Race: Tri-at-the-Y Super Sprint Triathlon
Place: Floyd County YMCA, New Albany, Indiana
Date: April 21, 2013
Overall Time: 1:04:03
I can now officially call myself a triathlete. For real. No indoor triathlon this time. Nope. The triathlon that I participated in two weekends ago was an official Super Sprint Triathlon, which did not happen indoors on gym equipment this time. If you recall, my last triathlon was an Indoor Triathlon, and I wasn’t too keen on it. Besides, it wasn’t a true triathlon. No measured distance to run or pedal, just set times on a treadmill and stationary bike. Then a certain time in the pool. Done.
NOT. THIS. TIME.
And I couldn’t have been happier about it either.
Granted, when I signed up for this, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. I’m just going to be honest. I am a good swimmer, but I’m not a fast swimmer. I can bike, but I’ve never done so in competition form. And the weather had been so cold leading into this race, that the only practice I was getting on the bike was on the stationary bike at the gym. Definitely not the same as getting out onto the road and tackling some real hills. But, you make do with what you’ve got, yes?
As a runner, I knew I would have that part down. It was the bike and swim that were making me nervous. As I got on the stationary bike on every gym day leading up to the triathlon, I was feeling a bit better about the bike portion…but that swim portion still seemed a bit daunting. Granted, it was a simple 300 meters in the pool, but that was six laps (down and back) in each lane of the pool at the YMCA. I got in one morning of swimming in the pool prior to this event…and it took me 20 minutes to do the required 6 down and back laps. I was not feeling confident at all about that part of this triathlon.
Running is my passion. I have yet to find that same passion in any other sport. I run a lot, I run often, I run without forcing myself to do so. It’s just something I love to do. Early, late, it doesn’t matter. I’ll lace up those shoes and just go, go, go whenever I want. I run slow, I run fast, I run long. I run…pretty much every day. At most 6 out of 7 days a week…runs of varying lengths. But, I know that cross training is also important to building up better skills as a runner. A triathlon is a great way to get a sample of cross training with two very different sports from running – biking and swimming. Throwing in two consecutive and challenging sports with a run was a good introduction to other options out there, that’s for sure.
A Super Sprint Triathlon is a great introduction to triathlons. I’m so glad I did it, although I had a nervous respect for what I was getting myself into. I didn’t mention it to anyone because I wasn’t completely sure I could do it. Or do it well. And that just means…to my own high standards I place on myself when I compete.
A Super Sprint Triathlon consists of an 8 mile bike, a 2 mile run, and a 300 meter swim.
Small…but daunting to someone who really just runs. I think I took it on like a champ though.
The day before the triathlon, I had gone out for a quick 5 mile run, and then later met up with my friend Nikky for her last long run (10 miles) to pace her as she prepped for her mini marathon the following Saturday. So, I was going into this with some tired legs as it was. But…I’ve never really let that slow me down (much) when it comes to races. What I didn’t know was what to expect when the triathlon kicked off. I was…really clueless going in. That was evident by the fact that I was going to be doing the biking portion of the race on a mountain bike…not a road bike. Even better…the bike didn’t quite fit into the trunk of my Toyota Corolla, despite lowering the seats. So, much of the drive to the YMCA was cautious, hoping that the trunk didn’t pop open in the process as it couldn’t be shut.
I also had to think about what I was going to wear. It was required that all participants wear their bathing suits under their clothes for the triathlon. I had to do that with the indoor triathlon I did last March, so that wasn’t an issue. The issue was…it was flippin’ cold that morning. For real. Like 40 degrees cold. So, I had some decisions to make when it came to wardrobe. When I got up that morning, the bathing suit went on…because I knew that much was a given. I finally decided to just brave it and wear the swim suit bottoms as my shorts throughout the entire triathlon. I put on some compression socks and my running shoes. My original thought was to just throw on arm warmers and do the entire thing in my bathing suit, but the weather deterred me from that line of thinking. I ended up throwing on my Earth Fare Athlete Ambassador shirt with the arm warmers and calling it done. One BondiBand later and one ponytail (no pigtails as I had to wear a helmet for the bike portion) later, I was ready to get to the Floyd County YMCA (also known as…my gym).
