So how about that first Olympic triathlon?
Lessons learned: 1. I can do an Olympic triathlon, 2. I will never again put myself in a situation where I am racing for 3+ hours in 90 degree heat and 3. I am a sprinter, and my body is not happy with me when I try to pretend I am an endurance athlete.
But let me back up.
I think I was more nervous for this event than any other race, including my first half marathon, and first (sprint) triathlon. Not only did I start having waves of really strong anxiety beginning Friday morning, but I began having trouble engaging in casual conversation by Saturday night. At one point on Sunday, as I was once again giving monosyllabic answers to questions, my husband said, “So, uh, you’re kind of nervous for this race, huh?” I shut down when overwhelmed.
It’s not that I didn’t think I could do it, rather I knew how much it was going to hurt. The weather forecast showed it would be in the upper 80s by mid-morning when I would be running (with the heat index higher), and I have never raced that long. I trained in all 3 components, and did several BRICKS, but the actual Olympic distance in all 3, back to back? I am not a good runner under ideal circumstances. It was dread of the impending pain, rather than fear of actually failing.
I can take it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it (which begs the question why I decided this was a good idea in the first place, but whatever).
I also knew it would be a “big” race, meaning there would be a lot of athletes to contend with, and they would all be *racing*. Don’t misunderstand – this didn’t concern me on a “I won’t place well level” (I’m used to coming in somewhere in the middle to lower third for my big road races – I don’t enter races with delusions of grandeur), rather “I’m going to get in the way of people who should be on that course, and screw them up.” Remember how scared I was in the bike at my cute little local backyard event?
This fear was confirmed when I arrived at the mandatory bike check-in on Sunday afternoon, and saw thousands of bikes stretched across Auditorium Shores in Austin. This triathlon contained “3 races in 1” – the Olympic distance began at 7am, the sprint distance at 8:30am, and the super sprint at 9am. That’s a lot of athletes, going different distances, funneling through the same course.
The Olympic distance, as I soon learned in looking at the results (although I guessed as much beforehand) is for the more serious triathlete. Or middle aged moms of 3 who decide on a lark to make it their second race.
this is about 30 minutes before my wave hit the water. I’m smiling, but if you look closely, you can see the abject fear behind my eyes.
The swim waves started at 7am; according to my Weather Channel app, sunrise occurred at 7:09am. The open water swim began with athletes jumping, one by one, off a dock into Lady Bird Lake to complete the 1 mile rectangle loop.
Lady Bird Lake. In the dark.
I don’t want to offend the people of Austin by saying their beloved lake is disgusting, but the muck don’t lie, people. The sun was rising by the time I leaped in (at approximately 7:35 – kudos to the Tri Rock people for such an organized wave start – exactly at the projected time!), but it was still a little…unsettling…for this open water swim rookie (only 1 practice swim under my belt).
Fortunately, once I hit the water, I went on automatic pilot and didn’t think about the water too much, with the exception of when we swam under the bridge and the water was pitch black and the air was pitch black and I sprinted while holding my breath and shutting my eyes because it was so scary.
I’m not lying.
My mantra as I swam was “not too fast not too fast not too fast” because I can swim fast and it’s fun to swim fast and pass people, but you don’t want to go too hard the first 25 minutes of a 3+ hour race.
Despite that, I was out of the water before any other hot pink caps (my age group) after passing several orange caps (women 35-39) and even some blue caps (men in the last wave before women). This sounds badass. Remember that when we talk about the bike and run.
that’s me in the hot pink cap passing an orange cap and blue cap. This was roughly 50-75 yards from the finish (you see me passing the final orange buoy indicating finish area)
Swim split: 30:32 (exactly where I wanted to be. 3-4 minutes slower than I can race a 1500m, but given the current in the lake, and pacing for the bike and run after, that’s about where I planned to split).
Once out of the water, I had to run along a grass path, around to the Olympic transition area, and then allllllll the way down past racks and racks of bikes to mine (which was the closest rack to transition exit). This was a lot more running than my other sprint tri experience. I expected a poor transition time, given all the running (which I was doing at a very slow jog), and then I plopped down on the grass to put on my socks and sneakers (no fancy clip in pedals to slide into for this teacher mom!). Despite all of this, my T1 time was 2:35, which put me up with (or ahead of!) most of the women in my AG. I have no idea how I did all of that in only two and a half minutes, since I was not frantically rushing, but I’ll take it!
The bike. Oh, the bike.
