Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Awesome, with lots of lessons learned: Leamington sprint triathlon

On  June 16th, I did my first sprint triathlon - the Leamington Tomatoman Sprint Triathlon.

I have to admit, I was a bit worried going into this event, given I've been building toward it for a year. Well, not *this* event in particular - but doing triathlon.

If I didn't like it, I was going to be in trouble.

After all, the bike I bought to do triathlon was my second most expensive purchase ever (The first being my Montauk sofa - which I swear is the most comfortable couch in existence). I bought it (the bike) the week after I quit my job to go independent (kind of insane, I know). I also bought it when I really didn't know how to ride any kind of bike (because why take baby steps when you can dive in head first?). Truth is, most people would say I still can't ride a bike, but that's a debate for another day.

The question for me was this: If I didn't like triathlon - what on earth was I going to do with my bike? Fortunately, I won't have to answer that question because the race was fantastic.

Yes, it was hard. Probably the hardest thing I've ever done to date (athletically, that is). There was a moment in the swim when I wondered about my sanity. To be perfectly honest, I almost gave up less than 10 minutes into the race. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I should probably start at the beginning...

Pre-race nerves and general out-of-my-depth-ness

I got to the race around 6:30 in the morning. Triathlons start at ridiculous times in the morning, which makes sense given how long some of them last. But for someone who isn't much of a morning person - having to get up and be somewhere that early is always fun. Thank goodness my training sessions with Trainer Chris Cecile are now in the mornings, or it would've been much worse.

My parents came with me, which is the main reason I picked the race in the first place. While it's a long way from Toronto, it was the most convenient thanks to my Dad visiting the week beforehand and being willing to lug my bike around. Always the planner, I made sure to read the race FAQ before the race, so I knew I needed to drop my bike off in the transition area before heading to registration. That was pretty easy since the signage on the racks was pretty clear.

Registration was busy, but the line moved fast. I saw a few folks from the LPC training camp I went to back in March, including Coach James who was there with a number of the athletes he coaches year round. It was fun getting to see everyone again. I admit that knowing a few people made the whole pre-race thing a bit easier. I didn't feel completely out of my league - only mostly.

Got my bib number and ankle thing (my brother later explained where the "timing chip" was on the ankle thing...I've never seen one of them up close before), then went back to my bike and set up my transition spot. Thanks to the advice of a number of folks from the Toronto Triathlon Club and the training camp, I kept the stuff I needed to a minimum. I will say that I did wear socks (rolled so I could put them on easily). Given I am running a marathon later this year, I didn't want to be worrying about getting blisters when I was in no sense going to be fast.

Found my brother Anthony for the first time after that...and my parents surprised us by showing off their matching "Triathlete Mom" and "Triathlete Dad" t-shirts. Come on, how amazing is that? You can't say my parents don't go out of their way to be supportive and proud, that's for sure.

Picture #1: My brother Anthony and I before the start (no idea what was up with my hair!)

My brother and I walked over to the start together, but then I needed to make a pit stop (next time, I'll remember to take a pit stop before putting on my wetsuit). When I got back, it was time for us to get in.

I didn't really get a warm up - a fact I realize now was a big mistake. About all I got was maybe a minute of two of very light paddling. For reference, the water was kind of gross (lots of dead June bugs...ick), but with the wetsuit at least I wasn't at all cold.

The swim: plenty of time for second guesses

750 meters isn't very far to me. Yes, I recognize that to newer swimmers 750 meters is a long distance, but I used to swim a fair bit. I may not be super fast, but just the week before I'd done almost 2,000 meters non-stop in the pool. I figured I'd be fine.

What I didn't account for was a storm coming through the morning of, leaving the water chopping and the current on the outward leg coming directly at my face. When we got the "go" - I took off...only to raise my head sputtering a couple of seconds later. The water was insane.

