I didn’t drown, crash or trip, meaning, I’m now officially a triathlete!
The short version: I finished fifth in the first timer’s wave with an overall time of 58:04, beating my unspoken goal of a sub 1 hour finish. It was one of the most fun races I’ve ever done and I’m already trying to fit a few more into my summer racing schedule.
Biggest lesson learned over and over (and over): control the controllable because one thing (or a hundred things) is going to be out of your control and you have to be prepared.
Now for the extremely long, verbose and illustrated version:
Night before the race
The girls and Josh surprised me with an early Mother’s day present of a triathlon gift basket!
I got a race number belt, chip strap, some more body glide, nail polish, new socks, and foot lotion. Such a sweet thing to do!
I didn’t really want to sit through another pasta dinner and I figured I could be a bit more adventurous in my eating since this wasn’t really much of a running race. We had pizza instead and it was delicious (and I suffered no ill effects the next day.) When the girls were in bed, Josh helped me get everything set out.
Triathlons require a lot of stuff!
Josh did some last minute tune ups on the bike and put together his last minute mechanical bag.
It’s nice having an in home mechanic
He rechecked all my things and then I started packing up.
Packing for a tri is an art form I think.
I had my now usual pre race beer and thanks to the super early wake up call for the cancelled Pear Run and then being on my feet doing packet pickup, I was pretty much exhausted and ready for bed.
But first, I looked into the mirror and discovered I had pink eye. Oh yes, no joke. Pink freakin eye. Josh had dealt with it all last week but the girls and I never got it, so I thought we were in the clear. Clearly, not. I was pretty freaked out because I wear contacts and was really concerned about not being able to wear them for the swim. It was too late in the night to try calling a doctor and I wasn’t about to pay for an ER co pay just to find out I had pink eye. So (and please don’t tell me if this was the worst thing in the world I could do) I just rubbed Neosporin all over my eye and a little bit into it and prayed for the best.
Uncontrollable – developing pink eye
Controllable – having a back up plan. I figured I could suck it up enough to wear the contact for the 200 yard swim and I put my glasses into my transition bag. If they were bothering me that much after swimming, I was going to take a few extra seconds and pull them out and finish the bike and run in my glasses.
Josh is a big believer that you can never be too early for a race and I’m not such an early bird as he is since I’m usually chasing the kids around, but in this case, I deferred to his experience and set my alarm clock for 4:15 a.m. That hurts just to type it. But thanks to the beer and just being flat out tired, I had a good night’s sleep and woke up with my eye totally sealed shut by ick. Awesome. So I jumped in the shower first thing while my coffee was brewing and a hot shower made me feel a lot better. When I got out, I did about a 10 minute yoga session of sun salutations and then just spent some time piddling around drinking my coffee. I had planned on having my usual Honey Stinger waffle for breakfast but I just wasn’t hungry so kept putting off eating it.
All packed up and ready to go. Nanuq’s neck is not broken, that’s just him saying how exhausted he is and won’t we please leave so he can go back to sleep.
I didn’t let myself open my transition bag at all. I knew it was packed and that I had everything in it and if I started fooling with it now, I’d never stop. I got dressed from the bottom up: flip flops that I wouldn’t mind trashing, chip strap with chip on it (since you can’t race without a chip, it’s one of the most important things to have), tri shorts, sports bra, tri top, stopwatch and my contacts, which hallelujah, went in with no problem. I opted not to wear my heart rate monitor because it just wasn’t worth fooling with for such a short race. When I did my brick a few weeks ago, I wasn’t pleased with how Boone handled the brick, so I was just going to use a regular stopwatch for the swim, Boone for the bike and stopwatch for the run.
We left on time and had an easy drive up. Until we came up on a train that was just stopped on the tracks. We waited for a bit until it was clear that the train was going nowhere. So with a prayer that google maps was right, we started going down an alternate route. Let me just say that the alternate route took us in the opposite direction of the park and it took all my willpower not to start screaming at Josh. I resisted the urge to yell but I do admit to perhaps sobbing uncontrollably. Josh tried as much as possible be calm and reassuring but it didn’t work well because I knew he was just as nervous as I was. Thank heavens maps were right and we got to the park with no problem and parking was super easy. Josh jumped out of the car and got my bike for me and I grabbed my bag and ran to transition. I could have ridden my bike but I knew I was nervous and didn’t want to risk crashing before the race even started.
