Monday, August 1, 2011

Stoneman Triathlon

A few days before the Stoneman Triathlon, I tried to gauge my overall fitness in two foreign sports to determine if I could or should register.  Shane found a bike for me to borrow from a friend of a friend.  He picked up the bike for me on Wednesday evening; two and a half days before the triathlon.  One day before online registration closed.

I went on a six mile ride on a loop around our house.  I did it in 26 minutes.  Ugh.  That means 52 minutes for 12 miles.  Looking at the race results from last year, I would need to be closer to 40 minutes to be competitive at all. Shane gave me a few good excuses like the hilly route I took and the fact that I wasn't going "all out" because I wasn't racing.  I happily agreed, even though in the back of my mind, I knew that wasn't the case.  I wasn't sure I'd do much better in a race.  I pushed those thoughts out of my head, even though I knew I could not make up the time I needed to be happy with my performance.

On Thursday morning (the deadline day for registration), I planned to go to Eisenhower pool to see how I could do swimming.  I used to swim all the time as a kid--literally every single day of my summer for a decade was spent at Colony West pool.  So I thought, maybe it will come back to me quickly?  Maybe I'd be able to pull this off?  Unfortunately, Eisenhower pool changed its summer hours, and they were not open to public lap swims on Thursday morning, only Thursday night.  I had volleyball on Thursday night.  So, I guess I'm not going to be able to swim.

Even though I was unable to swim and did not feel good about my biking time, I registered anyways.  I just don't understand my thought process sometimes.  I somehow think that it will be just fine.  I'm registering for a triathlon with absolutely no training, and I think I will be okay.  There is a fine line between courage and stupidity in decision making sometimes. 

I can't believe I am doing this.  Sure, the 5K run is no problem. I have been running for nearly a year now with a half marathon completed just a few months ago.  I haven't swam more than a few feet at a time in a couple of decades. I never ride my bike. What could go wrong, really?  Don't answer that.

So here it is!  It's the morning of the triathlon.  We get up, throw on our stuff, grab our bags and go.  The starting line is just a couple miles from our house.  There are so many people here!  We park and walk our bikes to the transition area.  They write our bib numbers on our arms and legs.  We take our bikes and set them up in our appropriate "wave".  The different waves are determined by gender and age.  I'm with 39 and under.

The bike rack for my wave is nearly full, so I take a spot at the very end.  I watch other people to see how they are setting things up.  I set my towel down, and lay out my running shoes with a sock in each shoe so I won't be fumbling with them after the swim.  I also lay out my shirt, shorts, biking helmet and a bag of gummy bears.  I attach the GPS to the handle bars and turn it on so it's ready to go when I'm done with the swim.  Oh man, I'm getting nervous!

We walk down to the lake for announcements and stretching.  Shortly after that, the Iron Abe contestants start their swims.  The Iron Abe route is twice as long, not for the faint of heart!  We watch as the first four waves go.  They are going every three minutes.  I am in wave six.  Shane is in seven.  Oh jeeze, it's my turn!  I put on the swimcap and goggles and slowly walk into the lake.  The water is a warm 89 degrees.  Ewwwww, did I tell you that I absolutely hate lake water and the feeling of the algae all over the boat ramp is making me want to hurl?!  Gross! Gross! Gross!  All right Tammy, suck it up girl!

I look out 250 yards to a yellow marker in the lake.  That is my destination.  It doesn't really look so bad from here.  It's the moment of truth.  They count down for our wave to begin, and we are OFF!  I pretty much let everyone go in front of me, but I'm still being bumped by the others who had the same plan.  I start with a slow freestyle stroke.  I come up for my first breath and it just doesn't feel long enough to take in the amount of air I need.  I try breathing on every third stroke.  Still  not enough.  I have a minor panic attack and begin to do a breast stroke.  At first I allow my face to go under, then I start feeling like I don't want my face to go under at all.  I just can't get my breathing under control.  My heart is racing.  I'm not processing air well, and I'm going SO SLOW! I swallow lake water several times as I gasp for air.  The lake is so disgusting...and I'm drinking it while trying to stay alive.

About two-thirds of the way out to the turn around, I stop at at a one of the surfboards manned by a lifeguard to rest.  I am so happy to stop for a moment because I'm absolutely winded and exhausted.  I can barely believe how I feel.  I look back to see how far I've come so far, and the other way to see how far I still have to go.  I really start questioning whether or not I'm going to make it.  There are two other people resting on the surfboard with me, so I don't feel so bad about that.  I think, it's now or never.  I push off and start swimming again.  Immediately, I'm tired and winded.  I severely underestimated how hard this would be.  The panic really starts to set it now.  I'm not sure I can make it, and I feel a bit of terror come over me.  I can't quit, but I really doubt I can keep this up for another 300 yards!

