Scott and I finally did our first triathlon last weekend! This has been meant to be for a very long time! As serious USCF road bike racers from 1990s who have recently focused on marathons, this was bound to happen. I’ve always had great respect and much intrigue towards the awesome sport of triathlons, especially the Ironman distance of 140.6 miles. The obstacle holding me back from triathlons for many years has been the swim! Due to a 3 month long running injury keeping me on the sidelines in the winter of 2012, I decided to finally jump into the pool. I needed to maintain some sort of fitness! And I learned to swim! Scott swam in college so he was my first teacher. And after two winters of swim clinic in South Burlington, VT we were finally ready! Or I should say I was finally brave enough to put all three sports together and see what happens! Thank you Maria and Kelly who are both great coaches! After our first triathlon, we are hooked! Triathlons truly rock! We had so much fun!
The Vermont Sun Triathlon Series puts on sprint and Olympic distance triathlons throughout the summer at Lake Dunmore in central Vermont. We signed up for the June 28, 2014 sprint distance. I cannot say enough good things about this super well-organized, friendly event. This is their 29th year of running these triathlons, so they know what they are doing and greatly welcome feedback. Steve Hare runs this triathlon series and does a fantastic job. Thank you Steve for making our first triathlon such a wonderful memory! And thank you to all the great volunteers who made the day happen!
So first off since I love racing statistics and analyzing numbers, I’ll discuss the results. I had no idea how I would place so I put no expectations on myself. This was a practice race for our first 70.3 mile triathlon in early September. It was going to be my first competitive swim and first fast bike effort in almost 17 years. I was hoping to run a decent 5K as my running has finally started to improve since struggling after the Boston Marathon. Overall I was the third woman and first in my age group. I was thrilled with the outcome for my first triathlon! I had the fastest bike and run of all women but a minor panic attack in the swim cost me a couple minutes. And my transition times were VERY slow! You would think I was sipping a soy latte in the T1! The second place woman was only ahead by less than a minute so now I understand the urgency of getting the transitions done efficiently! Had the running race been longer, I would have caught her as I was making up time in the run and closing in on her! Scott did great and was only a minute and a half behind me overall. I’m so proud of him especially since he had just run the Vermont City Marathon a month ago. He has barely begun his triathlon training and pulled off a great result! I’ll get into all the gory details soon.
We drove down to Lake Dunmore early on Saturday morning with a car loaded up with gear and bikes on the roof. It almost felt like our early bike racing days. It was exciting but I was super nervous! The drive was about an hour and 20 minutes and the race started at 8:30am for us. I am one of those athletes who likes to show up early for a race with plenty of time to get ready and warm up. This triathlon was no exception. We rolled into the Lake Dunmore State Park a few minutes past 6am! The race crew was barely just starting to set up registration. Luckily a few more athletes pulled in so we were not alone. The pre-race morning was a lot of fun. Everyone we met was so friendly and helpful. When we picked up our numbers and race packet there were definitely some questions we had in regards to what went where. It was my first time wearing a race chip on my ankle. The atmosphere was festive and very relaxed. I found the other athletes to be so nice! There were other people as well doing their first triathlon. It was great to see a few familiar faces from swim clinic and the Monday night group swim! Seeing Alison, Rich, Dave, Kyle, Siobhan, Dot, John M and John S made the morning memorable. And we also met some great new people who we hope to see again soon.
The swim was 600 yards which we felt was a very feasible distance for our first triathlon. Just doing one lap on our Monday night group swim is 560 yards and that is done four times without problems. And I was able to do a few group swims last summer with experienced triathletes at the Indian Brook Reservoir which would total about a mile. The weekend before this triathlon, we drove down to Lake Dunmore to ride, run and swim the course. So I was fairly comfortable and confident for the swim portion of this sprint distance! The Olympic distance racers went off first and then we warmed up a little in the water. The water felt great and I was ready to race! After that warm-up in the water a good 15 minutes went by before my wave was finally ready to go. I was in wave 5. It was fun to see Scott go off in wave 3 and another group just before it was our turn.
