Race morning started with a 3:45 am alarm clock. I had slept fairly well, and I got up to make my coffee. My race bag was completely packed the night before, so all I had to do was eat and get dressed. My friend James picked me up at 4:45 am, and we were off. We made good time down to the race (the roads are slightly less than congested at that insane hour of the day). James found a rockstar parking spot on the street about 2 blocks from transition, and we headed over to get set up. I was glad that the bike drop-off was the day before, so all we had to worry about was our bags.
The weather was extremely foggy, but it wasn’t raining. After getting set up in transition, we walked down to the lake.
As you can see, you can’t see the lake.
As we got close to the water, we could start to make out the buoys. The second buoy that you can barely see is the turn buoy. Because of the fog, the race was delayed an hour, so the pros started at 8:00 am. That pushed my wave back to 8:18. Here I am before the race and ready to go:
The official water temperature on race morning was 55 degrees. When I was a kid, my grandparents lived on a lake. Sometimes in April or May, the kids would all dare each other to jump into the frigid water. We would jump in, scream, and jump out again with our bodies numbed after just a few seconds. I would venture to guess that water was warmer than 55 degrees.
The swim was a straight point to point, so we walked about a mile down the beach to the start. I walked part of the way with my feet in the water, trying to get a little bit used to it. FYI – you never get used to it. Once at the start, I waded in up to my hips. My legs really weren’t that cold, my wetsuit was doing a good job. Unfortunately, it is sleeveless. In retrospect, I should have gone all the way in before the race and felt what it was like to put my face underwater.
I didn’t feel nervous at all until my wave was 3 minutes away. I was calm all morning, and just excited for the race. I positioned myself towards the back of my heat, thinking this was the best bet for a slower swimmer. The siren went off and we ran towards the water. It was shallow for quite a ways, and we ran out for a bit before starting to swim. The second my face hit the water, it literally took my breath away. I kept trying to keep my head in, but I could not exhale under the water. I was a little bit panicked, and I started side-stroking so I wouldn’t have to put my head in. This was using up my energy fast, and I knew there was no way I would make it if I couldn’t start getting into a rhythm with a normal stroke.
I forced myself to calm down and put my face in the water. After a minute or two, I got into a rhythm of breathing every stroke. I was making progress. That’s when the men’s wave that started three minutes behind us caught up. There was thrashing, clawing, ankle grabbing, and the like. I realized that I should have positioned myself more in the middle of my heat to avoid this. Lesson learned.
It should have been easy to sight this straight course, but somehow I kept on ending up with a group of swimmers way closer to shore than we should have been. My goggles kept fogging, and a few times I had to stand up to clear them. Towards the end, I actually had to swim way back out to go around the final bouy. So while some people were complaining that the swim was slightly less than 1.2 miles, I’m sure I got the distance in by going off course. I was so happy to get out of that water. There was quite a long run up the beach to transition, then it was time for the bike.
I could not for the life of me get my wetsuit off. I had it down to my feet and heels, but my hands were so numb, I just couldn’t pull the damn thing off. Finally I got it, put on my socks, shoes, and helmet, and I was off. A slow transition, but I wasn’t worried about time at all.
3:14:51 (17.2 mph average)
Basically the story of the bike was me getting passed. And passed. And passed.
I tried not to worry about it, and just settled into a comfortable pace. I didn’t want to push it too hard, because I wasn’t sure how I would feel for the run. The course was nice, pretty flat with some rolling hills. A few of the roads were terrible with bumps and potholes, and I saw several people with flat tires. Luckily, mine held out. I couldn’t believe how fast the bike went by. Every time I would glance at Garmin, I was amazed by how far I had already gone.
The aid stations were kind of fun. You had to slow down and grab bottles from the volunteers. I was worried about this prospect at first, given my lack of coordination, but everything worked out fine and I didn’t cause a crash.
The last few miles were a little rough, due to the fact that the tri shorts I had on sported virtually no padding. By the time I rolled into transition, I was so ready to get off that saddle.
The main thing I learned from the bike is that I really need to learn to use aerobars. I think I am going to set up a professional bike fitting, and see what I can do to make my current road bike more suited for triathlon. I wish I could buy a beautiful triathlon bike, but alas, there is no way our current funds situation would allow it. I will have to make do with what I have.
I also have to give a shout out to all of the Police officers on the course who were controlling traffic. They did a great job, and many of them were cheering for the racers!
Not much to say here. Running shoes, hat, nutrition, and off.
2:11:15 (10:01 pace)
By the time I started on the run, my bladder was about to explode. I had to pee since the start of the race, and had fully planned on doing so in my wetsuit to keep warm, but something about the cold water must have put my body into some sort of shock and I couldn’t do it. I didn’t really see anywhere to stop on the bike, and I wasn’t about to pee all over the bike as some people do, so I held it. Thus, I was forced to wait a couple of minutes at the start of the run to use one of the most disgusting port-a-potties I have ever been in.
With that taken care of, I started out super slow. I wanted to see how my legs felt, and was expecting them so be incredibly sluggish. Usually when I run off of the bike, it takes me about a mile to get going. I was surprised then, to find that my legs felt great. The run is a double out and back, so it was easy to break it into four segments. I decided to take it slow for a few miles and then re-evaluate.
By this time it was getting hot and sunny, so I did my best to stay hydrated and kept dumping cold water over my head. The end of the first loop is such a tease, because when you get near the end, there are two signs on the path. One pointing you towards the next lap, and one towards the finish. I could hear people being announced as they finished, and I could see the finish line, but I was only half way done.
I still felt surprisingly good at the start of the second lap, so I decided to pick it up a bit. I still walked through all of the water stops to make sure a was consuming enough, but throughout the last 6 miles, I was picking people off left and right. At the last turnaround with a little over three miles to go, I really picked it up. I wish I had the exact split, because I think I probably ran the second half of the run about 15 minutes faster than the first. I heard my name announced right before I crossed the finish line, and I ended with a huge smile on my face.
Here’s a post-race pic:
Overall I am completely happy with the race. I had an awesome time, and enjoyed every minute. I learned a lot about what it feels like to go that distance, and I know now what I can do to improve. Judging by how strong I felt at the finish, I know I had more to give. I think I took it a little too easy on the bike, because I didn’t know what I would feel like on the run. I also could have gone out harder on the first half of the run.
This experience was a great starting point for me. I know what I am capable of, and I know I can improve. I am pretty confident that with a little bit more focused training and effort, I could easily go under 6 hours. The week leading up to this race, I was excited for it to be over so I could focus on training for the Chicago Marathon, but now I am a little sad. I may have to find a shorter tri to enter later this summer just so I can keep with it. They say this sport is addicting, and I think I am hooked.