Sunday, May 27th was my first triathlon of the season – the Seahorse Challenge in Climax, Michigan. I’ve been anxious to get back to triathlons and viewed this race as a good rust-buster. I didn’t put any pressure on myself because I know that I’m far from peak fitness at this point. I wanted to refresh my memory about everything that goes into the triathlon, get a good day of work in, and just have fun.
The race took place at Cold Brook County Park, which is between Battle Creek and Kalamazoo. It’s about 20 minutes away from Matt’s parents’ house. We joined them for a nice dinner on Saturday, then Matt’s dad was kind enough to drive the bike course so I could see what I had coming.
I got to the park around 6:45 on Sunday morning for the 8:00 start. That gave me time to do everything at a leisurely pace so I didn’t get too stressed out. I had gone through all of my checklists about what to do, where to put things, etc. It all came back to me pretty quickly as I set things up in the transition area. I’m glad I did a brief warm up jog with chews stuffed into the back pockets of my new tri suit. If they hadn’t popped out while I ran, I probably would have forgotten I had put them there and they would have gotten soaked during the swim. It was also a good way to learn that I need to stuff them deeper into the pockets so they won’t fall out. That was one potential disaster averted.
It was a beautiful morning. I had initially worried that the lake would be too cold this early in the season. A few really warm days leading up to the race meant that the water temperature rose to a pleasant 69-70 degrees. That was the temperature of the air at the beginning of the race as well. Although it was nice for the swim, it meant things would get uncomfortable when it came time for the run.
Rather than ease into the triathlon season with the sprint distance, I went straight for the Olympic distance. At this race, the swim was listed at 1500m, the bike was 42k, and the run was 6.5 miles. Based on my training, I knew I wasn’t prepared to “race” on the bike and was doubtful that I had regained much running speed a month after doing a marathon. I had covered each of the individual distances in training though, so I knew I could pull it off. I figured I’d go big and make it a good training session, if nothing else.
Announcements began at 7:45 and the Olympic men started at 8:00. I was relieved that they had separate wave starts for the men and women. My wave was pretty small and it helped ease my nerves. We got in the water and started a couple minutes after the men. I wore my full wetsuit and the water felt great. The buoys were on our left, but I started off to the right to avoid the crowd. I cut diagonally toward the first buoy and stayed on track the whole time. When people got too close for comfort, I did some breaststroke, figured out where they were going, then regained my own space. I may have lost a little time by doing so, but it kept me from worrying about any collisions. I felt really comfortable during the swim. I reminded myself that all of my consistent pool time prepared me for a solid swim. Olympic athletes had two loops and I never reached a point where I got tired or wished I was done. It was a boost to my confidence whenever I passed one of the men who had a two-minute head start. I knew they’d catch me during the bike, but at least my swim was pretty solid!
When I made my last turn around a buoy and had a straight shot to the end, I finally told myself that I should power through with my arms like I do during pull buoy sets in the pool. My lower body gets so much buoyancy from the wetsuit that it almost feels as if I’m using a pull buoy. I tend to get into a nice, comfortable rhythm when I swim during races and I need to make a final push sooner. When I got out of the water and started my trek up the grassy hill to the transition area, I knew I didn’t have it in me to run.
I moved along the best I could as I stripped out of the top half of my wetsuit. Between the swim and the hike up to the transition area, I finished in 30:29. That was good for 4th out of 14 women, and 25th out of 65 total.
As usual, I took longer than most people in the first transition. I don’t know how 3:18 flew by so quickly, but getting my legs out of the wetsuit probably took a big chunk of that time. I semi-dried my feet, put my socks and shoes on, grabbed my energy chews, put my helmet and sunglasses on, and headed out for two loops of the bike course.
Aside from one left turn, the course was all right turns and very easy to follow. There were some rolling stretches that definitely slowed me down. I didn’t have high expectations for my ride. I took a break from the bike during marathon training and only got back to it a few weeks ago. The bike rides I have done outside have been flat, so I didn’t exactly prepare myself for any climbs. Aside from my struggles with slowness, most of the ride was pretty nice. We passed a lot of farmland and had a decent amount of shade. I absolutely hated one stretch that ran a mile or two because of the road surface. Matt’s dad referred to it as “chip seal.” It looked like there was a nice, smooth surface underneath, but there was a rough, crappy surface on top. Fortunately none of it kicked loose, but it was not ideal for riding. I hated it even more during the second loop. I was thankful for one stretch of especially smooth road when we rode parallel with the highway.
