September 18, 2011

San Diego Classic Triathlon Recap

Yesterday I competed in my first Olympic-distance triathlon---the San Diego Classic Triathlon. It was double any distance I had previously done, which had all been sprint triathlons. This was a 1500 meter swim, a 40k (24.8 miles) bike ride, and 10k (6.2 miles) run. All in all, I am very proud of myself for completing this race. As I mentioned, it was double the length of any triathlon I had done to date (in fact, the swim was triple the length I had done in a previous race). I trained very hard for it all summer, and although I was very nervous this past week, I completed it, and crossed the finish line smiling and with gas still left in the tank. The day was perfect for a triathlon--it was overcast and I didn't see the sun all day.

The night before, the family and I went to the expo for my packet pickup. I was pleased to see that racers got not one, but TWO t-shirts! One was a cool tech shirt, from Moment Cycle Sport, where the expo was held. Score! When we got home I triple-checked my gear and my bike and loaded it all in the car. Since I had to leave the house by 4:30 in the morning, I wanted everything pre-loaded in the car. I even pre-made my peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich and put it in the fridge for the morning. I taped my foot with KT Tape (for my plantar fasciitis) and went to bed early. Unfortunately, I did not sleep well. I was up tossing and turning, and although I eventually fell asleep, I was up for good at 2:30. I got out of bed earlier than planned, got dressed,
choked down ate my sandwich, and was out the door by 4:20.

I arrived in Point Loma, parked my car, and walked to the line waiting to get into transition (the transition area opened at 5:00). They were bodymarking people before they even entered transition, which I had never seen before. During my previous four triathlons, I would rack my bike and then go track down a volunteer to bodymark me. After I got bodymarked, I started to make my way into the transition area when a USAT official (this is the governing body of triathlon) stopped me. She pointed to my bike and informed me that I was missing a stopper on one of my handlebars, and that I needed to get this fixed or else I would be disqualified. Of course, this completely freaked me out. On my previous triathlons, I don't remember any USAT officials being there; this place was crawling with them! And I was upset that I might not be able to do the race. Luckily, they had tons of extra plugs (I saw lots of other people taking them, too, so I wasn't the only one!) and I was able to quickly remedy the situation. ( I later looked on the USAT website, and found that this is, indeed, a rule: (i) Handlebars and stem must be fashioned to prevent any danger. All handlebar ends must be solidly plugged to lessen the possibility of injury.)

After my bike was taken care of, I was able to relax, rack my bike and set up transition. My friend Angi, whom I met on dailymile and has since become my awesome long-distance biking partner, told me she was coming to cheer me on. Indeed, she texted me at 5:30 and told me she was there. When I went to look for her, she had a present for me:

I had asked on Twitter the day before for someone to send me some HTFU (harden the f*ck up) juice...and this present was great! I had it on my towel throughout the triathlon, and it made me smile each time I came back to transition. By the way, Angi was there during the entire race, cheering me on. I really appreciated it!

I visited the port-o-potty during this time, and was pleasantly surprised to see two sets of portables: one had signs that said "#1 only" and the other set said "#2 only". It was nice to use a port-o-potty that didn't stink! Thank you, race organizers!

Soon enough, it was time to get on my wetsuit and make my way down to the water. Mine was the 3rd wave start, which was great because I didn't have long to wait in the water (it was a water start). The water was actually warm(ish) and felt good. As I was waiting in the water, I put my head in the water, exhaled and swam a bit, wanting to warm-up; I learned from a previous triathlon that failure to do so may result in me having a panic attack in the water. As I did, I noticed that my new goggles were leaking a bit. I just bought these goggles last week, and did a 1500 yard swim with them in the pool and they were fine! Luckily, I was able to get them to seal right before my wave started.

Finally, it was my wave's turn. The one thing I hate about triathlon swim is the number of people that you have to fight with at the beginning to get real estate. I, like many people, have a fear of getting punched in the face or kicked in the nose. I decided to hang back a bit this time, which ended up being a great decision for me. Whenever there were suddenly lots of people in front of me, I would slow down and let them go ahead. This greatly eased my anxiety.

As this was the longest open-water swim I have ever done, the swim course looked daunting. It was a loooooong swim straight down, then a u-turn to come back down the same way.

For a while it seemed that I would never get to the turn-around point! I decided to play a game with myself to pass the time and to lessen my anxiety, which was to count my breaths. I counted each time I breathed (I breathe bilaterally) and when I got up to 41 (which is how old I am) I would start all over. After doing this pattern a few times, I was sufficiently calmed down enough and was actually able to enjoy myself. One thing that was great was that during my sprint triathlons, I am always tired and have a hard time, which is frustrating because those are only 500 meters and I can easily do up to 3000 yards or more in the pool. What I realized is that, even in the pool, it takes me a good 500 yards for me to warm up and for my shoulders and arms to cooperate. So, in a sprint, by the time I'm warmed up I'm out of the water, making the swim time miserable for me. Yesterday, the first part of the swim was hard, but after I warmed up the last 1000 meters or so was actually fun! Before I knew it, it was time to head in. I had expected to take about 40 minutes for the swim, and I nailed that time.

My T1 (transition 1) was long....too long. I was trying to dry my feet well before putting my socks on, as I had the KT Tape on them. Then it took me forever to get my helmet and race belt on, etc. I definitely need to work on my T1, as I could easily shave 2-3 minutes off it. Finally, I got my bike, walked to the mount line, got on, and I was off!

