Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lucky Number 1402: Elkhart Lake Sprint Triathlon Race Report

Wow. Where do I even begin with this one? Well, let's put it this way: it's been my goal for awhile to win my age group in a race - for the most part, I've had a pretty good track record of getting 2nd or 3rd, but never quite squeaked out the win. The thought of that win coming in a triathlon...let alone my first triathlon...was pretty much absurd, since this ridiculous idea didn't even surface until a little over a month ago, when the BF somehow cajoled me into signing up for this race. So reader beware: this is going to be a loooong story, because I want to remember every second of it...since I have the feeling this won't be the last you hear of triathlons from me. In sections, as always, here is my race report!

I left for Elkhart Lake on Thursday afternoon and don't worry, I was already starting to get nervous. A really great swim workout on Tuesday followed up by a 15 mile bike ride/6:19 mile combo on Wednesday had left me feeling a little more confident than expected about my chances to actually compete, as opposed to just finish the race, and I was in a fabulous mood as I cruised down the highway belting out songs on the radio [one reason I liked driving down by myself, hehe]. I stopped in Brookfield to pick up my wetsuit and as soon as it was in my hands a shot of adrenaline went through me - I'm going to be wearing this, I'm going to be swimming in a lake... -Thursday night was full of non-triathlon related things, but I was already starting to get nervous/excited for what lay ahead. Friday was pretty much entirely devoted to race prep. I drove the bike course with the BF - now THAT got me nervous. Hills, hills, and more hills...well, at least we got to ride past a llama farm! But it was just a little bit of a shock seeing how long it actually was, and how hilly. Yikes. Next up, biking the run course. The BF's mom is amazing and let me borrow her incredible road bike for the race, and I wanted to take it out for a spin since I'm used to riding crappy mountain bikes. I can't even describe the difference - it was sooo smooth and even going uphill wasn't too terrible. The BF and I went out for a quick run for me to just shake out my legs [and since he hadn't run in awhile, hehe :)], then his sister [who was also doing the race] arrived and so it was time to go for a swim!

So first of all let me just say - wetsuits are AWESOME! The water was 60 degrees, but I wasn't cold in the least bit. You feel so smooth and swimming feels easy, and if you do decide to stop, you just float! It's seriously fantastic. We swam around most of the course [and honestly, I was having so much fun I could have stayed out there all day], then decided we didn't want to tire ourselves out too much. Getting the wetsuit off went off without a hitch - good news for trying to get through transition fast! I was initially a little concerned about being cold in the sleeveless version, but I ended up loving it.

Trying to look like I know what I'm doing in my sweet Zoot suit! :)

We then went to check in - I found my number on the list...1402! My lucky number is 14 [it's a long, ridiculous story as to why, dating back to 4th grade...I won't explain it now], and I honestly hope every time I get a race number that it's going to have a 14 in it..and it's never happened...until this! So I felt like that was a pretty good omen of things to come. We then went to a pre-race meeting where they went over the course and penalties and things [there are a LOT of bike penalties in triathlons...made me really nervous]. But I had already gone over the courses so I was just sitting there, kind of zoning out, when all of a sudden I looked over and saw these two girls I went to school with...one of whom I had a bit of a long-standing rivalry with dating back to 6th grade band chair tests for oboe [I got first chair, she was not a happy camper, we never got along after that]. Anyway, if you know me at all, you know I'm insanely competitive - to a fault at times -so if I didn't already have enough motivation to try to do well in this race, I now had one more goal - beat those two girls.

After an amazing dinner of stuffed shells, spinach salad, and bread [the BF's mom is an amazing cook], it was pretty much time for bed. We went to bed at around 9:15 and I was honestly surprised I could fall asleep that early, but I completely passed out.