Once we started I swam right out with the leaders and felt confident. My wave included the women over 40 and masters men. But it was still aggressive and I had people all around me. I was bumped into a lot and had swimmers all around me. This is what I used to fear and dread when I thought about the swim portion of triathlons. But strangely enough I felt a calm and didn’t mind the arms and legs flailing and hitting all sides of my body. I was OK with all this commotion and chaos. But once we turned the first corner by the buoy, I experienced a panic attack. I had trouble breathing and swimming. I couldn’t put my head into the water and swim as I normally do. It was scary to say the least. I had to swim a good distance with my head above the water and stop a few times which was very inefficient to say the least. I had people swimming on their backs and doing the breast stroke around me. One woman even grabbed onto another buoy. I was not alone in my struggles! I thought about swimming to the shore and calling it a day but decided to just get through this. It was not a long swim I kept telling myself. Thankfully, once we turned around I was able to start swimming properly! That was a huge relief. I knew I could still catch people on the bike and run. And once I started swimming I was slowly catching back up to some other swimmers. I was happy to stand up and be done with that portion of the race! It wasn’t pretty out there but I did push through and finish! Of all the 112 sprint racers that day, I was 55th in the swim! Not terrible but I know the next swim for the sprint triathlon on July 20, 2014 will be so much better! I can’t wait to do this again!
Scott’s swim was about couple minutes faster than me but even he had a few minor panic attacks that slowed him down as well. And he is a very solid swimmer. We have been told by so many experienced triathletes and friends that this is normal especially during a first triathlon. One of the best words of advice I’ve also heard is to make sure your heart rate it high before starting the swim. Even if it means running a few sprints in your wetsuit. Maria our swim coach did mention this, but in the excitement of the race and all the socializing, I just plain forgot to do this! Next time we both will be ready! And also it takes experience to do do well in triathlon swims! The more you do the better it becomes! And our swimming journey has just begun!
The bike portion was only 14 miles which was not ideal for my style of racing. Back in my racing days I preferred long hilly courses of 50 miles and over. The longer the better for me! I didn’t inherit the “fast twitch muscle” genes! Even back in my racing days, I had only done a few time trials on the bike so this short fast distance was knew for me. We both purchased nice triathlon specific bikes this year and we are slowly getting used to the new position of racing. We rode the course twice when we were down there the previous weekend to get used to it and also log in more miles that day. I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive about some of the road conditions due to a very harsh winter. However when I got onto my bike, my old instincts came back to me and I had no fear while riding. It felt so natural to be riding fast with confidence. I was truly enjoying myself. I was back racing a bike and it felt so good to be out there!
Two decades ago I was a strong cyclist racing almost every weekend and logging in around 200-300 miles a week. Those were some of my best days as an athlete. Then came the knee injuries, the knee surgeries and ultimately over a decade off the bike! While I’ve gotten “back on the horse” the last few years, I still don’t have a solid base of miles at the moment. I’m not that fast twenty-something year old anymore. I knew I would not be riding an average of 22-23 miles per hour just yet. But right before I turned into the state park at mile 14 I saw that I had an overall average of 21 miles per hour which was not bad considering I was still “rusty” and getting back into cycling shape. And the good news is that I could have kept going at a consistent speed for another loop! I wished the bike course was longer!
