This weekend my husband and I did something crazy and drove over 800 miles for me to take part in my first ever “real” tri. I say “real” because I had done a super sprint distance once before but the swim was in a pool and I rode on my big heavy touring bike so I am not sure I could count that as a real effort. According to my training plan I had to do a 70.3 race this month and Superiorman was cheaper than the alternatives of Michigan Titanium or TriBavaria so even though we didn’t own a car at the time we decided we would take a nice trip up to Duluth Minnesota so that I could do the race there. This race was probably the best possible choice for my first long distance (according to my training plan 70.3 is a “mid-distance” race but take it from me… its definitely long!).
Before I write anything else, I am going to document the fact that I am not, nor have I ever been, a competitive cyclist or swimmer… I am merely a runner who did a bit of commuting by bike and swam outside a few times and decided that was enough to make her a triathlete. So bearing that in mind I can proudly say that I came in in a respectable 6hrs and 30 minutes putting me in 111/153 athletes and 5/8 in my age category. Could I have come in a bit quicker? Probably. Will I do another 70.3 to test this theory? Definitely. And am I embarrassed to have been beaten by almost 75% of people on the course? Absolutely not!
By doing this race I gained so much more than just a position on a results table, I learned a tonne about what works and what doesn’t, and what I need to change on race day, and I will gladly share my experiences here.
- Don’t let a bad leg ruin your whole race. Here I mean leg as in segment, section, discipline, whatever you want to call it. Superior Man Tri has one of the coolest race starts of any race… they ship you out into Duluth Harbour on the Vista Fleet boats, then two by two you jump off into Lake Superior and your race begins. I was feeling pretty nervous on the boat ride out… we were all faffing around with our wetsuits, consuming last minute pre-race snacks (I went with a chai flavoured Gu gel and it was delicious), and queueing for the onboard toilets, then 20 mins later it was time to begin! Jumping off the boat was no problem at all… its probably only a metre drop from the boat to the water, and I was cheered on by one of the volunteers who had told me earlier that 20 (my race number) was his favourite number. Entering that water was a great feeling, it wasn’t too cold and I managed to get away quickly, also I was extremely lucky that my new Aquasphere goggles that I had only tested by shoving my face in the hotel sink didn’t leak or fog (10/10 for Aquasphere… would highly recommend). About half way into the swim disaster struck and I got severe cramp in my left leg… After shouting and swearing and splashing around for a bit I reassured the safety marshal in his kayak that I was good and got back on my way. During the whole swim course I didn’t look at my watch once, but when I got out and it was showing close to an hour, and a distance of almost 1.75 miles I was pretty annoyed at myself. Sighting has never been my strongest skill, in fact its common for my fellow tri-club members to spot me swimming perpendicular to our route over the lake but an extra half mile seems like a lot even for me… and I knew that the pain in my leg from the cramp was going to stay with me for the whole race (it turns out they measured the course wrong and it actually was that long but I didn’t know that at the time!).
I got on my bike in an awful mood and my heart was pounding from the moment I set off. I kept running it through in my head.. Why did I swim so far out of the course? Why did I freak out when people kept grabbing my legs in the swim and give myself cramp (not necessarily true but it probably did have something to do with it)? It took me a good 5 miles of riding to distract myself from my awful swim and the pain in my calf and start enjoying the ride for what it was. I sang songs in my head to keep me going and I actually ended up having the ride of my life, a whopping 2mph faster than I normally cycle (even though it still brought me in at 123rd place). Anyway the main point of this is that once I dropped the anger I was feeling about the swim my life because a whole lot more pleasant!
- Make sure you are wearing your gear correctly. When I got out of the swim I realised I hadn’t zipped my wetsuit up.. it was just velcroed at the top. Did that make a difference to my swim? Maybe, maybe not but I will never really know. Then I limped to my bike got on and got riding without stopping to check my trisuit was correctly positioned.. Trisuits have padding for a reason and although I am no expert I don’t think that it should be anywhere near your belly button. Several times during the ride I had to “adjust myself” but it was almost impossible to change the position of my suit while I was clipped into my bike travelling at up to 18mph. Had I just made sure before I got on that the legs hadn’t twisted in my rapid de-wetsuiting my ride would have been a whole lot more comfortable.
- Make sure you eat on the bike because its unlikely you can do it on the run. Okay so I didn’t exactly get to test this theory because the food that I had saved for the run portion (1/3 of a cheese and turkey sandwich and two pop tarts) didn’t survive the journey. The sandwich fell out of my pocket in the first mile and the pop tarts got sweaty and dissolved, not that I would have eaten them if they hadnt dissolved but maybe I shouldn’t have opened the packet before I set off! However the sandwiches and pop tarts I had on the ride worked an absolute treat… I only took one gel on the ride vs 4 on the run… I really hope on 140.6 race day I don’t rely on gels quite so much but anything you can get in to fuel your body is helpful!
- Don’t rely on race stations for water. Every time I run without my camelback I say to myself that I will never run without it again… and then I forget this personal agreement and set off on a long run with nothing. I should have learned during the London Marathon that aid stations every mile or so is just not enough when its hot but I didn’t and set off for the run portion without any liquid of my own. The aid stations on the course we spaced almost a mile apart with a range of 0.8 to 1.25 miles but in the 70+ temperatures and coming from a 56 mile ride I really needed some extra hydration. For the full ironman I am going to look into getting a race vest as I take both of my camelbacks on my ride, one filled with water and one filled with gatorade. I really think its worth an extra pee stop or two to keep yourself fully hydrated in the heat.
- Other general non-race specific things. As well as my insight into racing and all of the things I need to prepare for in my full ironman, I also learned a lot about myself and what works for me. Firstly I can now safely say that I have found my fuelling sources and it’s sandwiches, pop tarts, and gatorade. Secondly I can definitely cycle faster than I thought I could, and I proved that with an 18mph ride with my club in the week, although I will need to get much faster if I am going to ever be competitive in long distance tris. Finally, 70.3 is my comfortable race distance. I am pretty
onfident that I will finish the full ironman but I will undoubtably hate almost every minute of
it and I will most likely never do another. 70.3 is just the right about of work and training to fit in with my lifestyle and I look forward to embracing it as my new favourite distance.
This was a bit of a long one but I am going to try a series of shorter posts this week to get me back on track with my training for the big one, Louisville ironman, in October this year. If you have made it this far I can promise that next weeks posts will be a breeze!