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