On Sunday, July 14th I raced the Olympic distance at the Caseville Triathlon – my first triathlon of the season. Caseville is in Michigan’s “thumb” area and it’s a beautiful place for a race. I did the Olympic distance there in 2015 and returned to do it again in 2017. That year Lake Huron’s water was too rough, the swim was cancelled, and I ended up doing the duathlon. I really enjoyed the race both times so it’s been on my radar each year. When TriToFinish offered a 10% discount on the 4th of July I decided it was time to commit to this year’s race.
I opted not to pay for a hotel and drove nearly two hours the morning of the race. I knew it was doable since I did the same thing in 2017. It didn’t take long before the sun started to rise and it was a really pretty drive.
I went out on the beach first thing to check on the water conditions. I was bummed when I saw the rolling waves and whitecaps. I figured the swim would be cancelled like it had been in 2017. All I could do was wait it out and see if they made an announcement.
After checking in, I took my stuff to the transition area and set up my bike and run gear. I left my swim gear in my bag since I didn’t know if I’d need it yet. As I walked out of the transition area and headed toward the beach, I ran into my running/triathlon buddy Lindsay. She decided to switch to the duathlon when she saw the water. She had me debating if I should do the same thing. After all, when I initially saw the water I just assumed the swim would be cancelled. There still hadn’t been an announcement one way or the other and I wondered what I should do. If they cancelled it, the decision would be made for me. If they didn’t cancel it, would I really want to try swimming in those conditions? I was pretty wary, but at the same time, maybe I should use the opportunity to see what it’s like to battle rougher conditions and gain some experience. I was on the fence but leaning more toward braving the swim as long as it was an option.
7:45 came and went without any announcements and that’s when the transition area had been due to close. I think they were still checking everything out and trying to determine if the swim could be executed safely. Eventually I decided to put my wetsuit on and figured I’d just take it off if they cancelled the swim. A number of people were out in the water and I thought I should probably get out there too so I could see what I was in for. Temperature-wise, the water was perfect. I worried that I might swallow a bunch of water while breathing if a wave rolled along. I didn’t have any problems with that but it was hard to get any rhythm going as the waves kept rolling in. I’m sure I played in waves like those as a kid, but it’s been a long time since then and it’s different when you’re actually trying to swim.
Eventually they made an announcement. If we didn’t feel comfortable swimming we could switch to the duathlon. We could try going out in the water and if we felt uncomfortable, we could come back in and let someone know that we were quitting the swim. We wouldn’t get official race results but could still continue with the bike and run. They said that there were plenty of shallow spots we could go to where we could still touch the bottom. Lifeguards were out in the water in kayaks and there was a boat as well, so people would be looking out for us. I decided to give it a shot!
Half distance (70.3) athletes started in the first wave. Rather than starting men and women in separate waves like they typically would, everyone started together based on the race distance. A couple minutes after the half started, I joined the Olympic athletes in the water for our start. We worked our way out to a sand bar where we could stand. I always prefer wave starts that are as small as possible to ease congestion in the water. Results showed that 67 people finished the Olympic distance and I was a little worried that the waves would cause us to crash into each other even more than usual. I made sure to start at the edge away from as many people as I could.
We swam counterclockwise around a rectangular course for two loops. The waves kept coming on my left side as I headed out. They didn’t push me into anyone else or back toward the shore. Instead, it was just a matter of bobbing up and down a bit. I finally realized that I was exerting too much energy trying to fight them and I ought to walk/bounce through the water along the sand dune like most everyone else. It seemed like the cheap way out but the conditions were so screwy that I figured it was fair for us to do whatever it took to feel comfortable. I swapped between attempting to swim and jogging through the water until I reached the first buoy. Then we turned into the waves and the water got a little deeper. I mixed in some breaststroke at times when freestyle wasn’t working so well for me. It seemed like the waves weren’t as bad farther out and I was able to truly swim the second “L” shape of the rectangle. It was back to a mixture of whatever worked for the first “L” of the second loop, then more swimming. I reached a shallow spot as I approached the shore on my way to the finish and began to jog like a guy by me was doing. I thought I’d be proactive about getting my swim cap and goggles off early. Then the water got deeper. I had forgotten about the sand bar – oops. I kind of threw my cap back on until I got closer to the shore where it actually stayed shallow.
