Psst. PSSSST! Come closer. A little closer. Good.
I'm going to let you in on a little secret- a real secret, like only my parents, Jordan, and Jordan's parents knew. Today, I competed in my first triathlon. I wish I was proudly boasting about completing an Ironman or even a Half Ironman, but I'm not. No, this was a little, neighborhood sprint tri in Mount Airy, MD. For years I have talked about wanting to compete in a triathlon. But, with marathon training, or school, or work, or whatever, the timing has never been just right. Well, I'm pretty sure the timing will never be just right. So in living more deliberately, I decided I was going to take on this longtime goal.
Earlier this year, one of my clients sent me an extensive list of area races and training plans. It all seemed very daunting. With little-to-no swimming experience and a limited budget, a full or half Ironman was out of the question. Choosing something shorter seemed almost undignified. I mentally talked myself out of pursuing the three sport beast. That is, until I spectated IM 70.3 Syracuse. Going to Jamesville Beach Reservoir to cheer on Mac reinvigorated my desire and sense of reason for competing in a triathlon and working up to the goal of competing in a full Ironman. I left that race adamant about registering in a triathlon before the end of the year. Surprisingly, Jordan was also bit by the bug.
Prior to going to Washington, I found the Health Unlimited 15th Annual Triathlon. The distances for the race are short and unintimidating enough. The price was right. And even better, the race would be held close to Jordan's parent's house. We both registered before leaving for Washington and told no one- except our parents.
To train, I continued my usual running routine and began including long bike rides on weekend adventures. The rides included an awesome Lake-to-Lake destination ride (Saratoga Lake to Lake George), a loop around Gettysburg, and an out-and-back on the B&A Trail. It was also high time to learn how to swim. Jordan found the swimming version of Couch to 5k (called 0 to 1650). We both began diligently swimming three days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday). The first day we got in the pool I'm darn near sure if it hadn't been a 4-foot deep lap pool, I would have drown. I could hardly swim a down-and-back lap in the dinky 20 yard pool. It seemed unfathomable that in less than two months time I would be capable of swimming more than forty down-and-back laps. Yet, with persistence and consistency, the laps got easier. The most daunting part of the upcoming sprint tri, the 400 yard swim, was superseded time and time again by more laps in the pool.
With sufficient training under stroke, pedal, and foot, I was ready for my first triathlon.
Race morning, Jordan and I woke up around 4:30 AM to eat breakfast, drink coffee, and take care of...race morning "business". By 5:30 AM, we were in the car and en route to Mt. Airy. As we drove east on I-70, I was struck by the darkness of the morning. Fall is in the air.
Arriving at the host venue, Health Unlimited, in the breaking dawn, we were a little unsure of what to do first- pick up race packets or rack bikes. We opted to walk our bikes to the racks on the way to registration. Because the tri was a small, neighborhood race, the racks were a free-for-all with no designated spaces. Assuming it would be easiest to identify a bike at the end of a rack, Jordan and I setup on the end of the third rack from Bike Out. We registered, checked out the bike and run routes on blown-up maps, pinned bibs to run shirts, and went to the bathroom about six times each. Gotta love those race morning nerves.
The race was supposed to start after the 7:00 AM, fifteen minute pre-race meeting. At 7:25, the first 12 swimmers started their 400 yard swim. As a lane cleared, two more swimmers were ushered to the empty lane and started the race. Competitors began the race by their bib number. With race number 101, I wasn't called to the pool until 8:30 and didn't start swimming until after 8:35. Fortunately, starting so late allowed me to see the first woman cyclist ride into T2 through the pool deck windows. It also allowed me to watch Jordan's swim from start to finish. As he got in the water, I commented to one of the spectators next to me that Jordan was really cruising. The spectator, a husband of one of the other athletes, was slack jawed as I mentioned that 8-weeks prior Jordan's swimming looked something like this:
The husband then asked if I could swim as well. As if it was obvious, I said, "Well, we've been training together." The husband, having already queried if it was my first triathlon, then asked if I had a race goal. I smirked, paused, and told him that the average age of the Top 3 Female Finishers from last year was awfully high and could use some lowering.
I felt great coming out of the swim and running to T1. Laying awake last night, I visualized T1 and T2. I don't know much about triathloning, but especially in a sprint, when every second counts, it seems like a race could live and die in transition. That graveyard of bikes wasn't going to be where my race was lost. I wanted to be in and out of transition in < 1:00 minute. With 90% of competitors already on the course, there was no mistaking the location of my bike. I ripped my shirt on over my head, pulled on socks and bike shoes, put on my helmet, tried to put on my sunglasses, took off my helmet, put on my sunglasses, put on my helmet, put on my bladder, and was off. This is when I realized I had misfired the Triathlon app on my Fenix 3. It took me almost two minutes in transition and rather than "lapping" my watch into transition and a different sport, I had merely paused/restarted the swim. Ahh, well. I'll tri harder next time, Strava.
Heading out for the +11-mile ride, I was surprised (and truth be told a little worried) at the immediate heaviness in my legs. I climbed the first hill of the route hoping it would shake. Looking ahead, there were no other athletes in eyesight. By nature of the swim start, I was left to pace and race myself. Conservatively assuming a 15 MPH pace (4 minutes per mile), I mentally broke the ride into 11-minute quarters. In the first quarter, I spotted a rider ahead and gave myself 45 seconds to pass her. Pedaling along the rolling hills of Mount Airy was peaceful, but I was determined to push myself. My ride mantra was: Don't be complacent.
After training rides that were four and five times times longer than the race, I found myself making the final turn into Health Unlimited sooner than expected. I tried to dismount my bike while still in motion like I've seen Ironman competitors do. Let's just say, I'm not an Ironman competitor, yet. To my surprise, Jordan was standing at the entrance to T2. He had already finished his race and slurped down a Powerade.
While I swapped from bike shoes to sneakers in T2, Jordan told me the run was a cake walk. I was back on the course in less than a minute. The 5k was a series of out-and-backs to cul-de-sacs in a neighboring townhome community. Looping through the neighborhood, it was easy to see runners ahead of me and I made it a goal to catch as many as possible. I clocked through the first mile in 7-flat and despite stopping for 8 seconds in the second mile to tie my sneaker, I passed the second mile marker in 14 minutes. My other sneaker came untied during the third mile, but I decided to let it ride. Note to self: Use squeez'ems in the future. Within a quarter mile of the finish line, a woman racing for Team RWB came around the corner running with the stars and stripes. I could not think of a more fitting day to be honoring the American flag and our country with some hard earned sweat and miles.
Pushing through the finish arch reminded me why I like to race. A smile was plastered on my face. Approaching the morning without expectations had served me well. My body felt [hungry but] phenomenal. For the first time I can remember, a race announcer pronounced my last name correctly. Jordan greeted me at the finish.
Feeling good and unsure of what else to do, Jordan and I walked into the now empty transition area to pack-up. He began telling me about his race experience. From transition, we heard the announcer roar that there had been a change in the women's standings. I was the only woman to have recently finished. My face dropped and my chest welled with excitement.
During the very informal award ceremony following the race, Jordan earned the Clydesdale Award for being the top male finisher over 210-lbs. He finished 11th overall and had an outstanding swim. I was ecstatic as the race director announced me as the First Place Overall Female Finisher. It was awesome to share such an unexpected victory with Jordan, but we have many miles ahead and lots of work to do. This mini-sprint tri was far from a 70.3, but I'm excited to add this fuel to the fire and I'm looking forward to the challenges. Race results here.