Race Day
As soon as my alarm went off at 5:15 am, I was wide awake. I was hoping to leave for the transition area by 6, with the race actually starting at 7:30. As always, the first thing I did when I got out of bed was start eating...I wanted to be fully digested by the time I had to start swimming. I had a banana, peanut butter Clif Bar, and some fierce grape Gatorade I had mixed up the night before, then I quickly got into my triathlon outfit [spandex track shorts and one of my Nike running tank tops] and put on the bottom of my wetsuit. It wasn't that nice out, so I was wearing a few layers on top, plus socks and sandals...the wetsuit kept my bottom half nice and toasty. I double checked all of my stuff, got 'my' bike ready, and was pretty much ready to go by a little after 5:30...I'm always the total weirdo who is ready excessively early for races...hey, I like getting there early and being able to relax and get in my zone at the actual race site. I walked with the BF and all of my crap down to the resort where the race was taking place - only about a 5 minute walk from his house which couldn't have been more perfect. I got body marked [both arms, both legs, and both hands...I really don't think I had 1402 written on me enough times...] then one last kiss from the BF and I was headed into transition!

All ready to go at 6 am on race morning.

I quickly found my spot and got all set up - it didn't take too long since I honestly didn't have too much to deal with. I got my bike up on the rack with the helmet on the seat, laid out my shoes with the laces loosened so they would be easy to slip into, pinned my number onto my race belt and laid it out for the run...that was really about it! I was happy because the numbers were organized by age group, with the youngest at the end, so my bike was in the last rack and so was really easy to find. All of a sudden, I noticed that most of the people around me were wearing chips. I knew we were supposed to have chips since it was a time trial start...but I hadn't seen anyone giving them out or anything. I asked someone where she got hers, and apparently we were supposed to get them at check-in the night before! Uh, makes a ton of sense, but no one had said anything about picking up chips at check-in. Ahhh! It turns out they were still doing chip pickup inside the resort, so I was dashing around with my heart pounding trying to find someone who knew where the day-of check in was...there were only 15 minutes until transition closed and I needed to go back and get my swim stuff and drop off my warmup layers. Let's just say I was VERY relieved when I finally had the chip in my hand - that kind of stress was the last thing I wanted to deal with right before a race.

With transition all set up and as ready as I was ever going to be, I headed down to the beach for the pre-race briefing. I waded in the water to get my swim cap wet and put it on, then headed back over to the staging area, where I ran into Nikki and Mindy [the two girls I knew]. The three of us were chatting with one other girl who was also doing her first triathlon - Nikki had done 2 and Mindy 6, so I was feeling pretty much like I didn't know what I was doing compared to them. A couple of last minute announcements, and soon the first sprint wave was headed down to the beach. I was nervous, excited, and just kind of in awe - I'm doing this. I can't believe I'm doing this! It seemed to take forever, but finally they were calling the 1400 group forward down into the chute. Some quick good lucks, and everyone focused on the start banner. The timing mat got closer, closer, closer...finally I stepped onto the mat with Nikki [oh the weirdness, that I should start my first triathlon with someone who I spent 3 years in a much different type of competition with]. "5 seconds" Wait...wait...wait...."GO!"

