Wednesday, May 22, 2013

triathlon... MY way.

On Sunday, I did my first triathlon, the Ramblin’ Rose Raleigh.  TRI-ATH-LON!!  250 yard swim, 9 mile bike, and 2 mile run.  And it was all kinds of AWESOME!!

My pre-race “prep” was not stellar—the whole week before was a little crazy and distracting, but it certainly kept me from being nervous!  My youngest daughter had AP exams all week, my oldest got home from college on Thursday, my second opened a show on Friday night, and as I was sitting in the audience on Saturday night I realised I FORGOT to go to packet pickup that day!  Who DOES that??  (me)   So, it was going to be an early morning for me, but not before some post-show carbs at iHOP.  I do not live the life of an athlete… more like the life of a mom who does some races in between things the kids are doing.
One day I’m going to post about how I ate all the right things, hydrated before the race, and got plenty of sleep.  This will not be that post.  I had 2 cups of coffee at iHOP at 10pm (2!!), but did manage to limit myself to just a couple of bites of my daughter’s Cinn-A-Stack pancakes, and I did drink PLENTY of water (only because that’s become a habit), but sleep—about 4 hours. 

I was up at 5, a little fuzzy on the race day details so I had to double check and make sure I had all my stuff packed: bike extracted from the tangle in the garage, helmet, water bottles (one for the bike, one for the run), two beach towels (One to dry off, one stand on.  Not so much for comfort, but just so I wasn’t standing in a puddle of water trying to put on sneakers.)  The forecast was for rain and possibly lightning, so I grabbed a huge garbage bag to keep things dry in the transition area.
Of course, the land-yacht was on E so I had to stop for gas.  Did you know that not all gas stations are OPEN at 5:30am on Sunday morning?  Neither did I.  Now we do.  Got to the YMCA at 5:45, and it was DARK.  I was the first one there.  

Check in didn’t actually start till 6am, and I am really, truly, not a morning person, but that is WHY I try to get to these things early.  My brain isn’t fully engaged at that hour, so I need to allow myself plenty of time to do anything that’s happening before 9am. 

Parked my car.  Moved my car because I was parked in the area that was eventually going to be reserved for vendors.  Walked around a bit, found the transition area, and the check-in tables.  One of the organizers unpacking race shirts looked up, and smiled, “Oh, you’re Lauren!  I recognize you from your blog!”  It was the first of a few of those comments that day, which kind of caught me off guard.  Everyone associated with the race was so wonderful, and being introduced as “our blogger” was both fun and kind of surreal.  I kept thinking to myself, “do I tell them I forgot to check in yesterday and was a iHOP at 11 last night??”   Nah!  Pretend like you PLANNED to be the first one here today! 

So, I checked in, got my race bib, time chip and ankle band—covered in sand because sometimes they swim these things in a body of water that is not a pool.  SO not there yet.  Got body marked, and can I just say, did not mind having my age brandished on the back of my calf.   AT.  ALL.
The rain graciously held off while I got the sticker situated on my bike, which is not something my randomly OCD self should be doing at 6am!  But after a couple of attempts and gratitude for the not-too-terribly-sticky adhesive, I was able to get the thing wrapped around the bike tube and the corners (almost) perfectly matched.  WHEW!  Sticker on my helmet, bib on my race shirt, and we’re off to the transition area. 

The transition area is the place you go between the swim/bike/run to, well, transition.  There are racks for the bikes, and some space for you to carefully lay out all your gear.   The girls in my row were, well, actual GIRLS (34, 34, 20 and 10, so, yeah…)  and clearly this was not their first rodeo.  They were busily arranging towels on the ground, bike shoes and running shoes lined up, socks carefully rolled for the quick change….  Meanwhile, there’s me, with all said items carefully “put” into a garbage bag and tied up to stay dry.  (and yes, it did rain a couple of times during the morning, so I was feeling pretty good about my choices as others dashed to cover up their meticulously laid out items).   The dad of the 10-year-old suggested, “You might want to place your helmet the other way.  You’ll get thru the transition a LOT faster.”  Yes, sir, I might, if I actually cared about getting thru the transition a LOT faster. 

