A Throwback to My First Triathlon Experience

I don’t remember exactly when the thought of doing a triathlon entered my radar. I started running races in 2010, occasionally used the bike for cross-training, and had grown up as a swimmer. I knew that my aunt and cousin participated in triathlons, and that was pretty inspiring to me. I think I had considered the possibility of doing a triathlon for quite a while before I was brave enough to take any action toward making it a reality.

One of the biggest factors holding me back was access to a pool. I started using Oakland University’s rec center in 2007, where I had an “alumni spouse” membership thanks to Matt. They have an amazing pool, but it doesn’t open early enough in the morning for me to swim before work. In the afternoon it was always packed with kids from a competitive swim team who use the pool for their practices. It seemed like half the time the pool was used for swim meets on weekends. I never tried to figure out when I could actually get into the pool.

One morning while I was working out at the rec center, I saw a bunch of people doing an indoor triathlon. I knew that I could do it too and was kind of bummed that I wasn’t participating. That helped motivate me to give one a try. I really had to get into a pool and return to swimming.

I joined Life Time Fitness five years ago today, and that anniversary prompted this post. Joining Life Time was my first big step toward finally getting into triathlons. The facility is 24/7, which meant I could actually get into the pool early enough to swim before work. Once I got back into swimming, I didn’t have an excuse to delay trying a triathlon anymore.

Saturday, March 2, 2013 was my first triathlon experience. Life Time had an indoor triathlon that was an hour long. 10 minutes in the pool, 30 minutes on the spin bike, and 20 minutes on the treadmill. It sounded like the perfect way for a beginner like me to see what a triathlon was like. Even though I really wanted to do it, I was hesitant to sign up at first because I was nervous about logistics. I worried about what to do during the 10-minute transition from the swim to the bike, so I practiced a transition at the gym one day. I didn’t have a triathlon suit or anything, and I tried taking my swimsuit off then switching to my biking/running clothes. That took me too long, so another day I tried putting my clothes on over my suit and it went much smoother. Once I felt more comfortable with that, I knew I’d better sign up and just do this thing.

It was due to start at 7am with waves of 10 people going off every 20 minutes. I signed up for the third wave so it wouldn’t be so early, but early enough that the locker room wouldn’t be too crazy. I got an email from the guy in charge of the race a couple days beforehand with the rules and the wave info. I saw that I was in a wave by myself! He asked if I wanted to switch, and I said I was okay with it because it meant I wouldn’t have to share a lane for the swim. He said that was fine and more people would probably sign up.

I got there half an hour early the morning of the race to check in. I received a visor as swag for the race, got my bib for the bike and run, then had my race number written on my arm and my wave number on my hand. I saw that two more people were in my wave, so at least I wouldn’t feel too weird about being in a wave alone. I still had nerves even though I knew I’d be fine!

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I headed to the pool as the previous wave finished. A guy and a girl were in my wave and both were very nice. Everyone was very encouraging and supportive. The girl had done the race the previous year. She said they had put her in a lane with a guy assuming he’d be faster, but they ended up swimming side by side. I was relieved that I’d have my own lane because otherwise I’d worry about crashing into someone while doing a flip turn. I had time to swim two lengths to warm up, then it was time to start. They put us in the three center lanes of the pool and people sat at the other end with clipboards to count our lengths. They had cones at the halfway point because half-lengths counted too. We were told that they would blow a whistle with one minute left, then three times when our time was up. Once I got going, I got water in my ears and couldn’t hear anything anyway. I knew from my training that I should be able to pull off 20 lengths. It seemed like the time flew by. When I hit 20, I still hadn’t heard the whistle. I barely heard the three whistles to end the swim before I reached 21.5. When I stopped, I was pretty wiped out. I hopped my way through the rest of the pool to the wall, and I was a bit wobbly when I got out. I went into the locker room for the 10-minute transition time before the bike.

I took my swim cap off and went to my locker to dry off quickly. I threw a shirt on along with my tri shorts. I put a hat on, semi-dried my soaking ponytail, then put my socks and shoes on. I gathered my iPod, water, and some towels, and still had a couple minutes to spare as I ran to the cycling studio.

