June 28, 2008
Giving it a Tri
I officially became a triathlete today when I crossed the finish line at the Staten Island Flat as a Pancake Sprint Triathlon. My finishing time was 1:21:56, which is actually not so bad. To say I was nervous is a huge understatement. I was fine until around 6:00 last night, when the nerves really kicked in. I laid out my transition stuff so I wouldn't forget anything (as you can see in the photo, Otis was helping me) and then spent the next several hours obsessing over the race and whether or not I would be able to finish. I slept very little and woke up at least every hour to look at the clock. I was relieved when 4 a.m. finally arrived.
I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. I picked up my race packet and realized Mistake Number 1 of the day - I forgot my USAT card. I thought about this on the way to the race, but there was nothing I could do at that point. The girl that checked me in started to ask one of the other check-in people what to do when I think she saw the look of horror on my face, felt sorry for me and just let me go. I stopped for body marking, done with a green sharpie by the sloppiest guy in the bunch. Oh well. I headed off to transition and was glad I got there early. I took a great end spot that would be easy to find and give me a lot of space. I took my time setting up and chatted with some other athletes and race volunteers. Everyone was so eager to give advice to a first-timer. That's one of the best things about this sport.
Then I had Mistake Number 2. The purell in the porta john seemed like such a good idea. After all, it was like a biohazard zone inside there. Flash forward 10 minutes and I realized I had green sharpie marks everywhere. Smeared all over the palm of my hand, on my arms, legs, you name it. I had to ask someone if it was all over my face. Luckily, it was not. The only thing that removes sharpie is alcohol. Purell is made of alcohol. Live and learn.
I went down to the water to have a look at the course and check the temperature. The water was really smooth, which made me happy. It was cold at first, but I got used to it immediately, which also made me happy. Then the big purple jellyfish swam by. That did not make me happy. I'd been warned about the jellyfish but I didn't think they would be the size of melons.
It was getting really hot already and I needed to get my wetsuit on. Squeezing a rubber suit on a sweaty body is no easy task. After a quick pre-race meeting, we went down to the water start. I spent about 10 minutes doing an easy warm-up and getting used to the water. It was also really crowded so it was a chance to get used to being with a big group. My warm-up went great, I actually couldn't believe how well I was swimming. I started to feel optimistic. Then when my wave started, it all went away. I started way at the back and to the right, but I was still struggling for space. At times I was right between two other swimmers so there was no way to get in a real stroke. I didn't get kicked in the face or anything like that, but there was a tremendous amount of contact. I ended up backstroking to get out of the crowd and try to catch my breath. I flipped over and swam freestyle for a bit, then felt the need to turn back over. The went on through the entire swim. I'm not surprised it happened. I'm still a very weak swimmer and I've never done a group swim. But I felt good and was relaxed as I could be given the circumstances. Except for the jellyfish. I felt some stinging on the back of my arm and neck at one point. I guess that's what you get for backstroking in jellyfish infested waters. And then finally, I was about 50 meters from the final buoy and a quick swim back to the beach so I knew I would make it. I was elated.
I felt a bit winded exiting the water and we had to run up the beach in the sand to transition, which made me even more winded. When I got to transition, I knew I was moving kind of slow, but was still overwhelmed by the swim and simply could not move any faster. And then Mistake Number 3 happened. I'm pale. Very pale. And I can't be in the sun without SPF. I had the clear spray you can put on in seconds in order to save time. I was most concerned about my back being exposed on the bike, so I quickly sprayed my back and neck. The minute the spray hit my neck I remembered the jellyfish. Let me tell you, sunscreen and jellyfish stings do not mix. I felt like someone took a blowtorch to my neck. I had to pour water on it to put out the fire. Within minutes, I was on my bike for the 12-mile ride. The course was totally flat so it was a nice, easy ride. It took about seven miles for my breathing to settle from the swim and then I felt great. After three quick loops I was back in transition for the run.
This transition was a lot faster and I was anxious to start the run. I definitely had the lead legs feeling, but not as bad as I'd expected. When you transition from the bike to running, your heart rate increases and makes it harder to tell your pace. I felt slow and heavy so I assumed I was running a bit slower than usual, which was fine by me. But when I got to the turnaround at 1.5 miles, I looked at my time and realized I was doing an 8-minute mile. I was sure I must have calculated it wrong.
The finish was on a wooden boardwalk in the blazing sun. The entire run was super hot, but the second half even more so. I looked over to my right and there was the swim start. It already felt like that was so long ago and I had a moment of reflection on how proud I was that I was able to do it and that I was finishing strong. Another racer challenged me to a sprint at the end and I couldn't say no so we finished as fast as we possibly could. At that moment, I went from training for a triathlon to being a triathlete. My first race was over. When the unofficial results were posted, I confirmed that I actually ran less than an 8-minute mile and set a personal record for the 5K. What a great way to finish.
There is nothing I would change about my first race. Sure, I could be a better swimmer, but I could also be faster on the bike. I didn't have a meltdown and I didn't end up a DNF. I only started training six weeks ago and never imagined how challenging, exciting and rewarding the journey would be. I have just 21 days until my big race, the NYC Triathlon. The swim is almost four times as long and the bike and run are twice as long. But I've heard that a bag of Cheetos floated the swim course in just 20 minutes, so that makes me doubt myself a bit less. And for now, I'm thrilled to have experienced my first tri and I can't wait to get back to training to make the next race even better.
Race - Staten Island Flat as a Pancake Sprint Triathlon
Swim (.25 miles) - 13:26
T1 - 3:10
Bike (12 miles) - 39:17
T2 - 1:31
Run (3.1 miles) - 24:34