Sunday, February 1, 2009

My First Triathlon

Almost to the day, 2 months ago, I decided that I would buy a race bike. It was a spontaneous decision at a time in life where I felt i was missing "something". I was 15 kilos overweight, I was always tired, I was going to the gym when i felt like it - which was not very often. I then decided that I wanted to be a cyclist. However, as I begun training for cycling, I found myself not very fit. I began to run. I didnt like running at all, but I figured it was the best way that I could shift the weight, ready to cycle. I then also began swimming every now and then to mix things up.

achieve. First was the Kathmandu Challenge, the second being the Trishave Womens Triathlon Festival, and then two large bike races in March.Just after Christmas I bravely signed up for a series of events so that I could have a goal to I've never done adventure racing, triathlons or cycling races before.

Last night was the worst sleep imaginable. Not only was I nervous, but I was hot. Last night was one of the hottest nights on record. I slept a total of 4 hours, if that. Team Crab (Joy & Mum) and I were up at 4.50am, packing up the car and making sure we had everything.

We arrived along with about a hundred other competitors, ready for the first race. They had moved the times forward due to the high temperatures expected for the day. I had signed up for the Tri-a-Tri, which was for people who had never done a Triathlon before and wanted to see what it was all about. I felt comfortable that I out of their cars at the Sydney International Regatta Centre (the home of the Olympics 2000 Rowing), they all looked awfully organised - and fit. My nerves got the better of me and I felt the dry toast I'd eaten rise up my throat. I kept saying to my mum "oh dear, i am nervous." She had chosen the right race. However, as people got didnt lie. She nodded and agreed with me wholeheartedly.

I registered as Number "2" and organised my gear in the Transition Area - my bike, my bike shoes, running shoes, cap, glasses, socks. Checked. Reorganised. Nervously chatted with the other competitors. They then gathered us all up in groups of about 30. Three groups of 30. I was placed in the first group, which as I found out later on, was a definite down side. LESSON ONE: Try and not get into the first wave - this will be hard, given that my last name starts with an "A".

The first group got into the water, which was a warm 27 degrees celcius. We all lined up out in the water and I was jittery. I had no idea how Triathlons worked, nor did I really know the course. I began to regret not looking at the map prior to the race.

LESSON TWO: Always review the course map before doing a race.

And then there were 10 secs countdown to the start...

The gun went and i was off. The Pink Cap Group was off. I started off in my regular three-breathe-three stroke, which I tend to adapt when i am training short distances. There was a bit of pushing and bumping into each other but i managed to get ahead of the girls around me quickly, just by a body length so that I could avoid the pushing and shoving.

I could see a couple of pink swim caps ahead so I dropped my stroke to a one-breathe-one style, a style i adopt if i am in a longer swim. I had not yet started kicking the legs hard because I wanted to conserve as much energy as possible. I really had no idea what I was doing, to be honest. I didnt really know what pace to swim at because I had never done it before. So I kept my head down and settled into the comfortable stroke.

I ended up at the end and I had no idea where i needed to go. I couldnt see anyone to my left or right, so i lifted my head and asked the guy on the kayak. He pointed towards the shore and i put my head back down and swam. It wasnt until I got to the shore that I realised that I had broken away from the 29 other girls by a good 4 or 5 body lengths. I kept looking around to see if there was someone nearby but there wasn't. I was chuffed!!

LESSON THREE: Swim your own race, stay in your comfort zone, and conserve energy.

I comfortably ran into the transition area, and soaked up the cheers. I had never been ahead in a sporting event ever! I was stoked! Rather than get too carried away, I just took my time transitioning from the swim to the bike - socks on, bike shoes on, helmet on, sunglasses on, bike off the rack.

I was well and truly in front after transition and got into the bike leg with absolutely no idea where to go. This was probably the most frustrating thing about the whole day. Had I looked at the map, I would have been able to put my head down and just settle in for the ride. However, there were hardly any signs and no marshals about.

