Race season is in full force now! After taking a long break due to COVID it’s great to get back out there. I didn’t know how I would recover from running 33 miles at the Twilight Zone 6-hour run on June 12th so I didn’t want to register for anything too soon after that race. A week later I felt pretty decent after a few runs and was confident enough in my recovery to sign up for the Tri Goddess Tri sprint triathlon on June 27th. After going nearly two years without doing a triathlon I was really anxious to get back to it.
Epic Races hosted this one and I have always enjoyed their events. There were times in the past when I questioned the idea of races that were just for women. I’ve done a few of them now and I totally understand what a great experience they can be. There’s a sense of camaraderie and support that makes them feel extra special. The women-only race seemed like it would be a friendly environment for returning to triathlon.
The race took place on a Sunday morning at Big Portage Lake State Park at the Waterloo Recreation Area in Grass Lake, MI. It’s an hour and a half away so the 7:30 start made it an early morning. I was more concerned about the weather than anything else. It rained so much on Friday night that many areas were flooded, including several highways. There were more storms on Saturday night and tornadoes hit a few areas around the state. I wondered if the lake would be flooded or in good enough shape for swimming. Would there be debris on the roads where we’d be biking? Could more storms hit that morning and mess with our race? The weather was decent enough first thing so all I could do was go and see what happened.
I got to the park around 6:15 and headed to the transition area with my stuff. They had planned for a contact-less packet pickup process because of COVID. Even though restrictions have been lifted, they still carried on with the plans and left canvas bags filled with our stuff at our assigned spots in transition. The women who were around my area were very friendly and we all admitted how rusty we were as we tried to remember things like which direction to hang our bikes on the racks. One woman was doing her first tri and everyone was great about answering any questions she had.
After situating most of my stuff I walked down to check out the beach and figure out how things were set up. “Only” half a mile of swimming suddenly looked more intimidating when I saw how far apart the buoys were!
There was a bit of distance from the beach back up to the transition area so I walked the path to see what I was in for. We’d run on both pavement and grass on our way up the hill.
I finished getting everything ready in transition and went down to the beach just before the pre-race meeting was due to start at 7:15. We were told that the water was 72° so I chose not to use a wetsuit. It would be warm enough for me. Sometimes I struggle so much to get my legs out of the wetsuit that I fear I’ll just waste a bunch of time in transition. I got in the water and it was cold at first but I knew I would be fine.
During the meeting on the beach I shivered partially because I was cold after getting out of the water but mostly because of nerves! I always get anxious before triathlons and having a two-year break from doing them didn’t help. People were asked to raise their hands if it was their first triathlon and there was a big cheer for all of the first-timers. Even more impressive was finding out that some people were over 50 years old and doing their first one, and some were even 60+! That was really inspirational and I could feel the welcoming and supportive vibes from the big group of women.
Rain hit for a couple minutes during our meeting but cleared for the rest of the race. The super sprint athletes got to start first so they could get a head start and clear the water before the sprint athletes started. We got to see that it was easiest for them to run through the water for a bit because it was so shallow. At first it seemed like the sprint athletes were going to line up by age group and try to sort our order based on pace while in line. That whole plan didn’t really go anywhere and soon enough I realized it was just a free-for-all and I may as well line up. It was nice that we didn’t have a mass start which can get pretty crazy. Instead, one person went in at a time every three seconds. It helped but there were still plenty of people around!
I love to swim but I kind of freaked out and my nerves went crazy at the beginning. I’m so used to the routine of the pool. I can see so clearly, I have a set rhythm, and no one is crowding my space. Lake swimming is practically the opposite! I’ve done it enough times that I had assured myself I would be fine but I wasn’t. I was breathing so heavily from the start that I was completely thrown off. I did a little breaststroke to try to calm myself down but it didn’t help much. By the time I got to the first buoy I chilled out a bit and was able to swim more normally. It always got more congested when we had to round the buoys and then it was a little tricky trying to dodge people. I didn’t have any issues with being kicked or having my ankles grabbed, but one woman couldn’t seem to keep a straight line and cut right in front of me which made me stop at one point. I knew it wasn’t intentional though. I was just thankful that I seemed to stay straight enough myself and could see where I needed to go. I thought I’d give a little extra effort during the final stretch back to the beach but the wind created a little more waviness in that direction. Between the swim and the run up to the transition area, it took me 21:21. I always feel like I’ve been through quite an ordeal by the time I finish the swim segment, which is probably evident in the following photo!