There were people riding the spin bikes when I got there, and the volunteers directed me to the other side of the room. The other people were from the last wave and still finishing their half hour ride. I got to a bike and tried to raise the seat but struggled. I’d only used the spin bikes once and didn’t really know how they worked. Luckily the guy in charge came over quickly and helped me out. He adjusted my seat and handlebars for me. What a lifesaver! There was a little calculator hooked up to the bike to show speed and distance. I had read online that the distance seemed to be greatly exaggerated, so I was expecting that. My problem with the spin bike is that I didn’t know how to gauge the perfect amount of resistance to use. I never really figured that out, but I hit around 40 mph at my best. Obviously it WAS way off because I’m not that fast. I biked pretty hard, but could tell the guy in my wave was going much faster. I have a lot to learn when it comes to the bike. The volunteers were great and kept telling us we were doing good and to keep it up. One guy waved towels at us to give us some breeze and they had music blaring so I didn’t need my iPod. I pushed as hard as I could and my legs felt pretty rough when I got off the bike. We had five minutes to transition to the run. I stretched a bit, went upstairs, filled my water bottle, then went to the treadmills.

They told us the best way to start was to hit the Quick Start button then bump the speed up. I did, but quickly realized I shouldn’t have listened. I usually hit the 6 mph button (a 10-minute pace) and speed up from there. The Quick Start ramp up from 0 was REALLY slow. I finally got the pace to the mid-8s, then the 7’s. I decided my legs didn’t seem to hurt from the bike, so I set it to 6:44. I really surprised myself by managing to hold that pace for a couple of miles! At one point I adjusted it to 6:40, then even faster than that. I didn’t keep that up for long though because the right side of my stomach started to cramp. With around five minutes left I didn’t have much willpower and dropped my pace to 7:08…which was still fast for me. I didn’t think I’d be fast enough to hit three miles in 20 minutes, but part of me hoped I might. I ended up with 2.92 miles in the 20 minutes. So close! If I didn’t have that slow ramp up, maybe I would have been even closer. Despite that, later I calculated my run to be a 6:50 average pace. My 5K PR pace at the time was 7:07, so I was THRILLED. I was wrecked by the end of the run and walked on the treadmill for a few minutes to cool down.

Results would be gathered from all of the waves and they’d make a database with a special points system, so we didn’t know how we truly did until a few days later. That made it feel kind of uneventful when we finished because my wave was so small and we had no clue how we did overall.

My overall count was:

21 lengths for the swim
20.6 miles for the bike
2.92 miles for the run

I felt really proud later that day. I finally did it, and it seemed like I pulled it off pretty decently. A couple days later I got an email with the results, and it turns out I was more than just “decent” – I was first place out of the women! My first attempt at a triathlon and I was first? I couldn’t believe it. It certainly confirmed that I really ought to give triathlons a shot. Life Time had a cool trophy for me that I picked up the next time I went to the gym.

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I’m thankful that I ended up at Life Time and that they provided that spark for me to kick-start my triathlon adventures. I’ve spent many, many hours there over the last five years, and have now had four fun seasons of participating in triathlons. Hopefully I’ll have many more to come!

– Janet

Follow me on Twitter @reidphotography and Instagram @janetboltz


Ludington Lighthouse Triathlon Recap

My third Olympic-distance triathlon of the season was the Ludington Lighthouse Triathlon on Sunday, August 20. Ludington is located along Lake Michigan and I’d heard that it’s a great town. I had never been there before and figured signing up for the race gave me a good excuse to finally check it out.

Because the town is one of Michigan’s hot spots in the summer, reasonably-priced hotel rooms are hard to find. I questioned if I should stay an hour or so out of town to save money, but those hotels weren’t especially cheap either. I decided it would be worth it to stay in Ludington so I could make the most of my time there.

Since the race was on a Sunday, I was able to explore the town on Saturday. I wanted to visit Ludington State Park and knew that going early would be ideal. It took me just under four hours to get there and I was able to park easily at 10am. I’m glad I went so early because the park’s beach is very popular and it didn’t take long for the traffic to build and the parking lots to fill. Big Sable Point Lighthouse is one of the top things to see in Ludington, so that was my first destination. Driving there is not an option, so I made the 1.8-mile walk each way though a campground and along a dirt/sand path between the sand dunes.

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It was a beautiful walk on a gorgeous day. It cost $5 to climb to the top of the lighthouse, and it was worth it for the great view.

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I went for a bit of a walk to see the Skyline Trail next. It was a hike up a lot of stairs to start. At the top, a boardwalk winds through a wooded setting and also provides great views of sand dunes down below.

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I kept wishing that I could enjoy it with Matt, but he was on a trip of his own with his dad. Although I was sad that I couldn’t share the experience with him, I’m glad I didn’t let it hold me back from exploring the park on my own. I followed the Sable River Trail next and saw the Hamlin Dam.

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There was so much to see, but I knew that I was already pressing my luck. I walked a total of nine miles though the park, and that probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do the day before a race.

I drove to downtown Ludington for the packet pickup next. I really liked the design of the cotton t-shirt.

