Last year’s First Try Triathlon in Linden, MI was my very first triathlon. I chose it because it was beginner-friendly and the “super sprint” distance (300 yard swim, 9.1 mile bike, 2 mile run) is a little shorter than a regular sprint. It was a great race for my first experience. The race offers both “first try” and “fast try” divisions. The first try is non-competitive and designed for true beginners. The fast try offers awards for people who are looking to be more competitive.
Since I’ve been working my way back from injury the last couple months, the “super sprint” distance was appealing and I knew I could participate in the fast try division. I chose to make this race my first triathlon of the year on Saturday, June 21. I knew I was ready for the distance, but I wasn’t sure that my training had been intensive enough yet to count on much speed. I knew the race would be a good way to gauge my progress and see what I had in me.
As I prepared for the race the night before, part of me couldn’t help but wonder why I voluntarily choose to put myself through things like this. I used checklists to keep everything organized, but I still worried about all of the things I needed to remember to take. Forget one thing such as a bike helmet or goggles and it means the race is a no-go. I also worried the logistics of the race, such as how to get through the transitions as efficiently as possible. The worrying combined with waking up ridiculously early on a Saturday to put myself through torture seems pretty crazy when I really think about it. Despite all of that, I love it and couldn’t wait.
The ridiculously early Saturday morning started around 4:45, and I was on the road by 5:20. Linden is a little less than an hour away and the transition area opened at 6:00. I wanted to get there early to check in and get a good spot in the transition area. I remembered that it was pretty full by the time I got there last year and I had to squeeze my bike into a spot. I was able to check in quickly near the beach, then I went back to the car to get my bike and other stuff. One thing I really like about this race is that parking is available right across the street from the transition area, making it easy to go back for my bike after checking in.
I prefer to have my bike on a rack by the transition’s exit, and that was no problem thanks to my early arrival. I chose a spot right next to a guy with a really fancy bike, so I suspected he knew what he was doing. We talked for a little bit and he gave me some good advice. I found out later that he did indeed know what he was doing – he was the overall winner of the race! He’s 61 years old and races nearly every weekend through the summer. Very impressive!
The transition area closed at 7:20 so I had some time to kill before then. It rolled around before I knew it and it was time to gather at the beach for the pre-race meeting.
People could warm up in the water before the meeting, so I went to see how the water felt. I didn’t get all the way in because it was only about 60 degrees outside and I was afraid I’d freeze once I got out. The pre-race meeting went over every aspect of the race, then the first wave of fast try men went down to the water. I really like the wave starts for the swim as it reduces the congestion and craziness. I was in the second wave, and I’d guess that there may have been 15-20 women. We had a couple minutes to get ready in the water then we were off!
I’ve only swum in open water a couple times – this race last year and one other triathlon. My lack of experience was apparent immediately. It’s not that I freaked out, but my style and breathing were terrible at the beginning. I’m still not really used to “sighting” when I can’t see anything through the sandy water and I have to lift my head to spot the buoys. I had no rhythm and took a breath on every stroke for nearly the first half of the swim. As the group spread out more, I finally got into a better groove. The second half of the swim went pretty well once I felt more comfortable. I’m happy to say that I stuck close to the buoys, unlike one race where I ended up swimming way off track. 300 yards is pretty short, so I was probably in the water for a little over six minutes.
The run up the stairs to the transition area is included in the swim time, and it’s a lot of stairs to run when you feel wobbly coming out of the water!
My swim time was 7:39 and I tried to hustle through the transition as I grabbed my helmet, sunglasses, belt with my bib, and put on my socks and shoes. I got through the transition in 1:44 and headed out on the bike. Since I was in the second wave, not many people were out on the course yet, but I always seemed to have someone in front to chase. A number of speedy bikers with fancy bikes and aero helmets came along and zipped right past me. They always make me feel like I’m barely moving. The course is relatively flat with a little bit of rolling.
Because it’s an open course, there were some cars to deal with, but it wasn’t an issue. Plenty of people were along the course to direct us and stop traffic at crossroads. It went pretty well, aside from the moment when a dog ran in front of me. It came out of nowhere and made me swear out loud. Luckily it was far enough in front of me and I didn’t have to slam on the brakes, but it still freaked me out. I finished the bike in 31:42.
I kept moving pretty good and made it through the second transition in 37 seconds. My legs usually feel heavy as I start the run, but I noticed a slight numbness in my feet for at least half a mile this time – something new for me. I kept a good pace as I ran along the paved trail, but my breathing was pretty bad. The first half of the run was a bit of a struggle and when I felt like I should have run a mile, it was frustrating to realize I’d only run half a mile. I knew it was a bit of a climb at the beginning, and when I look at the elevation map, now I realize why the first half felt so tough…especially right off the bike.
The last part of the race went through a wooded area, and it was a nice way to break things up. At that point I gained on and passed a woman who led by quite a bit on the bike. That helped motivate me to finish strong. I finished the run in 14:57.
It took a few minutes for me to recover from a tough run, and the other woman finished just nine seconds behind me. We congratulated each other on a good race, with me complimenting her on a solid bike portion and she complimented my run. One fun thing about triathlons is seeing how everyone has different strengths. It’s interesting to see how it all plays out in the end.
The post-race food selection included oranges, bananas, grapes, and some awesome buttered bread. I cheered people on as they finished and waited for the preliminary results. I knew I had shaved a few minutes off last year’s time, so I was already happy about that.
I was thrilled when the results came out – I had won my age group! I think I was even more excited when I realized I was the second woman overall. This race that was supposed to be a good gauge of where I stood let me know that I’ve made more progress than I had realized.
The awards ceremony came a bit later, and I think my favorite moment was seeing the kids. I am so impressed by the kids who participate in triathlons. I didn’t even know about triathlons at their age! Two brothers under the age of 13 won awards. They weren’t in the area, but when they heard their names they came running and collected their glasses – which the announcer joked that they could use for chocolate milk.
When I looked at last year’s results, I realized I improved in every area. I cut almost 20 seconds off my swim, two minutes off my bike, ten seconds off my run, and both transitions were faster. I really surprised myself and it’s motivation to keep training hard. My back did ache a bit through the day, but I felt relatively good.
Overall, it was another great race and I highly recommend it. It helped me realize that I’ve made great progress as I move past my injury, and I have more in me at this point than I realized. I’m excited to keep training through the summer, increase the distance, and hopefully do several more races.
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