I am still so slow on the bike. I really don’t get it. I mean, yes, I am showing improvement from when I started biking a mere 6 months ago. But still, I must be doing something wrong to go so slow. I was one of the slowest mph paces in my AG. Even the women that I beat, they were still 1 or 2 mph faster than me on the bike. I’ve played around with gears, and I did all my long bikes and mid-week shorter, faster mileage …
Anyway, let’s focus on the positives. Like, how I googled a tip for storing my GU gels in a rubber band tied around my bike frame, and when I hit the first corner, I heard a “plop”! and looked down … and realized I lost my GU on the street.
And then pointed it out to my husband as I passed him (you want the sound for this one).
fuel? Who needs fuel for an Olympic triathlon?!
Any time I’m on the bike and don’t crash, I count as a victory.
The course looped around downtown Austin, and to hit the 24.8 miles needed for the Olympic distance, we completed 4 loops. As we looped, the Sprint, and then Super Sprint distances, also joined us. As they said in our pre-race meeting, it was a “tight bike route”. That’s tri talk for: watch out, there’s a crapload of cyclists out there.
The best moment of the entire race (maybe even better than finally crossing the finish line) occurred towards the beginning of the 2nd loop. I’m pedaling along, courteously staying to the right as fast, talented cyclists blew by me, when a young guy (20s?) passed me, then turned, pointed right at me, made eye contact, and called out “I hope I’m just like you in my 40s! BADASS!” (remember, per triathlon rules, we have our ages marked on our left calves).
I’m pretty sure he was just trying to keep my spirits up since I’m sure I looked ridiculously slow and tired, but it TOTALLY WORKED YES I AM BADASS SIR!
Bike split: 1:36.11 avg speed: 15.47mph
As I returned my bike to the transition area, I realized that my initial plan to not need a water bottle on the run (relying solely on aid stations) was very, very stupid. It was creeping towards 10am at this point, and it was hot and while I drank most of my (1) water bottle while on the bike, I was still feeling dehydrated.
10k left. 6.2 miles. Are. you. kidding. me.
My game plan was to follow a 3/1 run-walk interval. While I can comfortably run 6+ miles, I knew that running 6+ miles after racing for 2 hours would prove nearly impossible under the best of circumstances. In training, I discovered that I could pace somewhere around a 11:15 min/mile while doing the 3/1 intervals on tired legs, and I would be happy with that for the third leg of my triathlon.
Because of the simultaneous sprint and super-sprint distance races occurring, the run was set up in a 3.1 mile loop. That means for us doing the Olympic distance, we not only had to pass the finish line (cue the agonizing, longing glance in that direction) and complete another loop, but the (much fresher, less exhausted) short distance triathletes were on the same trail as us, happily bouncing by us. Or at least, it seemed that way.
I plugged away at the first loop, doggedly picking up the pace to a slow jog with every beep of my watch. It was so hot. The little half cups of lukewarm water at the mile stations were not refreshing.
Come on Tracey. You can do this.
Mile 1: 10:31 (that a girl!)
Mile 2: 11:25 (okay, on pace, that’s okay, just keep this up)
Mile 3: 12:07 (oh dear)
As I began the second loop, many runners around me were now walking. I have never seen such a staggering group of exhausted athletes in a race. I tried giving myself pep talks. I did my mantras. I sang Beyonce’s Lemonade album to myself. When my watch beeped, I sternly said to my legs “run!”
They did not run.
does that look like a woman that got this? No. Not it does not. I do not got this.
Mile 4: 13:47
Mile 5: 15:15
Mile 6: 14:22
Final run split: 1:19:54 (please God, let this be the slowest 10k I ever “run”)
if you watch closely, you can see me trip and recover as I enter the finishing chute.
Because even if you place 15th out of 20 in your AG, you still get a medal (there were some HARDCORE athletes in this race!). And still feel proud for doing the damn race in the first place.
Final thoughts: If I ever had any fleeting notions of doing a Half Ironman, this race settled those questions. This race was miserable (physically and emotionally) for me. Yes, it was a hot race, and I don’t do well in heat. Yes, my fueling and hydrating was compromised (from now on, GU gels are stuck in my tri suit. And there will be an extra water bottle laid out just for the run). But really, that 2nd half of the 10k was just demoralizing. I can’t even imagine what a half marathon would feel like after DOUBLE that bike (and oh, the bike. *shakes fist at cheap Schwinn*).
Will I do another Olympic tri? I don’t know. Part of me thinks I should just focus on sprint tris (which are fun. And so quick! And short!), but part of me does not want my one and only Olympic tri time to be 3:31. I’m better than that. Or I want to be better than that.
I’ll play next year’s tri season by ear and see what comes up.
at Kerbey Lane Cafe for a MUCH deserved post-race meal. With my medal. Natch.