In 2010 I did my first triathlon. It was the first time I ever really tried swimming any distance and the first time I ever ran more than 5km. I finished the race, but I wasn't exactly competitive. Since then, I have done a lot more running, and after 3 half-marathons, a full marathon and a Spartan race, it seemed like the natural progression was to go back to triathlons. Fortunately, my friend Troy is always game for a race, so we signed up together for the Chinook Olympic Triathlon, located right here in town at Lake Midnapore.
Troy likes to do his training on the weekends. Personally, I like to see how much I can incorporate my training into the daily commute. If I have to travel 40+ km every day for work, why not take advantage of it. Running and biking were easy to fit in, but swimming is a challenge. I toyed with the idea of trying to swim in the Bow River as part of my commute but then I realized that was completely mental. Instead, I just swam at a pool that was on the way to work and located near the Bow River pathways, so I could tag on a bike or run (or both) to the office after my swim. I did 2 swim sessions before Christmas and 4 in May. It wasn't much, but that is 3 times as much as I did in 2010.
It's one thing to swim in a 25m pool. It is another to swim in a cold lake, even with a wetsuit on. We did an open-water wetsuit trial at Arbour Lake and I realized how much I veer to the right when I don't have a line in the pool floor to follow. I thought I was following Troy across the lake but after about 100m I popped my head up to realize I had made a 90 degree turn toward the shore. This was somewhat disheartening, as was just starting to develop a rhythm in my swimming, I thought.
I worked on sighting at the pool one morning with another triathlon buddy, but a bike wipeout the next day (10 days before the race) cut short my final swim training. I literally had no layers of skin at all on part of my palm. Fortunately, the wound in my hand closed up just in time for race day.
My marathon effort in 2013 was hindered by stomach problems. What did I do differently to prepare for this event? I ate 40 Chicken McNuggets as fast as possible the day for the race. I was in a fundraiser competition for children's charities, and I only came 2nd. That was disappointing. I was so sick about the loss that I threw up multiple times. This is good, because keeping those chickens on board would have certainly spelled disaster on race-day.
The night before the triathlon I watched a lot of youtube videos about the race to try to get a sense of the course and the transition areas. Most of what I found were videos of the mass swim start from previous years. They were unsettling, to say the least, since the numbers of swimmers had only grown since then.
I watched several videos about how to do efficient triathlon transitions. I learned quite a few good things that helped me plan out my gear -- and there was a lot of gear to bring. I am more accustomed to half-marathon races, where I usually arrive 10 minutes before the starting gun with nothing but my running shoes and a few energy gels. For this event I had a huge bag full of gear plus a bike to haul into place early in the morning.
I also stripped all the commuting gear off my bike for two reasons: 1) to save weight; and 2) to look less like a novice. Reason #2 was the primary factor, actually. The standard commuter bell came off first, then the rack off the back. I even pulled off my tool kit from under my seat. I figured, if I have an emergency that requires tools, my race is pretty much shot anyways (famous last words).
Race day we watched from the beach while the Half Ironman competitors did their swim. It was cold and wet outside and we waited for more than an hour. Then it was our turn to don our swim caps.
#139 Leaving 1,500m swim (40:59 - #139 pace)
#138 Leaving Transition 1 (3:11 - #61 pace)
#125 Ending 40km Bike Ride (1:16:26 - #104 pace)
#123 Leaving Transition 2 (1:14 - #25 pace)
#97 10km Run to Finish (46:53 - #38 pace)
Final Time: 2:48:22
I am only marginally better at swimming than I was 4 years ago. Once again, I was one of the last out of the water. I started out somewhere in the middle of the pack and it was a terrifying experience to be blindly crashing into all these other swimmers out of the middle of a cold, dark lake. And if the first few minutes were bad, things only got worse as the wide arc of swimmers converged on the first yellow buoy to the make the turn. For a few moments I looked at that buoy and secretly wished I could just grab onto it and escape from this wave of humanity. Instead, I pressed through the turn and then kept turning further to the right until I was out of the way and could flip over into a backstroke and collect myself for a moment. I found the backstroke so refreshing that I stayed in it much longer than I should have. My backstroke is probably slow, but at least it is straight -- whereas my front crawl tends towards the right, except when I overcompensate for that and veer to the left instead. One time during my second lap of the lake I poked my head up from the front crawl and couldn't figure out what direction I was trying to go. Just then, one of the volunteers in a canoe read my mind and called out, "go right!" I managed a steady and relatively straight front crawl for the final 250m segment into the beach. If I could swim like that the whole time, I think I could cut a lot of time off the swim. Heck, just swimming straighter would help -- I figure I probably swam an extra 300-400m because of the circuitous route I took through the water.