I had been furiously texting Erica and Cassie on the way there and they were going to meet me at transition to help me get set up since there wouldn’t be time for Josh to supervise me.
I rushed through body marking (I’m fairly sure I cut in line, whoops) and found my rack easily. I was 401 so I was right on the end. Which given how late I was, was wonderful because I didn’t have to move many bikes except for 402′s. Sorry honey, you were taking up valuable real estate. I racked my bike by the seat and started unpacking.
Cindy hanging out by her seat
My towel was on top so I laid it out, then put down my running things at the back and biking things towards the front. By then, Josh was there at the fencing, so I ran over to ask him if that was right. My brain was in a bit of panic mode and I couldn’t remember what should go first.
That’s me to the left of the girl in the green.
It was surprisingly chilly, unexpectedly windy and I was shivering. None of that helped me feel calm and in control.
Taking my backpack over to make sure it was empty. I was scared I left something vitally important (yet invisible) in it and wouldn’t be able to find it when I needed it the most.
One of the last ones out there actually setting up.
I did have an almost brain fart and just set my body glide by my running shoes and my baby powder by my biking shoes. I stared at it for a minute and was like, something’s not right here. DUH! Go on and apply both of those things to my shoes!
This is a pretty horrific picture of me but pretty accurately describes how I was feeling.
The girls found me and Cassie said I was way more organized than she was, haha. Then, the announcement came that transition had actually closed five minutes ago, so out we went.
Time for what is now the ritual pre race picture!
We headed over to the swim start and made one last potty stop.
And for some technical details if you like them about how my transition was set up.
Cindy was racked by her seat. I had my helmet set down in the cradle made by my brake wires between the handlebars with my sunglasses opened and inside my helmet. I put my glasses on and my helmet on, then took them off and left them in exactly that position. I couldn’t put my helmet on without putting my sunglasses on first, which is what you want to do because you don’t want to have to take your glasses off to get your helmet off. I had my Garmin on my bike, in training mode already so that all I would have to do was hit start when I started riding.
Down on the ground, I had my running shoes at the back of my towel. I opted to run sockless. I smeared body glide all over the inside of my shoes and especially on the tongue. I used Yankx so I didn’t have to tie shoelaces. When I did my brick, I went sockless and got a blister, so I had my body glide uncapped and sitting right beside my shoes. The plan was to apply body glide to the blister spot and then put my shoes on. I figured it would take less time to put body glide on one spot on one foot rather than put two socks on my feet. I sat my shoes on top of my visor and race number belt, again, what I would put on first was sitting on top. Shoes, visor, belt, done.
At the front of the towel was my bike shoes, unvelcroed and open. I sprinkled lots of baby powder over them and left it open besides my shoes just in case. I also left room to stand on the edge of the towel and dry my feet.
Uncontrollable – traffic, or in this case, trains
Controllable – having a back up plan and leaving way earlier than you ever imagined necessary. If you aren’t comfortable getting set up in 15 minutes, then leave earlier! And you can’t overplan enough when it comes to packing. The more thought you put into the packing, the smoother the unpacking will go. And if having a warm up is important to you, leave astronomically early. Josh and I both had talked about how important it was for me to get in a good swim warm up and that didn’t happen at all.
Oh man. There’s not much to say here except it was rough. The water was choppy and it was windy. The course was marked with noodles but they were hard to see because the waves were blowing them all around. We watched the first two waves start off and it seemed that everyone got off okay but around the first buoy, everyone seemed to stop. Almost no one was swimming with their head in the water. I started to get pretty scared then. I’ve done two open water swims and the second one was with a bit of wind and it took me by surprise. This was way more wind and chop than I ever thought about. Then Cassie and Erica were off and the pink caps for the beginners wave were lining up.
Probably the most nervous group in all of Houston that morning
So my group went last. The under 19′s and over 50′s were in front of us and it was a bit like the blind leading the blind. When it was our turn to approach the water, everyone was just sort of standing there. I started encouraging those around me, come on, let’s get into the water and get adjusted a bit. People were concerned about going over the (non existent) timing mat early and I told them that we went by gun time for the start, no timing mat. I was really hoping for a good swim as based on last years times, I would have placed fairly high, so I made sure to get in the front of the wave. I would also much rather be passed by some than have to pass a lot in the water.
