Island Lake Triathlon on Saturday, June 3rd was my first tri of the season and my first since August 2015. I ran a marathon at the end of May in 2016 and thought I’d run another that fall (until a stress fracture altered those plans) so I bypassed triathlons last summer to concentrate on running. The stress fracture in my left foot occurred at the end of the summer last year, and I thought I was good to go as I rebuilt my running base through the late fall and winter. I reached a point where I must have pushed too hard and my foot started to hurt again in mid-January. I knew I had to take a break from running again, so that was the tipping point I needed to steer me back toward triathlons. I hadn’t been in the water since my last triathlon, so I worked my way into a routine of swimming a mile three mornings a week. I got on the bike three days a week as well. I’ve only been running again for a couple months now, and have built back up to four days a week. My training has been pretty solid and well-rounded between the three disciplines, so I’ve been anxious to get back to the race environment.
Island Lake was a good race for me to target because it was one of the first triathlons of the season in the area. It had been my first Olympic-distance triathlon back in 2014 and I felt ready to tackle the distance again. Olympic involves a 1500m swim, 40K (24.8mi) on the bike, and a 10K (6.2mi) run. Element Events had hosted triathlons at Island Lake in the past, but the race company shut down this year. Luckily, Epic Races stepped up to host a race there this year. Island Lake Recreation Area is a great venue in Brighton, MI. The swim occurs in Kent Lake, the bike travels along the park’s main road, and a paved trail is used for the run.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather for race day. It was around 57 degrees for the start of the race, and around 70 when I started the run. There was a mix of sun and clouds, and there was little wind.
The packet pick-up and transition area opened at 5:45, and I got there just before 6:00. The park is an hour away, so it was a very early morning. Fortunately, I’m used to it thanks to my routine of crazy early weekday swims. I had plenty of time to get my stuff situated in the transition area, use the bathroom, get into my wetsuit, and test the water. I think I heard that the water was around 70 degrees. Whatever it was, it felt totally comfortable to me. The pre-race meeting at the beach started around 7:15, and all of the Olympic racers (results show 84 people) started the first wave of the swim at 7:30.
Most of the crowd gathered near a buoy on the right side, so I tried to distance myself by starting on the other side. As much time as I spend in the pool, it’s never the same in the open water. I always worry about the swim because of the crowd. Starting on the other side helped, but eventually I got stuck in the crowd when it was time to make the turn around the first buoy. At times it was tricky to spot the first buoy because I had to look into the sun. For the most part, the swim went pretty well. However, one side of my goggles leaked which was annoying. Also, my left IT band was tight so I felt like my kick was a bit restricted for at least half of the swim. I stopped a couple times when people got too close to me so I could move away from them. I like my personal space in the water and stress out when people get too close. One screwy thing about this swim was that the Olympic athletes had to get out of the water at the end of the first loop, run around a buoy on the beach, then get back into the water for the second loop. I’ve done two loops of a swim before, but have never gotten out in between. I used that chance to try to fix my goggles as I waded back into the water. I also stopped a few times throughout the swim to recompose myself and make sure I could see the next buoy. Rather than really pushing myself to swim well, I just wanted to maintain my composure and get through it. It wasn’t until I turned around the last buoy that I decided I should try to swim harder. I ended up with a time of 26:46 which kind of shocked me. It’s faster than I ever do that distance in the pool, and at times, I felt like I was kind of screwing around and taking my time. The wetsuit must really make a difference!
I knew I could expect to be dizzy coming out of the water. I think I was okay when I got out after the first loop, but I did tip over in the water one time as I came out at the end. I took it slowly as I stripped out of the top half of my wetsuit and jogged up the grass to the transition area. My first transition time of 3:28 shows that I REALLY took my good old time. I started to take my wetsuit off while standing up, but I was wobbly enough that I chose to sit down. My wetsuit is so tight that I can never get it off over my ankle timing chip. I took that off, got the suit all the way off, then put the chip back on. I dried my feet, put my socks and shoes on, ate several Clif Shot Bloks, threw on a tank top, number belt, sunglasses, helmet, etc. then jogged my bike out of the transition area. I viewed this race as a good way to ease back into triathlons and didn’t worry too much about time, but I probably ought to make some kind of effort to speed up in the future!
Like the swim, the bike and run were two loops for Olympic athletes.
Since I had done the race in the past, I knew that the bike route had some rolling hills. I’ve done a number of training rides at Stony Creek Metropark to get practice with the rolling. There were a few spots that were challenging, but nothing too bad.
