My First Olympic Distance Triathlon

author : johnrunner
comments : 6

Race report on the Chattanooga Waterfront Tri - Beginners Point of View. This was my first Olympic length triathlon and also the first time I had done a race with cycling shoes instead of cages.

Scared. Confident. Nervous. Excited.

These are some of the adjectives I can use to describe how I felt going into the event. The race was a first for me for a couple of reasons. One, it was my first Olympic length triathlon, and two, it was the first time I had done a race with cycling shoes and pedals instead of cage pedals. Luckily, I had the support of the 20 or so other members of the Peachtree Tri Club there to keep me going.

The Swim (Time: 42:03)
1500 meters (actually 1560 meters, according to the website - 0.97 mile) seemed like a long way to swim. While I had done swims of this length in a pool, pool swimming really does not prepare you for an open water swim of this distance. In a pool I had the lane markers to keep me going straight, and if for some reason I floundered, the pool was never more than a few feet deep. Not so when in open water. You have to take a sighting every now and then to be sure you are swimming on course. If you are not used to doing this, it can disrupt your rhythm.


After about a 10 minute delay, they started to line us up for entry into the water. My bib number was 594, and so I was in the middle of the pack. The wait only added to the emotions that I was experiencing. After what seemed like forever (actually, I believe it was about 25 minutes) I hit the dock and hopped into the water, ready to begin my race.

As I started out, I tried to get my rhythm going in regards to my stroke and my breathing. After about 50 meters I felt like saying “To hell with it all.” I could not seem to find my groove. So I rolled onto my back and did a backstroke for about 50 meters. This allowed my emotions to settle down and allowed me to get my thoughts in order. I then rolled over and started a freestyle swim. Again, 50 meters into that swim, I had to roll over and catch my breath and thoughts. I was seriously thinking about heading back to the dock. But then I remembered one of the rules I had read in regards to training: “You've got to try. No matter what happens in the end, you'll have bigger regrets from not ever trying.”

I then rolled back into a freestyle swim and started a slow and easy stroke. This allowed me to get comfortable and build my way up to my normal speed (which is still slow, but at least I was moving). Once I got my groove, the swim was actually very easy. At times I had to stop and get my bearings, but for the most part, when I rolled to take a breath, I used the swimmers around me as guides. The only issue I had was at about 1000 meters my goggles started to fog up, and this made sighting a bit more difficult.


Remembering the swim tip we were given at the start of the race, I tried to swim as close to the buoys as possible. Seems the current was a bit faster there, and I wanted to use every advantage I could get. I eventually got to the exit point and was feeling rather good about how I had done so far. Now I had to get ready to hit the hills on the bike route.

The Bike ( Time: 1:28:29)
As I mentioned earlier, this was my first event in which I was using cycling shoes and pedals. Before this, I had cage pedals on my bike and my shoes were my running shoes. This made for a faster transition, but at the same time I was not really fully utilizing my legs while I pedaled. I had purchased the Speedplay Zero series pedals and cleats based on a recommendation of a friend. I had spent about two weeks getting comfortable with them and decided that it was time to use them in the real world.

As I ran the ramp from the boat dock to the transition area, I was feeling good about how I had done in the swim and looked forward to the bike ride of just over 25 miles. After crossing the mount line, I got on the bike but had a bit of trouble locking my cleats into my pedals. I was able to pedal, but it took me about ½ mile before they were fully locked into place.


Now doing 40k on a bike is not a problem for me. I ride my bike 2-3 times a week from home to work and it is a 13 mile ride, each way. I am not the fastest, but I feel comfortable with my time and speed. But I was not prepared for the hills on this course. Not that they were extreme or anything, but with the exception of about 1.5 miles in each direction, it was a constant up or down. I also realized about half way into the ride that I need to adjust my seat. During the ride I had found my “sweet spot” in regards to my riding position, but my seat was not properly set up for that position.

Luckily, the heat had not started to arrive while I was doing most of the ride. In fact, on a couple of occasions during the ride, I thought we were going to have rain. It was a bit foggy once we crossed the river and went over the first hill. I had set a goal time for the bike portion, based on my normal cycling speed, and I was right on target. Because of the hills on the course, I was starting to feel it in my quads, and this would come back to haunt me during the run. As I got to the dismount area, I had a bit of trouble unlocking the pedals. Definitely something I need to work on. When I got off the bike, I could feel the bricks kicking in.

The Run (Time: 1:09:58)
After changing out my cycling shoes for my running shoes and taking in some water and electrolyte tablets, I started what for me is normally my strongest area, the run. But today it was not to be. I could feel my quads screaming at me as I started my run. I knew that I was in the home stretch, and I could take it a bit easier, but at the same time I wanted to do at least nine minute miles.


At mile one, I could feel a cramp developing so I slowed down to a jog and then had to do something I hate to do: I started walking. I would walk for about a minute then do a slow jog until the next mile marker, and then I would walk for another minute, and then jog to the next mile. This was not how I had planned to do the run, but I had to listen to my body and I did not want to injure myself so close to the finish.


Though I was not at my normal running pace, I did manage to build up enough strength to do a sprint the last two-tenths of a mile and cross the finish line. Just a few yards from the finish there were the members of the tri club I belong to cheering me on (“Woot! Woot!”). At that moment I felt an extra burst and headed to the finish line. I had completed my first Olympic distance tri!! I was tired and sore, but confident in what I had accomplished. After getting a beer to replenish my carbs, I had to get away from it all and let my emotions come out. (Yes men do cry, even at 50 years old. Luckily, sweat can hide most of the tears.) I had finished something that just three years ago I had never thought possible.

Final Thoughts
My final time was 3:25:59. I wanted to finish the event in less than 3:30, so in regards to my time, I am happy with what I achieved. I can see what areas I need to work on and from there develop a training plan to become better and stronger.

Will I be back next year for the event?? You bet!! Hopefully I will be a bit faster and stronger. My goal is to do my first half-Ironman in 2008. Gulf Coast Half Ironman, here I come!!


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date: September 12, 2007