Then the gun went off and out we went. I swam freestyle for about 20 yards before it got scary. I came up for a breath and started hearing cries of help all around me. No joke. I just kept swimming. I knew that I wasn’t of any help to anyone and didn’t want to risk someone taking me under in their panic. The wind and waves were moving from left to right and we were swimming from right to left so I immediately began breathing every stroke on my right so I wasn’t getting hit with a wave in the face. I made it about halfway to the turn and started breast stroking. I was still hearing cries for lifeguards and help all around me and it took every ounce of mental strength I had not to panic and turn around for shore.
I’ll spare you the agonizing details but my swim time was 9:15. A far cry from the 5:00 I was hoping for. And I’ll just say this, there were some decent swim times posted across all the age groups. So it was never such bad conditions as to be unsafe but rather, showed how unprepared for the conditions most of the swimmers were.
Uncontrollable – weather conditions and the abilities/mentalities/personalities of those around you
Controllable – your training and your mental strength. When it comes to the swim, I think it’s as much mental as it is physical. It’s not enough to just get in a few open water swims, you need to get in swims in all conditions.
Swim time – 9:15.8, 24th out of 98. Certainly not the top 10 I was hoping for.
I pulled my cap and goggles off as soon as I could. I had intended on running out of the water but that so did not happen. I was breathing pretty hard and just kind of woggled my way up the ramp and on to the grass. Josh said he was so relieved that I didn’t look like I had died out there. I might have felt like it, but at least I looked alright.
We ran across some grass before going over to the parking lot. I was careful to skip the big muddy spot but of course, my feet were still dirty. And transition was, as always, a little crazy. It wasn’t helped by the fact that there was also a dualathalon going on at the same time, so I had to watch out for runners doing the du as well as others leaving for the bike leg.
I got to my spot, which was easy to find as most of the other bikes were gone then (but not on my rack, my rack was still pretty full I was happy to see.) I wiped my feet off, put on my shoes, fastened them, put on my sunglasses, helmet, fastened it with one last check to make sure it was on the right way, grabbed my bike and kind of ran/hobbled/it’s hard to run in cycling shoes my way out of transition. There was a volunteer that was great because the mount/dismount line wasn’t well marked and so she was making a big point of showing it to us and being clear in her instructions.
Uncontrollable – the terrain you’re running over, other participants
Controllable – unless you’re an elite and you know it’s going to be empty as you go through transition, in my one time experience (which makes me an expert of course) it’s worth it to take a few seconds and orient yourself to whats going on around you so that you feel more comfortable and in control of what you are doing.
T1 Time – I’m not sure. My bike time and T1 time got combined. But doing some backwards math, it was under 2 minutes, or right around that.
I came to a complete stop at the mount line (no flying mount here!) and threw my leg across the top tube and tried to clip my right foot in. It slipped out and I did a pretty big wobble. I don’t know if this guy was a volunteer or just a good spectator, but I remember someone saying to me, “It’s okay, take your time, you’ve got this, you can clip in when you’re on the bike.” I just stood there, closed my eyes, took two big yoga breaths, felt my heartrate slow and just pushed off and started riding. I heard Josh and the girls cheering for me and got clipped in safely. Within a quarter of a mile, I cannot tell you how good being on the bike suddenly felt. Truly, it felt like my butt was home. Maybe I had been most scared about getting started and once I got through that I felt better? I’m not sure, all I know is that I had the greatest ride of my life and the funnest ride as well.
One small glitch did happen though. I realized that I had forgotten to start my watch for the swim, haha, not that it mattered and that I’d forgotten to hit start on my Garmin. So I lost a bit of distance before I remembered but it was no big deal. However, that’s also when I realized that I’d left my watch set up for when I ride Picnic Loop. There, I have it set on a geographical lap, not on the one mile auto lap. So I never got my mile splits. Oops. And since I dropped Boone back in Mississippi, I can only see a portion of my screen and so the only data I had to go by was my cadence, I couldn’t even see how far I had ridden.