And can we just take a moment here to talk about Triathlon Dads?  My kids are all involved in theatre, so I’m very familiar with the concept of Stage Moms and try my best NOT to be one.  But I am here to tell you, Stage Moms could learn a thing or two from Triathlon Dads.  Despite the fact that this was an all female event, and it was stated repeatedly, both in writing and in person, that the transition area was for (female) athletes only, these men were unfazed.  “Sir, you’re going to have to leave.”  “Oh, yeah, sure, just as soon as we take a look at the entrances for the bike and run, and the running course, and get all her gear re-arranged again, and make sure she’s stretched…”  Intense!  I had no idea!!  Amusing to say the least!  (And, for the record, much like the kids of Stage Moms, these girls were super sweet, and as soon as the Triathlon Dads cleared out, went right back to just enjoying the experience!)

For the swim, we had to place ourselves in a group from 1 to 10, 1 being the slowest.  I had been swimming a time that would put me somewhere between group 5 and 6, and this being my first triathlon, I agonized.   On the advice of my friend, Caitlin, at Healthy Tipping Point, I went ahead with group 6, and proceeded to wait over an hour to start the swim!  I was wishing I had bumped myself up just to get to start sooner, and standing in the line made me think so even more.  I was surprised how many women had put themselves in group 6 (the faster half of the pack) but had never timed themselves and hadn’t even been swimming to train for this.  OK, the 17-year-old I get, but the women my age?  Three cheers for self-confidence!   I tried to stretch and keep somewhat warm while waiting, because I swim much better if I’m warmed up (I’m talking, 20 minutes or so on an elliptical!) but it was absolutely frigid in the gym where we waited, and I’m honestly just too social to focus on stretching in line.  The time passed quickly because there were so many women with interesting stories to tell! 

I was so happy to get to the start I didn’t think twice about jumping in.  I’m used to swimming at my gym in a saline pool with maybe a few other people.  This morning it was cold, chlorine, and crowded.  We started at the shallow end and swam toward a much deeper end, and I don’t know why but seeing those lines slope down so far really freaked me out!  (No logic here—I grew up swimming and diving and am no stranger to deep water, but on this particular morning, those lines were making my head spin.)   It did not feel at all like the pool I’m used to, but I was swimming well, mostly in an attempt to get it over with!  I passed the woman in front of me at one of the turns, and had plenty of open water ahead of me.  Then, a couple of turns later, she slipped past me, awesome for her!  I figured she must have recovered.  I was wrong.   Once she passed me, she slowed to a crawl, and there was never enough space to pass her again.  I literally had to stop at least a dozen times during the last 2 laps, which meant the people behind me had to stop as well because of the traffic jam.  It was probably just as well, because I got out of the pool feeling not the least bit fatigued for the rest of the race.  But I will never question my swim placement again!

The run to the transition area in bare feet was actually fun.  I don’t think I’ll ever be a “barefoot runner” because I am way too old and practical, and I think about things like rocks, splinters and broken glass (not entirely irrational—one girl did step on a piece in the same area earlier in the morning!) but it was surprisingly comfortable running without my sneakers! 

Many of the better-prepared women had brought 5-gallon buckets to sit on in the transition area to change shoes.  Not a bad idea!  But I am happy to report that I managed to get my shoes on with no problems, balancing as in tree pose, thank you yoga classes!!

Updated my  Facebook status so my kids would know I was starting the bike later than expected, which proved futile because I just posted “Bike” (didn’t want Triathlon Dad to catch me wasting precious seconds in the transition!) and they didn’t know if that meant I had just started or just finished.  (They figured it out later… they’re smart kids!)  And I was off on the scariest bike ride of my life! 

According to MapMyRun, I was going as fast as 18mph.  (If you’re curious, next time you’re riding in a car going 15+mph, stick your head and torso out the window.)  When I drove the course earlier in the week, I had been worried about the hills.  After biking it, I don’t even remember the uphill parts—I know there were a few, but nothing too terrible.  What I do remember is FLYING downhill and thinking about all the different ways I might crash before reaching the end of the course.  The biking was my worst finish of all 3 events, and honestly, I’ll take it because I passed people going uphill and went literally as fast as I wanted to going down. 