Usually I’m pretty wobbly as I jog out of the water and into the transition area, but this swim was so inconsistent and screwy that I didn’t have any issues. I had only swallowed water once, which is bound to happen to me during any race, and I never felt insecure or worried in the water. Aside from someone swatting my feet a couple times, I wasn’t too close to other swimmers and it all worked out reasonably well. I didn’t feel like I had really raced the swim, but I guess I got from the start to the finish and that’s all that mattered. I finished the 1500m swim in 26:34 which is on the fast side for me. Maybe the waves helped push me along and the aquajogging must not have hurt either.
As I tried to get my wetsuit off, a woman near me commented on how she could never get it off over the timing chip on her ankle. I’m glad I wasn’t alone! I struggled with the ankles a little bit, but I wasn’t as horribly slow as I have been at some races. I ate a couple of Clif Shot Bloks, then dealt with my socks, shoes, helmet, number belt, etc. – the usual transition stuff. I spent 2:13 in transition then took off on the bike.
The bike course was nice and flat with pretty views of cottages and the lake. The road was open to traffic but the shoulder is wide enough for at least two people to ride side-by-side. I just moved over a little if there was some sand or other debris at the edge. I noticed the wind at times but it didn’t seem to slow me down. I was pretty happy that I was cruising along around 17-18mph because that’s about the fastest I ever get. I haven’t been that fast out on the trails recently, but I guess the crosswalks and stoplights usually slow me down. The bike ride for Olympic athletes was a 40K. We went out 12.4 miles then turned around and came back. I spent plenty of time counting down the miles and calculating how much longer it might take me, but it never felt too bad. I finished the ride in 1:25:53, which was an average of 17.36mph.
I got a little squirmy on my bike seat at times but I didn’t really hurt until I got off and tried to run. Ouch. After the race I had the revelation that I’m used to riding that bike in my cushy bike shorts. The padding in my tri suit is minimal so it doesn’t soak up a ton of water, and that lack of cushioning left me a bit sore!
I flew through transition in 35 seconds and started the 10K run. Although I was a little warm and my face got really salty, the weather was pretty good. It has been especially hot and humid lately which has made my training runs pretty uncomfortable. It was somewhere around 70°F with lower humidity for this run which was more tolerable. Still, I appreciated the few short patches of shade along the route. Again, it was an out and back course. Since it was my third time doing this race I was plenty familiar with the course. Somehow I managed to maintain a pace in the 7:40s for the first few miles. The run is my time to try to catch up to the people who passed me on the bike. It was tough, but it helped to have people to aim for to keep me moving along. I slowed down to an 8:00 pace for the fourth and fifth miles as I started to tire out and lose momentum. I managed to get back into the 7:40s for the last full mile, and a downhill stretch back into the park always helps. I finished the 10K in 48:21 and completed the race in 2:43:35.
Here are the final stats:
I placed third overall for females! I was pretty excited about that. I was really wiped out after I finished and needed to pace around for a bit, then I sat in the pavilion for a few minutes. This one took a lot out of me!
Eventually I went to get some (wonderful) pizza and saw Lindsay. I thought maybe she’d be long gone since her race was shorter, but she had placed second in the duathlon and had to stick around for the awards ceremony. It was pretty cool that we both had such good races. We spent a while chatting until Lindsay realized they might be giving out some of the awards. We made it over to the beach right as they called her name. I had to wait a bit longer since they wanted to leave time for more of the Olympic athletes to finish their races. Lindsay stuck around and it was nice to catch up and enjoy the pretty day. Of course the waves died down AFTER the race.
Then it was my turn for the podium!
Later I was curious to see how this race compared to my 2015 race. I was excited to see that I had shaved 4 1/2 minutes off my time. Then I realized almost all of that was from the swim. Somehow this crazy, wavy swim must have worked in my favor. My first transition time was 45 seconds faster this year, so at least I’ve gotten a little faster getting out of my wetsuit. My consistency from race to race blows my mind though. My 2015 bike time was 1:25:51. This time it was 1:25:53. How do I do that?! My second transition time was only a couple seconds off between the two races as well. My run this year was a little slower, but only by 23 seconds. It’s cool that I got a little faster overall, but pretty crazy that I’m so consistent too. I sure haven’t improved on the bike, but I guess at least I haven’t gotten worse either?
I was really happy with how this race went. The swim sure made it quite an adventure and I’m glad I gave it a shot. It was a good way to gain experience racing in different conditions. It was nice to get back to doing a triathlon and now I’m anxious to do more. Before I do, I have another mid-week swim/run race tomorrow night – the second in a series of three races. I sure have been keeping myself busy this summer!