The Swim
With the yell of GO, I sprinted off the beach and into the water. I really had no clue when I should switch over from running to swimming, but I basically wanted to get ahead of Nikki ASAP so I dove in when I got about up to my knees. Kind of strange, swimming as people are running all around you...but yeah. The first few strokes after diving into the water were a little bit of a shock - my wetsuit was sleeveless so my arms were exposed [although I was happy to have my full range of motion] and I kind of gasped a little bit with each breath just because of the sudden cold, but everything quickly resolved itself and I was almost immediately passing people who had started just ahead of me. The swim seemed to take about a minute. I don't really remember thinking at all, all that was going through my mind was relax, relax, don't kill yourself, this is just the beginning...get past these people, stay ahead of the Tosa girls. I was passing people pretty consistently, which was sometimes a problem because I would be practically on top of some lady leisurely backstroking along before I realized what was going on and then would have to do some kind of weird head-out-of-water stroke to get away and keep swimming. I was at the turnaround buoy before I knew it and headed back to shore - and when did I think I couldn't even swim 400 meters? I had some trouble swimming straight in the second half, I think because the lane was a little bigger and I was running into more people who were slowing down in the second half of the swim, so I got a little off course a couple of times but overall it wasn't too bad. I also really didn't know when to stop swimming and stand up and run out of the water...but I guess when my arms started hitting the bottom I knew it was time. I stood up and started to run out of the water - and honestly, that was probably the most difficult part of my race! My heart was pounding like crazy and I was tiiiiired...I hit the timing mat on the beach and quickly looked at my watch...it read 6:20...ahh! I was expecting something like 8:30 for the swim so....yeah. Pleasant surprise! It suddenly dawned on me that maybe I should be taking off my swim cap and goggles and unzipping my wetsuit and things as I was running, so I started trying to do that as I ran up into transition....which seemed to take soooo long! Swim - check!
Swim split: 6:22 (32nd overall/11th woman)
I'm in this picture somewhere...maybe? Everyone looks the same in a wetsuit and swim cap!

I finally made it into the transition area and found my bike - like I said, it was easy since I was in the last row. This was all craziness to me and I really had no idea what to do other than go, go, go! My wetsuit came off fabulously, and my shoes were perfect - I'm so glad I went with the XC spikes because they were really easy to slip into and I could wear them without socks - seriously, I probably saved myself a minute right there! That was really about all there was to do. I put on my helmet before even grabbing my bike [you get DQed if you get on your bike without your helmet buckled, and I wasn't taking any chances] and soon enough I was dashing down the walkway towards the bike start. Right before the mount line, I saw the BF and family and my mom who were cheering for me and I flashed them a big smile...hell, the swim was over, I was feeling great, and this was so much freaking fun! There was an orange line to mount your bike after...I dashed over it, got my feet into the pedals without a hitch...and I was off for a 20K on the bike!
T1 split: 3:03 (17th overall/7th woman)

