and within five strokes I couldn't see. So I had to stop and work on them some more before I really started -- not the ideal start! (But Audrey, if you read this in the future, I promise that I wasn't mad, and I love you!)
The rest of the swim was less eventful by comparison, but still very challenging. I had trained on open water, in Walden Pond. This is a great place to train -- almost exactly a mile round-trip, and I had done it four or five times already. But Walden is warm, calm, and fresh. In contrast, the water on the coast of Maine in September is *cold* -- much colder than I expected. In addition, the wind made the water fairly choppy, and so we were really getting rocked around on the waves. As a consequence, so every so often you'd swallow a bunch of salt water, which is much worse than lake water. Because of these challenges, I never really found anywhere near a smooth rhythm, and felt like I wasted a lot of energy thrashing around the whole time. Still, I made it back to the shore without too much panic, which alone seemed like a victory.
Swim time: 32:32.
Getting out of the water I could barely walk in a straight line, but I could hear Tara's voice calling my name, so I staggered up the hill toward the transition area. Wetsuits are hard to get off, and I eventually had to lay on the ground to facilitate the process. Then, being wet and still disoriented, I had a hard time putting on my biking clothes (socks on wet feet -- ugh!). Just before I finished up, Tara and Audrey came over to give hugs and encouragement, which was worth an extra 0:30.
T1 time: 6:38.
The bike was the event I was least worried about -- I am no racer, but have done a fair bit of biking, including five week-long tours across Minnesota with my Dad. I had done a fair number of training rides, including several longer than 40k, and also a little bit of hill training. So even when I learned that the course had a few hills, I was never worried about finishing, and I thought the bike would be my strongest event. Overall it went well. I knew that a 10k run loomed, and so I was continually reminding myself to "save it for the run." In particular, I tried to rest a bit on the downhills, which meant I had some energy for the uphills and windy sections. My bike chain fell off twice (!), which cost me a few minutes, but otherwise there were no complications. So overall I really enjoyed the bike, and it went by quickly. Tara and Audrey just missed me at the bike finish because Audrey chose that moment to practice her potty-training. What can you do?
Bike time: 1:34:09.
This transition seemed much smoother -- it's amazing what being dry and having a working sense of balance will do! Plus there was no wetsuit to make things complicated -- just drop off the bike, change from biking shoes into running shoes, and go. Still, I wasn't particularly fast here. I suppose, in retrospect, it was silly to spend two minutes changing socks. Also, that minute spent digging for my phone to send a text to Tara probably wasn't advisable. And by this time the gatorade consumed on the bike had worked through my system, and so one last stop at the porta-John was required. But I was having fun, my family was there to send me off, and I just wasn't in a hurry!
T2 time: 5:37.
The run was the part I ended up being most worried about. Although I ran track in middle school (an increasingly long time ago), I have always had problems with shin splints. For my run training this time around, I was armed with a bit more knowledge, and so I successfully avoided the majority of the shin pain with easy running and slow increases in distance. Even so, this time I had problems with my calves, which would remain sore for many days after the longer training runs. Consequently, I never even made it up to 10k during training, and I had resigned myself to probably having to walk a bit. However, I was thrilled to be able to limit the walking to the vicinity of rest stops, which were placed each mile. I would slow to a walk to grab and drink a cup of Gatorade (and thank the wonderful volunteers!), but was able to tun the entire rest of the course. And while my knees were by this time getting a bit stiff (they were already tired from the bike), I didn't have any problems with my calves. So I was very grateful, and although I was tired, I still felt good throughout the whole run. By the end, I knew I would be able to finish, and was able to just enjoy the experience of completing my first triathlon. By the time I finished, things were already winding down, but Tara and Audrey were there, which was more important than anything else.
Run time: 1:04:10.
Post-race analysis and Reflections
My total time was 3:23:04, for an overall men's rank of 309/333. As a first-timer, I was really, really happy with this result. Being most comfortable on the bike, I used the bike split as a reference point, and I was relatively happy with my time here, which worked out to an average of 16mph. This is not at all fast in absolute terms, but for me, on a somewhat hilly course, trying to save energy for the run, I was pleased. So I was quite surprised to find out that I had ranked lowest (308th) with my bike split! I ranked higher (291st) with my run -- which I had despaired of even finishing -- with a per-mile time of 10:16. And despite the goggle fiasco, and the challenging conditions, I ranked highest of all (255th) on the swim! So it was a huge encouragement to do well in two events that are relatively new to me. As for the sum of my transition times (330th), well, one can work on this. No more texting.
As we enjoyed free beers and not-so-free lobsters after the race, I tried to soak in all the new memories and the experience of the post-race celebrations. It was great fun to do the race, and the benefits of the training will be the best reward if I stick with it. I may be tired with sore knees today, but I'm still wearing my little "finisher's medal" with pride, and am already excited to starting thinking about an indoor training schedule for the winter!
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009