I drank GU Brew and some water, and ate a few Clif energy chews 18-19 miles into the ride. Whenever someone passed me, I tried to think positively. It meant that my swim had been strong enough to hold them off that long. Eventually almost everyone in the race passed me. I finished in 1:33:53 with an average of 15.89 mph. I usually don’t average much better than 16-17 mph. I was 12th out of 14 women on the bike, and 61st out of 65 overall. When I say that the bike is my weakness, I’m not kidding! It’s clear that I’m not on the verge of going pro, so my placement really doesn’t matter. I’d like to do better, but the fact that I’m out there pushing myself makes me proud enough.
My second transition helped make up for my slow first one, and I began the run after 38 seconds. For the first half mile I was mostly distracted by the numbness in my hands. Gripping the handlebars tightly on rough surfaces took a toll on me. Eventually the numbness faded and my thoughts turned to how difficult the run course was. We started on a paved road that had a pretty good climb. Half of the course was a mix of grass, dirt, roots, and mud. It was nice to get out of the sun and onto the trails, but it was not an easy course.
There were a few boggy stretches out in the sun where the heat hit me the most. It was 80 degrees when I started the run around 10:00 and it kept climbing from there. The combination of the heat and running a tough course on tired legs led to quite a bit of swearing. It was especially bad every time I hit a hill, and there were a bunch of them. With a two-loop course, we crossed over one swampy stretch four times. The mud in that spot was bad enough that a couple of boards were placed on top to try to help us get through it. Eventually I succumbed to walking up most of the hills because I was too wiped out to attempt running them. I took brief breaks for a few gulps of water at some of the aid stations as well. I had a fuel belt with a bottle of GU Brew, but the cold water was helpful. Whenever I tried to wipe the sweat off my face I could feel that it was coated with a layer of salt.
The run is usually where I feel the strongest but on this day it was more of a jog. I did my best to keep plodding on and finished in 56:10 with an average pace of 9:03 per mile. Although I felt like it was a bad run for me, everyone else had to deal with the same conditions. I ended up 3rd out of 14 women and 26th out of 65 overall in the run.
I was wiped out by the end and relieved when a volunteer handed me a cold, wet towel and told me to put it around my neck. That really helped.
My final time was 3:04:25. I was 7th out of 14 women and 43rd out of 65 overall. I didn’t have huge expectations coming into the race and I certainly didn’t surprise myself with one of my best performances. Really, I didn’t care so much about my placement anyway. I was glad that I had gotten out there and pushed myself through a challenging race.
Eventually I made my way to the food table and enjoyed some watermelon and a waffle. One of the volunteers recognized me because we’re neighbors! I see her occasionally when I head out to the trail for my workouts. It was fun to run into her and officially meet.
There was a raffle just before the awards ceremony and I ended up with a gallon of Gatorade Endurance Formula.
The overall winners received a cool seahorse and age group winners received plaques. I’ve done several of 3 Disciplines’ races and they typically have cool awards. They do a really nice job with the whole race experience.
There were only two of us in my age group and I placed first. I don’t put much stock in age group awards at triathlons because there are usually so few people in my group, but it was still fun to come away with this keepsake.
It’s a good feeling to have everything go fairly smoothly for my first race of the season. I still have a lot of work to do on the bike, but that’s pretty much always the case for me. I was happy to feel so good during the swim and it was nice to see that I placed pretty well there. As bad as I felt during the run, I still placed well there too. Considering how I just did a marathon a month ago and have only returned to heavier training for a couple weeks, I’m definitely satisfied with these results.
I felt good when I swam and ran the next day, so this race didn’t take too much out of me. I’m already prepared to do it again and signed up for another race this coming weekend. The tri season is short so I’m going to try to make the most of it!