I tri-ed: What I Learned and wished I would have known running my first triathlon

I was cold, wet, and panicking. I watched someone before me get pulled by kayak from the black murky water, I vowed that wouldn’t be me. Every time I took a breath I managed to breathe water in with it. I rolled over on my back and caught my breath, “why the hell did I think this would be fun!” I thought while removing seaweed from my fingertips.

—–

On May 26, 2018 I completed my first triathlon. After spending a great deal of the winter in the pool with my fractured ankle, I decided that it was time to put all the swimming work I was getting in to the test. I labored over applications trying to figure out which one would have the shortest swim, the flattest bike, and the longest run. I concluded that you could not get much flatter than Hammonton, the blueberry (and wine) capital of New Jersey.

The swim would take place in Hammonton lake, which was closed for swimming up until 2015 due to high fecal levels… so that felt safe. According to an article published in The Press of Atlantic City:

“Regular testing over the last three summers by Stockton University interns has found fecal coliform levels above safe levels for swimming about 20 percent of the time”

So clearly I was not worried at all going into this.

When I got there in the morning I was surprisingly at peace. Yes I was nervous, but in the weeks leading up to this I accepted my fate. I was prepared to drown. A week earlier while attending a woman’s intro to the triathlon held at the running store I worked at, I was told I would not need my wetsuit (that I spent $65 on by renting it). After putting my toes in the water and feeling the 72 degree water (and smelling the farm runoff water) it was verified that I’d be fine in just my tri suit (another $100+ investment, I thought this was supposed to be cheap).

I hung my bike in transition, laid my shoes out like I’ve been told to do, and placed my socks in my shoes ready to go (I was told to skip socks but I had such bad blisters from the marathon the week before I couldn’t). I felt ready. But along the way I learned some things.

The Swim:

As the announcer shouted thirty seconds before our wave went off, I stood shoulder deep in the water shivering slightly. I watched a female from the 50 and over wave get pulled from the water, great way to prep the mental game if you ask me. As the horn was blown I realized the water was a lot dirtier than the pool I trained in. I didn’t want to get water in my mouth, however with every stroke of my arms I did. I was told when you start the swim you forget everything you know about swimming, I can’t even begin to say how true this is. The hours I spent in the pool went out the window and I felt like a child who was panicking because they could no longer touch bottom.

I flipped on my back and went into a back stroke to slowly regain my composure. My boss at the running store told me if I really freaked out this was the easiest way to keep moving forward until I learned to breathe again.

At the halfway mark I was freestyle swimming again, but I heard the guy in the kayak yell to me if I needed a break I could stand up. I must have looked in poor shape.

I flipped over on my back again to pull globs of seaweed off of my fingers and out from under my watch. I was told that you will touch things in the water you’d rather not, but I can confidently say this got me over my fear of seaweed.

I finally stopped swimming when my fingertips scraped the sand, or turtle in my case. As I stood up to get out of the water I was super thankful Issac and Kalee told me about how dizzy you are when you come out of the water or I would have thought there was something seriously wrong with me. I literally could not run into transition because I felt like I just took ten turns around a dizzy bat. But when I finally found my balance I was super grateful to be done with the swim and excited that the hard part was over and the fun parts were just beginning.

Transition1:

Since I have a winning resume at duathlons I pretty much have the get ready to ride transition down, but coming off the water added a slippery element. I laid a towel down pre race so I could clean my feet off to the best of my ability. Typically I would have skipped my socks for such a quick race, but as mentioned earlier I’m crazy and ran a marathon the previous weekend and was stuck with the leftover blisters that needed a covering.

I felt my transition was fire. I didn’t wear a wetsuit, as the water was so warm, but wish I did to add buoyancy. Cutting out the wetsuit element made the transition a breeze, only snag coming from tripping over my towel and landing face first in the grass. Luckily I was so far behind from the swim no one was around to see it. Grabbed my helmet and bike and headed out of transition and was ready to start my part of the race. Survival was over, time to go hunting.

Bike:

The bike portion was only 12 miles, I wish it was double that. Right away I could see that training on hilly back country roads gave me a small edge over these flat landers.

As long as I had a person in front of me I had a target. I found the flatness of the bike portion to be very mundane, but as long as I had someone I was trying to catch I was happy.

The bike section was super good to me. I probably could have pushed more through it, but I didn’t which in hindsight is kind of a bummer.

Transition 2:

Bike to run, I’ve done his once or twice. I dropped my bike (well put it on the rack), dropped my helmet, grabbed a drink and was on my way. In hindsight I forgot something. I forgot to put on my race belt with my number. I should have laid out my race belt with the numbers on it before I started. Whoops, at least I had the chip on my ankle, who needs pictures anyway.

Run:

Finally, my strong point. I’ve learned doing duathlons that coming off the bike your legs are either numb or very “fuzzy” for a good five minutes. This can also be kinda fun because you loose track of what you’re doing.

If I learned anything from this run it’s that all the triathletes from this race sucked at running. We were only doing a 5k and I had tons of gas in the tank. I went out faster than I thought I would (it was only my second run post marathon) and I was passing people left and right. Eventually I even caught up with some people that started 10 minutes ahead of me. Unfortunately you can’t win it in the run, but it’s your last chance for redemption. I finished the run with my best 5k of the year, 20:15.

Overall take aways:

Everyone that does triathlons are super badasses. They dress like badasses, they have the swagger and confidence of a rockstar and some of there gear is just so pretty.

I would compare triathletes to the ultra trail running community, they think everyone should join them in there sport. I sucked at the swim, but everyone I talked to said it doesn’t matter come next weekend to this tri you’ll get better! They just suck you in.

Holy shit this sport is not cheap!!! If you want to be better do this to your bike it only costs around $7,000. Oh and if you want to be better in the swim get your own wetsuit for a couple hundred dollars. What do you mean you’re not on a club team/ have a personal trainer!!!???!!! I felt like a total runner just showing up with a road bike and top of the line running shoes but luckily the community is friendly because right now I can’t afford to buy my way in.

Overall I’m super glad I did my first tri. It was my one race that scared me this year. Will I do another? Probably, but not until I get more practice in open water swims. If your thinking about doing one, go for it. You get the worst part over first, after that smooth sailing.

For now I’ll be sticking to running, after my ankle heeling process is over (sitting out a bit with the ankle tendinitis), although I am craving trails hard. What’s next on the list of things that scare me? Maybe mountain biking? Stay tuned.

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