Happy to make it back to the transition area, my legs felt just a little wobbly for the first few steps.  I grabbed my water bottle, updated my Facebook status (yes, I did!), and I was off for the 2 mile run.   By now it had warmed up a little, and I was really feeling good about my decision to get the tri suit and wear good running socks.  I was completely soaked, but not one bit uncomfortable, and the water actually helped keep me cool during the run.   

As usual, it took me a good half mile to get into a comfortable running pace.  The course was a one-mile loop we had to run twice.  I don’t enjoy running loops, usually, and this one started with another hill.  I debated whether to put in my earbuds, and when I finally did, all was right with the world.  I ran what felt like an easy pace, with no Nike+ voice in my ear to tell me the actual number.  It turned out to be an 11:00 pace, which is faster than what I’ve been doing in training.  I think I’ll never understand speed.  For the run I finished more than 60 places higher than my overall ranking.  That’s a huge deal for someone who, less than a year ago, “was not a runner, did not want to run.”

So, the numbers...  I’m a math geek.  When I train, I am never out to kill myself or push past pain or anything like that.  My goal is always to finish feeling like I could have done a little more, and to be ready to come back to train the next day.  I know that’s not the most aggressive approach, but it’s where I am.  I like to do what I’m going to do, and THEN look at the numbers and see how what I did compares to how I felt.  In training, I do try and focus on improving my form, figuring out what I’m doing (both wrong and right) and learn ways to improve.  On race day, it’s all about enjoying the event.  A sweet friend asked me, "How does one finish a triathlon with a smile on one's face?"  My honest answer: I never push past the point of smiling. I don’t go in with any thoughts of winning, but just try and enjoy the experience, and then look at the numbers afterwards.  I usually forget to even check the results until someone else posts something on Facebook! 

For this race, there were 513 participants, 64 in my age group (45-49).  My finishing time 1:24:50, which is actually faster than I had expected, based on my training times for each event.  I finished 371st over all (365th swim, 372nd bike, 310th run) and 48th in my age group (41st swim, 49th bike, 37th run).  My swim/bike transition was one of the slowest,  but my bike-run transition was one of the fastest.  My running time was just 3-4 minutes behind the top 3 finishers. 

What does all that mean?  I have no idea!  I finished in the middle of the pack, like I usually do.  I could definitely improve on my swimming and transition times, and the bike, like I said, was as fast as I wanted it to be!  I am most pleased with my running time because it was the last event, and the one I felt most comfortable doing!  I will probably never be the one to break the tape in a race, but I love being able to find a pace that’s so comfortable I feel like I could run forever.  

I really enjoyed training for this race.  It was a challenge to figure out the schedule and how to approach training for biking and swimming in a race situation.  It was a really fun, low-pressure event, and I met so many people with great stories about how they got there that morning. 

My daughter actually offered to go with me at 5:30 to the race, but with the nasty forecast, and not much to see until the end (no spectators in the pool area, and you can’t really “watch” a 9-mile bike ride) I just told them to come meet me at the finish line.  It’s certainly fun to have an entourage, balloons and signs at these things.  But I’ve found it’s also fun to be by yourself, and much easier to meet people!  If you’ve ever considered a race, but wondered about doing it 'alone,' I’d say go for it!  You’re only alone until the moment you share the first smile, and it’s all new friends from that point on! 

After swimming and biking, it was a little strange and a LOT of fun to hear people cheering me on during the run – calling me by name!  I had forgotten that I registered early enough to have my name put on my race bib.  (If you can, do that!!  It is great fun, especially near the end of the race!)  Then I heard my first AND last name—it was my son, right around the first half-mile.  They waited for me at the finish and got some fun photos, and then asked if there was anything specific I wanted to do (meaning, at the race—there were tents and vendors all over.) 

Yes... I wanted to go to Starbucks!  I’m usually OK running on an empty stomach, but by this time I was really missing my morning coffee.  Yes, there were three other vendors serving coffee at the race, but this was just a couple of blocks away...
Triathlon my way:  swim, bike, run, walk to Starbucks! 

I’m really looking forward to focusing on running again for a while, and then another Ramblin' Rose in Chapel Hill in October!  Check out Ramblin' Rose Events for the details and let me know if you'd like to give it a "tri"!! 

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