The Bike
This was where I knew things were going to get interesting, since my "training" for the bike portion of this race consisted of one 10 mile ride and one 15 mile ride...so I was feeling unprepared at best. But I did have a phenomenal bike under me so that raised my confidence at least a bit. The first couple of miles I tried to just relax and calm down a little bit - after the frenzy of the swim and transition, my heart rate was still up like crazy after transition. Mindy passed me right after the start [I had seen her in transition, so I knew she wasn't far behind me starting the bike] and while I wasn't concerned exactly about catching her, I definitely didn't want to get back by more than a few minutes. Soon enough, I was into a rhythm and lo and behold I was passing people from the start. The bike course was almost 100% rolling hills...up and down and up and down, on and on and on. I was really nervous about getting a penalty and so was kind of scared to pass at first [if you decide to pass, you can't back out on it or it's a penalty, and you have to be more than 3 bike lengths back from the person in front of you]...the last thing I wanted was to get a penalty on the bike. But I gradually loosened up a little bit and realized that hey, when I decide to pass people, I totally CAN! The 5K mark came up pretty fast and I just thought - a quarter of the way done, no problem. You can do this. Soon after that, the Gu that I had been planning on eating on the bike fell off...ohhh well. I was feeling good hunger wise so I wasn't too concerned about it being gone, and I had Gatorade which was really all I needed. Actually, the first time I thought about grabbing a drink, I looked down at the water bottle in the cage and was like -uh...I think I can get it out of there...but I'm never going to be able to get it back in without falling off my bike! Yes, I have never cycled before...eventually, I went for it about halfway through the bike, and I managed to not drop my bottle or crash, so that was a good thing. :) There was this woman in pink who kept yo-yoing back and forth with me...I would pass her on the uphill, she would pass me on the downhill, etc, etc, and at one point she passed me and was like "Well, it looks like this is going to be going on for awhile!". Um, no, lady. It is not. So on the next uphill, I put in a little extra surge to shoot past her and 3 other people, and I never saw her again. Competitiveness: it hits me even when I'm in the middle of something I haven't the slightest clue about. A similar thing happened with a guy in the second half of the race...I would have been completely OK with him being in front of me, until he decided it was a good idea to pass me on the inside when I was practically on the shoulder of the road anyway. If track has taught me one thing, its that you NEVER pass on the inside. That dude was history shortly thereafter. :) The only thing that was really hard was this weird S-bend uphill at about mile 10...there was a really sharp turn going into it, so I pretty much lost all momentum before going up the hill, and that hurt a lot. But I tried to get back into my rhythm as soon as possible, and things were fine again. As for the rest of the bike...I honestly don't know. I passed a lot of people. I don't think I was really pushing it to the max, but then again I don't think I know HOW to push it to the max on a bike yet. All I can really remember was this feeling of total, utter, joy. That's the only way I can describe it. On the uphills I would really bear down to pass people, gearing down and pumping my legs and just putting my head down and GOING, and on the down hills I would just fly. I felt like I was flying. I probably spent all of my time when I wasn't passing people just absolutely grinning my fool head off. It's honestly hard to explain how incredibly wonderful I felt during the entire bike. Yeah, you're probably not supposed to feel that awesome in the middle of a race...but for once, I was letting myself absolutely enjoy the moment. And boy, was it amazing. We passed the llama farm [believe, me I was looking forward to this the WHOLE ride] and the llamas weren't outside, except for one little guy who was poking his head out of the barn like he was doing it just for me! One last uphill and then a glorious, glorious downhill back into down...I would have thrown my hands in the air with joy if I could have. I saw the cheer crew as I came back into town and once again, grinned my face off. I was loving every single second of this ridiculous race. I got to the dismount line and almost fell over in my attempt to be smooth hopping off my bike...uh...that might be something to work on in the future. :) Onward to T2!
Bike split: 44:59 (143rd overall/I don't feel like counting through the results, lets just say I wasn't in the top 15 women...um, the bike might be the thing I need to work on :))

Welcome to speedsville! I racked my bike wrong the first time but got it right shortly after, clipped on my race belt...and yeah, that was it! Wearing the same shoes/clothes for the bike and run was a great idea and saved me a ton of time. Mindy left transition about 20 seconds before me so she was in my sights as I cruised over the mat and into what I knew was my domain...the run!
T2 split: 1:27 (12th overall/5th woman)

The Run
Ah, the run. Legs like jello, lungs on fire, and yet I knew...this is MY territory, this is what I do, this is what I've been training for for 8 years as opposed to 2 weeks! And so, despite feeling like utter crap, I was ready to rock. Although, unfortunately, from the instant I left transition, I had to pee! Ugh. Not much to do about that, and I just reassured myself that it was only a 5K, at the absolute MAX 25 minutes [that was my allowed slowest time that I wouldn't be cranky with, this being a triathlon and not a straight 5K race after all. Honestly, for most of the run, I thought that was about what I was going to run...I guess after biking 3.5 minute miles, 7:23 just seems damn slow!]. I passed Mindy about a minute in and knew that I wasn't going to see her again. The first mile was deathly. I can't even explain how bizzare it feels to try to run after you just rode a bike as fast as you could for 45 minutes. It's really, REALLY weird. I felt like I was moving so incredibly slowly, and yet somehow, I was just continuously passing people. It was like everyone else was moving at the same pace in one lane, and I was running at a completely different pace in the other. It was nothing like a normal road race. I didn't really know where the mile markers were - they had them for the Olympic distance but not the sprint, but eventually I figured out that they were every mile. The first mile was a slight uphill - not fun in my current state - although one house had a boombox out blasting Rocky music which pretty much made my day. So the worst point in the course is this GIANT hill that comes around mile 1.5. I knew it was coming, I've run/biked up it multiple times in my life, and I know that it comes right after a turn...but somehow in my ridiculous state I managed to convince myself that another, pretty decent sized hill [which happens to come right before mega-hill] was "the big one". So I'm thinking to myself alright, look at all these people walking around you, you can make it up this hill, it sucks, but you can do it, and right around this bend it's all downhill! Imagine my surprise when I turned the corner and MEGA-HILL is staring me down! Actually, I kind of giggled a little bit. It was so absurd, and I had felt so crappy on the last hill that somehow I knew I could make it up this one...and make it up I did, passing still more people in the process. Then we turned the REAL corner into "it's all downhill from here", and that was absolutely amazing. As I passed one woman, she was like "you can carry me on your back if you want!" I laughed and responded with "yeah, that was quite a hill, huh?" Me...talking to people during a race. What is this madness? Just another testament to what an amazing time I was having. The ~half mile downhill was absolutely amazing. I let my legs go and just flew with as little effort as possible. One more mile. I can do this. I'm going to finish a triathlon. I stopped thinking about anything and just ran...and before I knew it, the finish line was in sight. I honestly probably would have run a little faster at the end if I had realized just how close the finish line was but hey...what are you going to do. I saw the cheering crew once again, and once again, gave a HUGE smile...I was almost there and still loving every second of this ridiculous race. I kicked it in at least the last 100 meters, passed one last person...and BEEP! BEEP! I was across the timing mat, and there I was. I had finished my first triathlon.
Run split: 22:55 (26th overall/5th woman)

