"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

- George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tri For Life Triathlon Recap

I felt as prepared as I could be for my first triathlon. Unknowns are always to be expected though, particularly for a first experience with a new event, and the Tri For Life event a few weeks ago was no different.

My swimming has come a long way in the last few weeks. The lifeguard at the YMCA pool has been giving me one or two things to think about each time I show up and its helping for the most part. Still though, some days are (much) better than others and I haven't been able to figure out what the common denominators are. Some days just feel like such a struggle, so sloppy, hard to breathe, etc that I'm out of the pool in 10 minutes. It's just not meant to be that day. Other days it feels so smooth and effortless. Given all of this, I wasn't sure what to expect once I jumped in the pool on race day.

The other thing I didn't expect was the length of the pool (and the distance of the swim). The website had said 500 yards and the YMCA pool I swim in is 20 yards long, so I had an idea in my mind about how long it should take me. What I didn't count on was a 500 meter swim and a 50-meter length pool. I walked into the pool area and froze as I looked down to the far end, which seemed a mile away at that point.
Once the actual race started I tried my best to stay relaxed but for the first 3 laps it wasn't happening. I found comfort in the fact that for about 35 meters I could put my feet down if I needed (not that I did, but the thought that I could was comforting). Unfortunately when I was going out on lap 2 I let my mind wander just for a moment at the time I entered the diving area where the depth drops from 5 feet to 12 feet almost instantly. Already struggling to stay relaxed, trying to find a good rhythm and just get the end of the pool, this caught me off guard and sent me into a minor panic attack. I tensed up, my breathing went erratic and I just did what I could to get to the wall so I could calm down a bit. After a few seconds I pushed off and set out back towards to other end. Laps 4 and 5 were actually fairly comfortable. I think my muscles were properly warmed up by then and I was basically swimming by myself, as the other three people in my lane were a 1/2 length or so ahead of me. I finished the last lap strong and jumped out of the pool in a time of 12:45. Not great. Only in the 25th percentile for all of the participants actually. But I finished it and I felt confident that my two stronger events were still to come.

I flew through my 1st transition in less than a minute. I hadn't practiced the actual transitions much, but I had run through them in my head over and over again and it seemed to do the trick. I was in and out in a flash and on my way on the bike.

Loved the cycling portion. Loved the fact that I was able to push hard for the entire course (13 miles rather than the stated 12.5, but whatever) and grew in confidence as I caught up to and passed almost all of the people who had been in my wave during the swim. It was a fairly flat course, something I don't get to enjoy anywhere around where I live, and it was nice just to set a gear, pump my legs and settle in. I made up considerable time during this portion of the race and finished with the 15th fastest cycling time overall which I was very pleased with (there was a group of 5 or 6 stud riders with the $3k+ bikes who blew every one away and finished in the 33-35 minute range, but I was solidly in the next group of riders and finished right at 40 minutes).

Transition 2 was even quicker than Transition 1 (thanks in large part to elastic shoe laces which I had just put in my shoes the night before -- love them -- won't ever go back to regular laces). My running shoes have never felt so good. Even feeling great about my ride, it was still nice to get back to what I knew best. I took off out of the transition area determined to give myself the first 1/4 mile or so to let my legs readjust to the new motions. Still though, I felt SO slow. But then I looked down at my Garmin and saw I was cruising along at a 7:30/mile pace. What?!? I've pondered this more in the last week, but my only explanation is that my turnover rate on the bike was such that once I started running, I felt slow...but it was still relatively fast compared to other times I run. Does that make any sense? I wasn't about to complain or question it during the race though, I just went with it.

About half way through the 5k I could tell I was starting to get a little fatigued (oh yeah, no water stations on the bike or run course even though there were some advertised -- that may have had something to do with it) when a guy went flying past me. He was taking such small, quick, gliding steps while I was trying to take a normal running step, a little bit longer and using a little bit more quad muscle. I watched him for a few moments as he ran away from me and then decided to try the quick glide step myself. Much more comfortable without giving up any pace. Also something to ponder for future triathlon events.

The final 1/4 mile I kicked a bit, caught up to and passed a guy who I had started the swim with, had almost caught on the bike and who I had been within eye-shot of the entire run. I finished the run (3.4 miles rather than 3.1) at an 8:04/mile pace and finished overall in 1:23:01, good enough for 24th place overall out of approximately 90 participants.

I really enjoyed the triathlon. Even with the little mishap in the pool, I basically did what I thought I would do in each aspect of the race. I could definitely improve my swim. Knowing now how I felt at the end of the ride I could probably push harder there. And getting comfortable during the run would definitely help. I would do it again. In running comparisons, this was my first 5k. I'm not sure I'm ready for a 10k quite yet (swimming would be the only thing holding my back), but I'd do another 5k. Baby steps.

Now its back to business getting ready for a couple of marathons. Pocatello is in two weeks. Trying to train for a marathon and sprint triathlon at the same time was difficult, but now I'm focused again.

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