Breath of Life Ventura Triathlon, olympic distance (1.5K swim / 40K bike / 10K run). It was Sunday, 28th of June 2015 and it was my first triathlon. Well, you guessed it: I loved it. Let me tell you about it.
THE DAY BEFORE
It started with the marathon and, since then, I am not that stressed the days leading to a major race. I am more than happy with this change. For the triathlon, it's been the same. I was tense, scared and a bit irritable (sorry, playboy), but no knots in the stomach.
As I said, lots of logistics and preparation for a triathlon. First, there's the bike: cleaning, checking the tyres pressure, lubricating the chain, checking the flat tyre kit (hoping I won't have to use it). The week leading to the race, I had trained to dismount the wheel/change the tube/mount the wheel back. On the Saturday, I tried again to dismount/mount the back wheel. If I had to suffer a flat tyre, I was ready for it.
Apart from the mechanical part of the preparation, I also had to make sure I didn't forget anything I needed.
Pre-race clothes / post-race clothes / everything for the swim / everything for the bike / everything for the run / race specific things (ankle strap timing chip, bib, bike numbers)
That's A LOT of stuff! The run is definitely the lighter part to pack for.
Opening of the transition area at 5.30am / mandatory pre-race meeting at 6.50am / start of the 1st wave at 7.15am. It means an alarm clock set at 3.50am.
I had packed everything the night before, so I was calm. Breakfast, getting dressed, bathroom, last bags check. At 5.15am, we were in the car. My predominant feeling: fear of the unknown. And it was (and still is) unreal. I couldn't acknowledge the fact the time had come, my first triathlon. Of course, I trained for it, but, in my mind, triathlon is for serious athletes. I don't consider myself like one.
TRANSITION SETTING / BEFORE THE START
Once on site, I took my bike and all my stuff and I went to the transition area. Athletes only are allowed to enter this area. We have a wristband we have to keep on the entire time and they check it every time we enter/exit to set the transition or to get our stuff after the race.
This area is made of rows of racks on which you put your bike. For this triathlon, the rows were assigned depending on the swim start. I was in wave 4 (women 39 and under, Olympic distance). We had 3 rows to put our bikes and we could place ourselves as we wanted.
As I arrived early, I could choose where to position myself. I decided on a rack with a trash can at the end of it. Easy to spot. A woman was already there. I put my bike next to hers. I felt misplaced. She was dressed with a California Triathlon Team attire. The bikes around were impressive. Everyone seemed to know exactly what they were doing. In short, it was overwhelming. I tried to start a conversation with my rack neighbor. She answered nicely but didn't say anything more.
I took a look at how she put her towel and did the same: towel underneath the bike, as large as the bike. Then, I placed all my stuff: run on the left, bike on the right, available space at the top to put my wetsuit after the swim. Socks in the cycling shoes. Cycling helmet open. Cycling fuel and GPS watch in the helmet. Race belt next to it. I checked my lists a couple of times (OR-GA-NI-ZA-TION, people).
The rows were now full. And it was no joke on the Olympic Distance side (it was clearly less serious for the Sprint). There were road bikes only. No question about that. And do we speak about the Time Trial bikes with full wheels?... My neighbor's bike (the one I would use) was not impressive (a Peugeot from the 60s), but, at least, it was a road bike. I can't imagine how I would have felt with my own hybrid bike!
Just in front of me, a girl from the national team arrived to place her bike. Triathlon suit with the American flag, name and country on the back. Impressive bike and aero helmet. I kept a low profile. The playboy who was waiting at the gates shouted me his advice: "Don't touch her bike! Imagine if you make her helmet fall." FYI, she ended up being the 1st female overall.
I went to the body marking: bib number on the left arm and hand, age on the left calf. It was such a legendary triathlon step in my mind! (and I thought you only had to do that on major triathlons) It felt strange. There I was, for real.
After multiple checks of my transition, I started putting on my wetsuit up to the waist. Then it was time for the pre-race meeting, followed by a live performance of the national anthem.
It was time to go. I left the transition area, and went to meet the playboy for him to help me finish putting my wetsuit on. And then, to the beach.
THE SWIM - 1.5K
The week before the race, as I told you there, I was really scared about all of the unknown variables. I sent an email to Abby, from the blog "Change of Pace", to ask her advice. She is so impressive. First, from what she achieves (4 Ironman up to now), but also from how much nice and humble she is. She took time (I should add: from her precious free time, since she had a baby) to answer me with lots of details. It helped me tremendously and it calmed my nerves. I want to thank her again.