My greatest fear was that I was powering on down the wrong road, thinking i was some champion, only to realise the race was going down another road. I didn't want that embarrassment, so I kept looking around. When I couldn't see anyone near me, I slowed completely down and looked back for quite some time. I even slowed right now and asked a guy that was running leisurely down a path whether i was going the right way. He nodded and cheered me on. By then though, the girl who had come in second in the swim was powering towards me and she overtook me quickly. I realised that being way ahead and not knowing the course was where i had gone wrong.

LESSON FOUR: ALWAYS read the course map before doing the race!!!!

I was annoyed at myself but my fighting spirit kicked in and I managed to hold only about a 7 bike length distance. I was required to keep this distance because the race had a "no drafting rule" - in other words, you could not stay in the draft of another competitor as this is not only dangerous if you are not experienced, but its also technically cheating (you can conserve energy by keeping in someone's draft).

She was pushing a much bigger gear than I was and I was tempted to use my bigger gears and bigger legs to push passed her. However, I kept my cadence high instead of running a big gear and managed to stay up close.

I came into the transition area from bike to run and learnt another lesson. Bike shoes arent all that great to run through the transition area in.

LESSON FIVE: Leave your bike shoes connected to your cleats, and undo them as you ride into the transition area. This is going to need to be practiced.

I came into the transition area and out relatively quickly but the girl that had passed me was well and truly ahead. She was obviously far more experienced at transition than I, but I wasn't really concentrating on her. I was trying to find a rhythm in my running which simply wasn't happening.

I cannot begin to explain how hard it is riding at a high cadence on a bike, only to get off a bike and run. Perhaps Lesson Six may have been to not ride at a high cadence, but to ride that big gear like the girl in front of me had. I guess i will need to research that.

I couldn't find my rhythm and I had no one around me to assist me in developing the rhythm. It took me only about 20 metres for me to stop - my legs were jelly and I couldn't, for the life of me, think about how i was going to make it through the run. I can't describe the feeling - its not pain, its not being out of breath, its being out of sorts - that is the best way i can explain it. I didn't feel as though I had gone out too hard at all. I felt as though i still had some energy left, but i just couldn't beat the discomfort from a mental perspective.

I simply was inexperienced. That's all.

Team Crab's third member, Joy Walden (my Kathmandu partner), had turned up at the beginning of the race and she had seen that I had stopped. She managed to sprint across the park to get to me so that she could begin to shout at me.

"Move your as$! Get up, get going, get the legs moving, find your rhythm, you can do it."

After about three false starts, she managed to get me going again and she ran a good 500m alongside me IN THONGS! ha ha ha

A group of 2 h adpassed me and collected me along the way. I managed to adopt their rhythm and it really was exactly what I needed. I then saw the benefits of staying with a pack, instead of going out alone.

LESSON SEVEN: stick with the pack and use their rhythm to assist you in getting your own.

I saw the finish ahead and i sprinted towards the finish gates.

I had done it. After giving up in the first 50m of the run, i had turned it around and kept on going. And I managed to get over the line in over 25 mins - a respectable time!

I felt tired afterwards, but within 10 - 20 mins, i felt like i could probably do it again. It is for this reason that I believed that the struggle experienced in the run was nothing to do with physical fitness, but mental fitness.

The final results came out later in the day. Out of 110 competitors, I did the 5th fastest swim, the 4th fastest bike, but unfortunately with the run leg, I dropped back to 18th.

I am still so proud of my efforts.

The bottom line is, and the most important thing for me to remember (as much as my competitive nature will not allow) is that:

- it was my first triathlon; not to mention first real "competition" in over 17 years!
- it was my first real ride on my bike;
- two months ago i was 7 kilos heavier than what i am today.

What did I get out of this?

A burning desire to get myself into shape ready for the Sydney Triathlon Series for 2010.

Watch this space!

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