The night before the race, the latest issue of Triathlete Magazine came in the mail with actress America Ferrera on the cover. It couldn’t have come at a better time. America (from shows like Ugly Betty, Superstore, etc.) started doing triathlons over the last couple years and had a great interview in the magazine. This portion really stood out for me:
Cycling is my weakness and I always beat myself up when I’m on the bike. I tell myself that I suck on the bike, that I’m so slow, etc. It’s always amplified during triathlons when the super speedy men FLY past me on the bike. America’s words really resonated with me. I don’t need to compare myself to others and I don’t need to talk to myself that way. I’m out there doing a frickin’ triathlon, and that’s pretty awesome. I told myself that I should remember her words during the bike portion of this race, and I did. I didn’t let myself get negative. Instead, I watched the speedsters go by and told myself that they were some awesome athletes, and I was out there doing the same thing as them. I took in the scenery of the park and tried to enjoy myself. I felt like I was “tooling around” rather than racing because I don’t feel like I ever achieve race mode on the bike, but so what? I was out there having a fun adventure. I had nearly an hour and a half to think while I was out there, and a couple songs by my favorite band (Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers) ran through my head. This might seem cheesy, but the line “Here’s to life” from their song Mekong stuck with me and kept me positive.
I finished the bike in 1:26:56 and did a little better with my second transition time, exiting in 42 seconds. The run is typically my strength, but that’s been a little questionable lately as I’ve eased back into running the last couple months. I’m not back up to the mileage or speed that I’m used to, but I’ve run as far as seven miles recently and knew I could at least do the distance. An 8:00 pace is around my marathon pace when I’m in shape, and that’s the fastest I’ve gone lately. I hoped that maybe I could pull off 8-minute miles for a 10K in a race environment, but I really just ran by feel. Again, since I’ve done this race once before, I knew what to expect. The run starts out up a grass hill that’s brutal, especially right off the bike. At least I was mentally prepared for it. After that, the run rolls along on a paved path and a segment of boardwalk. There are a few gradual climbs that are tough, but some downhill stretches as well. Like the bike, I didn’t beat myself up. I told myself that after the tough parts, there would be downhills that would help. At the end of the first loop and right before the finish during the second loop, there’s a pretty drastic downhill grass portion where I worried a little about turning an ankle the wrong way as I flew down it. Here’s how my splits looked:
My watch had me at a distance of 6.37 and an average pace of 8:02. Right where I hoped to be! I finished strong with a final time of 2:49:01.
I paced around for several minutes to recover, then checked out the food. On par with other triathlons, there wasn’t much.
They had bananas, bags of chips, sample size Clif Bars, and peanut butter/honey wraps. The latter was something I haven’t seen at a race, and they were pretty good. I’ve gotten spoiled by running races that have a buffet of goodies at the end, and the triathlons I’ve done never seem to have that. Knowing that, I had a yogurt drink back at my car for a quick fix of protein.
I checked the results but didn’t see my name. Eventually I talked to one of the staff members. The list showed four women in my age group, and prizes went five deep. He said he would give it to me, and I hoped I actually deserved it! He gave me a nice glass.
Later in the day I contacted someone because my bib number showed someone else’s name. They fixed it quickly, and it turns out I was fifth out of five in my age group. When I did this race last time, I was 11 minutes slower and first in my age group. It all depends on who shows up!
I was pretty happy that I had shaved 11 minutes off of my prior time at this race. Most of that time is thanks to my swim. Maybe getting in the pool more often really has helped. Plus the wetsuit, which I didn’t have in 2014. My bike time was slightly faster too. This was my third time tackling the Olympic distance, and my second race was a minute faster than this one. That one was a totally flat course though, so I’m glad to see that I’m right on track with where I’d like to be.
When it comes to nutrition, I think it worked out for me because I didn’t get hungry during the race. I had a Picky Bar when I first woke up, then a second one a couple hours later when I got to the race. I also ate a few Clif Shot Blocks closer to the start of the race, then a few more right after the swim. I had one bottle of GU Brew on the bike and a few sips of water. I ate a few Honey Stinger Chews a couple miles into the run and drank water. That all seemed to work for me for race fueling.
Matt knew that I had burned a lot of calories (2,200 according to my watch!) so he was awesome and had some post-race treats at home. Two of the cupcakes were for him. :)
I came home with a nice cotton race shirt and medal, plus I bought an extra shirt that they had for sale.
I’m really happy with the whole experience and would definitely do another one of Epic Race’s events. If I can avoid reinjury, hopefully I can continue to improve my running fitness. I’m sure I can push myself to swim harder. I’ll continue to train on the bike so I stay comfortable with it, even if I don’t get much faster. The triathlon season is only a few months, and I hope to do a bunch of races this summer.