I finished my first triathlon! I didn’t drown in the Bay. I didn’t freak out in the middle of the swim and have to be rescued. I swam 400yds, biked 12 miles, and ran 2.5 miles, all successfully, and I did it in just over 90 minutes. That’s the short summary, what follows is an (excessively) detailed account of my race.
I had packed everything the night before, so I woke up at 4:30 AM to have a cup of coffee and eat some oatmeal with banana and almond butter. I did a final obsessive check of everything I had packed, and then I woke up J at 5:30 AM. I put my bags in the car, and he put my bike on the bike rack and we picked up my friend before heading out to Alameda. Check in was super easy (Mermaid races are always well organized!), and we headed into transition to set everything up. We got there just as transition opened at 6:00, so we had plenty of time and space to setup. (Transition spots were split by division, but were otherwise first come, first served).
We got body marked and started setting everything up. I wish I’d taken a picture of my transition area, but I was pretty scattered and nervous. I hung my helmet on my handle bars, and put my sunglasses and Garmin (turned on and set to bike) in the helmet along with a cherry-lime Roctane Gu that I opened. Beneath my bike I folded up a towel and put my running shoes in the back with a package of Clif margarita shot blocks (already opened) in one shoe. To the left of my running shoes I put two water bottles. In front of my running shoes I put my bike shoes, with my socks rolled up inside. On top of my bike shoes, I put my bike jersey, my tank top, and a small hand towel to wipe off my face, hands and feet after the swim. To the left of my bike shoes, I put my race belt with my race number. This whole setup worked well for me.
As the start time got closer (my wave started at 8:20AM), I wriggled into my wetsuit, aided by a generous application of BodyGlide. Putting on my wetsuit is one of my least favorite parts. It’s practically a cardio workout all on its own, and there’s just no graceful way to put on a wetsuit. I have, however, mastered the ungraceful way, which involves lots of hopping, tugging, squatting and pulling.
The Swim – 400m – 24:42
As I walked to the swim entrance, I started to get very nervous. You walked down a narrow plywood ramp (really just pieces of plywood laid together), to get down the rocky embankment into the Bay. There were volunteers at the water’s edge to help us in since it was very shallow and rocky. As I swam out to the buoy where we would all start, I definitely started to feel a little freaked out. When I got to the buoy, I quickly realized that I could stand up. Suddenly all my anxiety disappeared. I’d been worried that I’d be spending energy treading water for 10 minutes before the start, so being able to stand up was instantly reassuring. As the other people in my wave made it out to the buoy, everyone realized one by one that they could stand up, and there was a lot of laughing and sighs of relief. I positioned myself towards the back of the pack, and we counted down and went off.
I felt fine for the first 100m or so. There were people around me, but we were spread out, and I didn’t get kicked or swum over at all. I was able to sight easily to the giant orange buoys, though every time I picked my head up to sight I found I was slightly off the line I was trying to swim. Apparently I’m not great at swimming in a straight line. Right around the halfway mark I started to feel like I’d been swimming forever and wasn’t going anywhere. J mentioned that he could see from the shore that some people were swimming but still seemed to be going backward. I suspect I was one of them. I tried to stand for a moment at this point to catch my breath, but the water was no longer as shallow as it had been at the start.
Right around this point, I freaked out a little. I felt exhausted and out of breath and like I wasn’t going anywhere. A volunteer on a surfboard came over to check on me and my flailing arms. He said I was doing fine and was almost there, but he could pull me to shore if I wanted. I didn’t want that at all, but I was exhausted. I contemplated this option for about 2 seconds, before deciding that I was going to finish this swim, even if I promptly fell asleep once I got to shore. I kept on going, and after what felt like forever, I was nearly at the ramp to exit. The volunteers pulled me out of the water. My legs were super shaky for the first few steps, but then I was ok and ran up the ramp into transition. As I was running, I remembered to pull off my goggles and swim cap, and I managed to unzip my wetsuit and had it pulled down to my waist by the time I reached my bike.
Thoughts on the swim: The fastest I’d swum the 400m in a pool in training was 11:02. I spent more than twice that amount of time in the water in this race. I’m proud that I didn’t give up, and I didn’t irreparably freak out or panic. I just wasn’t strong enough to fight through the current and the waves as fast as I’d hoped. On a positive note, I didn’t even know I could swim for 24 minutes without a rest!