I spent 2:13 in the first transition which included a bit of a jog with my bike to the far opposite corner of the transition area where we had to head out. The bike ride was around 10.7 miles. Rather than using my bike with skinny tires, I brought my mountain bike. There was talk about some potholes during the pre-race Zoom meeting the prior week. That intimidated me enough to look at the street view of the course on Google Maps. It wasn’t bad but I saw enough rough stretches that I thought I would prefer thicker tires. On top of that, with all of the stormy weather I wondered if there would be debris on the road and if we might end up riding in the rain. All of those factors made me decide that I would feel more secure on my mountain bike. I’m pretty insecure on my bike as it is and don’t like getting rattled or worrying that I might get a flat tire. I didn’t have any big expectations for my first race in a couple years. I just wanted to get out there again and didn’t care if my time was a little slower because I used a heavier bike.
The roads were open to traffic but there wasn’t much out there and no cars came up behind me. I hit 19 mph for a few miles early in the race, probably when I hit downhill portions and had a tailwind! I was thankful for the thicker tires in some spots where the road was kind of rough because the bumps didn’t rattle me at all. I breathed pretty heavily for the whole ride and really pushed. I passed some people and some passed me. As a woman mentioned to me after the race, it was kind of nice not to have any men zipping by on their $15,000 bikes. There were a few speedy women with fancy bikes who came by without warning, but most were good about warning that they were passing on the left. The course had some climbs but nothing too dramatic. For the last few miles of the race I could tell that we had turned into the wind which made things more difficult. I finished the bike segment in 37:52. I averaged around 17 mph which is about the best I usually manage anyway, so I don’t think my mountain bike messed me up too much.
I spent 38 seconds in transition and headed out to run. I was still breathing really hard but I guess that’s how the sprint distance works. The distance is shorter meaning I push the pace more and that’s hard work!
We had some pavement to start then ran along a road briefly before turning onto a trail.
Because of all of the rain the trail surface was pretty soft. It was really sloppy with mud in one spot but not too bad in general. There was one area where I slid and reminded myself that I better watch out for slick muddy spots! Most of the trail was single-track and several spots had trees or branches down to jump over or duck under. There were some pretty good uphills and downhills and I kept breathing heavily the entire run. I definitely pushed myself! The run is where I gained back some of the ground I lost during the bike. I’m kind of in the middle of the pack when it comes to my bike speed but I felt really strong during the run.
I was pretty out of breath after crossing the finish line! I had pushed really hard and finished what may have been around 2.8 miles in 22:30. I received my medal and a bottle of water then paced around for a few minutes to catch my breath. I had my photo taken then went to check the results.
A volunteer pulled up my info and said I had placed fifth in my age group. Since they give awards five-deep I was able to pick something from the prize table. I chose a buff that I can use as a mask or headband in the winter.
I got a pancake, an egg and cheese wrap, trail mix, and a bar from the food tables. I went back to the beach for a few minutes because the sky had cleared and it looked pretty down there.
While I was on the beach I chatted with a nice woman about our races before heading home. I found the results on my phone and was probably more excited about my 16th place overall finish than being fifth in my age group!
Just like every other triathlon I’ve done, I did fairly decent during the swim, lost quite a bit of ground during the bike and ended up somewhere around the middle of the pack, then I killed it during the run. Knowing how well I do in the run always gives me a little boost.
I really enjoyed this race and it was a great return to doing triathlons. Epic did a great job and it’s a major bonus that we can download so many AWESOME photos from Greg Sadler Photography. As a photographer myself I recognize what an amazing job he and his crew did capturing us during so many different segments of the race. It definitely makes this recap more fun to scroll through.
Now that I’ve gotten back into race mode I can’t wait to do more. I had already signed up for another Epic triathlon next month called the Pretty Dog Triathlon. I had no idea at the time that it actually takes place at the same park and will essentially be the same race! It will be fun to see if I can improve. In the meantime, I’m bound to do another running race or two before then!