This weekend I participated in my first ever triathlon. It was something I had decided a couple of months ago to give myself a new and interesting challenge for the first half 2009. And so early this morning, I found myself lining up along the beach of Guelph Lake ready to participate in my first triathlon.
I had been pondering the idea of participating in a triathlon for a little while and it had always seemed to be some giant insurmountable physical task (which it isn’t!). And so after doing a bit of research and found out that the distances involved in a triathlon aren’t as bad as I thought it would be (I was thinking about the Ironman distance which is really nuts!), I settled for the Olympic distance which still seemed to be quite a challenge, but definitely something I would be able to overcome with some training. The distances for the Olympic distance are 1.5km swim, 40km bike, and 10km run – and by themselves seem pretty manageable. However, when you string them together consecutively, that could be another story…
And so, a couple months ago on a cold February night, I went past the point of no return and signed up for the Guelph Lake triathlon event. I submitted my application, paid the registration fee, and essentially gave myself no way to back out of the event, even if I wanted to. It was to be the first Olympic distance in Ontario for the 2009 season and something I felt would be a worthy accomplishment to check off on my lifetime to-do list.
And overall, it went much better than I had expected. My goal for the event was just to finish the race (they have a 4 hour time limit) and based on some of my training times, I was projecting a 3 and a half hour race if everything went well.
And so allow me as I indulge myself and take a bit of time to recap the race and relish the moment of completing the event. Overall, I came 361st out of 465 participants, and 18th out of 20th in my age group. But the main thing that I’m proud of is the fact that I beat my goalof3.5 hrs, completing the race in a total time of 3 hrs 5min 40 sec. Here’s how it got broken down:
Swim: 33min 1 sec
Bike: 1hr 27 min 6 sec
Run: 59min 24 sec
And now for the recap of the event:
This was quite a rush with a mass start for all 465 participants. I started off towards the back of the pack, and relatively quickly settled into a groove. I had a couple issues in sighting and got a bit off track for the first part of the swim. I definitely got swum over and tangled up with a bunch of other swimmers, but because I felt really comfortable in the water (and with the added buoyancy of a wetsuit) I was able to stay calm, relaxed, and focused on pulling with my arms and gliding through the water.
On the second lap of the swim on the home stretch back towards the beach, I got into a really nice groove with this girl who was swimming right next to me. I think we sort of drafted off each other for a bit and pushed each other to keep up the pace and stroke rate.
As I stepped out of the water, I couldn’t believe it heraing James yell at me that I was out in only 33 minutes. Maybe it was the adrenaline of the whole event, the extra buoyancy/speed of the wetsuit, or both compbined, but it looked like things were off to a really good start.
This was a frustrating transition. After getting out of the water and feeling quite good, I struggled for a bit to start undoing my wetsuit. It turns out there is a velcro flap at the top that prevents the zipper from getting yanked down during the swim and it took me a while to figure out to undo that before finally getting the zipper undone. The other even more frustrating part of the transition was that my left contact had fallen out during the swim (it was still sitting in my goggles when I took them off) and after struggling for about 5 minutes trying to put it back in, I eventually just gave up and completed the rest of the race with clear vision from only one eye. Who needs depth perception anyways?
This was the longest leg of the race, but also the leg I felt most comfortable in. Getting into a groove wasn’t really a problem, and I was able to rehydrate myself and get some fuel in me to help push through the rest of the race. Right off the bat I ate this energy gel that’s supposed to give you lots of energy, but it was really thick and actually quite disgusting tasting. I think it did help though as I felt fine going through the rest of the bike course.
Overall, the bike course went well – though it was mentally tough getting passed all the time by other riders. I like to think that they had a lighter and more efficient bike than mine as I was using a pretty old bike I got second hand off of craigslist. What was encouraging though was on the uphills as I was able to make up some time and pass some people (but only to be passed agian on the flats and downhill sections of the course). Also encouragin was seeing my times through the different splits and knowing that I was on pace for a faster than normal bike ride.
Coming back into the transition area was great. The fans and spectators were cheering and I had a perfect dismount just before the line where you have to get off the bike and run your bike into the transition area. I was in and out in a jiffy as I already had my shoes on and just had to rack my bike and take off my helmet.
The run was by far the toughest leg for me and I knew it would be going in. What didn’t help was that just after leaving the transition area, and trying to get the blood flowing to my legs, the muscles in my quads starting cramping up big time. It got pretty bad and I had to take some time to try to walk it off, even stop to try and stretch it out, and just push through the sometimes excrutiating pain. Trust me, it’s not fun when you want to run, feel ok to run, but just can’t becaus your muscles are cramping and shouting at you to stop. And so it continued on and off for the first 3 kilometers where it would start to release and I would try some light jogging, but then a different area of my quad would start to cramp up and I would be forced back to a walking pace.
Eventually though by kilometer 4 I was somehow able to get jogging consistently and starting to focus again on the race and not on my muscle cramps. Kilometers 4, 5, and 6 allowed me to transition up to the race pace I wanted and I was slowly able to overtake almost a dozen people during these next few kilometers.
K 7 and 8 would have been the toughest if it weren’t for all the pevious muscle cramps. I had to really focus on keeping up the pace and finishing strong. At K8 I kept up with another runner who looked like he wanted to make a stronger push for the last 2 k, and boy was that a struggle! Finally, in the home stretch and final kilometer, I just gunned it and gave it everything I had, working up to sprint for the final 500 meters. I had just enough gas in the tank to power through as you come through the final turn and you hear the crowd cheering and see the transition/finish line in sight. With my lungs burning, I gave it one more final push, overtaking another dozen or so people before crossing the finish line and feeling a huge wave of relief and euphoria that I had completed my first Olympic distance triathlon.
Thanks to James, Ron, Eric, Esmond, Nelson, Jing, Wei, and Pat for coming out to support me today in Guelph. I couldn’t have done it without your support and a big thank you to everyone else who encouraged me along the way. As for my next personal challenge, I’m not sure what will be next. Any suggestions?