It took me a few minutes to realize that and so I had a new game plan at that point. I knew I could somewhat comfortably ride 10-12 miles with a cadence of upper 80s, but I didn’t know if I could run after that. So I opted to err on the side of caution and keep my cadence around 80 in hopes of having some running legs left.
As I said before, the ride was so much fun. I felt so comfortable on my bike, it was kind of surreal. Immediately, I started passing people. On your left, on your left, on your left. I’d been practicing not slowing down for corners but for the race, I decided to play it safe and not pass anyone in the corner, which meant more slowing down than I wanted to do. The course certainly wasn’t Tour de France pelaton crowded, but it felt like I couldn’t go more than 30 seconds without passing someone. I rode most of the course on the left side. It took me about two miles in before I realized, oh wow, I haven’t been passed yet. That’s also when I came up with my goal of not being passed.
I was super scared of the bike before the race, especially turns. So Josh and I spent about an hour two days before the race, overlapping the bike course with the half marathon I did out there in December, trying to memorize the mile points, uphills, downhills and turns. Given the failure of Boone (or rather, the operator failure of Boone) I was so glad I had this mental map to draw on. I remembered the super fun downhill section and may have even (under my breath, of course) said “wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” That’s also where I reached my top speed of 23.9 mph, go me!
After the fun downhill, it was flat and we turned left to begin the loop back and I knew it was uphill then. I just kept switching gears a bit, just to keep that cadence I wanted and when my legs would get yelly at me, I just told them to shut up and drew back on my memories of the running I’d done there and how much more it hurt to run up than it did to bike up.
Before I knew it, we were back at the approach to the park and I was almost done. I started slowing down, shifted into my granny gear and got my cadence in the 90s to get ready for running.
I unclipped my left foot and then I made a mistake. I usually unclip left, stand up on right, brake and use my left foot to come to a complete stop, unclip right, dismount. But I didn’t want to come to a complete stop because I didn’t know who all was behind me and I didn’t want them to crash into me because they weren’t expecting me to slow. So I unclipped my right foot early. Unfortunately, I still stood up on my right foot and my shoe slipped on my cleat and I sort of fell onto the top tube. Both feet were on the ground at that point, so I don’t think I was in danger of crashing, but two volunteers caught me just in case. At the time, I was like, Um, guys, I’m okay, I promise. Josh said though that just a few minutes before, they’d had a lot of people falling over while trying to dismount, so I guess they were a bit jumpy. And before I knew it, the bike leg was over.
Uncontrollable – terrain, weather, equipment failure
Controllable – training, practice, and memorizing course maps. If most of y’all saw the course elevation, you’d have a good laugh at me for talking about the “hills,” but when you’re used to pancake flat, a speed bump looks steep. It’s also good to do open road riding because roads have weird stuff all over them, uneven patches, cracks, bumps, holes, all sorts of things. I like riding on my safe little Picnic Loop and my trainer, but I’d be well served by just learning how to deal with having to react more while on the bike. And as always, it doesn’t matter what your Garmin does or doesn’t say, races are judged on what the race distance is. In the end, I was super glad all I had to go on was cadence and how I felt because otherwise, I can assure you I would have held back, scared by how fast I was going. (Fast here is all relative, of course.) So know how to race/ride/run by feel alone, or by cadence, or by pace or just by distance. You never know what little electronic you rely on so much is going to fail you come race day.
Bike time – well Boone tells me I went 7.3 miles in 26:15. Cassies’ Garmin told her the course was 7.6 miles. If you subtract out what I know I rode minus my combined T1+bike time, there’s a difference of 2:45. So I think it’s reasonable to say my bike time was around 27:00 minutes. A flat 27 would have put me in 5th place out of 98 (remember, I’m in the first timers wave. If I’d been in my age group, I’d be a lot lower.) Going back to my Garmin, I averaged 16.7 mph, my fastest ride ever. And oh yeah, I never did get passed :)
After the wobbly dismount, I ran my bike back to the rack. I wasn’t running to get an awesome T2 time or anything like that, but rather, just to get my legs used to running instead of riding. I had a brain freeze when I got back to my rack though. See, I racked my bike facing the bike in/bike out entrance (it’s where my number was) and that worked great for running out, but it meant I had to turn the bike back around to re rack it. In retrospect, when my brain wasn’t mush, I realized I could have racked it by the handlebars, but I wasn’t thinking that clearly. So it took me a minute to turn Cindy around and rerack her by her seat. Then the helmet came off, tossed under the bike, shoes were off, tossed near the helmet and I was standing back on my towel. My feet were still surprisingly damp, so I took the time to body glide my right foot. I also noticed my chip strap was a lot wetter than I had thought it would be. So body glide on the foot, feet in the shoes, and a quick tag up on the tongues. Then I grabbed my visor and number belt. I could have, and planned on, putting those things on while I was running, but I decided to take a few extra seconds and put them on at my rack spot, just to make sure I got them on right. It was my first time running with the number belt and I didn’t want to be running around fooling with it. Oh, and I was so busy having fun on the bike that I forgot to drink any water, so I grabbed my bottle off my bike for a quick drink, then left transition. I knew there was water at the turn around spot and thought there would be water as we left, but didn’t want to risk it not being there. Again, worth the few extra seconds for that.