I spent the next 10 minutes fighting the current and trying to breathe. I'll be honest. There were moments there when I wondered what on earth I was doing. I wondered how on earth I was going to get through the whole swim...and if I'd made a mistake with all this triathlon stuff.

As I was treading water at one point trying to catch my breath (and bring down my skyrocketing heart rate), a guy in a kayak came by and asked me if I was okay. I said I wasn't stopping, just trying to get my breath. He waited while I did so, giving me some nice words of encouragement. About 30 seconds later, I got back to it. Got to love being in a wetsuit though. They are just so buoyant.

Once I was around the turn buoy and going a different direction, it was like night and day. I was able to put my head down and focus on where I was going for the first time in the swim. I am sure I did the last 450 meters in less than half the time it took me to do the first 300.

Picture 2: Ready? Sure!

Lessons learned on the swim: I didn't have much (i.e. - one 30 minute session back in March) open water swimming experience in my wetsuit prior to this race - so I knew it would be challenging. I just didn't get how challenging it could be. My focus before the Toronto Triathlon (a 1,500 meter swim) will be to get a lot of practice in the open water with my wetsuit. I don't want to be surprised by whatever comes on race day. And du'h - I need to get a real warm up in before the race starts!

Transition #1 - Swim to Bike

I was thrilled to (finally) get out of the water. I was also thrilled to remember the advice to pull off my cap/goggles and tuck them in my wetsuit sleeve as I unzipped my wetsuit. I am sure that helped make my life easier when I got back to my transition spot: one less thing to worry about!

Getting my wetsuit off was easier than I expected (I put a bit of Body Glide around my wrists/ankles...maybe that helped). I got my helmet and glasses on first, then my socks and shoes. I ate a gel (pre-opened) and think I had a sip of water.

Then I tried to put on my Garmin watch...well, fumbled with it is a better word. I am sure I wasted 20 seconds just trying to do it up. Oops.

Picture 3: Heading into T1 looking way more awesome than I felt. I love this pic.

Lessons learned from Transition #1: I think I actually did pretty well...except for fumbling with my watch!

The Bike: Woohoo! I didn't crash!

I managed to get my bike to the mount line and get going pretty quickly and without incident (yea!). I was feeling tired from the swim - but most of that was my lungs, not my legs - so it didn't affect my actual riding.

The first few streets were a bit bumpy (which I hated!), but once I got outside of the town proper, the roads were great. The wind was blowing sideways a fair bit, which rattled me at times - although I am sure good cyclists wouldn't have even noticed. I prefer head/tail winds because I feel more stable...even if riding in a headwind takes more work.

I had these visions beforehand of being packed like sardines on the road, which wasn't at all the case. I had lots of space, no doubt because I was near the back of the pack. Although since I saw all the people coming back the other way, I don't think crowding was an issue for anyone. The joy of a small race!

Believe it or not, I actually passed a few people. Was kind of surprised by that! I made a dreadful U-turn at the turnaround (but didn't fall over!), and then headed back the way I came. I found coming back much easier, probably because I got my bearings my then.

Picture 4: On the bike course...looking confident, despite my nerves!

Lessons learned from the bike: Actually I was really happy with how this went. Once I learn how to gear better, I might actually be able to go faster. As it was, I went about 16.5 mph, which is the fastest 20k I've managed so far. Mostly, I just need a lot more time in the saddle so I can feel confident and not afraid I'll crash every time I hit a bump. People keep asking me when they'll see me riding in aero...well, one day. I've managed it a few times, but I wobble a lot every time I switch between the brakes and the aerobars, so I expect it'll be a while before I'll be doing it in a race situation.

I just learned to ride a bike from scratch last summer...and did my first real rides on skinny tires (and in clipless pedals) back in March. I've come a long way since then...although I know I have a lot farther to go! I'll get there.