I scoped out the water for the next day’s swim, which was protected from the bigger waves in Lake Michigan because it was between a couple of piers. Another lighthouse was located at the end of one of the piers.

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Before leaving the downtown area, I stopped for some ice cream at House of Flavors. I got some fudge and other treats at Kilwins, then also had to check out Cops & Doughnuts because it sounded fun.

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I went to my hotel and rested my legs the rest of the night, aside from a quick trip to pick up a sub from Mancino’s for dinner.

My hotel was a quick 10-minute drive from the race site, and I got there a little after 6:30 the next morning. There was a ton of parking along the beach just north of the transition area. The sky was clear and it was in the mid-60s, so it was a really nice morning. I got marked up with my race number then went to pick up my timing chip, only to find that they didn’t have my number. I got it sorted out with a bunch of other people who had the same problem. I had to get marked up with my new number, which meant my arms and hands were a big mess of permanent marker.

8:00 rolled around quickly, and the Olympic men took off for the swim first. The results show that only 18 women did the Olympic distance, so our wave start was nice and small. The water was around 68 degrees, which must have been perfect for me because I didn’t even think about it after I got in the water. The picture below shows that the water wasn’t rough, but it was still wavier than I was used to.

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I was a bit thrown off as I bounced around in the water. It was wavy enough that it would have been fun to play in, but it was more challenging than swimming in the nice, flat water that I’m used to. I didn’t swallow any water or freak out, but I did stop to do breaststroke a couple times when I wanted to recompose myself. I rounded the last buoy on the way out and realized I had to look directly at the sun on the way back in. That made it really hard to spot the next buoy. I stopped to tread water for a minute as I shielded my eyes and tried to figure out where to go. A guy stopped and pointed out where he thought we should go. I headed that direction and eventually I was able to spot the remaining buoys. I didn’t think about the waves as much on the way back in, so it was probably more beneficial on the way in versus the way out. This swim was only 1000m rather than the typical 1500m you usually find in an Olympic race. I finished in 20:50 and ran from the beach into transition.

I was surprised when one of the volunteers told me I was among the first few women. I didn’t feel like I’d had that strong of a swim! He also let me know when I lost a place or two as I took too long in transition though, haha. Looking back at my last two wetsuit swims, my transition time was actually a little faster this time, but still not great at 3:07. I didn’t struggle as much as I usually do, but I guess I’m just always a bit slow.

The bike ride was nice, with most of it being fairly flat and a few rolling hills mixed in here and there. The beginning of the ride took us past some houses along tree-lined roads with very little vehicle traffic. There was a pretty stretch along Hamlin Lake where I enjoyed looking at the waterfront cottages. Through that point, I saw a few people ahead of me at times, but I was mostly on my own. Then I reached a stretch where we had to do a little out and back, and that’s when I finally got to see other people. From there, we rode up toward the state park before turning around and heading back to town. That was easily one of the highlights of the race. I loved riding with sand dunes on either side of the road and getting glimpses of Lake Michigan at times.

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A view of the bike route from Google Maps

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This stretch of the bike course was absolutely gorgeous

Because the sprint, super sprint, and Olympic races all rode that portion, I got to see a lot more people. I felt like I was flying along easily on the way up to the park. I actually hit 20 mph for a few miles, which is especially fast for me. When I reached the turnaround point, I quickly realized why I’d felt so great. I went from 20 mph down to 15-16 mph as I rode back against the wind. On the way up, I was loving the view and kept smiling at people as they rode the opposite direction. Now I wondered if they’d really been smiling back at me or if they’d actually been grimacing! It was definitely more of a struggle fighting the wind, but I kept telling myself to appreciate the view. I finished the 40K ride in 1:23:48, which is an average of 17.8 mph. It’s a couple minutes faster than I’ve typically covered the distance, so I’m sure those wind-aided miles must have really helped.

I flew through the second transition in 32 seconds and felt the challenge of adjusting my legs to running. Like the bike ride, the first stretch of the run course was the same for all of the events, so there were plenty of people. It was around a mile and a half before the Olympic athletes branched off into a campground and park. Half of our race was along mostly paved paths in the woods. It was peaceful, pretty, and flat. We did quite a bit of winding around, and one portion sent us through a neighborhood briefly. When we got back out to the main road, it was a straight shot back to the finish for the last mile and a half or so. I felt pretty good during this run, though I was working pretty hard and breathing heavily at times. I finished the 10K run in 45:50, which is an average of 7:23 per mile. My final time was 2:34:04.

