I finished my first triathlon yesterday! And it was Olympic distance!
(Insert can’t-stop-smiling Jenn heeeeeeere!)
So yeah, I freaking did it! Didn’t chicken out and run away from the swim start (a thing I considered to be a possibility), didn’t drown, didn’t totally lose it and need to be pulled out of the water.
On Saturday Mr. Engineer and I headed back out to Cypress (the race site…it’s a suburb about half an hour away) for me to do my tiny little pre-race brick. Before I did that, I hopped back in the water. This time, success! No crying, no panic, nothing! I just got in, swam around, was satisfied that I didn’t feel like the lake was personally trying to kill me, and called it good. I went to sleep Saturday night without the usual uncontrollable nerves. I actually got a great night’s sleep–which is good because my alarm went off at 3:45 Sunday morning. I quickly set to making coffee and peanut butter toast, and trying to (calmly!) wrap my head around the fact that I’d be swimming a mile in just a few hours. Mr. Engineer enthusiastically offered to man the camera all day, and he started his duties bright and early. Behold, me drinking coffee at 4 am:
I double-checked everything on my bike, went through my backpack once more to make sure everything was in there for my transitions, and before I knew it, it was time to hit the road!
This was a pretty decent-sized race (1000 participants in the tri, no idea how many in the duathlon) so we were happy to score a good parking spot close to body marking and transition. I had all my stuff set up pretty quickly after getting marked, so we made our way over the water to see how the set-up looked.
We had quite a bit of time to kill (transition opened at 5 and we were there shortly after–the race started at 7:10 and my swim wave didn’t head out until 7:50) so we filled it with a couple compulsive transition area double-checks and some bathroom stops. Soon it was time to head down to the water.
The swim was a two-loop course, 750 meters each–hence lots of staggering between waves. Unfortunately for me, waves were figured by age and APPARENTLY girls my age are assumed to swim fast–so I was in the last wave to go in the water. You know where this is leading.
My time finally came after watching wave after wave head out from shore. I had a minute or two to stand in the water and I just tried to remind myself to breathe. Just breathe.
Something very strange happened to me in the first 30 seconds or so. I was doing fine, even dealing well with the splashing and kicking, when suddenly the right side of my jaw locked shut. [Backstory: I was a HUGE band geek in high school. Like, considered music performance as a career HUGE band geek. So anyways, I developed a nasty case of TMJ from the endless hours of clarinet-playing. Every now and again my jaw will be a little weird, but it always pops right back into place. It hasn’t been a serious bother since I was 18.] So there I am, swimming, and suddenly I can’t open my mouth all the way (makes rhythmic breathing a little tricky!) Obviously this made me panic a little, and I tried my best to pop it back into place, but it was STUCK! Since this had never happened to me before I had a moment of ‘what the hell do I do now?’ and then looked out at just how far away that yellow buoy was for the turn. Oh. God.
And then I remembered what Jeff had said–that everyone panics. So when it happens, roll over on your back, catch your breath, and pull it together. So that’s what I did. While I was on my back I tried to pop my jaw back into place but still with no luck. I rolled over and tried to swim again but I just couldn’t get my breathing into a rhythm without opening my mouth farther. I rolled over on my back again and tried to think clearly. Was this stress-induced? Did I lock my jaw myself? Calm. Breathe. Swimming freestyle isn’t working, so let’s do something else. And then it occurred to me to just backstroke. So I did. I started by counting 50 strokes before I popped up to sight again. It was the only thing I could make work.
It took me 28 minutes to finish the first lap. I had figured that a solid swim for me would be about 40 minutes (yeah, I’m THAT slow. Shush.) so 8 minutes off wasn’t the worst thing ever. I got up on shore, made the short run across the beach, and got back in again.
Since I knew the backstroke was my ticket to getting out of the water, I just started with it this time. And swam off course. Twice. Oops. By the time I was on my way back to shore I realized I really was one of the last few people in the water (I had told Mr. Engineer I really could be the last one out there) and it almost rattled me–until I remembered something I read on Ron’s blog a while back. I remembered reading a race recap of his where he literally was the last person out of the water, and as I recall, he still had an upbeat attitude about the whole thing. Still went on to finish the race. I decided out there in the water that being pissy about my slow swimming wouldn’t fix anything. And then I enjoyed the thought that I had lots of lifeguard eyes trained on me–who else were they going to look at?
My second lap took 24 minutes, and I estimate I added at least 150 meters thanks to my superior water navigation skills. A little faster.
Mr. Engineer was still on shore waiting for me, and he ran part of the path to transition with me (it was about a third of a mile.) Finding my bike was a snap–it was one of the only ones left. Where the competitive bratty monster in me might have hated this fact, I decided to embrace it. I had a solid little transition and was off for my 40k ride.
The bike headed out about 3 miles and then took a two-loop cruise out of town. I did catch some people here, but not that many–since I was in the last swim wave, I had not only my slow swim to make up but also the stagger in start times. I found a groove and just pedaled away though–when we weren’t in the wind I was solidly holding on to 19 mph (fast for me!) and feeling good. About 10 miles in the mass quantity of lake water I had swallowed started to give me some stomach troubles, and I ended up having to abandon my nutrition plan because seriously–my stomach was so full. Yuck. I tried to sip Gatorade, and I did get half a gel down with some (non-lake) water, but that was it. The bike was thankfully uneventful. Final speed was 17.4 mph. A decent ride for me.
At the dismount line I had my right foot unclipped and as I slowed I tried to pull my left foot free but it was totally asleep and wouldn’t give. And then I tipped over at the dismount line. All I could do was laugh.
I ran my bike in, changed my shoes, grabbed a throw-away bottle of water, and cruised out.
I ran the first mile in 8:30ish and then the slosh in my stomach made it apparent that pace would not be sustainable. I slowed down a little and just tried to reel people in where I could. It was a little hot for my taste, but by Texas standards it really was a mild day. I couldn’t manage any fluids the first few miles–I really felt like I might puke. At mile 4 the course turned into a stadium that they made us run up and through. That was a fun little surprise. So I’m comforted by the fact that even if this had just been a 10k a PR would not have been in the cards–the course was a little silly.
I finally got some Gatorade in me shortly after the stadium, and tried to pick it up a little. Even with the vomit-feeling and the knowledge that I wasn’t breaking any time records here, I was really happy. I was about to finish!
My run took a little over an hour and is the worst 10k I have on the books next to my name, but that’s alright. Once I’m a better swimmer the whole race will get better for me–out of the water faster AND no lake-water-induced stomach problems. So at least I’ve isolated the problem : )
As I made my way out of the chute Mr. Engineer greeted me with the biggest hug (even though I was covered in sweat–what a guy) and then we headed to get my gear out of transition. Before we went out for the traditional post-race Mexican food, we paused to take a photo of me and my badass bodymarking : )
My total time was 3:38 something. Not amazing at all, I’m aware–but that’s ok. I had figured coming in just under 3:30 would be a BIG win for me, and considering how badly the swim went, coming within the ballpark is still respectable. Even though I was out there with very few people most of the day, a look at the results tells you that I finished in the top half overall, which seems alright in my book.
So hey, I did it. I conquered my fear of the water, swallowed my pride on being in the back of the pack, and did the best I could. And the best part?
I’m totally hungry for another one.
Happy running. (and swimming and biking!)