I’m a triathlete!

I finished my first ‘real’ triathlon last night, and even got a spot on the podium!  

I say ‘real’ triathlon because I’ve done an indoor triathlon at our local YMCA, but that did not include timed transitions and isn’t really comparable to an outdoor event.  Because I grew up swimming competitively, and have since taken up teaching cycling and been running for like, two decades, I’ve been meaning to give the triathlon at least one shot to see if I like it.  I always thought my strong swimming and running background would give me a leg up, and it sure did!

Before I get carried away with the details, here are my stats:

Total time (including transitions): 1:08:39

Swim (400 yds): 6:27

Bike (13 miles) + T1 & T2: 46:29

Run (2 miles): 15:43

I finished 6th overall, and second female!

Andrew sacrificed some major work time on our fence to come be my cheerleader/picture-taker.  On the one hand, I knew I could go alone and that making progress on the fence was important, but Andrew hit the nail on the head when he said, “I won’t regret not making progress on the fence, but I will regret not going with you to your first triathlon.”  He’s a keeper 🙂

I chose the last race (#4) of this summer’s Southern Tier Triathlon Series.  The event took place in Cassdaga, about an hour south of Buffalo.  They held one tri each month of the summer (June, July, August and September) and the price was right at $50.  I’d been considering the more local and ‘beginner-friendly’ race on Grand Island August 11, but it didn’t match up with our schedule.

I’m so glad it all worked out the way it did!  While I’m sure I would have enjoyed the event in August (I had friends participating at Grand Island), I would never have met Coach Mark Wilson (the STTC leader) and all the super-friendly participants last night.  I cannot say enough good things about this group–they remind me of the East Aurora Runners–and how much they welcomed me in as soon as I walked up to the registration tent!  Heck, Mark was already introducing himself as we got out of the car.  I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to do all four tri’s in the STTC series soon, if not next summer.

The event was small–only about 20 participants or so–but relatively competitive.  As soon as I started setting up my transition area, I knew everyone else was a much more seasoned competitor than I.  Thankfully, I looked the part with a borrowed tri suit from my bestie, Emily, and a really nice bike (again, borrowed from the daughter of one of my #bestrunningfriends).  However, just about everyone was in a wetsuit (Why???  The water was beautiful!) and I was the only one NOT clipping into her bike.  I’m still overcoming the fear of not being able to unclip before crashing.

I knew my best bet as a strong swimmer would be an aggressive start (as opposed to hanging back or to the sides to let the melee go ahead), so I hopped right on up to the front and hoped for the best.  I hung with the pack, and was legitimately surprised at how many others were HANGING WITH ME.  (I’m not used to being around other swimmers!)  Keeping body parts in my peripheral vision helped keep me swimming straight, and it was smooth sailing after the turnaround.  I was 6th out of the water!

I ran into the transition area, SAT DOWN (I know, terrible form, but I knew if I attempted to put my socks and shoes on standing up, I’d likely fall down) and tried to grab a mouthful of Gu while turning my watch on and running with my bike.  Holy moly, what a whirlwind!  I actually wonder if it’s smarter to take a few extra seconds on each thing and do them WELL, as opposed to rushing so much that I fumbled through each one?  Obviously, next time I will probably have clip-in bike shoes, without socks (I got a few chuckles at the end when I remarked at how heavy and wet my shoes and socks were.) and will at least know a little more of what to expect.

The bike was a HILLY 13-mile course around the lake, and I quickly managed to do something to my gears (I have yet to diagnose the problem with my friend, the bike’s owner’s father) and ended up with only two gears in which I could ride without hearing the dreaded clicking noise.  PRAISE GOD, I was still able to pedal and nothing worse happened.  Note to self: learn how to repair bike!

The course was tough, and after a few minutes I realized I was breathing really hard and had to tell myself to calm down.  A couple participants passed me right away (including the woman who would finish first), and a couple more passed me on one of the early downhills.  With my basic biking skills and lack of speed training, I’m surprised I wasn’t left in the dust!

But, for what I lack in skill I must make up for in brute strength, as I ended up passing a few of those people on the UPHILL, without clips and having major gear (and confidence!) issues.  The bike portion is definitely not my strong area, although I didn’t appreciate how ‘comfortable’ it felt until I started running…  It’s all relative, right?!

After racking my bike and fumbling around with my watch AGAIN, I headed out for the run.  In my disoriented rush, I forgot to grab my number, and thankfully Andrew was able to hand it to me just before I finished.  As I set out, spectators were telling me I was in the third female spot, and that the woman currently in second was literally just steps ahead of me!  I was excited, but my LEGS FELT LIKE LEAD.  I simply could not go any faster.  Eventually, I did overtake the woman in front of me (who cheered me on!) within about the first quarter mile, and I ran like I was afraid she’d catch me.

My first mile was almost exactly 8:00, and I did my second in approximately 7:43–not too shabby for feelings of complete exhaustion, heavy shoes and a very hot day.  While I had entertained ideas of training for a half-Ironman BEFORE I started the race, during the run I couldn’t imagine going even one more step beyond those two miles.  That finish line could not come soon enough!

Shockingly (or maybe not?), I earned the number 2 spot on the podium!  I’ve always been confident enough in my abilities to swim, bike and run that I knew I’d be able to finish a (short) triathlon without too much trouble.  However, not having gone through the transitions and not knowing what kind of competition I’d be up against in a race, I really had no idea how I would fare overall.  I was pleasantly surprised that my fitness alone got me a spot on a podium in a field of much more experienced triathletes.

After the race, all the competitors stayed for awards and a potluck dinner.  It was such a fun event–I’m hoping I can convince some of my running friends to join me for next summer’s tri series in Cassadaga!

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