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Based on how I felt for a couple minutes after the run, I knew I’d pushed pretty hard. My watch had the run course short, but winding through the woods probably threw it off. I’d like to believe the course was accurate and that I did actually run that fast, because it’s the fastest I’ve run 10K in a couple years. My run was also a 3-minute improvement over my Olympic tri 10K time from a month ago, so I was pretty excited.

I was also excited by the post-race food – waffles! They also had watermelon, bananas, Blow Pops, trail mix, and fruit chews.

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I killed some time before the awards, which I needed to stick around for because I placed first in my age group! The top two women in my group were overall winners, so that bumped me to the top. There were only 18 women total, but I placed 5th, so I was pretty happy about that. 3 Disciplines had really nice awards. Large lighthouses for overall winners and smaller lighthouses for age group winners. It’s definitely a cool and unique award.

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After I received my award, I made another stop at House of Flavors before heading out of town. I figured I had worked hard enough to deserve a couple scoops of Michigan pothole ice cream, which is SO good.

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There aren’t many triathlons left as summer winds down. I have my eye on one possible race in a couple weeks, but it conflicts with family plans and the water might be a bit too cold by then. If this was my last one of the season, it was a great way to wrap things up. Beautiful weather, a beautiful course, and a great race experience thanks to 3 Disciplines.

– Janet

Follow me on Twitter @reidphotography and Instagram @janetboltz


Shermanator Triathlon Recap

People commented on my "lucky number 13" several times :)

People commented on my “lucky number 13” several times :)

Saturday, August 5th was my first sprint triathlon of the season. I did the Shermanator Triathlon in 2015 and knew I wanted to do it again sometime. I didn’t feel very good the first time I did the race, and even got sick after it was over. A recap of that race is posted here. I was looking forward to doing the race when I could enjoy the experience more.

The race takes place at the beautiful Sherman Lake YMCA Outdoor Center in Augusta, MI, which is outside of Battle Creek. It also happens to be about 10-15 minutes from where Matt’s parents live. We drove out Friday night and it was nice to have such a short drive to the race in the morning. I parked in the designated field around 6:30 and made the short walk to the rec center to check in. From there, it was a longer walk along the paved trails through the woods to get to the beach.

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Sherman Lake looked beautiful

It was a bit cool – around 60 degrees. Good weather for racing though! I had plenty of time to set up in the transition area and do a short jog before the race meeting started at 7:30. A couple waves of sprint men started the swim first, and my wave of women age 49 and under went third. Waves were spaced out by four minutes so congestion in the water was not an issue. Since the swim was only 500 yards, some of the men finished their swim while we were waiting to start. They said the water was around 78 degrees, but it sure didn’t feel that warm! On a cool morning like we had, the water usually feels better than the air. I didn’t wear a wetsuit because it was a short swim and I’d probably waste more time getting out of it in transition than I would have gained by wearing it. Although I shivered as I waited to start, I felt fine once I got moving. Too bad one side of my goggles leaked right from the start. That annoyed me for most of the swim. I snagged a little bit of seaweed on the way out, but that didn’t bother me as much as the leaky goggles. I’ve been feeling really good about my swimming in the pool lately, but it didn’t seem to translate to the open water. I never felt like I got into a comfortable rhythm. It was a short swim though, and I hit the timing mat off the beach in 10:48.

Matt and his parents came to spectate, so it was fun to see them rooting for me when I came out of the water. I thought my first transition would go a little more smoothly than my recent races since I wouldn’t have to struggle out of my wetsuit. Well, this time I managed to waste a bunch of time on my sunglasses. They were totally fogged up, so I wiped them off twice. I thought they should be fine by then, but I still couldn’t see anything and had to wipe them a third time before they were good enough to get moving. I had that happen at one other race and wonder if I ought to keep them in the case rather than sitting out in the cool morning air. My T1 time was 1:39.

The out and back bike route started uphill on the YMCA trails before getting out to the main roads. I was a little winded for the first mile but sped up after that. My other races this season have had the Olympic distance as an option, and that has spread the bikers out a bit more along the course. I noticed a lot more bike traffic for this race and I always had other people around. It’s a good thing there was very little vehicle traffic since we took up most of the road on both sides. I was glad I didn’t have to worry about the speedy men zooming around me since they had a head start. It was a bit of a rolling course, but nothing too difficult aside from one hill on the way back. I chose to get out of the saddle to grind up that one. It left me pretty winded for a bit, but also helped me gain some distance from a couple women. We’d gotten stuck in a routine where they’d go faster and pass me, then I’d catch them and pass them. I got a little frustrated by the back and forth, so I was relieved that the hill actually helped me gain some personal space. I finished the 10-mile ride in 34:28 – close to 17.5 mph.