Uncontrollable – nerves really
Controllable – practice (see a theme here?). It would serve me well to practice quickly unclipping and dismounting and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to take of my cycling shoes and put on running shoes after a few rides, even if I’m not doing a full brick workout.
T2 time – apparently, I just had myself a party there as it took me 1:23 and placed me 24th. I can say, now that I’ve done it once, things like putting on my visor and belt I’ll be a lot more comfortable doing on the run next time.
Ahh the run, sort of the main event for me. I did remember this time to hit start on my stop watch, so already it was going better than the swim. I grabbed a quick drink of water (thank heavens for the volunteer who had already pinched the cup for me!) and was off and running. There’s not a lot to stay about this leg (surprising, I know) because I just ran. And it was fun. Mostly, I remember being in such awe of how awesome the weather felt. It was cloudy and windy and almost even cool. It was about perfect. I also knew I was 2 miles away from being done and was so excited about that. I saw Cassie and Erica and was happy to see they had survived the swim as well. The run course followed the bike course for a bit and then turned off. I realized I was still passing people and not being passed and enjoyed that feeling for sure. Almost before I knew it, we were at the turn around point and I looked at my watch, 9:32. Shut the front door. I grabbed a quick drink of water and turned around, headed for home. I told myself, okay, I’ve got ten minutes to make it back to the finish line. We merged back with the bike course and at that point, it was my fourth time in that day to do that stretch of pavement, so it felt very comfortable and I had a better idea of how much further there was to go. So I started picking up speed a bit. I glanced down at my watch at one point and was like, woah, I think I’m going to negative split this bad boy. I got to the finish area and heard Josh and the girls yelling for me and at that point, I just opened it up. Down in the chute I could see two women in front of me and I was like, I’m catching them. So I just sprinted with as much as I had left, which was apparently quite a lot. If you’ve ever spectated a race, you know people that race the finish get a lot more cheers from the crowd than those that look close to death. It was pretty awesome to hear everyone start clapping and woohooing for me. The girl in front of me even got warned I was coming and I still beat her. It was sheer joy that got me across that finish line.
I don’t think I’ve ever ended a race so filled with joy.
And then I promptly threw up a gallon of lake water.
First, this awesome most favorite picture of me ever that my friend Cassie took:
MY FEET AREN”T EVEN TOUCHING THE GROUND!
Run time – 18:25 (I did negative split! And mile 2 was my fastest race mile, ever.) 10th place.
Final time: 58:04, 5th place in the first timers wave out of 98. Had I competed in my age group, I would have finished somewhere around 18th out of 60, still not bad.
Given everything that did go wrong, I couldn’t be more happy with the race and how it went. I’m already trying to squeeze some in before my next planned on in August and going back, evaluating where I could have shaved off a few more seconds (I lost 4th place by a mere 15 seconds, I know I could make that up on the bike!)
I’m just so pleased I did this and that I did it well and that I had fun. I’ve watched Josh do these now for gosh, what, six years I think? Maybe longer than that, and I’ve always regarded triathletes as some form of uber athlete. Not just swimming or biking or running, but doing all three? At once? Uber athlete for sure.
And now, I’m one
Of course, there’s no better way to have spent Mother’s Day than with my perfect cheerleaders, the reasons I do all this anyway:
So happy Mother’s Day to me, uber athlete, uber mom, at least for a day :)