Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My First Triathlon

Anyone who has read my blog for awhile knows I'm sporadic with my posts and my content is pretty varied.  Especially the last year or so.  Race reports and training used to be something I was better at once upon a time when I used to race more regularly, but even then, it was hit or miss with me.  In fact, even though this is still kind of a running blog, I haven't even written anything about my first trail ultra marathon in May.  I guess that's what Instagram has been for me... a platform to share my running, racing, life experiences and inspiration without having to write an entire blog post.  But here's an exception:  My first triathlon! A moment I will never ever forget and an experience that has left me smiling for days now!  

If I'm going to write about my first triathlon, I should probably back up just a bit.  On May 25th I ran my first trail 50k in Portland, OR:  The Trail Factor 50k.  Before that, I had run the Boston Marathon for an endurance training run.  This left me with a pretty heavy dose of endurance fitness.  And since I trained almost exclusively on dirt mountain trails, my body didn't feel torn down like it has with past training cycles.  After my 50k, I was still feeling so strong and hungry for the next challenge or adventure but wasn't quite sure what that would be.  Then my friend Corie who is always game for some sort of adventure or exploration.  My friend Corie kept asking me to go out and give road biking a try.  I pretty much avoided the topic as much as I could since I'd only been on maybe one real road ride before and I was actually rather terrified of riding on roads and going down big hills... and ... and... I had every excuse.  Old ratty bike, time, fear... But Corie, ah sweet Corie... she asked again.  And I said: "Yes!"  After all, who better to go out on a road bike with than Corie...Ironman x5, coach, and someone that is so so good on a bike!

My caption from Saturday after the race:  "Now THAT was fun!! First Triathlon in the books and I'm feeling on top of the world! Seriously the most fun I've ever had as an athlete...I think I'm in LOVE with this sport! I lost my fuel in the swim and dropped my water bottle with Nuun at mile 6 of ride but it all worked out. 3rd in AG and so excited to do another! My cheeks hurt from smiling! Now it's time to properly train for a tri! Bring it!!  Oh, and this girl? So glad to call her friend!"

Warning:  This post will have the name Corie typed at least 100 times.  Um, I mean how can I not include her in this post since she was a HUGE part in helping me get to my first triathlon in about a month.  

When I asked Corie how this whole triathlon thing started anyway, she sent me the following text conversations to remind me.  I think these were all around the second week of June.

I'm so glad I said YES!  It was this yes that opened a door to perhaps the most fun experience I've had as an athlete.

So, how did a triathlon come into the picture so soon after a 50k when it wasn't anywhere near my radar before?