Transition #2: Bike to Run

I managed to stop my bike right before the dismount line and get it back to my spot in transition easily enough. I almost turned the wrong way (forgot I was coming from the opposite direction as I had from the swim) but my parents steered me the right way. From there it was quick off with the helmet and shoes and into my runners.

Lessons learned from T2: Not much I'd do differently here - just move a bit quicker.

The Run: Finally, my forte!

Aside: I find it hilarious that I think of the run as my forte, but really - compared to swimming and biking it is. Doesn't matter than I've only been doing it for 18 months - I am actually pretty decent at it.

Seriously though, I can't tell you how happy I was to get out on the run course. Finally, I was on my own two feet, without any worry about drowning or crashing. I felt tired at the beginning of the run - but again, I think that was still residual exhaustion from the bad swim and not actually from the bike. My legs felt fine!

The run course was 2 loops of 2.5k, so everyone was on the course together. That was nice because I didn't feel way behind and got to share greetings with a few folks I knew. I got settled into a good pace and just enjoyed knowing I was almost done - and that I was going to finish my first sprint triathlon!

The funniest part about the run was that about half-way through the second lap,  my brother who finished about 20 minutes ahead of me found me on the course so he could cheer me on and give encouragement (mostly yelling at me to run faster). It was hilarious, but worked. Kind of like when I was finishing my first half-marathon and I sped up when he told me I was close to the end. Amazing how much faster you can run with encouragement.

No doubt his shouting is the main reason I am smiling in the run photo! The encouragement kept me going right through to the end.

Photo 5: Nearing the end - still smiling!

Lessons learned on the run: I think I did pretty well on the run. It took me a little while to settle into a pace, and I could've probably pushed a bit harder (at least according to my brother), but overall, I had fun the entire time.

The finish!

Got through the finish with a smile on my face. Being handed a wet towel was the best reward ever. I was toast, that's for sure.

Picture 6: Me in my exhausted glory - just past the finish line!

After meeting up with my parents and brother and brother's girlfriend, I got some chocolate milk since my stomach wasn't interested in food.

Around this time, I learned that despite finishing far back, I managed to take 3rd place in my age group. I was a bit baffled by this, until I learned that there were only 5 of us in my age group - which made a bit more sense. Not that I cared. I got a medal! Any bit of encouragement is a good thing in my mind!

Picture 7: I was pretty baffled over the fact I earned a medal - but it was kind of awesome anyway!

All in all, I had an awesome day and a great race. I do have to say a big thanks to my parents and Colleen who were great cheerleaders. And to my brother Anthony who was in the race with me - and still found the energy to cheer me in at the end. You guys are awesome.

Final results
  • Swim: 18:48 -- 2:32/100m - Ouch. Told you it was dreadful! To put it in perspective, I was hoping for 15 minutes.
  • T1: 1:49 --  Pretty good for a first time, given I had to take my wetsuit off!
  • Bike: 44:34 -- 26.9km/h - This was great for me! I can only get better from here!
  • T2: 0:55 - I'll take it.
  • Run: 25:52 - Much slower than my standalone 5k time, but given it was my first time running 5k in a triathlon, I can't complain!
  • Total: 1:32:06 - I had a general goal of getting 1:30, but given the really tough swim, I am thrilled. Mostly, I am happy I had a great day - and loved every minute of the race (Okay, except for the first 10 minutes). Onward and upward!
Final thoughts
  • Will I do it again? Heck yes. Already signed up for a few more races this summer (I assumed I'd like this one).
  • What is one thing I'll fix time? Actually warm up before the race.
  • Am I feeling better about biking? Ask me that when I can actually change gears without veering wildly. I'm just happy I didn't crash!
  • Are you going to be ready to do an Olympic tri in 24 days? Of course I will be. And I'll keep telling myself that every day for the next 24 days!

Monday, June 10, 2013

6 days until my first sprint triathlon: Dealing with anxiety.

Wow. My first sprint triathlon (Leamington) is coming up in 6 days.

