Island Lake Triathlon Race Recap

Well, I did it – my first Olympic-distance triathlon! A 0.9-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike, and a 6.2-mile run. It was difficult, but I enjoyed it and definitely hope to tackle the distance again in the future.

Sunday, August 17th was the day of the Island Lake Triathlon in Brighton, MI. The same race is presented in the spring, summer, and fall at the Island Lake Recreation Area. I had never been to the park before and arrived around 6:00 for a 7:30 start. It was still pitch black outside and the park did not have lights. I hadn’t thought about that, but plenty of people were prepared with headlamps and flashlights. The registration tents had lights and I managed to make my way over without tripping. I was thankful for a building with real bathrooms that also had lights. Soon enough, the sun began to rise and it made for a beautiful view.

An awesome view of Kent Lake.

An awesome view of Kent Lake.

I liked the setup for this race because the parking lot was right by the transition area, and the transition area was a very short jog from the beach. Some races are more spread out and I definitely prefer having everything close together.

The transition area.

The transition area.

I missed the pre-race talk about the swim portion, so I found a woman with the same color swim cap who was kind enough to explain the route around the buoys. From the shore it looked like a big mess of buoys out in the water, so it was good to get some clarification. Around 300 athletes participated between the sprint and Olympic distances. A little less than one-third did the Olympic race. I was VERY thankful for a wave start. It lessens the stress and madness that come along with everyone starting all at once. The Olympic men started first, and the Olympic women followed three minutes later. I believe the sprint waves began about five minutes after that.

I got in the water about 10 minutes early to warm up a little bit. The race started in the water which I prefer over races that start on the beach. At 71 degrees, the water was just right for me…as long as I kept moving. I still haven’t tried a wetsuit, so I did get a little cold when I drifted around waiting for my turn to start. The men took off, then all 24 of us Olympic women waited for our turn. I will say again how much I prefer wave starts! With such a small group of women, I didn’t run into anyone and no one ran into me. My last triathlon involved a mass start and I was very frustrated because it was a big, congested mess. I swam breaststroke for several minutes because it was too crowded to do much else. That was not a problem at this race and I was able to get going right from the start. We did two triangle-shaped loops around the buoys while the sprint athletes did one. It looks like my Garmin was somewhat accurate this time.

The swim.

The swim.

I felt very comfortable during the swim. After feeling very out of my element during my first tri of the season in June, I realized I really ought to practice. I’ve done several open water swims since then and it’s made a huge difference. Looking back after this race, I think I may have been a bit TOO comfortable. It wasn’t until the final stretch that I even had the thought that I might want to pick up my pace. I guess that helps explain why my time was quite a bit slower than I expected. Combine that with lackluster training the last couple of months, and it resulted in a swim time of 37:59 (including the short jog through the grass to the transition area.)

I took my time during the first transition as well. I was a little wobbly after I got out of the water, and with such a long race ahead of me, I wasn’t in a big rush. I didn’t put much pressure on myself to be speedy for my first Olympic tri. It was more about experiencing the distance and seeing how things went. I ate a few Honey Stinger chews and stuffed the rest into my tri suit, then finally left the transition in 2:24. It was an overcast morning, and there was a tiny bit of rain during the first part of the bike. My sunglasses were already foggy before the rain hit, so my visibility was a bit limited for at least 20 minutes. I’ll have to figure out how to avoid the foggy glasses because that was kind of annoying. Like the swim, the bike route was two loops for the Olympic-distance athletes. The course took us on main roads throughout the park. Although it was an open course, there was very little traffic to worry about.

The bike course.

The bike course.

The course was a bit rolling which was nice, but also pretty difficult at times. Each time I climbed to the top of a hill, my legs were pretty shot for the next minute or two. I started to get hungry as I got around 20 miles or so. I’ve neglected to practice any form of nutrition on the bike during training and I know that’s not very smart. I suspected I’d get hungry at some point, so I threw a pack of Honey Stinger chews in my tri suit during the first transition. I tried several times to grab them out of the back of my tri top, but for some reason I couldn’t find them. I’m awkward enough on the bike as it is, so I fumbled around briefly then gave up. I’d just have to eat during the run. I knew the bike was my weak spot, and I was disappointed as my average speed dropped below 17mph as I neared the end of the bike portion. One of these days I hope to get faster! Although the hills were tough and I wasn’t very fast, the bike went pretty well and I managed to get through nearly 25 miles of riding just fine. My bike time was 1:28:27. I’d estimated that it would take me about an hour and a half, so I was right on.