I slammed my watch and looked at my time. 1:18:44
What? What?? WHAT???
Shock doesn't even begin to describe how I felt about that time. I had honestly expected to do around 1:30, hoped to do around 1:25...and yeah...1:18:44. I didn't really know what to do with myself. I eventually located my mom [who had driven an hour and a half to see me race, she is amazing!] and the BF and was just being my usual giddy post-race self, grinning from ear to ear and yapping like an idiot. I went and got my stuff out of transition, taking a couple seconds as I did to take it all in...did that really just happen? As I made my way back, I noticed some results had gone up on the Porta Potties [classy, huh?] Since I had come in awhile before, I figured I might be up already, and since I knew my time it would be easy to check. I scanned the list for the 1:18s...3rd page...2nd page...1st page...and suddenly I see my name...50TH [what would turn out to be 45th after relays were removed]...and then I look over to DivPlace...and see that number I've been waiting to see since I started running competitively...1. I had to double check it about 5 times before I was sure it was true. I won my division? This can't be right...I've never done one of these before...I really didn't train enough..WHAT?!! I wandered back to the BF and mom in a daze, ridiculous grin on my face once again. "Uh...I won my age group" "You WHAT? Are you sure?!" And so of course I had to go back and check again. No, the results hadn't changed...and there it was. Finally...FINALLY, after wanting the AG win for who knows how long, I had done it. In my first triathlon ever...a race I initially hadn't wanted to do at all...a race I'd been terrified of...a race that for the first time in my life I was going to do 'just for fun'. And here I was...and it was true...I had done it.

OK, this post is getting infinitely long, so maybe I'll save all of my musings on triathlons for another day. But let's just say that I think I might have found something that I have the potential to be really good at. I've always been a good runner but never quite the fastest and in recent years I've been realizing that endurance is probably more my thing than speed. And I LOVE the multiple sports aspect of triathlons - every second was exciting. And for the first time in my life, I have no specific running season to train for...and it's really weirding me out. So who knows...I might be taking the dive into the triathlon lifestyle sooner rather than later. As I told the BF..."In 10 years, when I decide I want to train for an Ironman...you are going to have no one to blame but yourself!" :P

And in case you haven't noticed, I wrote this 3 days later, and I'm still on a post-race high. Really...what have I gotten myself into? I'm thinking something great. :)

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

so exciting! your report got me super excited too. i can definitely tell you are still on a 'high' :) love it. congrats again!!! next stop, ironman championships ;)