March 27, 2011

Super Seal Sprint Triathlon Recap

Today I completed my third triathlon, the Super Seal Sprint. It took place in Coronado (an island off of San Diego) and was held in conjunction with a longer, international distance triathlon. However, I did the sprint, which was a 500 meter bay swim, a 20k bike ride (about 12.43 miles) and a 6k run (about 3.72 miles).

I had a lot of trepidation going into this triathlon. Frankly, I was scared to death. I'd only done two triathlons before, both last October. My first one, the Mission Bay Triathlon, was hard but fantastic. But my second one, the Fearless Triathlon (which was a double mini-sprint) was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do both physically and mentally. Ever since then I've been terrified of doing another one. However, I have signed up for FOUR triathlons in 2011 (including one that is a much longer Olympic length one) so I knew I'd have to face my fears. I have been training diligently. My swims have gotten long---I can now do 2500 yards, nonstop, in the pool. My running, while always slow, is at it's peak (I even just did another half marathon two weeks ago). And my biking? Well, the bike has always been my nemesis, and while I have a long way to go to feel super confident on it, I knew I could handle the 12 mile flat course today. So while I have been nervous about this triathlon I have certainly been putting in the work and training.

It had been raining all week in San Diego, so I wasn't surprised on Thursday when I got an email from the race directors saying that there would be a possibility that the rain would cause too poor water quality to swim. The call would be made on race day, but we were to be prepared to compete in a duathlon instead (run/bike/run). I was truly bummed, as I wanted to compete in all three sports. I hoped that the rain would stop and the water quality would improve.

Yesterday I went to the expo to pick up my bib, timing chip, t-shirt and swim cap. I was a bundle of nerves. I kept thinking that the triathlon would be terrible, just like last time. I had to do a lot of self-talk, telling myself that it would be ok. After coming in third-to-last during the last triathlon, I was scared about possibly coming in last this time. And I had to be ok with that. After all, as long as I finished, I would be a winner.

After checking and re-checking my gear last night, I finally went to sleep. The alarm came too early at 4:45, but I was dressed and in my car by 5:00. I got to the race site, parked, and walked my bike through the darkness to the transition area. When I entered transition, I was told that the water quality was good, so there would be a swim after all, which made me happy. I went to go set up. In triathlon, you rack your bike by wave number. I was in wave 4. I found a rack that had plenty of room on it, but a few younger girls were already there and told me that it was really for wave 3. Ok. I found a spot on what looked like wave 4, racked my bike, and carefully unpacked my gear onto my towel. I left for a few minutes to get body marked (and by the way, I have to say that I love getting body marked....nothing makes me feel more like an official triathlete than having my race number in black marker on my arm and leg) and when I returned to my bike all the other bikes that had been by me were gone! One of the women called over to me that someone had told them that rack was for the relay. Yikes! I had to scramble to find a spot on a wave 4 rack...and those seemed to be filled. I finally found a spot and unpacked again...only to want to move further down the line and had to do the whole thing over for a third time. Ugh! Finally, though, I was unpacked with my gear organized. I put on my wetsuit and swimcap, grabbed my goggles, and headed down to the start of the swim.

The beach was packed with triathletes, all wearing their wetsuits and with different colored swimcaps on their heads (each wave had a different colored cap). The sprint started first, at 7:00, but since the international distance started at 8:00, and they were closing transition soon, most of those athletes were there too. I got into the water halfway just to feel how cold it was (a balmy 58* I was told) and to dip my face in to make sure my goggles were sealed tightly. They were. I stood on the beach for a while, when suddenly I noticed someone looking at me. She told me I looked familiar, as she did to me. It turns out that it was one of my Twitter and dailymile friends, Monika, whom I'd never met in person but chat with online. It was awesome to meet her, especially right before the race start, and with all of the people on the beach it was truly a coincidence.

Soon the race started. The first, second and third waves took off, and finally it was my wave's turn. It was a beach start, meaning that we were on the sand behind a start line and had to run into the water. The horn blared, and we all ran in. The water was cold, but my wetsuit kept me warm. I kept my head out of the water for the first part of the swim; there were so many people that I didn't want to risk not seeing and getting kicked in the face. Soon, however, I put in my face in the water. And there, I ran into trouble.