Next, the run! This is usually my strongest part of the race, but I had no idea if I’d have anything left after two hours of racing. I got through the second transition in 55 seconds. I grabbed my bottle with GU Brew and a second pack of chews since I didn’t know where the first ones had gone. The run course started in a grassy field that led up to a paved path. To get to the path, we had to climb up a pretty steep hill. After 25 miles on the bike, that was pretty ugly. My legs felt heavy enough and that hill wrecked me right off the bat. I managed to run the first mile in 8:17 despite dropping and going back to pick up my pack of chews twice. I guess I’m not only awkward on the bike! I finally figured out what happened to the first pack that I couldn’t find while I was on the bike. Rather than stuffing the chews into a pocket on the back of my tri top like I had intended, I must have stuffed them down the back of my shorts. Not into a pocket, but into the actual shorts. I didn’t notice while I was on the bike, but I suddenly realized what happened as things got uncomfortable quickly during the run. I finally ate something, drank some GU Brew, and luckily I didn’t have any cramping or stomach issues. I still know that I ought to practice with nutrition next time around.

The run course.

The run course.

The run course was nice and scenic. After the brutal grassy hill, the paved path and boardwalk along the water were pretty nice. Still, any little hill felt huge. On the way back, we veered off the path and ran a grassy cross-country portion for a mile or so. It included one extremely steep drop, so I was thankful for the volunteer who was stationed there to warn us. As I wrapped up my first loop, I dreaded the fact that I’d have to run up that one hill again. I walked for a few seconds as I approached the top, but then I made myself keep running. A couple stretches of the run course really made me want to walk, but somehow I resisted. I’d looked forward to the run portion of the race, but I sure didn’t feel capable of racing. I am SO glad it was overcast during the run. I think the sun really would have done me in. I ended up averaging just a little faster than my marathon pace. I finished the run in 50:37, good for a final time of 3:00:19. I had estimated that the race would take around three hours and it did!

I was pretty wiped out at the end, so I paced around for a few minutes. I always look forward to food at the end of a race, so I went to scope things out. They had yogurt, bags of chips, and fruit snacks. There was one granola bar left as well, so I took that. I was pretty disappointed in the lack of food. My watch said I had burned 2,131 calories. I was ready to refuel, and a bag of Fritos and a granola bar weren’t going to get me very far. My last triathlon also slacked on the post-race snacks, so luckily I learned that I should bring something just in case. I’m glad I brought a Clif Builder’s Bar with me this time. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by great food selection at running races. I love finding things like bagels, cookies, burgers, beer, etc. at the end of races. Sometimes there’s so much food at the end of a 5K that it’s ridiculous, considering how I’ve only burned around 300 calories. When I burn over 2,000, that wide array of food sure would be nice.

I gathered my stuff from the transition area, ate my snacks, then went back for the awards ceremony. This race was kind enough to hold separate ceremonies for the sprint and Olympic races so the sprint athletes didn’t have to wait around too long. Because there weren’t that many women in the Olympic race, I figured I stood a decent chance at an award. I ended up placing first (out of three) in my age group – good for a bottle of wine!

My age group award!

My age group award!

A closer look.

A closer look.

Handing out awards.

Handing out awards.

In addition to the age group award, I got a medal and t-shirt for participating in the race.

I worked hard for this one!

I worked hard for this one!

Race shirt.

Race shirt.

I headed out after the awards ceremony and started the trek back home. I knew I had to eat more, so I stopped at Panera for a bagel and a cookie. Typically, Panera’s display of calories for menu items makes me think twice about actually buying stuff. This time? 440 calories for a chocolate chip cookie? Excellent! I figured it was a good step toward refueling those 2,000+ calories I had burned!

Overall, I’m very happy with how this race went. I had questioned whether I was really trained enough to even attempt the distance, so I didn’t have huge expectations going in. Aside from swimming a bit slower than I would have liked, I was pretty much on track with my expectations. I’m really glad that I gave it a shot. Although things felt pretty tough by the end, I knew right away that I’d want to try another Olympic race. Next time around I hope I can come into the season with a solid base already built rather than starting from scratch in mid-April. I’m thrilled with how this race went, but I know I have even more in me. This race will probably wrap up my triathlon season for the year, and it’s a great way to end it!

