After all the triathlons I’ve done, I realized that I’ve never journaled or blogged about any of them and now some of the greatest moments I experienced have faded into memory. Sure, I remember the vague feeling of crossing the finishing line at the 1/2 Ironman and uttering to Michael “piece of cake” as I nearly collapsed on the ground, but I can’t remember much about the details of that day. And, since it was before we owned a digital camera, not too many pics were taken and they are stuffed away in some old shoe box by now! (Yes, it was 7 years ago)
In any case, this year, the year I decided it was time to saddle up again, I’ve been overwhelmed with the interest and enthusiasm of my friends, participants and clients at my pending race and it’s made me realize that a lot of people would probably be willing to tri and tri if only they had a bit more insight as to what a race day is like. So I’m devoting this post to an editorial of my Olympic triathlon at UBC on May 16, 2010. I’ll try to give some tips, some insight and little bit of my story along with a few pics. Maybe by the end you’ll be looking up swim clubs in your community or surfing the tribc.org site to find your first event. I sure hope so!
First a few Tri Tidbits: Triathlon comes in a few shapes and sizes. You have the Ironman, which is a 3.86 km swim, a 180 km bike , followed by a full marathon of 42.2 km just in case you weren’t tired yet And for the record, no, I have no desire to complete an Ironman. Period. Then you have the 1/2 Ironman, which is half of all that, except the swim is actually 2km so it’s a little more than half. Then you drop down to Olympic distance, which is typically a 1.5 km swim, 40km bike and 10km run. Lastly is your typical entry level sprint. Traditionally, a sprint is a 500m swim, 20km bike and 5km run, although you will see variations in this. Also, sometimes you see a “short” which is even shorter than a sprint and is great for total newcomers and also for kids/teens.
I have done several sprints and a few Olympics, and one 1/2 Ironman in my 10 years of triathlon. In order to train for a half Ironman, you need to dedicate about 15 hours a week to the training. About twice that for Ironman; about half that for the Olympic (7 hours) and about 3-4 hours a week for a sprint. The difference also lies in the length of training. Usually you train for Ironman for 9-12 months. Half Ironman, about 4-6 months; Olympic about 12-16 weeks, and a sprint can be prepped for in 3 months or less, depending on what ability level you come into it with.
All that said, as I endeavored to take on the Olympic Triathlon this year, a few things rang in my head.
1. I’ve done a half ironman, so I know I can handle lots of training.
2. I haven’t raced in 5 years, so I know I need a lot of work.
3. I have 2 kids and I work, so I have no idea if I have the time!
As it turned out, my general fitness level was able to make up for a lack of training right up to the end…with the exception of a last minute injury (due to lack of training) that almost cost me even taking part. But that’s another story. So, first, decide how many hours a week you really have, and then choose a race far enough away to prep properly. Remember that lake and ocean swims require extra training (and equipment), and that if you have kids, you can count on at least 1-infinity weeks off of training in the winter months due to the variety of viruses that attack entire families of children under 8 years old……ahhh, the joy of germy children.
For this race, I planned for 7 hours per week of training over the course of 13 weeks. What I ended up with was 3.5 hours of training over 9 weeks due to aforementioned illnesses, work travel schedule of husband, my own work schedule and my inability to get up at 5am no matter how much I told myself I wanted to. That’s where my general fitness and experience in doing the events helped me. I “managed” to get by. But let’s face it, I would have done better, felt better and not hurt myself if I had gotten my 7 hours of training. And let me tell you – I will NOT race unprepared again.
Okay, so enough of all that. Let’s get on to the race!!!!!!!!!
Thursday, May 14th – 8pm. My right shoulder lets out a tearing burning sensation suddenly as I lift my elbow and “poof”; just like that, I cannot move my arm without pain. This was my own fault. I had only trained up to 1200 metres and had only had time to train in a 25 metre pool. Panicking, 3 days before the race, I headed to a 50 metre pool and swam 1550 metres as hard as I could. apparently the rotator cuff doesn’t like that. (I do know better – and please – DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!).
Friday – May 15th – spend the day depressed that my race is out of the question. Get an emergency last minute squeeze me in at the end of the day (8pm) appointment with my fabulous physio. I cry on his shoulder (no pun intended) and he lasers me, assesses me, ultrasounds me, stretches me etc etc and tells me that I can race without doing further damage, but that it’s gonna hurt and I’m not going to be able to go “all out”….DONE. Decision made in that moment that I will race.
