My first triathlon was amazing. I've trained for this event for the past five months, with lots of endurance training before hand dedicated to the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon. I am still in awe that I completed the tri and did moderately well! The race report goes through the day before racking my bike and the practice swim as well as the race day. It's rather long, mostly so I can revisit the mental and emotional state I was in for my first triathlon. I tried to capture everything with as much detail as possible...
Bike Racking and Practice Swim: Saturday, September 11, 2010
My friend and I packed up our bikes in the back of his truck and drove down to the transition area a little after noon. We rode our bikes into the transition area located at Ohio Drive & West Basin Drive. I was nothing short of shocked. The transition area was huge. Row after row of rack space for the bikes. The volunteers for the Nation's Triathlon checked our gear (ensuring numbers were affixed to proper parts, etc) and did our initial body markings. My friend and I parted ways as we tended to our own transition areas. I setup my bike and surveyed the area I would have for my gear. Tiny. Bikes were jammed into the rack space but luckily I was at the end of a rack and had just a bit of extra space to my left. I setup my gear as I pictured it on game-day and started practicing transitions. I practiced the run-in from the swim a few times, getting a feel for the length of the rows and visual cues around me. I did not practice the run out with the bike or actually changing any of my gear, things I am sure could have reduced my transition time.
After racking my bike, I headed down to the practice swim area and got in line. I chatted up some folks in line while we inched toward the water. I tried using the conversation with the others around me to mask my nervousness. Approaching the water, my heart rate had spiked. I've never done a long open water swim before and something in my head was going berserk. "This isn't a pool. This isn't safe. Holy crap what the hell have I gotten myself into?!" As we got closer, I donned my Potomac Condom (swim cap) and goggles. I could feel the river, bobbing up and down, pulling slightly, as I walked down the plank and onto the pier. I started taking deep breaths trying to calm my nerves as I sat on the edge of the pier looking up river toward Memorial Bridge. The practice swim was limited to 600M, 200M to the turn, 300M back past the pier, and 100M to swim out. The thoughts going through my head as I looked up river ran along the lines of: "What are you doing? You've gone completely insane. Get up, walk back up onto dry land, and give up on this insane adventure." Fearful I might actually give into those thoughts, I pushed myself off the pier and into the water. My heart rate and adrenaline spiked, immediately. Instead of trying to calm down, I pushed forward. Out to the 100M marker and still freaking out, I stopped and contemplated what to do next. Keep going? Go Back? Turn early? I turned early with a plan to head back to the pier. The second 100M was much better. I had calmed down and settled into a stroke. I sighted the pier and decided to keep going the next 100M to the turn. Better and better to the turn and then broke into high gear toward the swim out. I got my legs underneath me and headed up to dry land. Somewhat shaken but feeling better for having conquered the challenge. After one last visit to the transition area we headed back out. I stopped and asked a volunteer doing body marking to write "1st Tri" on my right arm.
Race Day: Sunday, September 12, 2010
0445 -- The alarm woke me up on the first beep. I remember waking up with a flash of excitement and then being lulled, almost, back to sleep by the noise the rain was making and that sweet just-rained smell coming in from the open window. Shit. The 50% chance of rain went the wrong way. I pulled myself out of bed and got moving with fuel and other necessities in the morning. My ride arrived at 0530 and we were off, hoping to beat the road closures slated for 6AM. We did not beat the road closures (MPDC closed them all about 15 minutes ahead of schedule) but we were dropped close enough. After 30 seconds walking in predawn, 60 degree, rainy weather my core temperature felt like it had plummeted about 5 degrees. All I had on were my tri-shorts, an underarmour tank top, and a pair of sandals. My swim wave wasn't set to go off until 7:44AM-- I had a long, cold, wait ahead of me.
We arrived in the transition area to find a mud-pit. Soaked, cold, and muddied, I set about organizing my transition area. I had hoped for a long distraction but the entire adventure was cut short by the simple fact that, if I removed anything from the bag it would be soaked. So my prep in the transition area simply consisted of placing my bag underneath my bike. Initially, everyone was a little bit miserable. I heard a lot of grumbling about the weather. The announcer, doing his best to quell a palpable sense of misery, kept repeating every 15-minutes that "the last of the rain should be heading out in 5 minutes" for about an hour.
0630 -- The general attitude was starting to improve. My friend and I were cracking jokes and talking to as many people as we could. Everyone was starting to loosen up and smile as the race time approached. We heard an announcement somewhere along the way that the race time was being pushed back, to allow the worst of the weather to push through. A collective groan issued from the transition area, followed by laughter. The atmosphere was amazing. You could feel the energy building as the countdown started.
0745 -- I saw my friend off on wave #5, not to see him again until 300 yards before the finish line. My girlfriend and I chatted as we waited for the first 11 waves to go off. As it got closer to wave 12, my wave, my adrenaline started pumping. We headed down the grass to the pier in a big red capped group.
