When I was obsessing about this race last week – and I’ll admit it, my nerves had me obsessing – I was looking for anything I could read with triathlon tips or beginner triathlon advice. I trained to do this race, didn’t really have a time in mind, didn’t really know what to expect. I read some articles from serious triathletes but I wanted to read more from people like me. People without the fancy gear – people who were doing the tri for fun. I wanted to know what to expect by hearing about it from someone at my level. I didn’t find much. So here is my account of my very first tri, from a person who exercises regularly, runs 2-3 times a week and decided to give this a shot. Location: Valparaiso, Northwest Indiana. On a very (very) hot July Saturday.
I know the swim portion of the triathlon is what keeps a lot of runners from trying this race. It’s not easy to swim in open water surrounded by thrashing bodies but I honestly wasn’t worried about this leg. My primary concern was making sure I didn’t go all out and then collapse during the run later. The swim course was an out & back, with the buoys on our right. I positioned myself towards the front of the pack and close to the inside. I didn’t want to aggressively swim for position so I let others have the front & inside spots. But I was fairly confident that I could swim well so I didn’t want to get bogged down in the back. I would use that same strategy again. The beginning was about as crazy as I expected – I got clubbed in the head, punched in the face, kicked all over… it was not so enjoyable. Some swimmers were very aggressive and I had no problem letting them get in front of me. The first 1/4 of the swim I used an assortment of strokes and just tried to keep myself from getting beat up too badly. By the time we reached the halfway mark it had opened up a bit and I was primarly doing breaststroke – I have a fairly strong breaststroke so I didn’t feel I was suffering on my time. At this point I was all the way on the inside of the course and had a bit of space around me. I did a little bit of crawl but there were enough people around that I preferred to keep doing breaststroke so I could see where I was going – and I was passing people so it seemed to be working for me.
I jogged/walked up the hill to the transition area where I had my gear laid out on a towel next to my bike. I pulled on my running shorts. Rinsed off my feet with my extra water bottle, dried off my lower legs and put on my shoes & socks. Grabbed an energy gel, put on my sunglasses and helmet and was ready to go. Not super speedy but not too bad. Having everything laid out on my towel in order was a big help.
The bike was mostly fun. I don’t have a super expensive road bike – I have a hybrid which means mountain bike-like frame with road-width tires. There was no aerodynamic advantage to this bike but it works for me. I will use it lots with my kids and since I don’t see myself doing more than two tri’s a summer it will remain just fine. I tried to take a bit of time during my ride to appreciate what I was doing and what was going on around me. I didn’t really have a strategy for this leg, just keep pedaling, take advantage of every decline and hope for the best. The last two miles of the ride were all uphill which really slowed me down and that was the only part of the ride where I felt super tired. (If you’re doing the Valpo tri don’t let anyone tell you there are no hills – there are plenty!) This is the one leg where I would like to train more and figure out a better strategy (though ‘just keep pedaling’ doesn’t seem like such a bad plan).
Since I don’t use bike clips this transition was a piece of cake. Parked the bike, swapped my helmet for my hat, grabbed an energy gel and swallow of water and we were off!
Oh my… the heat… it was over 80 degrees at this point and the humidity was awful. It took almost a mile for my legs to feel normal after being on the bike – but I expected this because I did some bike/run brick workouts in training. What I was not prepared for was how badly the heat would hit me when we turned onto the main street with no shade and the sun beating down on me and heat bouncing off the blacktop. I have to admit we did a good portion of mile 2 walk/run style but then the last mile I felt good and I finished strong. (which was really nice because my kids were there for the first time to watch me race)
This was not as physically exhausting or hard as the half-marathon. However, every muscle on my body was worn out Saturday afternoon. It definitely pushed me but I think having the different disciplines made it a little easier on my body and overall I enjoyed it more. It was somewhat mentally draining to have three finish lines. I’m so used to pushing hard for the finish but in a triathlon you get to a finish and have to keep going for another ‘race’.
How did I train? I have been swimming & running regularly for quite some time. Biking is something new to me, I’ve only been doing that for about two months. In the three weeks before the tri I focused on getting in 2-3 brick workouts each week where I did two disciplines back-to-back (or as close to back-to-back as I could). In my amateur, casual athlete opinion this training was just right to make sure I could comfortably finish the race. Now that I know what to expect I would follow a similar program of brick workouts but I would train longer and harder – next time I’ll be training with a finish time in mind. I’m not good enough to win these things – I just want to finish strong and have a respectable time. The brick workouts were key though and they are what made me the most prepared.
The bottom line: Will I do it again? Most definitely!