Well, We were on our way back from my first official Bend road ride.  My crotch was sore. My shoulders hurt from death gripping my handles and brakes.  And I was pretty sure a car would hit me any second.  I was so far from having a triathlon on my brain.  Really, the thought of a triathlon just sounded scary and overwhelming.  I had thought about doing one a long time ago but never followed through because I felt too overwhelmed.  But something about climbing that last hill next to Corie who only ever makes me feel like anything is possible.... something about her words of encouragement and calm instruction...something about doing something new and facing my fear opened a door for me and made me start thinking about what it would take to actually do a triathlon... So, I asked what it would take for me to spontaneously try one out.  The rest is history!  From that moment to now the following happened:
  • Corie told me about the Deschutes Dash that would be coming up in only about a month.  
  • I considered the sprint triathlon.  She told me what that would involve and assured me it would be something I could jump into and be fine!  She told me she'd help me get there and be there for me on race day.  I still thought it sounded crazy but I kept asking questions...
  • By that night I think I had decided to skip the sprint and go straight for the Olympic distance.  I told Corie I wanted to do this and she again, assured me that I could and that she would help me get there in a month.  She said I'd just need some good bike climbs up towards Mt. Bachelor and some open water swims (which she would provide the wetsuit and guidance).  
  • I went on my first big climb of a bike ride.  It was incredible!!  I felt so good. I wanted more.
  • I finally bought those scary clip-in shoes at the REI sale and learned how to use them the same day. I then named my old bike: Mater from the movie Cars.  More here:  I'm Totally THAT Girl...We all start somewhere; Fitting the Newbie Part.  
  • I went on a couple rides by myself.  One of them was to the top of Mckenzie Pass.  
  • I swam in Elk Lake for some first short open water swims. 
  • I used a wetsuit the first time and swam in the river. Swim, Bike, Run: Lessons I've Learned in a Week. 
  • Hardest Swim and Bike Yet. We CAN do hard things.  I did my first big solo workout day where I rode my bike from my house up towards Mt. Bachelor:14 miles up up up at a steady clip. It wasn't my longest ride but definitely my hardest training ride up to this point. Then about an hour later, I swam the farthest I'd ever swam in my life other than my year on the high school swim team.  I'm not sure how far it was but I'm guessing close to 2 miles. It's not the distance that made this feel so hard but getting out there in open water and making it across the lake and back without freaking out.  I felt incredibly alive and proud of myself!!  Truly happy!  
  • I swam a handful of swims in the pool during my kids' swim lessons.  
  • My sweet friend Paul (also a FAST triathlete...he killed this race!) gave my bike a tune-up, adjusted my seat, and replaced my tires.  His only request was that I have fun and he wished for me to fall in love with triathlons.  He asked for nothing else.  So thankful!  
  • I freaked out a bit the week of the race. Ok, a lot.  I was definitely questioning myself.  My husband was out of town all week and I was feeling crazier than usual after full days with the kids.  The idea of a triathlon felt overwhelming!  So many unknowns.  
  • Corie heard my freak out and humored me by taking me out on a 20 mile ride of the race course 2 days before race day while my kids chilled with hers. Then she offered to hang with my kids while I swam the river.  I didn't do this after all but she was so kind to offer!! 
  • I was ready!  I picked up my race packet, set my outfit out, and read my athlete's guide from start to finish while studying the swim, bike and run maps.  Lay It Out Events really puts on such an organized event from start to finish!!  This multi-sport weekend was so impressive!!  
Race Morning:  

My caption from Instagram:  "Holy Moly there's a lot to prep for a triathlon!!  Wetsuit, bike shorts, fuel, hydration, running stuff...But I'm so stinking excited to try something new tomorrow!! Like really excited! A guaranteed PR and I get to have fun fun fun doing it in a beautiful place!  

I set my alarm for 5:45 on race morning. I didn't really need my alarm since I was only half sleeping all night.  But not a bad restless sleep...more like an excited restless sleep. I couldn't wait to get up and out there.  With an 8:15 swim start, I wanted to get there with plenty of time travel by bike, meet up with Corie, set up my transition areas, put on my wetsuit, and not feel rushed.  After coffee, peanut butter toast and packing my bag, I set out on my bike and rode the two miles from my house to my first transition point.  Corie was there smiling and happy to show me the race day ropes despite her own race day butterflies in entering a race she was far from in shape for compared to last year.  Some background: Her last year's time would have won overall this year. However, her time this year was still pretty darn impressive with a first in her age group and 5th overall woman.  

Warm morning, bright sunshine on my face, and setting up our second transition.  So full of happy butterflies! 

Something that sticks out in my mind the most about getting set up for this race was just how helpful everyone was.  Everyone I talked to was excited that this was my very first triathlon and willing to offer any advice or tips!  LOVE this community!  I got tips about hanging my bike, getting my shoes on/off, cutting down my transition time,  and so much more.  The morning was warm, faces friendly, and I was feeling nothing but JOY and happiness at being out there and ready to try something so entirely new!  Some words that I read from a comment on Instagram that resonated with me so much before, during and after my race: 

"Enjoy the feeling of being Alive."  

YES!  Yes!  This is it!  This is why we do this.  This is why we climb mountains, travel, seek adventure, push our bodies and minds in new ways... This is what it's all about:  Because we are ALIVE and we CAN and when we say "Yes!! to life, we feel what it means to truly LIVE Fully!  


Wetsuits and swim caps have to be the LEAST attractive attire I've ever worn.  Seriously, Holy Unflattering!  Ha!  Like a bunch of aliens.  