Again, it was fun to have Matt and his parents rooting for me on my way in from the bike and on my way out for the run. I could have been a little faster in transition, but 47 seconds for T2 wasn’t awful. I probably ought to train for my transition times like I do for the rest of the race considering how much time I lose there! Like the bike, the run started uphill. It was a challenging start but it wasn’t too long before it flattened out. The main roads rolled enough to keep it interesting but not too hard. The volunteers were great and I never had to question where to go. They also provided some great encouragement. I didn’t look at my watch at all during the run and didn’t know what kind of pace I was running. I naturally settled into a pace that had me breathing heavily but was sustainable. My Garmin shows that I was pretty steady around a 7:33-7:34 pace for the first couple miles, then I picked up after that. Running along a rocky path by the parking area on the way out and back was my least favorite part, so I jumped onto the grass for most of that section on the way back. Right after that area we got back onto the paved YMCA trails. That’s where I really picked up the pace – especially since the difficult uphill start turns into a speedy downhill finish. I finished with a smile when I saw Matt and his parents. I ended up running 22:22 for the 5K and finished with a final time of 1:10:02.

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This race was much more enjoyable compared to 2015 when my stomach ached the whole time. However, I’m nearing the end of a sinus thing that has messed with me for nearly two weeks, and that caught up with me in the form of a coughing fit soon after I finished. It was bad for a few minutes, but when it cleared up I found Matt and his parents.

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Post-race treats included chocolate milk, water, Gatorade, bananas, bagels, and granola bars. I really liked the Kashi bars and will definitely be looking for those at the store.

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I loved these bars!

I loved these bars!

Since I finished the race around 9:00 and awards weren’t until 10:30, there was quite a bit of time to kill. I needed to stick around because I had placed first in my age group! This is where I especially appreciated the support from Matt and his parents. I know there’s a lot of downtime as a spectator, so I was very thankful for them getting up early and being willing to be there for so long.

When I was picking up my race shirt at the registration area first thing in the morning, I heard the man next to me say that his name was David Willey. I knew both the name and the voice from listening to David’s Runner’s World podcast. However, I tend to be stupidly shy at times and didn’t say anything. Of course it kept bothering me that I hadn’t said anything. With all of the downtime before the awards, I decided that I should try to find him and actually talk to him. It turned out he was standing right near us so I didn’t have to hunt too hard.

David was the editor-in-chief of Runner’s World until recently, and I loved listening to his segments about his “moonshot marathon.” When Nike announced the Breaking2 project in which three athletes would try to break two hours in the marathon, David announced his own “moonshot” of trying to qualify for Boston. He was able to work with experts from Nike to try to achieve his goal, and he documented his journey on the podcast. He was aiming for (and got!) his BQ at the Bayshore Marathon this past May, a race that I ran last year. He went through lots of ups and downs between injury, self-doubt, and many of the things most marathoners deal with during the long training process. His journey was very inspirational and relatable, and I found myself really rooting for him as I was drawn into his story. I had a great conversation with him, and he and his family members cleaned up pretty well with some age group awards!

Thanks to Matt's dad for sneaking this photo of me chatting with David Willey

Thanks to Matt’s dad for sneaking this photo of me chatting with David Willey

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The awards ceremony

With my 1st place age group award!

With my 1st place age group award!

Here’s the breakdown of my results:

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I received first place in my age group because the overall female winner was in my group, so she received the overall award and it bumped me up. I was pretty excited to see that I was the fourth woman overall! I seem to place better in the shorter races. More specifically, the shorter the bike portion, the better I do. I was especially happy to see that I ran 22:22 for the 5K. I haven’t run a time like that in nearly two years. Since I did this race once before, I couldn’t help but compare the results. I finished 11 seconds faster this year. That’s not very significant, but at least it’s something. My swim was six seconds faster this time, my run was around 30 seconds faster, and somehow my bike time was exactly the same. How does that happen?! My transitions weren’t great this time around and I lost a bunch of time there.

This is a really nice race and one I’d like to continue to come back to. After doing a couple of Olympic-distance races this season, it was nice to do a sprint again and be done so much sooner! Between the great weather, having family there, placing well, and getting to chat with David Willey, I had a great time.

A long sleeve race shirt along with the official medal and the back of my age group medal

A long sleeve race shirt along with the official medal and the back of my age group medal, inscribed with my place

Now I have to figure out what’s next. I signed up for the Crim 10-mile run at the end of August. That will be my first running-only race since November. I’m kind of hoping to squeeze another triathlon or two in before the season wraps up. I’ve been having a lot of fun doing tris and wish I could do them more than a few months of the year!

– Janet

Follow me on Twitter @reidphotography and Instagram @janetboltz