– Janet

Follow me on Twitter @reidphotography

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Upcoming Races

A couple weeks ago I decided to sign up for an Olympic distance triathlon. It was a goal of mine at the beginning of the year and I’m sticking to it. March’s car accident (in which I was t-boned) derailed many of my racing goals for this year. Six weeks off and a very gradual rebuilding phase was quite a setback. Thoughts of a spring half marathon went out the window. My back still bothers me at times and is not 100% yet, but it’s not holding me back (much) anymore. I’ve been able to successfully race a super sprint and a sprint triathlon this summer. I debated for quite a while whether I should really consider doubling the distance. Ultimately, I decided I’d give it a shot.

Island Lake Triathlon

Island Lake Triathlon

I signed up for Island Lake Triathlon’s summer Olympic distance race on Sunday, August 17 – a 0.9-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike, and 6.2-mile run. The race takes place at the Island Lake Recreation Area in Brighton, MI. I feel like my run training is on track, as I’ve averaged 25-30 miles per week recently and have run as long as 12 miles. I’ve been swimming once a week lately with no speed work, so I’m lacking a bit there. However, I’ve practiced in the open water several times recently. I usually swim at least a mile each time I swim, so I’m not concerned about that part. The water temperature is reported to be 71 degrees, so once again I will manage to get away with not having a wetsuit yet. As usual, it’s the bike that I worry about the most. I looked at a training plan for the Olympic distance and laughed when I saw the bike training. No wonder I’m no good on the bike! I definitely spend too much time running and not enough time on the bike according to real training plans. I’ve been biking 10-15 miles a couple times during the week, and my longest weekend ride was 30 miles. I still haven’t gotten brave enough to try bike shoes and I know that would make a difference too.

I should be able to get through the distance, so that’s pretty much all I’m aiming to accomplish. I don’t have any major goals for my time. I’m guessing the swim might take about half an hour. The bike portion might take nearly an hour and a half unless I manage to step things up. I hope I can finish the run in 50 minutes. My 10K PR is around 46 minutes and I really don’t know how I’ll feel after racing for two hours before that. It might take almost three hours for me to finish this race. That makes me realize that I’m taking on a pretty big challenge, so hopefully I’m up for it!

Now that tri season is winding down, I decided it’s finally time to figure out a plan for the fall. I would really like to target a fall half marathon and possibly chase a new PR…or at least get close. I’ve been winging it this summer and have signed up for races only a couple weeks in advance. I’d like to have a specific goal for the fall. I came up with a list of races and determined how many weeks I’d have to follow a real training plan. Matt and I went through the list and decided that the Naperville Half Marathon looked pretty good. We have family in Naperville, which is a Chicago-area suburb. One of our family members ran the full marathon last year and plans to do so this year as well. The race takes place on Sunday, November 9, meaning we can start a 12-week training plan on Monday. Perfect!

Naperville Half Marathon

Naperville Half Marathon

Knowing that we have 12 weeks to train makes me feel like I have enough time to really make this a goal race. After following Hal Higdon’s advanced plan for my first marathon last year, I realized how much I enjoyed following a structured plan rather than piecing various plans together myself. I plan to follow Higdon’s advanced half marathon plan this time.

Hidgon's advanced half marathon training plan

Hidgon’s advanced half marathon training plan

Since I’ll be putting in a pretty good effort on Sunday with the triathlon, I might alter the first week of training so I can recover properly. I’m looking forward to starting a structured plan again.

In addition to the half marathon, I’m hoping we’ll do a few other races this fall. There’s the Dig ‘Em Dash in Battle Creek, MI on Saturday, September 27. We’ll probably be in town to visit family that weekend, and who doesn’t want to run a race that involves this guy?

Dig 'Em Dash 5K

Dig ‘Em Dash 5K

I also came across the Grand Rapids Bridge Run on Sunday, September 14. The 10-mile race goes through downtown Grand Rapids, crosses some bridges, runs along the Grand River, and through some parks. Between the 25K River Bank Run and the Grand Rapids Marathon, Matt and I have really enjoyed racing through Grand Rapids. This sounds like another fun one that we may aim to run.

Grand Rapids Bridge Run

Grand Rapids Bridge Run

There’s a fall colors run across the Mackinac Bridge, and plenty of other fun races to choose from as well. We’ll see how many we manage to fit into our schedule…and budget! In the meantime, tomorrow’s race is going to be a big one and will probably wrap up the tri season for me this year. It should be quite an experience!

– Janet

follow me on Twitter @reidphotography