I’ve been toying with the idea of doing triathlons for a year or two but never built up the courage to actually do it until this summer. I did an indoor triathlon in March, and when I did really well I realized I should give it a try.
On June 22, I did my first real outdoor triathlon. I chose the First Try Triathlon because it sounded very beginner-friendly. I have the tendency to worry about logistics and lots of dumb stuff, so it helped ease my mind that most everyone else would be doing it for the first time as well. It was a “mini-sprint” that was just a little bit shorter than the typical sprint triathlon. The swim was 300 yards, the bike was 9 miles, and the run was 2 miles. This race was in Linden, MI – about an hour away from where we live. Check-in began at 6am, so we left the house around 5:30am…quite an early morning! Luckily my husband Matt was very supportive and willing to come along to support me and take photos. This post would have looked really boring without him. He got some great photos! By the way, see his blog at Faster Than a Turtle.
When we got there, I headed to the pavilion down by the beach for check-in.
After that, we headed back to the car to gather all of my gear to take to the transition area. By the time we got there, the bike racks were nearly full. Apparently I was too slow getting there. I managed to find a spot, but it was getting tight.
I didn’t really know what I was doing – which direction to hang my bike on the rack, where to put all my stuff, etc. I looked for the super fancy tri bikes and figured those people knew what they were doing. After I got organized, I headed down to the beach. I hadn’t made a bathroom stop yet and of course there were long lines at the porta potties. Luckily I found a building with bathrooms down by the beach and the wait wasn’t long. The race meeting began at 7:30. I was thankful for that meeting because every step of the race was explained thoroughly. It was definitely beginner-friendly!
It was kind of cool to see people of all ages, sizes, and abilities. I was worried that I needed to have a wetsuit for the open water swim, but barely anyone had one. I had a 2-piece tri suit that I was trying for the very first time, but there were all different kinds of outfits too. Following the race meeting, a 3-piece band named Out of the Blue performed The National Anthem. Then it was time for the race to begin!
One thing I liked about this race was the wave start designed to help ease congestion. I had been really worried that there would be a lot of kicking and crashing in the water, but the wave start really helped prevent that. Various groups went off every 3 minutes, and I was with the females 30-39 about 12 minutes after the first group went. As our group went into the water, I realized it wasn’t that cold and I didn’t have to worry about the wetsuit so much. We had a few minutes in the water before they started our group. Then we were off!
I took off swimming right away and worked through a little bit of seaweed floating around in the shallow area. The trickiest part for me was that I couldn’t get into a good rhythm with my swim. I had never done an open water swim before and hadn’t really practiced “sighting.” The water was sandy and I couldn’t see anything, so I lifted my head every few strokes or so to figure out if I was on track. The buoys were huge and very visible, and kayakers were out to assist anyone who needed help.
From the shore, the swim looked really short – it was only 300 yards. At first it didn’t feel like it was so short, but I was at the halfway point before I knew it. I tried to keep the yellow rope holding the buoys in my sight so I wouldn’t have to look up so often. However, I realized I would probably crash into both a buoy and a kayaker if I stayed that close to the rope! I may have touched someone’s feet at one point, but there was no scratching or getting kicked in the face at this race…phew. I swam until my hands hit the sand, then I kind of jogged out of the water. I was done with the swim in 6 minutes which seemed way too short. From there, we had to run up a ton of stairs to get to the transition area in the parking lot. They had warned us in the race meeting not to book up the stairs and red-line before even starting the bulk of the race. I semi-jogged up the stairs, and most of the sand came off my feet along the way.
The timed portion of the swim ended as we hit a timing mat on the way into the transition area. I was at 7:57 by that point, so obviously I didn’t get up those stairs too fast! In the transition area, I dried my feet and put my socks and running shoes on. No bike shoes for me yet. I wrestled my thick, wet ponytail through my bike helmet. I put my SPIbelt on that had my race bib attached to it, got my sunglasses on, then trotted with my bike to the bike mounting area. I knew I’d be slow in the transition, and it took me 2:17.
Then it was time for the bike. I usually bike a couple times a week, but know that it’s my weak point. I was using my good old Schwinn mountain bike that I bought at Meijer 8 or 9 years ago. Definitely no speed machine. I started out well enough, but I certainly felt even the slightest incline. As I passed one woman, she commented that it sure didn’t feel “pancake flat” like they told us! When I looked at my Garmin elevation map later, it sure didn’t look too hilly. It was a nice ride on the main roads which were not closed to traffic. We were spread out enough that it was easy to ride along the shoulder. There was a little bit of a climb as I approached the end of the ride, and it left me feeling winded. I jumped off my bike at the dismount line and finished the bike in 33:41 – around 16mph. Not too awful considering my mountain bike, which I am going to use as an excuse, haha.
I ran my bike through the transition area, racked it, swapped my helmet with a hat, grabbed my water bottle and took off. Only 51 seconds for that transition. Then it was time for the 2-mile run. I’ve done enough bike/run bricks to know that my legs feel extremely heavy when I start to run. I not only had to deal with that, but I was also totally winded from climbing the tiny hill at the end of the bike ride. My breathing was terrible and I struggled. However, I passed people here and there which helped me realize that everyone was probably feeling it and I was really doing okay. We went out on a paved path that climbed a little bit at the start, which sure didn’t help with the breathing problem. We reached a turnaround point by a soccer field, headed back and ran down a road, turned around there, then headed for a brief run through some trails. We finished up a grassy hill, where I managed to give a short kick at the end. I finished my run in 15:07, which is a bit slower than my 10K pace. Not great for me, but not too bad considering how bad I felt! At the end, Matt was there cheering me on and taking photos.
I had finished my first triathlon!
Following the race, I got a bottle of water, some bread, a banana, and watermelon. The band from the beginning (Out of the Blue) was playing and sounded really good. This race had both the First Try race as well as a Fast Try race. The Fast Try was for more experienced people, and awards were given to the top people. The First Try was non-competitive. They did post results though, so of course I was curious to see how I did. I was second in my age group of women 30-39! I was 4th in my group for the swim, 5th for the bike, and 2nd for the run. It confirmed what I already knew – I’m a decent swimmer, okay biker, and the run is my strong point. I sure didn’t feel like a solid runner during this race though! My legs were so dead that I felt like I was just getting through the run and surviving it.
Since I didn’t have to wait for awards, I waited long enough for the transition area to open then I went to get my bike and other stuff. We took off after that, stopping to get Slurpees on the way home. They’re so good after a race.
This race was definitely a learning experience for me. For one thing, I don’t need to worry so much. Now that I’ve been through it, I have a better idea of what to expect. I realize having a wetsuit is no big deal and barely anyone used one. The water temperature was fine and I would have just wasted time trying to get out of the thing! I already knew this, but I need to work on my biking. It makes up more than half the race and I definitely do way more running than biking. Whenever I hit the slightest hill I told myself that I sucked on the bike. I’m hoping a better bike will help at least a little bit. I learned that even though the run is my strong point, I’m probably not setting any running PRs after all that biking and I need to accept that my pace will probably be slower. I also learned that I can definitely pull this off and I’m ready to try another!