At this moment, almost as if it was on cue, one of the other people who stopped at the surf board with me starts calling for help.  I see the jet ski turn around and head behind me, but I don't know what happened to her.  I'm guessing they pulled her out of the water.  This doesn't help my state of mind at all.  At this point, I'm being passed and ran into by people from the wave that started three minutes after mine.  This is the wave Shane is in.  I roll over onto my back and start doing a backstroke.  This is the only way that I can keep my head out of the water to breathe and not expend too much energy.  My goal now is just to make it back to shore.

I'm mostly just using my legs, but work my arms and hands into it occasionally.  I wonder how slow I'm actually going because it's very hard to tell with no point of reference except the sky.  I stop and pop my head up every so often to make sure I'm not getting in anyone's way, and that I'm not veering wildly off course.  I have no idea while I'm on my back which way I'm facing.  I look up and the lines of clouds and try to focus on following one.  I'm fairly relaxed while doing this, I should have done it from the start instead of stopping at that board.  If it wasn't for people running in to me and smacking me in the face every now and then, I'd be perfect!

Then I hear, "Tam, is that you?"  It's Shane, and he's caught up to me.  I tell him I am so tired, but doing okay.  I try to reassure him with my voice.  I now know I could stay on my back indefinitely kicking toward the shore.  I tell him I am fine, and he swims on ahead.  I'm getting closer.  Dear God, let this swim end soon!

I look up to see how much farther it is and it seems just within my reach.  I return to the breast stroke and side stroke to make sure I'm heading in the right direction.  Our friend, Dave (Perfect Concept Photography) is cheering me on from the dock.  I know he's here to take pictures, but I seriously can't imagine having this moment documented.  I continue to side stoke intentionally facing away from the camera--easier than trying to tell him no pictures please.  Then finally, I make it to the ramp!  Oh sweet Jesus, thank you for keeping me safe! 

Swim results:  20:46.8 - Amazingly awful, but I'm alive!  Next time, train for it, idiot!

I run to the transition area, completely winded and exhausted.  I pass a couple of older triathletes who lapped me during the swim.  They kicked my butt!  One of their friends snaps a picture, and I run right in front of the camera.  Oops!  (A mutual friend from Facebook shares the picture with me later, see left.)  I am so wiped out that I consider walking, but I know I have so much time to make up.

I enter the first transition by trying to dry off a little, but it doesn't seem to matter because I'm so soaking wet.  I grab my socks and put the first one on after drying my foot a little.  Worthless, still so wet.  I put on my shoe.  I don't even try to dry off my other foot.  I pull the sock on, put on my shoe, look over at the stack of items still sitting there, and realize I haven't put on my shorts yet.  Aw, man!  I try to pull my shorts on over my shoes, and I almost fall over.  I catch my balance, and hope no one is watching me.  It's pretty deserted around here.  Most people are already on their bikes, thank goodness.

I finally get my socks, shoes, shorts, shirt and helmet on, grab my bike off the rack and head out.  I fumble with the GPS, trying to get it on my wrist, but my fine motor skills seem to have completely disappeared after a swim like that.  I get on the bike and start riding. 

Transition #1:  2:46.8.  Again, not good at all.  Nearly three minutes!

For the first mile or two, I'm still trying to catch my breath.  I'm trying to get my legs to work properly.  I'm trying to adjust the gears on the bike.  I'm trying to get this damn watch on!!  It's a quarter of a mile in to the bike portion when I realize that I haven't started the GPS.  Finally, I'm situated, and I settle into my ride. 

I am being passed by people every once and a while.  On rare occasion, I pass someone, but not often.  I try to drink some Gatorade to rehydrate before I have to run.  As I put the bottle back in the holder on the bike, I nearly drop it.  Yikes!  I need to be more careful next time.  Just about that time, I pass the first water bottle on the side of the road.  I would see several that day.

I'm riding along and finally start feeling better around the Pawnee Road turn off.  I pass someone and try to push harder than I have been for the first couple of miles.  I hate riding uphill, but I try my "Kill the Hill" mantra from the half marathon.  Just get through this I keep telling myself.  Every once and a while, someone passes me and tells me "great job".  I love the camaraderie that comes with these types of sports.  It always seems like it's just the time that I need encouragement too.