Saturday – May 16th – get more great advice from a participant in my bootcamp who is a doctor. She told me what to take and how much to take for pain/anti-inflammatories. I head straight to the drug store. I’m all set. Of course, I’m still in tons of pain and have no idea how to do this and not die in the pool LOL. Time to start getting ready
Saturday afternoon – Michael takes my bike in to one of the designated pre-race cycle checks to save us time Sunday morning. Bike is fine. Helmet is fine. BTW, my bike’s name is ISIS (Goddess of women,mothers and children/also known as the goddess of magic). I had her custom built at la Bicycletta in 2003 when I was training for the New Balance Half Ironman and she is still perfect and worth every dollar.
** Tip** Remember, you don’t have to race with a road bike, but you will have to have a bike that is in mechanically good repair and a helmet that is approved. A good idea if you are going to race on a mountain bike is to put road slicks on it. It will buy you many minutes!
After Michael returned, we decided my seat on ISIS is set too far back. He adjusts it and I jump up and say “yep” and he completes the adjustment. (fyi, this will be important later)
Saturday night – pack my bag and eat a big carbo-loading dinner. No booze. Lots of water.
** Tip** Remember to always pack your bag in advance and if possible, prepare a “what to take” checklist way before that, so you can add to it and take things off of it as you prepare for your race. It’s better to have too much stuff, than not enough. A nice day that you may not wear warm gear on can quickly turn into a day that you need full fingered gloves and booties for the ride. I once showed up at an Olympic distance race at a lake with NO SOCKS . Yes, no socks. Thank god for the well prepared lady who lent me her spares. Needless to say, I always pack 3 pair now
Sunday morning 7am – what to eat, what to eat. I always try to eat normally on race day so I don’t invoke the G.I gods into fury. On this particular occasion I had 2 poached eggs and half a whole wheat english muffin. Had a cup of coffee too. Then I started hydrating. Constantly.
8am – leave for the race. Bike, bike shoes, runners, all other gear, camera and I.D are all already in or on the car from the night before. If you are like me, once nerves kick in, the brain turns off. Better to be prepared ahead.
9am – arrive at UBC. Michael drops me off with my bike and goes to find parking. First you head to cycle check in. Set up your station. This is when you start checking out all the other athletes. hmmm, he put his shoes behind his bike and his helmet on his seat. hmmm, why did he put his towel under all his biking gear – won’t he need it to dry off and end up dumping all that stuff on the ground anyway? These thoughts mess with you.
** Tip** These things can also help you. LOOK AROUND at the other stations. A nice bike is usually (not always) an indication of an experienced triathlete. check out how they set up their transition. Mentally go through the transition in your head and set it up how it will work.
9:15am – Pick up race bag and sign waiver. This bag is also your wet bag. You put anything in it that you want when you get out of the pool. for me, this was my bike suit (which could also serve as a swim suit and next year it will, to save me 2 minutes). I had only swum in my swim suit this time around and decided not to change things up at the last minute. But, putting on a tight fitting piece of clothing on a wet body costs time (and can actually put your back out!). At UBC, the swim comes out and then you actually have to run about 300 metres to the bike transition, so you want SHOES . I put my runners in my wet bag and my socks. I have done that run barefoot (bad idea). I have done that run in flip flops (bad idea). I have done that run in bike shoes (really bad idea).
** Tip** – make sure to check out the race map for the race you choose. Understand how the transitions work and if you will have to run from the swim to the cycle transition over rough ground!
9:30am – Nervous burps are in full force. Head to the pool deck for body marking (always makes you feel so elite) and start lining up in your heat. Most triathlons that have a staggered start will ask you to estimate your swim time on your entry form. Then they have you line up from fastest to slowest. This prevents a lot of passing, collisions and swimming over people.
** Tip** – be as accurate as possible with your estimated swim time. Not only does it suck to be passed, but you risk getting kicked in the face, swallowing a bunch of water, or being swum over top. Not to mention that it is STRESSFUL when you feel someone hitting your foot and you know you are in their way. On the flip side, passing SUCKS! You have to sprint to pass, and in the pool that takes up a lot of energy. So seed yourself correctly.
Remember, all of that doesn’t matter if your swim is in a lake/ocean and there is a mass start. If it’s your first race, and it’s a mass start, take my advice and GO TO THE BACK!
9:45am – all of us are talking and making sure we’re seeded correctly. Some people are questioning their estimates and some have no idea. In the end, I seeded myself pretty well. I only had to pass 2 people and only got passed by one.