The bike portion started off nice and flat. A biker just ahead of me suddenly skidded out and fell; for the life of me, I don't know why, as it was flat with a nice road. After this incident there was a portion we had to ride single file and go over a few speed bumps. When I did, my sunglasses (which I had hooked my tri top, as it was too cloudy for me to want them on my face) fell off and onto the road. I had to get out of line and pedal back to retrieve them. Finally, I was really on my way. The bike course is notoriously hilly, as it goes up to Cabrillo National Monument. The race website bills it as "a very challenging and hilly 40 km route". I had previously biked most of the route with Angi; in fact, we've biked it twice and I felt confident on those hills. However, there is an extremely hilly portion that we were not able to practice on, as it's part of the Naval Base and usually closed to civilians. Seeing that hill for the first time almost took my breath away; it was very steep and very long. Looking at my Garmin data after the race, I saw it was 7.5% grade over a half mile. Everyone was going slowly up this part; it was daunting. I had to stop a few times to the side to catch my breath, as I was breathing so hard I was afraid I would hyperventilate. The hill seemed to never end; just when I thought I was at the top, we would turn a corner and continue to ascend.

Finally I was at the top of that monstrous hill. As I was climbing up, an ambulance had passed me, and at the top I saw why: a biker was down, and his entire head and face were bandaged. I don't know what happened to him, but it didn't look good. I hope he was ok. After I passed this incident, I was on more familiar hills that I had previously practiced on. I completed those, and was finally on the downhills. At one point I was going 31 mph! I got to the bottom, and had to loop around to do the whole thing over again (the bike course consisted of doing the route twice). I was exhausted by this point, and did NOT want to do that big hill again, but had no choice. When I jokingly complained to a volunteer at the bottom of the hill, they joked back that "it would be easier the second time." Ha! It was even worse the second time up! Again, I stopped a few times on the way up to catch my breath. Ahead of me I saw not one, not two, but THREE people walking their bikes up. I was bummed I had to stop to catch my breath, but I was proud of myself for riding the whole thing. There was no way I was going to walk up with my bike. One of the hard parts for me was deciding how hard to push it on the bike. I needed to really use my muscles to get up those hills, but I didn't want to use all my energy, as I still had to conserve enough to run 10k.

I should mention that before and after each segment of the race, I saw my friend Angi, who was there with her cowbell and cheering me on. This helped lift my spirits so much! I highly encourage friends and family to go root your runners and triathletes on during races if you can; words can't express how much it can mean to the athlete.

I made it through the second loop, and once again found myself in transition. I racked my bike, took off my helmet, and went out for my run....first, with a stop at the port-o-potty. I had ingested so much water during the swim that I was uncomfortable on the bike, and there was no way I would have been able to run 6.2 miles without using the bathroom first. I finished and jumped onto the run course, which consisted of two mostly-flat loops. As I started the first loop, I was happy not only see Angi, but my family! My husband, J, was there was both kids, D and A. I was thrilled to see them, and D even ran alongside me for a bit.

The run segment actually seemed to go fast, even though it was over an hour for slow-runner me. I ran with a guy for a while who told me it was his 40th birthday. What a way to celebrate turning the big 4-0! I saw my family and Angi again when I was finishing the first loop...and knew I wanted to complete my second loop as fast as possible to them again. I took my walk breaks as needed, but overall averaged my usual pace. I was finally in sight of the finish line, and ran to the finish. I finished just shy of my projected 4 hour time, and although I was very tired at the end (especially cardio-wise) I still had enough energy that had I needed to do so, I could have kept going for a bit. I got an amazing medal (depicting an athlete swimming, biking and running) and was off to find my family.

I am so proud of myself for doing this race. Yes, I was slow---one of the slowest on the course--but I finished it. In fact, J said that he saw a few people being taken off the course for not finishing the swim or bike portions in the alloted time, so I am glad I was at least fast enough to avoid being pulled! This (doing an Olympic-distance triathlon) was a challenge that I had set for myself at the beginning of the year, and I did it. The next step would be a half-Ironman distance (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run); I don't know if I am able to even consider doing that one day. For now, this is enough. I plan on competing in two Olys next year, which, in addition to all the half marathons I have planned, should be enough to keep me active and in shape.


  1. The swim looks long but it also looks like a fun one. Great job!

  2. Congratulations!!!
    Your friend Angie ROCKS, super cool water bottle! I may have to copy that & bring it with me to Chicago!
    That's hilarious that they labeled the porta potties #1 & #2,HAHA, I'd feel awkward waiting in the #2 line though.
    Also, VERY interesting about the swim, and getting warmed up, I wonder if that's part of my issue with the sprint tri swim. Guess I'll have to sign up for an Oly to find out!
    Congratulations, amazing job!

  3. Congratulations!! I wish I had seen you! I was at the finish area from 3:40 on the clock until about 4:00, but if you started after gun time you probably finished a short while after. I'm glad your swim went well this time! I can't imagine ever not hating the swim. :oP BTW I always have to count my breaths in open water or I will def freak out. :)

  4. Congratulations!! Amazing job conquering the longer distance!

  5. I'm so proud of you!! Glad I could be there to cheer you to the finish line. Here's to your next challenge!

  6. Congratulations on a fabulous first Olympic Triathlon, Mama! So proud of you. I felt like I was with you reading this. I teared at the parts about your friend Angi and family being there.. *sniff sniff*

    Great job. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Congrats on your first oly!!! Way to make it up those hills, as someone who ended up walking up a bi%@& of a hill in an oly I'm very proud of you!! And you can do a 70.3 and I bet you will soon. :)

  8. I am soo proud of you! You so rock!!! What a great recap! I hope that biker was okay! Och!

  9. Great Job!! And I totally think you are 100% correct on the swim longer distance races you have to go all out the 1st 400-500m then "settle" into a groove whereas in a sprint there is no finding your groove. Great work on the hills and I KNOW you'll tackle that's in you!!

  10. Way to go SM! Sounds like you really had a great 1st Oly, which means more good ones to come!


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