So, with my bike wedged into my little Toyota Corolla, my roommate dropped me off with my bike and then headed back to the apartment as her mom was coming over. She was going to cheer me on too and then we were all heading out for her belated birthday lunch at North End Café in Louisville, Kentucky. So…I knew a delicious gluten-free pancake was in my future…I just had to get through the triathlon first. As she drove off, I started to walk my bike toward the YMCA, and was told by a fellow triathlete that I might as well just take it up and over the flood wall and get it racked before checking in. I glanced over a the stairs leading up and over the train tracks, then the flood wall, and thanked him. So, I rolled my bike that way, then picked it up and carried it all the way up the steps, resting at the top, before carrying it down the steps toward the amphitheater, and over to the bike racks. As mine was a mountain bike, among a sea of racing road bikes), I didn’t hang mine up by the seat. I just kicked it into place with the kickstand and left it there while I hauled myself back up the steps, over the flood wall, and back toward the YMCA to get checked in. This involved getting my t-shirt, my race number, my timing chip (which fit around my ankle), and had to strip out of my hoodie, roll down my arm warmers, and roll up my sleeves to get the required triathlete bib number scrawled on my upper right in Sharpie marker. I felt pretty official after that.
Then it was the waiting game. I was waiting on Cathy to return with her mom. I needed to eat my pre-race fuel of a banana in enough time to let it digest. When she did arrive…she had forgotten the banana. I was afraid no fuel since my cereal at breakfast and my Lärabar I ate with it would mean I would be starving during the triathlon. A hungry athlete is an unhappy athlete. Trust me. So, she ditched her belongings and took off to the local gas station, knowing they usually have some bananas in a basket. She succeeded, and returned, and I devoured the banana on the walk toward the bike rack area. We had about 30 minutes to the start of the triathlon and a mandatory meeting in the bike area was about to start.
The mandatory meeting basically went over the course and how the triathlon would work. They told us where we would be biking, and how many loops we’d have to do for the required miles. They told us about transitioning from bike to running, and where we needed to run, turn around, and head up the hill, down some stairs (YIKES) and into the back of the YMCA to transition to the swim. Then…the dreaded swim would take place. They also went on to say that our participation in the event that morning was sending a message to people like the Boston Marathon bombers that we, as athletes, would not be bullied. It was a touching speech and I nearly cried. And then, we were told to get our bikes, put the more experienced up front, and get ready to start.
I decided to follow instructions and lined up with my bike toward the back. After all, the fewer people passing me meant the better I would feel about myself, right? Except…this was a loop, so those who started ahead of me were going to whip by me regardless. Ah well…being that I don’t bike much outside (this needs to change!), I wasn’t sure what to expect. Nor was I completely familiar with my bike…especially on really steep hills and the like, which I didn’t know I’d have to tackle until I was peddling up one. The bikers were sent off one at a time. And after about 10 minutes, it was my turn at the starting line. I was told to go whenever I was ready. Putting my feet on the pedals…I was off.
8 Mile Bike Time: 34:21
Biking 8 miles on a stationary bike, even with varying resistances, didn’t come close to preparing me for the bike portion of the triathlon. I started, as instructed, with my bike in the lowest gear, which would ensure a quick start. That was pretty much all I had right at the start. From there it was a matter of learning when I needed to be in a higher gear, when I needed to shift back down to an easier one, navigating pot holes, standing up so my bootie didn’t get bruised as I cruised over a makeshift bridge that covered a large hole in the course. The bike was HARD!
No joke. I thought, when I signed up, that because I could manage higher resistance on the stationary bike going 8 miles in 25 minutes would be simple. HAHAHA!! WRONG. I didn’t account for fatigue…or hills…or just…not knowing what I was doing. It’s not as easy as jumping on a bike and peddling. You have to put a lot of work into your legs to get that bike going and up to speed. And when I hit that steep incline the first time, I faltered more than a little. I slowed to a crawl. But I got up it…and learned a few lessons about my bike in the process.
First of all, my friend Will, who was also doing this (but has done a triathlon before) had those clip-in shoes for his pedals, which he said really do make all the difference. I sort of laughed it on, but my feet were sliding off my pedals at times. I could now see his point. I envied everyone who had those shoes for their bikes. They would definitely have an easier time. Secondly, I now knew that higher gears worked better on flat surfaces, and shifting to an easier gear for hills was ideal. On my second loop of the course, I was starting to get this down. And by the third and final loop, while my legs were screaming at me because they were tired of peddling the heavy mountain bike up the hill, I did better this time. And before I knew it, I was peddling into the transition area, hopping off my bike, and running it across the line to stop my timing chip. This gave me time to rack my bike and start to prep for the run.
