Last Saturday, I completed my first sprint distance triathlon.
750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run. This is my race
Women’s Triathlon Festival,
International Regatta Centre, Penrith
I woke at 6am as planned and posted on Facebook, as you do these days that I was feeling ready for this race. I knew I could do the distance but the head game would be my biggest risk factor. I was feeling confident though. I followed signs to Penrith but somehow ended up driving through fog on an 80km/h road instead of on the motorway. Needless to say, I arrived later than planned. I registered then headed off to transition to set up and find the entry and exit locations. I even remembered to count how many bays down my row I was so I could find my bike. As I left transition (right on closing time because of my lateness) I realised I’d worked out where my bike was in relation to the bike entrance. That wouldn’t help much coming from the swim! Oh well, I couldn’t do anything about it now. Hoping I had everything set up as properly despite the rush, I headed up to where the briefings have been every other time I’ve done a race at this venue but noone was there. Then a friend heard over the PA that the briefing was near transition so back down the hill I went feeling a little silly.
Lesson 1: It’s better to arrive too early than too late, or “just in time”.
Briefing over, we shivered our way to the swim start. If the temperature of the wet grass was any indication, we were in for a chilly swim. The last two triathlons I did at Penrith had a 150m swim and a 300m swim. This time, I was looking at 750m and it seemed like we were walking for a looooong time. I remember walking past the 1500m rowing marker. Then we finally stopped and made our way into the water. I don’t own a wetsuit and have never considered buying one. Until now. Once my race started I didn’t feel cold. I just felt freaked out by the murky water. I was expecting weeds from previous swims there but at times I couldn’t even see the weeds my hands were touching. Swimming is my weakest leg so I was expecting to be overtaken by the following waves and was pleasantly surprised when I didn’t get bashed in the process. People seemed to swim around me. I had no concept of time or distance since all my training was done in a 25m pool and my basic garmin isn’t waterproof. When I thought (hoped) I was about half way through, I saw the 1250 (or 1750, I can’t remember) marker. Eeek! I’ve only done 250m. What am I going to do? I started to freak out about whether I would make it to the end of the swim and worried about using energy unnecessarily zig-zagging across the lake so I ended up doing my poor imitation of “sighting” on almost every breath. Eventually I made it to the finish and stumbled out of the water. I still didn’t cold, I was just glad to have made it. I walked slowly to transition and found my bike.
Lesson 2: Take note of surroundings and try to find some features to gauge where I’m at on the swim… Eliminate the guess work.
Found my bike easily – there weren’t many left to choose from. I took my time calming myself down again and putting on my garmin. Drank some Gatorade and water. I looked at my sneakers then back at my bike shoes. Sneakers. Bike shoes. Sneakers. Bike shoes. I bought my bike shoes with cleats 3 years before I found the courage to ride with them. This was the test. Eventually decided on the cleats and set off. What joy! I managed to mount without mishap.
Lesson 3: Don’t think about it – just stick to the plan. Coach knows best.
I actually felt good on the ride. I passed a couple of people, was lapped by several people and passed by many more. However, I was able to maintain a relatively (for me) steady cadence of around 85 which was my goal. I was aiming for 2:30 kilometres and my actual kms ranged from 2:24 to 2:40 so I was very happy with that. My (non-official) time for the 20km was spot on 50 minutes which was my goal. I also managed to focus on sipping my water which is the step I usually forget leaving my dehydrated for the run. I was NOT going to let that happen today. Somewhere in the 3rd lap I realised my toes were getting cold and I realised I hadn’t done any training with wet socks in my shoes (I wear socks due to the location of a very irritating seam in the shoe). I had dry socks to put on for the run so I wasn’t overly concerned. I didn’t want to spoil the bike leg with a crash so I unclipped my left foot around 50m from the dismount line and coasted/pedalled-one-legged to the finish. I think the winners were finishing their run as I started my 3rd or 4th lap of the bike course. (Strangely, although I felt like this was my best leg, it was my worst result in terms of placing in age category!)