Abby had told me it would be a good idea to get into the water before the start, to feel the temperature, to put my head into the water, try to swim a bit, just to relax. I followed her advice.
The water was cold. I was shivering when I exited it. I can't really tell if the water was truly cold or if the thought about the start so close made me feel like it.
The first wave was supposed to start at 7.15am. The others would follow every 5 minutes. 3 waves for the men on the Olympic Distance, then the first feminine wave for the Olympic. I was part of this wave. Each wave was identified by a cap color. Mine: silver cap!
I tried to comprehend how the buoys were positioned in the water to mark the course. Big ones, small ones, yellow ones, red ones. And even a green one. It didn't really make sense to me. I took advantage of the explanation of a man to one of his fellow athletes. I identified the 2nd big yellow buoy to mark a turn. We almost couldn't spot it, behind a seawall. It looked so far away...
Gasp... well, I hadn't visualized the course as large as that. It's one thing to do laps in a pool. It's another one to actually SEE the distance, as flat as that. And, for the Olympic distance, we had to do 2 loops.
The men from the 1st wave aligned themselves. It was time to start. But nothing happened. Explanation: they were waiting for an ambulance to arrive, for security reasons.
During this time, I was seriously questioning myself about the reasons why I decided to get into this. I was still shivering. From cold, from fear. I still can't really tell. I didn't feel at ease with all these true athletes around me. The playboy was trying to cheer me up. He was pumped by the race atmosphere and he was excited for me. I was not!
15 minutes late, the men started. They reached the water and looked like pingouins in the ocean.
15 minutes later, it was time for my wave to start. I entered the start area. I stayed behind, on the left side to stay away from the inside of the loop. Last information and count down. GO TIME! My first triathlon was on.
Contrary to what I had feared, I wasn't out of breath because of race nerves. We were not so many (around 30) and I was behind so the start went well. Anyway, being surrounded by swimmers all around me was a bit unsettling. I felt trapped in the flow.
I think I swam a bit too fast at the start as my heart sped up. I couldn't find my rhythm, but, even at the pool, I need few laps to get into it.
First straight line, along a seawall. The first yellow buoy to mark the first turn was a bit further than the end of the seawall. The ocean was pretty flat, but once the seawall ended, it changed. It was the entrance to the harbor so there were currents and waves from the ocean and from boats.
It took me by surprise. The currents were pushing me to the inside. The waves were bigger. I was heckled. On top of that, men from previous waves were getting to us. I was followed by a man who was swimming on my legs. I was not the one supposed to change my trajectory but he didn't seem to think this way.
I had planned to take a wide turn in order to avoid the inevitable confusion next to the buoy. But, because of the currents, I ended up right in the middle of it. Waves, currents, other swimmers. I swallowed water and I started panicking. I made my turn. I changed my breath pattern to a shorter one in order to catch my breath.
Long straight line to the next big buoy. The currents were pushing us in the right direction this time. It cleared around me. I calmed down and focused on my breathing.
I relaxed. I came back to my usual breathing pattern. I felt better.
2n buoy, 2nd turn. I managed this one better than the first.
Straight line parallel to the beach, getting between 2 buoys before turning towards the beach.
Swim as far as possible, stand up, run in the water and on the sand, cross the timing mat, then get back into the ocean. One lap done.
I was into my rhythm. Focused, in the race. I knew what to expect now, so I was more confident.
Not on purpose, I swam VERY wide on the first straight line after the beach. I guess I was scared about what had happened on my first loop. We were more and more swimmers with all the waves. I realized I was swimming too wide once I noticed my path would make me swim behind one of the lifeguards who were sitting on surfboards in the ocean to mark the course and for safety reasons. So, I corrected it.
I managed the first turn way better than before. Then, straight line again. I think I drifted again because I noticed I was away from the other swimmers flow. Here the reason why I was so peacefully swimming. Again, I corrected my path.
After the 2nd turn, it hit me: it was the last straight line. The swim, the part I had feared the most, would be behind me soon. It made me proud. I tried to speed up.
Swim as far as possible, stand up and exit the ocean. I just finished the swim!! It lifted my spirits. I was proud of me. Immediately, I switched to transition mode.