I remember making the decision to do triathlons this year. I did it after having fun doing the beginner tri at the Loaring Triathlon last July.

At the time, I knew I had almost a whole year to get better  - so of course I'd be fine. Right? But it's amazing how a year puts a lot of distance between you and a goal. Doing a "real" triathlon in my head has always been a year out. And now it's just 6 days away. Strike the nervousness chord with a hammer, why don't you?

But when I decide to do something, I try and prepare myself to the best of my ability. And I've done a lot to get ready for this weekend. Like:
  • On the advice of my brother, I signed up for the LPC training camp back in March, where I learned a million things about triathlon from the coaches. Besides getting my first lessons in biking (up until then, all I'd done was 500 miles on my trainer), I also got advice on how to sight in open water - a skill I've been practicing ever since. Alas, not in open water - but not much I can do about that. Open water swim sessions don't start until July!
  • I went to the Toronto Triathlon Club training weekend in Collingwood and, despite the bike accident, got a lot of riding in - not to mention some swimming and some running off the bike.
  • I've gone on a couple of the TTC club rides on Saturday mornings out in Markham thanks to a girl in the club who is happy to carpool in exchange for coffee. These rides have been great for getting me a bit more comfortable on the roads, especially given my twitchiness following the bike incident. It's also been great to get some advice and encouragement from the coach who leads the ride.
  • In a similar vein, I did 2 50k rides this past weekend - one with the club and one with my dad/brother. No incidents on either ride - and a whole lot of stopping/un-clipping on the second ride - gave me a big confidence boost in advance of this weekend. Even my run off the bike on Saturday felt pretty good.
  • I've been running - and finally, finally am picking up steam again after straining my toe back in March. It's taking me a long time since getting back to running, but I finally feel like I'm back to where I was before the injury. My speed came back pretty quick, but I felt like my endurance was off a fair bit. But I went for my first half-marathon (HM) length run since early March a week ago Sunday and it was my fastest HM training run ever. Definitely another confidence booster.
But that doesn't mean I'm not still nervous. Which is why I'm writing this post. It is utterly normal to be nervous before a race - especially a first race, or a race at a new distance (I expect similar anxiety before my first Olympic Tri in July).

So how do you deal with nerves? Well, I'll give you my top three things:
  1. Set simple goals...especially for a first race. Mine are to a) Finish with a smile on my face; b) Finish without any incidents; and c) Not to come in last. Sure I'd like to do reasonably well (well being a relative term of course), but until I set a benchmark, I am not going to make any time goals. So this race is to see where my starting point is. From there I can worry about getting better!
  2. Remind yourself how well prepared you are. I've been training a good 7-10 hours a week. I know I can swim, bike and run double each distance. I've had a few good brick workouts and have sponged up all the advice on triathlons and transitions that I can from other people. I've done the best I can up until now.
  3. Be prepared to deal with anything that comes up. I know the weather could be terrible on race day. I know I could blow a tire (and that I'd probably spend an hour replacing it). I know there are a bunch of other things that could go wrong - and well, so what? If something goes wrong, it's not the end of the world (I hope not anyways...while zombies attacking during the bike might make me go faster, they might not be good for my long-term racing enjoyment).
  4. Remember to Be Awesome Today: This mantra got me through my first half-marathon - and my second. It's gotten me through riding in the torrential rain when I was terrified. I fully expect it will continue to bring a smile to my face every time I say the words. Because being awesome isn't about winning. It's about doing. It's about living life to the full. It's about proving that anything is possible. Remember that when you need the inspiration to keep going.
Okay, that's 4 things. But remembering to be awesome isn't really about dealing with's about remembering why you're out there. I decided to do triathlon because I realized I love training. I love racing. I love learning new things. I love proving what I'm capable of. And most of all, because I am having fun every step of the way.

And if having fun is the only measure of success - well, I am sure I'll come out a winner on Sunday!

 Wish me luck!