As I approach the turn-around at the halfway mark, I slow down considerably and allow the Iron Abe bikers to have the full right of way merging through.  I start to head back, and I feel much better now.  I'm still not going really fast, but I feel respectable.  I remember that I stashed gummy bears for a quick sugar fix during the race.  I pull them out and start downing them.  If I had a glass of cold water right now, it would be heaven!  I have to settle for lukewarm orange Gatorade. 

I also remember the gel pack that I stashed with the gummies.  They gave them out with the registration packets.  I know you are not supposed to do anything new on race day, but I don't have that much longer to go.  If it gives me some energy, then great.  I rip off the top and take a little bit in.  It is absolutely disgusting!  It's like warm jelly that doesn't even taste that good.  If it was cold, I could have possibly tolerated it, but this was just plain gross.  I stash the rest of the pack on my handlebars and go back to eating the gummy bears.

 © Perfect Concept Photography 2011
I finally reach the turn by the zoo, and I can't believe I'm almost done with this ride.  The final stretch along Center Park had people cheering, and Dave was there for a picture.  For some stupid reason, I try to force a smile.  It comes off very much as a grimace.  Lovely.  Helpful hint:  unless you are highly photogenic, it is best to just ignore the camera and act natural.  I have no business trying to "pose" for a picture at this point in my day.

Bike results:  48:13.2. Sigh.

I approach the transition area, get off the bike and walk it in.  Since I biked with my running shoes on, I don't have much to do except put my bike back and take the helmet off.  I wonder how many people run out with their helmets still on?  I feel like I'm forgetting something.  Could it be that easy?  Oh well, I take off for my run.

Transition #2:  49.7 seconds.  Not bad.  Good thing I didn't have to change shoes.

OH. MY. GOODNESS.  My legs HATE me!  The initial part of the run is uphill: up from Lindsay Bridge boat ramp parking lot to the beach house area.  My calves are seizing up and cramping.  I keep thinking, just run through it.  It will stop.  I keep going, past the finish line area, where tons of people are lining the course to watch the finishers coming in.  I still have about 30 minutes to go before I'll be back here.  I glance at the GPS which says I'm going about 9:40ish.  I'm dying!  So I slow it down.

I push through the first mile in hopes that my legs will feel better and they don't.  I don't want to walk, but my legs are begging me to.  I run out onto East Lake Drive, cross the road and decide to walk for a minute.  I just can't take it!  As soon as I go to walk, someone runs by me and says, "let's go!", urging me to run again.  I answer back that I'm trying.  It's enough encouragement to get my legs moving again.  I decide that I'm going to walk through a couple of the water stations, but try to run for the rest.  The strategy works okay for me, and by the turn around, my legs are feeling much better.  The guy right in front of me is doing a reasonable pace, so I decide to latch on to him for the rest of the run.  I walk through one last water station, keeping my pacer in my sights.  The large cup of ice water that I'm holding is amazing!  I keep running, I'm back into Center Park now.  The end is in sight!

My watch rings out an alert:  three miles done.  With only a tenth of a mile left, I call on everything I have left from my legs.  I lengthen my stride and push through to the finish.  My pacer has also picked up his pace.  I never catch up to him until the moment that I run into the back of him when he stops to take off his timing bracelet after crossing the finish line.  I apologize and then step to the side to have mine taken off. My final tenth of a mile was done at a 7:42 pace.  If I still had that in me, why couldn't I do better on that run?

5K results: 31:50.1.  This is my slowest 5K time ever. Okay, so it was the toughest 5K I have ever ran!

© Perfect Concept Photography 2011
I'm done.  I survived!  I can't even believe it!  I signed up for a sprint triathlon with no training and lived to tell about it.

Overall time:  1:44:26.6.

A few things I have learned from this experience: (1) I need to do another one of these; (2) I need to actually train for it; (3) I need to get a better bike; and (4) I need to learn how to swim!  In my overall results, I had the 8th slowest swim time and 18th slowest biking time.  For a competitive person like me, it is horrible to see my name so low on a list.  Out of 220 participants, I finished at 203.  I hate even admitting that.  I was beat by 70 year olds, and probably an 80 year old or two as well.  Nothing against them, they are amazing warriors, but I should be able to at least hang with the 70 year olds, right?

In hindsight, I'm kind of glad Eisenhower pool wasn't open for a lap swim that morning.  Had I been able to get into the pool, I would have realized that I was amazingly unprepared for a 500 yard swim.  I probably wouldn't have signed up.  I do not regret signing up at all.  This was an awesome experience that I hope to repeat with a little better outcome in the future.  So, time to start figuring out a training plan for another triathlon, as well as how to run faster in the meantime.  I've got a year until I can do this one again.  I can't let this be my one and only showing at a triathlon.  I have no choice but to train.  Until next time...

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