[Official time: SWIM 1.5K 36:11]
Running as fast as possible, in the sand, while trying to get out of the top of my wetsuit. Then, swim cap and goggles. I heard the playboy, on the side. I could tell he was proud of me. He knew I was scared of the swim. I had asked him to give me an approximation of my swim time (I don't have a multi-sports watch so I didn't have a watch for the swim) in order to boost me: either from delight, or from anger. He ran next to me and shouted: "It's all good. You did well. You are not the last one of your wave!"
End of the sand, asphalt and transition entrance. My fear to not be able to find my spot in transition wasn't funded. I hurried up straight to it.
I focused on what I had to do and in which order. First, the wetsuit. I heard the playboy, at the gates. I didn't realize it at the time, but as the playboy filmed my transition, I can tell I was obsessed with my swim time (he hadn't told me it on the beach). He told me: around 35 minutes. I was relieved.
Be aware it's far from a great swim time. But, it's totally what I worth for the swim. So, no surprise.
I took my time to be sure not to forget anything. No need to try to gain time and end up doing everything wrong.
I secured my helmet, took my bike and ran to the transition exit.
[Official time: T1 2:48]
THE BIKE - 40K
We can't mount our bike before the "mounting line", so we have to run, with the cycling shoes on, next to our bike, to this line, located a bit further from the transition exit.
Mounting line, I rode my bike, and boom, it was cycling time.
My fear at the triathlon start had totally disappeared now. I was so happy to be here, doing that. I was relieved with the swim and my spirits were high. Fast or not, I knew I could do the bike distance. And I would do it.
The course: road to exit the harbor, then a straight avenue, 3 laps of a loop, and back.
On the avenue, I spotted the first woman, on the other side of the road. She was at the end of her first loop. I can tell you I, once again, could check the impressive bikes around... the course was flat, so TT bikes were out there.
I did my thing, happy to be out on my bike. It was not so difficult to pass and ride among the other cyclists. It became more crowded on my 3rd loop as the ones doing the Sprint were now on the bike course too (I could tell because the most part didn't have a great bike or even a road bike). I paid attention to follow the rules to pass and get back to the right side. There was a bit of wind but nothing too harsh. We were doing loops so, obviously, a headwind on one part would mean a tailwind on another one.
I forced myself to drink and eat. The bike is THE time to take care of that.
I was going fast and it was scaring me a bit. I don't have a bike specific watch. As I had done during training, I was using my running watch. I didn't have the average pace, only the min/mile pace. I could tell I was going faster than usual. I was around 17-18 miles when my watch reached the hour. Fast for me.
I was feeling good, and, well, it was a race! But, I had said it many times and written it here: I wanted to be able to have a good run, so I had to be careful on the bike ride. I was making deals with myself: "OK, you carry on like that until the next turn and then you'll slow down..." (after the turn) "All right, I'm still feeling good... next straight line and we'll see", and so on and so forth.
No major event on my bike ride. I didn't get a flat tyre! One little thing: a man on the Sprint distance played fool with me. His pace was slower than mine. I passed him. Abby had advised me to pass with conviction (push on the pedals to get away). I did that and then came back to my speed. Except, soon after, the man passed me and he was clearly pushing hard to do so. He didn't wait to pull back in front forcing me to brake to get out of his drafting zone. Then, he slowed down, making me slow down too. Abby had warned me about that kind of not so nice behaviors. It made me angry! Do not worry, I didn't let him take me for a fool. I passed him again and made sure I wouldn't have to see him again.
End of the loops, straight line. I saw the playboy one more time on the bike course. I ate an almond paste to take advantage of a sugar spike for the start of the run.
Turn on the road back to the harbor. I got on an easy gear to move my legs and got them ready for the last part, the cherry on the cake: the run.
[Official time: BIKE 40K 01:22:09]
Same principle as the "mounting line", there is a "dismount line" before the transition entrance (you have to get out of the bike BEFORE the line). Then, run with the bike to my transition spot.
I was used to this transition as I had been doing my "bike+run" brick once a week during training. Put the bike on the rack, get rid of the helmet, the shoes, put the running shoes on, tie them up, take running fuel just in case, take hat or hair band. Strangely, it didn't go as smooth as it should have and I lost time. Things got mixed up in my head and I froze for a few seconds. Should I get rid of the fuel I have in my pockets? Should I take the band or the hat? I left my fuel in my pockets. I took the hat. It's only a matter of seconds but I felt bad about it. I shouldn't have lost time asking myself questions.