One of the highlights was having the "strippers" on the beach that helped racers pull off their wetsuits. It was hilarious to watch and fun to be a part of. As you run out of the water you pull your arms out of the suit and pull it down to your waist. When you get to the strippers you flop on your back and stick your feet in the air. The strippers grab your wetsuit and yank it off you and send you on your way. We saw one half-ironman competitor get dragged across the grass a fair ways because his suit was really tight and the strippers were very determined.
The bike ride was on pace to match my 1h12min time from 2010, until I hit an issue with my chain. Honestly, I could have given a bit more but I was pacing myself for the run. Next time I am sure I can do a top 50 bike pace. For the first half of it I was trying to just keep a steady pace, in case there were some surprise hills or a big headwind on the way back or whatever. It felt like I was doing well because I was passing lots of people and no one passed me except for one elite-looking guy who'd had mechanical problems at T1. Things were great heading out so I notched up the speed as I turned around to come back. However, on one of the longer downhill sections, I finally shifted into my highest gear and my chain jammed. I tried rocking my pedals back and forth and shifting gears to fix the problem with no success.
Zipping along at 59km/h I finally diagnosed the issue: when I removed the rack from my bike I had put the screws back in place on the frame so they would be easy to find when I put the rack back on. However, without the rack there, one of the bottom screws protruded well past the frame and very close to my rear cassette, jamming the chain when I finally used the highest gear. I only needed to loosen the screw to fix the issue and continue. I usually have exactly the tool for the job under my seat -- but I had removed it for the sake of weight reduction. I tucked my head and coasted down to a flatter section and pulled over, trying to pull my back wheel off to remove the jam, since I couldn't turn the screw. Just then, a support vehicle from the blessed angels at Speed Theory pulled up next to me and asked if I needed help. In less than 3 minutes the guy had the Allen key out and had loosened the screw and I was on my way, hammering harder than I had ever planned to in an attempt to make up for lost time. I still don't know if I managed to put everything back together with my rear axle and brakes. I bet I didn't.
I learned my lesson about getting lost in transition. I made a very careful note of the location of my stuff and even practiced running into the area and finding it. It helped that there was only one transition zone, so there was only one spot to keep track of.
I had been really burning it on the bike following the chain incident, so I was a bit tired as I started out the run. I settled into a sustainable speed for the first 5 km, keeping pace with two runners I could see ahead of me. We were passing people pretty steadily, and I couldn't help but shake my head at the variety of athletes who were still out ahead of me -- I knew my swim must have been BAD. Once I got to the 5km mark I pulled up even with a lady who had been setting my pace to that point. I wasn't tracking my splits, so I asked her what we had been averaging for 5km. She said it was about 4:41/km. I figured I had less than 25 minutes left to run, so I could pick it up a bit. At the 7.5km mark, I spotted Troy coming back from the final turnaround towards the big hill. He still had at least a 1km lead on me, but I still tried to catch him. The last half of the run I averaged 4:34/km, including that horrible final hill.
R and the kids were waiting for me at the finish line, along with Troy and his family. Katie asked to wear my medal. Scott made sure to clarify that the medal was not hers to keep. She will get her own to keep. The kids are getting excited for their own first triathlon race, which is coming up in a week. I think I am hooked.