Let me preface this next part by saying that I have become quite good in the water. I swim twice a week, and have worked my way up to doing 50 laps, which is 2500 yards, non-stop. This swim was only about 1/5 of my usual swim. I thought it would be pretty easy and straight-forward. I did have some trouble on the swim of my first triathlon (an open-water swim is so much more difficult than a pool swim), but since I've improved so much since then, I thought I'd be fine.

For some reason, I was having a horrible time in the water. Awful. I couldn't remember how to breathe! The water was so cold that although my body was warm in my wetsuit, it shocked my face. I put my face in the water, but couldn't make my body exhale into the water. I started to freak out, and inadvertently started to gulp water. I started gasping out loud, trying to get some air and calm myself down. People started swimming into me, and over me. I tried again. Still, I couldn't exhale in the water. Now I was really panicking. For a moment, I thought that I might drown out there, although I knew I would be ok. I even had a brief second of thinking that I should look for one of the lifeguards (there are always tons of lifeguards in boats and on paddle boards, just in case), thinking that I would never make it. But then I got stern with myself and told myself to HTFU (harden the f*ck up, in triathlon terms). Even if I had to doggy-paddle the 500 meters, I would finish the swim.

Soon I rounded the first buoy, and this is when things finally got better. The crowd had thinned around me, and I was warmed up sufficiently to put my face in the water again. Magically, I was able to breathe! I completed the rest of the swim with no trouble at all, even doing my bilateral breathing. I was ahead of tons of people in my wave, and even passed people from wave 3, who had entered the water ahead of me (and two people from wave 2!) I was tired, even more tired than doing 2500 yards, but I think that the cold water makes my muscles more exhausted. I finally reached the finish, got out of the water, smiled for the photographer, and ran to transition.

After getting out of my wetsuit, rinsing my feet with water, putting on my socks, shoes and long-sleeved tech-shirt, I was ready to ride. This was the part I had been dreading: the bike. I put on my helmet, walked to the mount line, and got on. It was game-time.

Amazingly enough, I had the best bike ride! The course was almost entirely flat. There were lots of people on the course, but it wasn't at all crowded. Although people passed me, as usual, for the first time I actually passed a few riders myself! I kept my cadence nice and smooth, and my legs felt fine throughout. The sun was shining, and the view of San Diego and the bay was spectacular. I passed a flock of seagulls squawking, and I remember thinking to myself what a glorious bike ride it was. I even named my new bike on the ride (I finally got a road bike a few months ago, after months of riding my old hybrid). My bike is now officially named True Blue (yes, she's a pretty blue color). I had my Garmin on, which was so helpful. This was my first triathlon using a Garmin, and it was good for me mentally to see how far I'd gone and how far I had yet to go.

One moment of levity happened at this point: as I headed to the last U-turn before going back to transition, the volunteers were trying to direct me to head a certain way through some cones. I said ok...and kept going straight! They yelled after me that I was going the wrong way. I had to stop, get off my bike and come around the right way. One of the volunteers said, "I hear there's some nasty bacteria in the water today, it probably caused you not to think clearly, don't worry about it." Say what? He started laughing and telling me he was joking. Whew! For a minute there I thought the water really HAD been unsafe!

I ended my ride, got off the bike at the dismount line, and went back into transition. I racked my bike, took off my helmet, and went out for the run portion. First I made a stop at a bathroom (and it was a real bathroom, not a nasty port-o-potty), since I had swallowed so much nasty bay water! The run was pretty uneventful. I had some pain in my left hamstring and calf, so I did more walking than I had wanted to, but at that point I just wanted to finish. And even though I did some walking and had a pit stop, my running pace was actually pretty good. Soon enough, the finish line was ahead of me and I was done! I was officially a triathlete for the third time!

I am so happy with myself. I really needed a good triathlon after the last one...and I had a great one! And despite my fears, I came in FAR from last place. I was also far from first place, of course, but I was not the slowest person out there. My confidence is boosted from my bike portion. I know now what I need to work on: more long bike rides (especially hills) and more open-water swims.