Transition 1 – 3:29
I fought with my wetsuit briefly, but managed to get it off. I pulled on my tank top and jersey (it had been cold when I test rode the course). Then I pulled on my socks and bike shoes and fastened my race belt (with my number) around my waist. I stood up, ate the Gu, put on my Garmin and my sunglasses, pulled on my helmet, and grabbed a sip of water before running out of transition. I didn’t forget anything, and I did everything in the order I had practiced. I was pleased with this transition considering how disoriented I was from the swim.
Bike – 12 miles – 43:15 (16.6mph)
It took me about one minute on the bike of being supremely focused before I had the thought “I made it out of the water! I’m on my bike! I’m going to finish this thing!” I instantly started smiling and didn’t stop smiling for the rest of the race. I love my new bike, and I got myself clipped in with no problem just past the bike mount line. I was passing people left and right, smiling and saying “good job!” to everyone. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to pre-ride this course a few weeks before. I knew exactly what was coming, where to expect wind, and which parts of the road were particularly bumpy. I was so happy the whole bike. I kept thinking “this is so fun! I love my bike!” The course was flat, so I was able to stay in nearly my hardest gear and just spin as fast as I could. Around mile 10 I started to feel a little tired and thirsty; I was glad I was nearly back to transition. When I pre-rode the course in practice, I did it in 47:02, so my goal for the race was to do it in under 45 minutes. I was thrilled to see my official time was 43:15.
Transition 2 – 1:27
I ran my bike into transition, re-racked it, took off my helmet, and sat down. I swapped out my bike shoes for my run shoes, and grabbed my package of shot blocks. I had a drink of water, and took off towards the run course. While running out of transition, I turned my race belt around to the front, and swapped my Garmin from bike to run.
Run – 2.5 miles – 21:02 (8:25 min/mile)
As I hit the run course, I felt like I was moving so slowly. I’d practiced the bike to run transition, so I was hoping my legs would wake up and run. Even though I felt slow (I thought I was running 11:00 minute miles), when I looked at my Garmin it read 7:45 as my current pace. That was a total surprise. Any pace I was running would have felt slow off the bike, I guess! The run course was flat, and after the first quarter mile, I held a very consistent pace of sub 8:30 for the rest of the 2.5 miles. I ate one shot block in the first half mile of the race, and then just held the package while I kept running. Holding the sub 8:30 pace wasn’t easy, but I was so happy to be running. I knew absolutely that I was going to finish. My goal for the run was to go under 22 minutes, so I was thrilled with 21:02. I saw both my friend (who had finished long before me), and J on my way to the finish line. I heard them announce my name as I crossed, and I just smiled and smiled.
We grabbed water and pancakes and fruit, and headed back to transition to pack up our things. We waited and waited for results, but unfortunately there was a problem with getting the results posted properly. For a brief time I was listed as tenth overall! (I was actually 147th out of 231 competitors) We gave up after waiting around for an hour and went home. Later that day the Mermaid series posted all the correct results on their website and notified us all via facebook. While it would have been nice to get our results immediately, I thought they handled the problems well, and they had the results posted online in a very timely fashion. They also said they would mail the prizes out to all of the winners since they didn’t have the correct results to present the awards.
I also realized that I hadn’t received a finisher’s necklace when I crossed the finish line, and I was sad about that since I love the other two Mermaid necklaces I’ve received from other races and wear them often. I emailed the race director that same afternoon, and they emailed me right back to apologize and promised to mail me the necklace right away. Although there were some logistical problems with the results, I appreciated how the race organizers did their best to resolve things as quickly as possible, and I also appreciated that they were so responsive to my email about the finisher’s necklace. I’ve enjoyed every Mermaid race that I’ve participated in, and I loved this one as well.
So have I been bitten by the triathlon bug? Well I definitely want to improve my swim. I’ve signed up for swim lessons at Cal that start next week, so hopefully that will help. Considering that I couldn’t swim 25yds continuously two months ago, I’m going to call this swim a success, even though I wish it had gone better. I’m tentatively planning for another, slightly longer, sprint triathlon in early September, and maybe an Olympic distance triathlon in October (all dependent on my swim progress). I love the training for triathlon; the swim/bike/run combination keeps training interesting and fun. A triathlon was something I never thought I’d be able to do because of my fear of open water and my non-existent swimming skills, so I’m so proud to have completed my first one!