After dropping our running shoes, we grabbed our wetsuits, caps and goggles (and my ear plugs) and walked down to where the swim would start.  As soon as I had everything on, I went from super excited and happy to scared and nervous.  I wasn't panicking but I felt like I could if I didn't talk myself down and... breathe.  Corie's husband came over with her kids and they were so full of positive energy and encouragement...this made me feel calm and ready!  Once we got near the water, Corie was there by my side explaining exactly how the start would go and offering suggestions on getting out there in a good spot, staying calm, swimming my own race, etc.  The great thing about this triathlon for a first is that the swim is down river so this makes is so much easier!  As soon as it was our turn to go, I settled into a steady swim, only interrupting my stroke a few times to look ahead and figure out where I was.  I  didn't use breast stroke after all like I thought I might.  Instead, I felt strong!!  The best part about my swim:

When I was nearing the end of the 1300 meters and going under the last bridge, I happened to look up and hear (through my ear plugs) my husband and three beautiful kids cheering their hearts out for me!!  How they found me is beyond me because we all had red swim caps on and I'd think it would be pretty hard to pick out my number.  Their cheers made me smile so big and finish strong.  

When I got out of the water, I wasn't tired so I know I can push this next time and still have lots to give. I'm actually excited to get faster and stronger with swimming.  I've come to really enjoy being out there in the open water. I ran out onto the grass and towards my bike smiling from ear to ear, waving at my kids who were cheering with all their might, and ready to hop on my bike and climb climb climb!

Note to self:  Lube up my neck next time!!  My wetsuit chaffing looks like a big hickey!  

This picture pretty sums up how I looked and felt for most the race:  Happy!!  

Once I got to my bike, I had quite the struggle getting out of the wetsuit.  I was laughing at how silly I must have looked sitting on the ground yanking at my feet.  At one point, I heard my son say: "That's my MOM!"  This made me feel so loved and proud to be their mama.  As soon as I got out of the darn wetsuit, I was quick at getting my shoes and helmet on and getting out there ready to ride!

And I'm off with my bike (not the woman with her butt in the air but the one running with the bike)

One of the first things I reached for as I started my ride was one of the Huma Gels I put in my back pocket.  Uh oh.  They were gone! I guess they fell out in the swim or came out when I was getting my wetsuit off but I had no fuel.  I wasn't too worried since this wouldn't be as hard as a marathon effort-wise and I get by ok off of only one or two gels and some sips of sports drink.  I had my water bottle with Nuun Energy and I'd be sure to take a sip of the Gu Brew somewhere on the course.  No worries.  So I took several sips of Nuun Energy and I was good to go.  I began to pass people one by one on my way up.  This was Fun!!  I felt so strong but still wasn't pushing myself to the point where I'd be exhausted.  I actually don't think I really know how to push myself on the bike and swim just yet like I do with running.  So much to learn here!  And so much time I can take off just by getting better at these sports.  At miles 6 I took another sip of Nuun and then I dropped my bottle!!  No hydration. No fuel.  Ugh!!  I wasn't going to stop to get it because...well, first time or not...this is a RACE!  Ha!  So on I went... Up Up Up.  I kept passing people and kept feeling happy and excited and ALIVE!  At one point a girl passed me and I asked her if she knew if there was fuel at the top.  I commented on her Nuun bottle that was just like mine and told her I lost all my stuff.  Then she offered me an extra pack of Honey Stinger Gels and I gladly accepted.  So kind!  I thanked her at least 3 times...once on the bike, when passing her on the run, and at the finish line.  I didn't end up eating the entire pack but just having 2-3 of them was nice.  Some bullets about the bike:  
  • 25 mile ride. Still traffic so passing had to be quick and safe.  
  • First 12.5 is up towards Mt. Bachelor.  Quite the steady climb.  Some portions steeper than others.  
  • The next half is down down down!  This is the part I'm most proud of.  I thought I'd be gripping my brakes the whole way but I was actually so brave here!  I went at a pretty good clip for me!  I remember paying attention to my self-talk and it was something like:  "I'm so proud of you Amanda!  Yes!  You're doing so awesome!  This is so much fun!!"  
  • I'm surprised I didn't finish with bugs in my teeth because I was seriously smiling the whole way down!  
  • The thing I think I might be most proud of?  And don't judge!!  I peed a little on the bike.  On purpose.  Why?  Um, because I had to pee really bad, knew the run would SUCK with that full of a bladder and I wasn't about to stop and waste 3-4 minutes peeing in the woods.  I waited until I was going downhill to respect those behind me.  :)  And because, I was told by my Ironman friends that this is what they do and that it takes a lot of practice.  So, I figured Why Not?  I might as well practice.  I'm so glad I did.  :)  
  • I had my Timex watch from the start but I strapped my Garmin to my bike and used it to gage my speed.  
  • The funny thing about using my Garmin set to run mode is that I gaged everything in mile splits instead of MPH.  I tried to keep my first half (mostly up) around 3:30-6:30 pace but on the really steep portions it went into the high 7's (more like a running pace!).  On the way down, I was thrilled with my 2 min mile pace.  ha ha.  And some 1:5x mile pace.  My husband made fun of me for talking about my ride in mile pace instead of MPH.  
Run Run Run

