Saturday, September 10, 2011

First Race, First Sprint Triathlon

In early 2010 I had started training to complete a sprint triathlon in the April of that same year.  This plan, however, was put on hold when I moved to Honduras in February 2010.  Fortunately, while in Honduras I continued working on my healthier life choices of watching what I was eating and working out at the gym.  Summer 2010 I felt really good, but knew I still had more work to do.
 In March 2011, after turning 27, I realized I needed something more.  On Sunday, March 27 while living and working in Mexico, I woke up and asked myself, “What about the triathlon training?”  I quickly got on the computer and started researching triathlons.  That same day I found a training plan on and headed out on my first training run.  I started out with running three minute increments at a time.  It wasn’t much, but it was a start.
 The next day I had my first swim train and by Tuesday I had my first bike train under my belt.  The fire was lit and there was no stopping me.  Before I knew it I was running 3 miles Saturday morning followed by 75 minutes on the spin bike.  Soon I was down to less than 10 pounds to go before getting to my goal weight.  The greatest part was that from March 27th to July 9th my goal was not weight loss.  My goal was training for the most physically grueling thing I had ever done before.  In fact, I hadn’t even realized how good of shape I had gotten in until I arrived back home to California and saw everyone’s reaction to me.
I could not believe that I, someone who would not consider herself an athlete, was about to complete something that not many have done; a triathlon.  The triathlon I signed up for was a .5 mile swim, 16 mile bike ride, and 3 mile run.  This is what the triathlon world calls a “sprint triathlon”.  There are Olympic triathlons which are double the size of a sprint, half Ironman triathlons, and the mother of all triathlons, the Ironman triathlon, which consists of a 2.5 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run!  Will I ever complete an Ironman?  Doubtful, but who knows, right?
The morning came for my triathlon and I was nervous, but I knew I had done everything in my power to train.  I put in the time in the pool, on the track, and on the bike.  I had stuck with my training plan and even exceeded it.  Going into the triathlon I knew my most difficult leg would be the swim.  I had only taught myself how to swim freestyle a mere few months previous to the triathlon.  I knew I could swim the distance, but I knew that it wouldn’t be entirely using the freestyle stroke and it most certainly would not look pretty.
I went into the triathlon with two goals.  First, I wanted to run the entire three miles without stopping. Second, I did not want to come in last. I thought that there might be a possibility of placing within the top five of my category after looking at past years’ results, but I did not want to get my hopes up too high.  I decided to race in the Athena division, which is women who are 150 pounds and heavier.  My friends thought I was crazy for racing in the “big girl” division because they did not consider me to be a “big girl”.  I, however, knew that I did not have any chance of racing with the fit females in my age division.
The morning of my triathlon had finally arrived.  I was extremely nervous, but knew there was no turning back.  My wonderful and supportive mom woke up at 5am to drive me the nearly two hours to the race sight.  I tried to stay calm and positive, but it was really difficult.  Unfortunately my nerves got the best of me and I was at times a little “short” and irritated with my mom.  This is still something I am working on.
As we got closer to Rancho Seco Park we started seeing cars with bikes attached on top, clearly others who were going to same place as us.  My stomach was in knots.  I was excited, nervous, scared, and thinking, “What am I doing?!”  We followed the line of cars into the parking lot at about 6:45am, found a place to park, and started unloading my things.
I looked around me and saw men and women of all different shapes and sizes.  Some looked like professional triathletes and others looked like me, a novice.  Still I wondered, “What am I doing?!”  As I was getting marked I lost grip of my bike and it tipped over.  Other than being a little humiliated, nothing was hurt.  I had on my 80 dollar tri shorts yet still I felt as though I stuck out like a sore thumb as someone who had no idea what they were doing.  Where were my friends?  Where was my support system?
After making a quick phone call, I found them.  Biz and I started setting up our transition area.  I laid my towel down and set my shoes, my socks, my headband, my watch, and my sunglasses on top.  After that was all set up Biz and I headed over to the line at the port-a-potties for one last potty break.  I stood there and tried to act calm, but my insides were anything but calm.
I had about 30 minutes until my start time and Biz was only down to about 10 minutes until her start time.  We decided, therefore, to head out for a quick little warm-up jog.  I was willing to try just about anything to help calm my nerves. 