No pool practice, advice, or videos could have prepared me for this. Nothing. The volunteers were yelling (to be heard, not angrily) at us to get right into the water and I blindly followed their instructions without thinking. I hopped in and was immediately pushed away from the pier as many more hopped in behind me. This was a mistake for me, I should have held onto the pier. I treaded water for what seemed like an eternity. All the while, freaking out. My nerves translated into an urgent need to pee, luckily I was in a giant body of water. Unluckily, it seems my body cannot tread water and pee at the same time. Go figure. While being pushed out from the pier and trying to keep my head above water, I had somehow manuevered myself to the front of my wave. Mistake #2. The gun, or whatever, sounded and everyone took off. My adrenaline jacked even more. I pushed out, getting bulldozed by other swimmers. As everyone was working their way left toward the buoys to get the inside, close track, I was swimming right to get the hell out of everyone's way. Which, most likely, resulted in getting in everyone's way. I made my way out 200M and found a kayak. I asked if I could rest and the volunteer confirmed I could. I held on, panting, and finally being able to relieve myself. Rejuvenated, and feeling bad for the next wave behind me, I pushed forward toward Memorial Bridge. I held a straight line from the kayak...mistake #3. That straight line took me far to the right of the course. Another volunteer on a kayak kindly pointed me back on course and I pushed forward. As I made my way under the bridge up to the 500M turn I swore I could hear my name being called. Curiosity got the better of me and I flipped into a backstroke to see what was going on. There on the bridge was my girlfriend cheering her heart out. I smiled, turned back over, and continued swimming. I stopped to rest on the kayaks a total of four times. I think this was mistake number #4 in my swim...each time my mind was allowed off of it's simple task of "swim, swim, swim" it started freaking out. "You're going to drown." "This is ridiculous; you have no business doing this." And other inspirational thoughts. About 50M or so after my last rest, I saw someone give up and get pulled out by a jetski or boat. It saved my swim. My brain flipped, finally, into positive thinking. "That won't be you. You can finish this. You haven't lost much time from the rests. Settle into your stroke. Trust the training. Breath. Stroke. Stroke. Stroke. Breath." Next thing I knew I was making the U-turn toward the pier. As I did in the practice swim, I hit high gear and cut through the water toward the steps. I took a bit of time on the pier to simply breathe...I felt a little nauseous as I had swallowed a sizable mouthful of Potomass water. Once I got my breath and realized I was, in fact, not going to vomit I briskly walked up the ramp to Ohio drive and then dead sprinted to the transition area.
The sprint to my bike did great things for me. However, as soon as I reached my transition area I slowed down. I used water from my gallon jug to clean my feet off. Pat them dry with my towel and finally put my bike shoes on. I started chatting with another guy from my division about the swim. And then started chatting with someone else, completely losing track of time but taking in the whole experience. I was here to finish, not to make a certain time. I finally strapped my shoes on, slammed a Gu packet and a squeeze bottle of Gatorade, and sprinted off toward the Bike Out.
The bike ride was awesome. I set out in a comfortable pace and when I looked down at my computer saw it was a bit over 20mph. I was elated. My heart rate was low, my legs felt great. My cadence was good. I settled in to the ride. Along the way, I saw a bright green jersey. I pulled up alongside and cautiously said hello, not knowing etiquette in this type of situation. I introduced myself to Dennis of Team Z West and we started having a conversation. The conversation lasted damned near the entire ride, it was fantastic. We ended up pushing each other, I think, the entire ride. When one of us would breeze ahead, the other was not far behind in catching up. Dennis -- if you read this: awesome ride. Thanks for the convo and advice. Aside the excellent conversation nothing really notable happened on the ride. My pace averaged about to 19mph. I'm sure I could have pushed harder but, again, I was there to finish and wanted to make sure I had energy left in my legs for a solid run. I ate my second Gu packet around mile 13 and made sure to hydrate during the ride, finishing off 48 ounces of fluid -- 24 of water and 24 of Gatorade.
Shorter transition. I didn't waste time talking to anyone this time around. I did take note to be aware of how I bent down to change shoes after hearing stories about people's legs cramping/locking up. I dried my feet off again, put on a fresh pair of socks and dry running shoes. I hydrated again prior to leaving the transition area and took care to avoid big puddles on the Run Out lane.
I hit my stride as soon as I got on the street. The run felt great. I had a small muscle ache on the inside of my right leg, above my knee. I debated slowing down due to the ache but decided to keep going at pace. The turn onto Hains point was a bit rough mentally. I hate running on Hains point, it had been a mental barrier for me at every other race I had run. Over the past two months, I had purposefully incorporated Hains into my workouts. I broke through the mental barrier and, again, settled into my pace. Around mile 3, I started playing "tag" with a bunch of faster runners. Tagging someone mentally that I would catch up to and/or pass. I did that almost to the finish line. As we rounded the left hand turn over the Inlet bridge from Hains point back to the finish line I saw my girlfriend, my friend who had finished, and the cheering group of friends standing on the bridge. They burst out in cheers. My friend who had competed screamed out "Only 300 yards left!" I grinned a big, goofy grin, and took off at what felt like a dead sprint to the finish line. I crossed exactly as the race clock turned to 3:50:00. The fans cheering you into the line were awesome. People seeing the "1st Tri" on my right arm were yelling out congratulations. The girl who handed me my medal gave me a high five. I walked around the finish area, drinking water and thinking about what I had just accomplished. It was emotional, to say the least. There may have been a man tear or tears.
Total Time (not race clock): 03:06:00
I'm so ridiculously happy that I finished. That I finished in what I believe is a pretty damned respectable time (hey, I'm not going for podium) was even better. There are definitely areas for improvement. The experience the swim gave me will go a long way. The overall experience and knowledge gained just by participating will go a really long way.
Update: 16 September 2010
According to Run Washington, I helped contribute to an event that is now in the Guinness Book of World Records. That's pretty awesome.