The first five miles were a lot of fun with rolling hills and a lot of downhill! I wasn’t overly aggressive but feel I rode well with confidence. I did pass a lot of people out there even on the down hills. I was happy once we turned right onto Route 7 which was a nice long stretch. You could really get into the “zone”. This went on for about 5 miles. I was riding hard and still passing people but I wasn’t really suffering. Was I not riding fast enough? Do I need more interval work? This was a very different experience from the European-style bike racing that I did many years ago. After mile 10 we turned right onto Route 53 and headed back to Lake Dunmore. There is a nice hill to climb on this section but nothing too crazy. It did put me into my small chain ring but that was fine. I didn’t kill myself on this section, but rode up at a steady even pace. I then put the hammer back down for the last few miles to the finish. Considering I have a little less than 500 miles on my new bike, this was a good day. I am commuting once or twice a week to work on my cross bike, but that hasn’t resulted in a ton of mileage either. So I’m excited to see what I can do once I have a bigger base of riding. Scott had a good bike ride too! He has a lot less mileage than me on his new Cervelo and still did great! I’m so glad he also enjoyed his bike portion of the triathlon! He will be monster on the bike by the end of the summer!
The run went surprisingly well for me! It was my fastest 5K so far this year after two open 5Ks that weren’t so stellar. The Boston Marathon left me tired and fatigued for weeks. It was frustrating not being able to feel strong and run fast. But I knew it was normal and that I would eventually recover and also adjust to the brand new triathlon training schedule. After another slow transition from the bike, I was out on my run and still feeling pretty good. I was happy with my bike ride and excited to see how fast I could run after the swim and bike. The first mile was my slowest but that was the plan. It takes me about a half mile for my legs to loose that flatness after a bike ride. And the course had a gradual up hill for the beginning. It was shady and still felt cool so heat wasn’t an issue that day! My overall run took 20 minutes and 17 seconds for the 5K distance. The overall pace for that is 6:32 minutes per mile. However each mile was very different.
My first mile was was a little under 7 minutes according to my Garmin. I am normally a slow starter! But I was able to keep picking up the pace. The next mile was even better at around a 6:40 pace. I was pleased whenever I looked down at my Garmin. I did see Dot (overall female winner) ahead of me and the second place woman not far ahead at all! On the last mile I was still feeling good and kicked it in even more with a surprising pace of a 6:22. The gradual downhill was fun and I was getting close to the second place woman. I really wished the run was longer so I could have caught her. But it was all good and I am still happy with my run. Scott ran well too but feels like he is still recovering from the Vermont City Marathon. It was great to see him on the run coming back while I was heading out. He looked like he was running strong and pacing himself well.
There was a big problem happening during my run that I should mention. I decided not to wear socks for my run and ended up with two huge severe blisters in the arches of my feet! I wear Superfeet orthotics so that was the problem. I felt this happening in the first mile. I knew it was going to be bad, but there was no way I was going to stop running. I wasn’t in terrible pain running but it was very uncomfortable. I’m not sure if I would have run faster without the blisters, but it surely didn’t help. So if any people reading my blog are about to do their first sprint triathlon, please wear your socks on the run! Luckily I heal quickly and only missed a day of running. I should be OK for tomorrow’s Clarence DeMar 5K race in South Hero, Vermont!
Overall it was a truly fantastic experience for both of us. Even the post-race atmosphere was a lot of fun. I enjoyed hanging out with everyone so much. And it was really great to chat a lot with Dot and John who are truly amazing athletes and have so much race experience. Congrats to Dot who won the race after doing a half ironman the previous weekend! I’m so glad she won! She is amazing! Dot and John both are an inspiration!
There was plenty of food including bananas, bagels, water melon and vegan pizza! Yes, you read that correctly! We were both thrilled that the race organizers had something for everyone! I’ve never seen vegan pizza at a bike or running race! So this was exciting for us! And there were also vegan race recovery nutritional shake packets in our racing bags! How cool is that! I love a race organization that is veg-friendly! And check out the professional race photos I’ve posted by Pat Hendrick Photography! They were included in our registration fee! (Normally we pay a lot of extra $ for professional marathon photos!) We are really excited to do another sprint triathlon on July 20, 2014!! Again, thank you Steve and all the awesome volunteers! It was a special day for us!
We look forward to another great experience at Lake Dunmore on July 20, 2014! Hope to see you there!