10am – It’s time to race! They started us 10 seconds apart. I was so busy watching each person in front of me take off, that I didn’t bother trying on my goggles until there were only 4 people in front of me. That’s only 40 seconds! I spit in them (great de-fogger), reached over and dipped them in the pool and put them on my head and the right side just collapsed! My strap had come completely loose in my bag and I hadn’t even noticed. With only 30 seconds left, I am frantically trying to adjust my strap and get them on my head (and I knew Michael was watching and thinking WHAT THE HELL IS SHE DOING!?). The last 3 swims they had been leaking so I knew I needed to get the strap just right. I literally got them on my head as I stepped to the edge of the pool. Too late, my nerves and panic from the google situation had my stomach doing flip flops.
**Obvious tip** – make sure your goggle straps are set right!
Here I am, messing around with my goggles (I’m in the red and black two piece)
And then, I was off. As opposed to everything I know about racing injured and racing in general, I went out too hard, especially given my shoulder situation. The first 100 metres were torture on my shoulder and my stomach was doing flips. My heart rate was through the roof. At the end of the first lap, I had to calm down.
For the Olympic distance at UBC, you swim 50 metres down, 50 metres back, then duck under the rope and do it again for 8 laps. Then you jump out, run back to the start and do another 7 laps. Not the most efficient, but not horrible either. All the ducking and the little break to run probably cost you a total of a minute or less.
After 400 metres, my shoulder stopped hurting and I settled in to my stroke. At 1 km, my shoulder woke back up and the last 500 were tough, but manageable. I have NEVER been so happy to get out of a pool . Although I’m glad I raced, I won’t race injured again. It wasn’t fun and I am paying a bit for it now.
But who cares! I’m out of the pool! They don’t let you run (for obvious reasons) on the pool deck , so I put on my best hip swaying power walk and boogied out of there. This is where it would have been a time saver to already have my skin suit on. It took me about 2 minutes to get it on (maybe a bit less). 2 minutes would have bought me 2 placements in my age group and over 10 placements overall!
My original estimated swim time was 32 1/2 minutes. I revised it to 35 minutes a week before the race and got placed in a different heat when I realized I had not done nearly enough swimming. On race day, I seeded myself for 37 minutes given my shoulder situation.
In the end, I did it in 36 minutes and was totally happy with that.
Now for the REALLY tough part The race is not controlled by the swim. Sure, you can lose it in the pool. If you are not prepared and cannot go the distance, you can exhaust yourself completely, but the reality is that most people have a range of “bad swim” to “good swim” that only varies by a few minutes.
The bike is the bad ass.
It’s the longest portion of the race.
It’s the only part of the race where you can have a mechanical advantage.
It takes training and skill.
If you don’t practice biking, you will kill your legs and not be able to run on those jello sticks.
Heading from the pool to the bike transition
I had my station set up exactly as I wanted it. UBC has a very very strict rule about helmets in the bike transition. You MUST put your helmet on BEFORE you lift your bike off the rack. It must stay on your head until your bike is re-racked. They WILL give you a time penalty and make you put your helmet back on and back off if they catch you breaking this rule.
*Tip* – Always wear bike gloves. Always! Why? First of all they add cushioning and absorb shock that doesn’t then travel up to your already tired shoulders and neck. But more importantly, if you fall off a bike -you will throw your hands down, guaranteed. So protect them!
The ride was fabulous. The ride was TOUGH. 40 km spread over 4 loops for the Olympic distance, and each loop ended on an uphill climb. Ugggh. A very tight turnaround (there were several accidents during the race) but I’m very cautious on tight corners and I rode in a triathlon bike club for years so I know how to lean and position my body.
All the way out on each loop was flat/downhill and the wind at our backs.
All the way back was a slow climb/flat and wind in our face, followed by that uphill stint before the turnaround.
Where do you think Ironmen pee?
**Tip** Be sure to throw ‘brick’ workouts into your training plan, which let you practice back to back modalities like swimming and then biking. Most important is to practice biking and then running because it is a truly unique feeling!
As I rounded the corner for the finish shoot, there he was. My biggest fan. At every race. Always with a big smile and a camera. My love! I had been thinking of his support ALL DAY. I couldn’t wait to give him a big sweaty hug!
55 minute run for the 10km. Pretty slow for me for 10km, but not after riding 40km and not practicing any bike to run bricks.
I know it was long and rambling, but hopefully you found something in there to help you improve your race and learn from my mistakes, or maybe a tiny seed of inspiration to tri that first tri.
As for me, I generously watered and shone sunlight on that little seed in my soul that is a fitness freak and my race mojo is BACK!