My kids were cheering and high fiving and jumping up and down for me at the start of the run!  So fun.  I was so ready to catch some people.  

I'll start by saying:  This sucked.  Ha!  First, I'm not in 10k shape.  Second, it was half trail and a hard course.  I started off fast and thirsty thirsty thirsty but couldn't really tell my pace for sure because my Timex watch was cloudy from the swim and my Garmin was full from all the laps it took to record the bike ride.  Grrrr.  So I fiddled with it for the first half mile and ended up deleting laps and starting it around .75.  For much of the race, I kept a steady 7:25-7:55 pace with paces much slower on the climbs.  At one point I even walked a bit up a hill.  I know this is much slower than any 10k pace I've ever run but I knew I was still feeling pretty strong for the end of my first try at a triathlon.  And I was passing people like crazy!  I passed so many of the swimmers and bikers who kicked my butt earlier.  If the run didn't feel so crappy and I wouldn't have felt so hot and thirsty, I might have enjoyed it better!  48:08 was my 10k time (slowest 10k to date as I would expect) and I'm more than happy with this! In looking at the official results and seeing swim, bike, run and transition times, my run time was the second fastest of all the female finishers.  Of course, the elite and sub elite didn't race but... I'm proud of this!

Heading to the dirt trails
Seeing my friend Kristen from Glitter and Dust.  She's one of the fittest pregnant women I know!  

At the end of my run, as I came in towards the finish, my oldest daughter came up to me yelling: "You've got this Mom!  Kick it in!  Finish strong!"  Then my other daughter and son came running up to join in and they all ran me towards the finish.  Oh, this was so so special!!  I finished strong and exhausted!!

The finish.  I look awful but this picture is priceless with my kids following! 

At the finish line, my son says: "Did you win? Did you win your age group? What place did you get?"  
Me:  "I won MY race!  I won for me.  It isn't about winning the whole race but I did my best today and I feel good.  This was my first time at something and I was scared but tried it anyway."  

End results:
  • Third in my age group (so so unexpected!)
  • 13th woman overall
  • Finishing Time (not that this means much since every course is so different):  2:45:16 .  IF I had a time goal, I really wanted to at least get a 2 in front of my time!  I smashed this goal and so excited about this!  The official women's results should be able to be seen here:  Deschutes Dash Olympic Tri Women Finishers

I definitely want to try another triathlon.  I'm not a huge fan of the cost required to simply register for a half or full Ironman but it would certainly be something I'd love to do.  Part of me wants to do it with all my old gear and train as minimally as I can.  I know how easy it probably is to get caught up in the keeping up with the Joneses mentality when it comes to this caliber of triathlons but I don't want to get caught up in that.  I'm fine with my $17 goggles and tri top I bought on clearance.  Yes, I'd like a better bike someday and I still need to borrow or buy a used wetsuit.  But otherwise, I'm just fine with keeping things as simple as I can.  I couldn't ask for a better training partner than Corie so if she was on board, I just might have to go for another SOON!  Then when she qualifies for Kona, maybe I can fly to Hawaii to cheer!!  Or who knows what life will bring...Maybe I'll be competing with her!  Ha!  Wouldn't that be a hoot?  Considering how tired I am today, I'm fine cheering.

So, there you have it...another runner who caught the triathlon bug!  I'm still a runner at heart...always.  But, triathlons sure are fun!

Have you done a triathlon?  What distances?
Do you want to do a triathlon?  
Do you think the cost of a Half or Full Ironman is worth it?