2 Mile Run Time: 15:52
No one told me how much my quads would hurt as I transitioned from biking to running. It took a moment for me to convince them that they needed to move. And this was the part of the race I felt most confident in. Here I was, feeling like a complete rookie because now my legs were hurting from pushing it on the bike. But, I finally got moving and managed to shake it all out the more I ran. I had walked originally toward the starting line, but Cathy began screaming at me to move it…so I jogged, hit the starting line, and took off.
I immediately passed the person who started running a few moments ahead of me. I knew that this was my portion and that I could do this well. I had to look beyond the pain and fatigue in my legs and push…dig deep…find my strong…and conquer the run. I also knew that at the very end of the run was a hill that would take us up to the flood wall. So, I was mentally preparing for that too. The rest of the run was flat, although pock marked with pot holes. I was just really careful where I planted my feet and kept on moving. I passed more people. I saw Will heading the other way. He waved at me. And then…I found the turn around point, made my turn and headed back toward the amphitheater. I passed Will. I headed up the hill…and I did so with some actual speed. My legs were feeling good. I was comfortable. I was running. I was doing my thing.
UGH. Those brought my stride to a stop as running down them was not safe. I tried…and decided it was not a good idea. So, I walked them…quickly…and then picked up the run at the bottom, where I followed the path marked by orange cones toward the back of the YMCA. I passed over the mat that would stop the timing and began the swim transition. This was the part I wasn’t looking forward to doing.
300 Yard Swim Time: 8:44
How I managed to swim 300 yards in under 9 minutes is still a mystery to me, as it took me 20 minutes when I practiced it the week before. Go figure. I’m still perplexed and slightly awed by my finish time for the swim. Going into this, I knew my legs would be tired, I would be tired, and it was my weakest link in the triathlon as it was. But, when I sign up for something…I get it done. Even if I do it slowly.
The transition from running to swimming took me 4 minutes to accomplish. Why? Well…I had to peel off my shirt and arm warmers, get rid of my Garmin and Nike Fuel Band. Then I had to take off my shoes, and strip out of the compression socks. Compression socks, if they are doing their job properly, are not easy to just peel off and go. I had to fight a little with them, but I finally managed to get them off so I could make my way over to the pool. I stepped across the start line, lowered myself into the water, and took off.
I did the crawl stroke for the first few lanes, but decided, as I slowed down and struggled, that the backstroke was going to be necessary if I was going to get through this. I felt like such a newbie, heading down the lane in a full on backstroke, then coming back in the crawl stroke. But, you do what you have to do to finish as best you can, right? I kicked, I flailed my hands and arms, I ripped through the water, up and down each lane, until I made it to the final lane. I knew I was almost there, and all my energy was fading fast. But I was so close now. I backstroked down, flipped over, and made my final swim back in to hoist myself out of the water and get across the finish line, stopping my chip time.
I’m not going to lie…this was difficult for me. The entire experience, from the weather, to the transitions, to the three sports involved all challenged me in different ways. They challenged my body. They made me work hard, push hard, and made me understand that proper training is important.
That being said, my overall finish time was 1:04:03. I was 81/128 overall. Not bad for a first triathlon. I finished 2/5 in my age division. As for the separate events, I as far as age division went, I was 3/5 on the bike portion; 1/5 on the run portion; and I was 4/5 in the swim portion. About what I expected. I didn’t come in last in my age division on anything…but if I had, I figured it would have been the swim. I was close. LOL!
Would I do another triathlon? Maybe a longer one? Maybe another Super Sprint? Sure. I’d love to. I actually had a really good time, despite the aches and pains I put my body through on the bike and swim. It was a really good time. And the YMCA did a fantastic job with enthusiastic volunteers and organization. This was a great way to be introduced to the endurance events of triathlons. And if I can ever afford a road bike, I’d like to pursue them further. But I will never again participate on a heavy mountain bike. Or, if I must, I’ll at least get out on the roads with it more this spring and fall and get to the gear shirts and using it on hills and flat terrain. If nothing else, the cross training will only help me improve as a runner, right?
As for swimming, I’m vowing now to be better about hitting the pool at the gym. Weekends, especially Sunday mornings, might be dedicated to that. In order to get better, I have to get stronger. And in order to do that, I have to practice, practice, practice.
But hey…I’m officially a triathlete!