Next it came time to cheer Biz on as she started.  Biz’s start time was about 30 minutes before mine party due to the fact that she was racing the duathlon (3 mile run, 16 mile bike, 3 mile run) and also due to the fact that I was in the last wave to start the swim portion. 
Finally it was time for me to put on my wetsuit and head down to the water.  I went back and forth about whether or not to wear a wetsuit for the triathlon.  I did not have a wetsuit and was going to have to either buy one for well over $100 or rent one for about $40.  I chose to rent one.   Even though I had practiced putting on and taking off my wetsuit, this still proved to be difficult.  Eventually I remembered how to squeeze into my wetsuit.  Down to the water I went.
One of the fun parts about wearing a wetsuit is feeling the water as it slowly creeps in between your body and the suit as you step into the water.  I swam back and forth a couple of times trying to remember what I learned in my two open water swim classes.  I also took this time to take in my surrounds and let it soak in that I, someone who would not consider herself an athlete, was about to complete her first race, her first triathlon!
As I walked / swam to the start area with the other Athenas, women 40 years old and older, and the relay teams I still could not believe that I was really doing it.  I had been training hard for 15 weeks and it had finally arrived.  I stood there waiting and must have adjusted my goggles at least 15 times.  Bang!  I was off.
Going into it I knew the swim portion was going to be the most difficult, but I truly had underestimated just how difficult it was going to be.  I started out strong, maybe a little too strong.  With every breath I looked at the person next to me, the fury of bubbles all around, and the commotion of legs and arms everywhere.  The further out I got, the more freaked out I became.  I have a fear of open water and on this day this fear became crippling.  I no longer could put my face in the water.  I tried countless number of times, but I just could not get my breathing under control.  Sadly I spent the remaining 20 minutes “schooling”.
I rounded buoy number one and was one third of the way through.  I looked behind me and was thankful that I was not last.  The shore line was quite a ways in the distance.  Although I was breathing heavily, kind of freaking out about being in the middle of the lake, there was still a sense of calm about not being in the midst of the flurry of bubbles, arms, and legs.  As I was slowly making my way through the swim I came up on a woman who started in the wave before me, five minutes sooner.  I thought I was hurting, but she was hurting even more.  I gave her a few words of encouragement and continued on.
When it was finally time for me to exit the water I could not have been happier.  I turned to the woman next to me and gave her a high five.  Later my parents asked if I knew who she was but I said, “Nope.  I was just so elated that I had made it through!”
I tried to run my way up the muddy grassy exit, but I was already exhausted.  I quickly took off my wetsuit and slapped on my socks, shoes, helmet, number belt, and sunglasses.  I was thankful that the bike was next because I knew I had this.  I had been working hard on my bike training and knew it was going to be the easiest out of the three legs. 
If I could have changed anything it would have been having a different bike.  The bike I was using was my dad’s.  It was a man’s mountain bike and not meant to be used as a woman’s road bike.  On this day, however, it was going to be just that.  I was able to pass people on the up hills, but on their road bikes they quickly zoomed past on the down hills.  I had not practiced outside on hills which proved “fun”, but fortunately they weren’t too bad.
One thing that helped me remain constant with my speed on the bike was using the digital odometer on my dad’s bike.  It showed me the mileage and the mph.  I am proud to report that I averaged 14.3 mph and topped out at 22 mph on a mountain bike no less!  I didn’t quite meet my average mph of 16 mph goal, but I blame the hills and wind.  At the half way point I almost kept going straight because I was surprised that it was already time to start heading back.  Overall I was extremely proud of my performance on the bike especially considering my first leg’s performance.  I was hoping for an hour or less.  I made it in a little over an hour.
The encouragements I heard from the volunteers made me smile.  I especially liked hearing, “Wow!  Way to go mountain biker!”  I think they were surprised to see how fast I was able to go using the mountain bike.
My first transition was a little slower than I had hoped, but I lit up my second transition.  I was in and out of there in no time!  Quickly my bike was racked, my helmet was strung over the handle bars, and off I ran out of transition.  I was so stoked that I only had one leg left.  I was more than half way through!
As I was first coming into transition I saw Biz and thought that she had already finished, but no, she was getting ready to head out for her final run also.  About 100 yards into the run I caught up to her, checked in, but then continued trudging on.  The run, similar to the bike, was not what I was used to.  It was on a dirt road with several ups and downs.   This didn’t seem to faze me very much, however, because I was running and running strong. 
Once again I was pleasantly surprised when I made it to the turnaround point.  I was almost finished.  I felt tired, but strong.  A high like no other surged through my body and pushed me through to the end.  On the run back I cheered for each person I passed which gave me even more fuel to make it to the end.  Soon the finish line was within my sight.  I sprinted to the end.  I had every intention to raise my arms in victory as I crossed the finish line, but in the moment I forgot all of that.  I was just so filled with excitement that I had finished and finished strong.  My parents met me, gave me a big victory hug, and then we snapped several pictures. 
We cheered Biz through the finish line and then we snapped some more pictures.  Had I really just completed a sprint triathlon? Had I really just secured myself a “triathlete”?  It was so great to have Biz, Aaron, HT, mom, and dad all there to share in this experience.  Mom and dad bought me a Jamba Juice and HT bought me an awesome TRI sticker. 
My swim was much slower than expected, the bike a tad slower than expected, and the run a little faster than expected.  In fact, my run really surprised my dad.  When I headed out for the 3 mile run my dad told my mom that they had plenty of time to sit and relax before I would make it back.  My mom, however, doubted this.  Sure enough my dad was wrong because about 25 minutes later my mom spotted piggy tails bouncing in the distance, realized it was me, shouted for my dad to snap a picture, but because I came sprinting in, I beat my dad to the finish line.  It was fun to know that I surprised my dad by how fast I ran the 3 miles.
My finishing time was 2:02:05.  I had been hoping for about 1:50:00, but the swim really hurt my time.  I, however, was still very proud of myself for sticking with it, training hard, and finishing!
After hanging out for a bit at the race site, we all headed our separate ways.  Mom and I headed out for a lunch and shopping.  I stayed energized due to the high the race gave me up until about four o’clock when I suddenly hit a brick wall.  Needless to say, I slept on the ride back home. 
Have you ever heard of a post-race low?  I hadn’t until I experienced it the next few days.  I had just finished something that I had been working hard to accomplish the past several months.  I found myself asking, “Now what?” 
Fortunately, the low didn’t last long and I headed back out to improve my running.  Since completing the triathlon I have found myself starting to really enjoy running.  I ran my first 10K race seven weeks later.  My goals for the future?  Possibly a marathon in the spring of 2012 and another go at the same sprint triathlon summer 2012. 

 “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13.