Next up on my race docket is the Spring Sprint triathlon in May, and the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Half Marathon in June. And since my huge, Olympic sized triathlon is in September, you can bet I'll be working very hard this spring and summer so that I do well.


  1. Great race report. So glad you had a good race today. The more open water swims you practice, the better your races will go. Trust me on that. You are just going to get better and better at this. :)

  2. Great race! Sorry to hear about your water freakout. sounds similar to my experience in the club race the weekend prior. Counting my strokes really helped me calm down yesterday. I started counting the second I started swimming. It gave me something else to focus on and the breathing somehow came naturally with it. It seems that the more I focus on my breathing the worse I do with it. Too funny about the guy talking about the bacteria in the water. Gross!

  3. Congrats on an awesome tri!

  4. This post makes me proud to be your electronic friend! Great recap and congrats on your 3rd!!!

  5. Sweet! We have a mini triathalon here by Lake Erie in might have just inspired me to try it out!

  6. Thanks for stopping by my blog! One question...did you go to the tri alone? Where are the PICS!?

  7. Good for you SM! So happy to hear that you had a GREAT event!!!

    As for what happened when you started the swim, I did some research after my first Tri because the same thing happened to me (actually, my hubby did the research...but still). Apparently our bodies are "programed" to react like that - gasping, etc - when our mouths - specifically our lips - come into contact with cold water! So it's just a matter of conditioning ourselves to get used to it and not feel "shocked" when we put our faces in even though it's effing COLD! Good for you for pushing through - I gave up and did the backstroke the entire swim during my first because I couldn't get past the panic.

    Also happy to hear you felt stronger on the bike - as you keep telling me for the swimming - just keep doing it and you'll get more confident each time!

    Congrats again!

  8. Geeeeeeez, you scare me to death of that swim!! :)
    What a special what to name your bike, during your triathlon! Love the name too.
    And congratulations!! You did fantastic! Very inspiring to me as I train for my first.

  9. Wow, everyone seems to have water freak-outs.. I'm sure I will too the next time I'm out there. I've been following your DailyMile swims, and you definitely seem like you have this distance down easy! And, on these "shorter" tri's.. the transition times seem SOO critical! Have you thought of biking without socks? That might save a minute. Seems to take me at least that long to roll socks on over damp feet.

  10. I have just signed up for my first Tri for June 18th. I am a pretty strong swimmer, but I know it's different in the open water. Quick question... how do I know if I need a wetsuit? Are there any webpages that explain? Thanks.

  11. Tina, here is a website that explains the rules: Basically official USAT rules say that if the water is 78 or cooler you may wear one. You don't wear one in a pool (you wouldn't want to anyway, as the chlorine would break it down). If you are doing a tri in a body of water with cooler temperatures (60's or below) definitely look into them. You can buy one, or some places rent them. They also give buoyancy, which is awesome. Good luck on your first tri!

  12. My first every sprint tri is this Sunday. I am scared to death. My first and I am 50. I've been training since February, I'm not fast, I can swim, run and bike but it aint pretty. To make matters worse my high anxiety is causing my hot flashes to go nuts and make me nausious. I really didn't think it was a big deal til all of my friends at the Y baled on me one by one. Wish me luck! I just want to finish! Gina

  13. Thank you so much for the feedback on the Super Sprint. I'll be doing the Super Sprint II on 3/18/2012 for my 2nd Tri. I freaked out in my first one in choppy Lake Mich water so I'm hoping I'm better prepared for this one. (I live in Chicago). Question though....did the salt water make it worse? I've never trained or swam in salt water so I'm curious of your suggestions. I'm also going to rent a bike somewhere in La Jolla where we are staying.

    thanks again.....Mark

  14. Hi Mark! I have never NOT done a triathlon in salt water; living in San Diego, that's all we have! So I can't answer your question about that...but the water was very calm it's a bay, so don't worry about it being choppy. I will be there again this year, but instead I'm doing the Super Seal (the Olympic distance). If you have further questions feel free to email me...sugarmarnolia70 at gmail. Good luck!!!


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