I did my first triathlon this Sunday. The Sprint Triathon at Pacific Grove. To summarize: I didn’t train or prepare well, the water was very very cold, my transition times totally suck, I totally killed the bike section, my transition times really suck, and I run like a total wuss after biking and swimming. Oh, and I placed 17th!!!!!!
Triathlons are swim-bike-run, with a transition between each section where you change from wetsuit to bike shorts to running shoes. A ‘sprint’ triathlon is a short wimpy version of the real thing, designed for seniors and little girls and me. The Sprint Triathlon at Pacific Grove is a 1/4 mile swim, 12.4 mile bike, and 2 mile run. Easy, right? It sounds pretty easy. That’s why I signed up and didn’t train. Off the couch, baby!
Sara and I went to the Centellax summer BBQ on Saturday. I had some beers and a few pounds of meat. To pretend like I was preparing, I also drank a lot of water. My stomach swelled up like twins were in my future. Awesome.
We drove down to Pacific Grove (which is right next to Monterey) on Saturday, picked up Sara’s sister Amelia, and checked out the course. We couldn’t find the right swim area, because the cove where we thought the swim was supposed to happen was full of rocks and kelp. We drove the bike course, which appeared almost totally flat, and I didn’t bother looking at the run. Dinner time! I ate a huge plate of pesto pasta and chicken. I’m not sure why I was eating so much food before such a short race, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Oh, I also had some beer and wine with dinner. Plus I drank lots of water!
I didn’t sleep much. I kept getting up to pee. Plus the hotel was right on the water and a storm had blown through, building these gigantic breakers that were crashing into the rocks. I found out later the storm pushed all this super-cold water into Monterey. The hardcore triathlon racers got 60-degree water the day before, and after the storm blew through the wusses in the sprint triathlon got 52-degree water. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
So awake at 5AM, lie around trying not to get too excited, up at 6AM, put all my gear in the transition area, wake Sara and Amelia up, get numbers on my bike and gear, wriggle into the wetsuit, wriggle out and turn it around the right way (oops), and run down to the start a few minutes before the gun. It turns out the swimming area was in the cove with the rocks and kelp. Awesome.
Pat, a UC Davis MBA friend, was in the first wave. He was the only guy without a wetsuit. He ran out into the water and I swear I could see his balls shoot up into his chest cavity. I thought he was a goner. I worried a little about how cold the water was. People were saying ‘coldest ever’ and stuff like that. I didn’t get in before the start, who wants to stand around and be cold? No way.
I was in the second start. I lined up and ran into the water with the 50 other people in my class. The water wasn’t water. It was ice water. I can’t describe how cold it was, so I’ll just say freezing fucking cold. I couldn’t put my face in the water, so I couldn’t breathe every two or three strokes, and with my head sticking out my feet weren’t on the surface and I spent a lot of energy keeping myself up (instead of going forward). My feet quickly lost all feeling and became blocks of lead, capable only of bludgeoning other racers behind me. My hands were okay, but every time my face got wet I was literally shocked.
I tried to slow my breathing and focus on controlled strokes. It wasn’t happening, so I tried hyperventilating and flailing. That worked. With my head out of the water I could clearly see the two marks, which we had to swim around, but everyone else was swimming in zig-zags, so I swam over a few of the worse offenders. That’s okay, I don’t feel bad, they usually kicked me in the process. The kelp wasn’t bad, if you’re okay with suddenly having an arm or a leg wrapped in a cold leafy death hug. The swim was a painful experience and I was happy when it was finally over. I swam the 1/4 mile (440 yards) in 9:39, which ranked me 160th out of 513.
Before the race, I was worried about running from the water to the transition area barefoot because some of the asphalt was uneven and covered in pebbles and gravel. It didn’t matter, I couldn’t feel my feet. I couldn’t find my wetsuit zipper, and when I did finally grab onto it I couldn’t get it off quickly. Once in my transition area I pulled the towel out from under the carefully-arranged collection of shoes and clothes, scattering them, and wrestled more with the wetsuit. I think I forgot to put my bike shorts on until after my shoes were on. I don’t know what I was doing but I spent 4:16 in that transition. That sucked. The fast guys were in and out in less than two minutes.
The bike was awesome. I’ve been riding to work for six weeks and I’m feeling pretty good on two wheels. The course was pretty flat with some gentle rollers, driving it the day before was useless. I passed lots of people and was only passed by three or four. I went back and forth with one guy in a white leotard (#2259, who finished 21st overall and 4th in his age group) and finally put a pass on him on the last lap that stuck. I hit and maintained 33mph in one section of the course, which felt pretty cool. I think I have to get tri bars on the bike if I want to do better, and maybe train a bit more. I did the bike in 36:45, which ranks me 44th out of 513.
Back into the transition to change from bike to running shoes. This should have been a much faster transition, but again I spent way too long doing who knows what. I ran to the wrong row and racked my bike in the wrong spot. Oops. I started the run but turned around to get my timing chip (probably a minute lost there). Oops. It was stupid, I should have just run without it. Oh well, 2:56 in T2. The fast guys were in and out in less than a minute!
The run was strange. I was a little out of breath from working so hard on the bike, but had spent enough time dicking around in T2 that I wasn’t totally wasted. My legs felt fine but my stride was very short. I felt like I was running with my shoelaces tied together, I couldn’t stretch my legs out at all. On the second mile I started to loosen up, but everything felt super slow and the times showed it. I ran two miles in 14:46. That’s a rank of 141 in 513.
My final time was 1:08:22, which got me 17th in my age group and 109th overall. If I had spent just three minutes less in the transitions, which I think is a reasonable goal, I would have placed 12th in my age group and 67th overall. I also should have spent more time planning energy intake (I only drank during the bike), practicing the swim, running faster, and basically making fewer mistakes. I think that summarizes it: I need to get faster in every section.
I’m hooked. I think I’m going to start training for an Olympic length tri next. The Avia Wildflower is in April…