I finally made my way out of the transition, making sure to reinitialize my watch to be able to manage my run.
[Official time: T2 01:38]
THE RUN - 10K
Last part, the run, here I was. MY time. After the doubts and the unknown feelings of new sports, I was on well known grounds. I knew how to manage my effort. I was more confident.
I voluntarily pushed hard at the start. In training, I had noticed my perception of effort was totally off for a run after a bike ride. At least for me, I have to be extremely attentive because a slight decrease in my effort (which wouldn't mean a big loss of speed on a normal run) means a big drop in my pace on a run following a bike ride.
I went hard at the start to be sure to get to a hard pace. My goal was to end up at the right balance (not too fast and not too slow) and to make my legs understand that we were not over yet, and that I would not listen to them.
As many people had predicted, I passed lots of people. It was an out and back, on the avenue we used on the bike too. I saw the first woman, on the other side. Her pace was impressive.
I knew, coming into the run, I wouldn't like the course. Straight line and back, everything I dislike. I focused on my rhythm, the people in front of me and the fact I was currently into my first triathlon.
(that's when I saw the photos I acknowledged that, contrary to my thinking during and after the race, YES, I suffered during the run)
I was fast. Too fast? I decided to think mile after mile: "Can I hold this pace to the end of this mile? I'll try". I kept telling myself a 10K, really, was nothing. Last part of the triathlon and I still had energy left. To use it entirely, it was now or never.
After the turn at the mid point, I found a way to distract myself: the age on other runners calves. If it was a man, I could have known how long before me he had started (except I am totally incapable of doing maths while running). For a woman, I had hope to pass a woman from my age group. And I did. It made me happy: I would not be the last one!
Mile 5 sign, I was almost there. 1 mile and a bit more left, I had to keep pushing and speed up (according to my splits, no significative acceleration).
6th mile done, it was time to give it all I got. NOW! No regret. I, indeed, sped up.
I turned into the finish line area and crossed the line of my first triathlon, with a smile on my face.
[Official time: RUN 10K 41:50]
AFTER / THE RESULTS
The playboy was waiting for me, proud of me. Ending the triathlon with the run didn't help me immediately realize I just finished a triathlon. First, I thought about my time on the run. I had handled my run based on my pace. My goal had been to hold a as fast as possible pace and, well, this pace was faster than the one for my best 10K.
I had a hard time appreciating that. Skeptical, I showed my watch to the playboy: "I beat my best 10K time..." He laughed and added: "after the swim and the bike ride!"
I couldn't apprehend I entered the triathlon world. I had this surreal and strange feeling (I still have it): "Did I really do that? Is it already finished?"
With the ocean right next to me, I had one thing in mind: my favorite post-race ritual. But, first, I had to take care of removing my stuff from the transition area. So I went in. Once I exited it, the playboy told me the results were up and I was 3rd in my age group...
What?! I didn't expect that at all. Honestly, my first concern had been to not get disappointed in case I came last in my group. I knew I was not last as I had passed a girl from my AG during the run. My other a bit secret goal (even if I wrote it down here): doing the run close to 45 minutes. I had achieved that. Well, I was already totally happy.
I came to see the results for myself. My run time sealed the deal. I ended up with the 2nd fastest run for all the women. The 1st woman overall stole the best time from me, for 14 seconds... dang! Don't you think she could, at least, leave it to me?
Before taking a dip into the ocean, I went to get my reward. So, now, I have a beer mug to add to my collection.
(Don't you think I look small next to the girls? I'm not that small, am I?!)
This experience kept its promises and even beyond. The 3 sports, the transitions, the change, the endurance. I loved it.
However, I thought I would have to go deeper and push my limits way more. I'm not saying it was too easy. I'm just saying I expected something as hard as a marathon and it was not the case. The body gets tired, of course, but, mentally, you get a reset every time you finish a leg. And, it makes a difference.
Also, I'm more than happy to have chosen the Olympic Distance over the Sprint. I already wanted a bit more. I would have gotten extremely frustrated with a Sprint triathlon.
So, now I can say it: I did a triathlon. I write it down once more because I still can truly believe it. Me, a triathlon? Well, yes, and it was great. Of course, now, I want to carry on!
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