Lesson 4: Practise riding with wet socks, or investigate the existence of thermal sport socks.
Shoes and wet socks off. Dry socks and sneakers on and away I went.
My plan was to walk the first 2 minutes refocusing my mind on my goal for the run: to run the whole run, except through the water stations. I tend to take off too fast and can’t maintain the pace. I walked the first minute or so and realised the dry socks had not helped my toes at all. They were numb! I thought that only happened to ironman competitors! Walking felt weird and jogging felt unsteady. I’ve run in sub-zero temperatures for winter training but my toes had never been that cold. I walked off and on for a bit (ran past the finish chute and the grandstand of course – people might be watching!). Out of curiosity, I switched the screen on my garmin to the time (clock) to see how I was going. It was 10.33. The race started at 9am. My goal of finishing in under 2 minutes was shot to pieces. Even my flat-out sprint pace wouldn’t get me home in time and I’d already walked more than I wanted to. At this point the real mental drama started. I thought “I can’t finish in under 2 hours, so what’s the point of trying any more” and I walked. Then the debate started – like a cartoon devil and angel on each shoulder. “I’ve travelled all this way – I might as well see what I can do… But I’ve already blown my chances… but I survived the swim… just!… And I did fine on the bike and didn’t crash!… Yeah, but others are walking too…Suck it up Heather! You have your perfect race conditions and you promised yourself you’d run the whole way” This was the clincher. I had been hoping for lower temperatures, especially for the run, because I don’t handle the heat
well at all. I ran from there to the turnaround point and some of the way back. When I thought about stopping I had to tell myself “You’re not hurt, you’re not injured (you just have numb toes), you’re just being lazy.” Then I saw the start point for the swim and it was pretty much at the 1750m (or 1250m – whichever the other one wasn’t). So then I started beating myself up about how much I’d freaked out in the swim unnecessarily – I’d already swum 500m when I thought I’d only done 250m. The last 250m felt a lot longer than the first 500m because of the stressed state I’d got myself into. This mini rant (at myself) caused me to lose concentration and before I knew it I was walking again. I’m not sure how long for but eventually I realised and switched back onto run mode and picked up the pace for the finish line. I even managed to pass two ladies who stopped for water at the aid station that was only a couple of hundred metres from the finish. I didn’t need water that badly and wanted to pass “someone” on the run. That, and I didn’t think I’d start running again if I stopped.
Lesson 5: I need to learn to wrap up the internal debates more quickly. Stressing makes everything feel harder than it needs to be.
I looked at the clock as I crossed the line 2:02. Soooo cranky! We mustn’t have started right on 9am so when I saw it was 10:33am, I hadn’t really been going for over 1½ hours already. If I had run just a little bit more I could have achieved my goal.
I was disappointed that I struggled so much mentally. I knew that was likely to be my weakness and I think it was made worse by the pre-race rush caused by my late arrival at the venue. However, I am extremely happy that I didn’t fall off my bike. I didn’t reinjure the calf I tore last October. The weather co-operated with me. I prepared properly and didn’t end up with a headache on the run. 12 months ago completing a sprint distance triathlon would have been impossible but I did it.
Lesson 6: Don’t look at the time during the race, just watch the pace and cadence and get out there and do what I came to do.
The highlight reel:
My very first triathlon was the try-a-tri (150m/5km/1.5km) at this same venue in March 2011 in 40:03.
The second triathlon I did at Penrith was an enticer (300m/10km/2km) in November 2012 in a time of 1:03:12.
My third Penrith triathlon was this sprint (750m/20km/5km) so more than double the distance of the previous one, in less than twice the time.
The best bits:
I had friends doing the sprint and enticer races too. This was only the second time I knew someone else who was going to the same event and it really made the day a lot more enjoyable.
I forgot I was in the second wave which started about three minutes after the first wave, so I DID come in under 2 hours despite all the mental dramas I experienced. Yay! 1:58:27.
The following day I did the Color Run with a bunch of friends:
Do you have any tips and tricks for winning internal debates? Do you make time for mental training in addition to physical training?