Blue Water Triathlon: Race Report of My First Tri

author : ahilden
comments : 1

Four months ago I set upon a journey to train for and complete a triathlon, and a few Sundays back I raced in the Blue Water Triathlon in Parker, Arizona.

Well, I did it. Four months ago I set upon a journey to train for and complete a triathlon, and a few Sundays back (promptness is not my thing) I raced in the Blue Water Triathlon in Parker, Arizona. For the last four months, I’ve been training with a great group of people, equally committed to training for this event and to raise money and awareness for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. When I started my journey I did not have any personal connection to LLS. Since that time, while I continue to be blessed to not to be directly effected by leukemia or lymphoma, I’ve been allowed to share in the stories, the sorrows, and the triumphs of too many individuals that have been touched by these diseases.

I arrived in Parker late the night before my race. I was working Saturday morning which meant I did not leave Tucson until 3:00pm, missed the open water practice swim with my team, and was not able to drive the bike course or ride the run course prior to the race. I spent the first four hours of my night of sleep in a half-lucid dream state, where I thought about my alarm not going off, panicked about the race being canceled, wondered if I should do the sprint distance instead of the long race, and pondered whether I should come up with some exotic reason why I could not race at all…all the while knowing, deep down, these three things: 1) all that hoo-ha in my brain was bulls***, 2) I was ready for this race, and 3) I was going to love it!

All the training and preparation brought me to a cool dark morning on the western border of Arizona. My wave started at 7:50 a.m. with the transition area opening at 6:30 a.m. This meant I was up at 5:00 a.m. in time to eat (and digest), set up transition, and warm up.

Just to catch most of you up (again, because promptness is not my thing, and procrastination is, I had not changed my website for over six weeks until today), four and a half weeks before the race I sprained my ankle, just as I was gearing up for my maximal training efforts. I had a great base. I had run five miles two days before at a 13-minute mile pace, which is GREAT for me. I was up to 30 miles on the bike, and I was on pace for a 25-minute kilometer swim. I had frequently paired up these training sessions to start improving my ability to transition for one sport to the next. With my injury, I was out of training for 10 days, in PT for the last four weeks prior to the race, and seriously considered dropping down to the sprint distance. As my ankle improved and I picked up my training efforts, I was brutally shocked by how much endurance I had lost (mostly in the pool). It also seemed unlikely that I would be able to run the “run” portion of the race, as my ankle was still quite uncomfortable with running. So although my original goal was to finish in under four hours, by new goal needed to be just to finish!

Back to race day...All the white cap swimmers (all women and men over 50) were in the second wave, and I was taken by how quickly the countdown came. We were talking and goofing around, then I heard the announcement, “Racers take you mark, five.. .four…three…two…one…” and we were off.

I was completely prepared for the bumping, and the elbows and the feet in wrong places, and the goggles getting kicked off. I felt able to hold my own and claim my swim space. What I wasn’t ready for were the people from my left and right merging into my space, swimming on a different trajectory than I. I found myself yielding to them, letting them pass and cut through my swim line. I felt much better and found my pace as soon as there were no people around me. This of course meant that quite a few people had passed me before I felt comfortable.

I made my way to and around the first buoy with only a few feet of swimming off track, and was looking forward to swimming with the current. It was not as effortless as I had hoped, but still quite nice. I found my way to the second buoy which was my cue to turn left and head slightly back into the current, into the marina and out the boat ramp. This put me swimming directly into the sun, which made it nearly impossible to sight the green buoy.

I just kept swimming in the right direction and tried to stay on course by sighting my distance from the shore. I kept hearing my coach’s voice in my mind… “Focus on the glide, think about rotation, don’t kick so hard, elbows high, arms relaxed…” and before I knew it I was at the boat ramp. I came up to the boat ramp and promptly felt the slime under my feet. A few minor slips on the way out (I did not hit the deck, but I did give my coach some great photo ops), and I was off to my first transition. I was fifth out of the water in my age group (sounds good, doesn’t it?)….out of six (now that’s a little more real!).

I could not believe how hard it was to undo the Velcro on the back of my suit, and I was trying to figure out what was different. My hands were cold, but they were the last time I had done this also… then I remembered that I asked Jodi to close the Velcro for me. We had to have this special name tag attached to our wet suit and it needed to be tucked in precisely. Jodi had done just as I had requested, and the Velcro was, indeed, VERY WELL ADHERED. I took a deep breath, told myself that it would not be the wetsuit that stood between me and the finish line, reached back and pulled the Velcro open.

I moved through the transition intentionally slowly. When I was training in Patagonia, the transition from my wet suit to the bike was great—I ran out of the water, quickly got my suit off, put my helmet on, got on my bike, and hit the hills, only to find myself bending over the rail losing my sports beans two miles later. While I still blame the sport beans, I was not leaving anything to chance. Since that day in Patagonia, I’ve been training with a heart-rate monitor, and found that my PVHR (point of vomit heart rate) is somewhere near a sustained 175 bpm. I had estimated that I should aim for a sustained HR less than 160 (~87% max)

So with all that in my mind and my heart-rate monitor on, I hit the road.

About half a mile into the ride I realized that my socks were soaked. I took note, thought about what I could have done differently, and decided that I needed to get a tri suit before my next race. I swam with my bike shorts on under my wet suit, which while economical was just too much water-absorbing padding. For those who have not raced or trained for triathlons, most triathletes have a one or two piece suit that have a less bulky chamois and are made of fabric that holds less water. Between the saturated seat pad and my tank that clearly was meant to hold water, I was still dripping lake water five miles into the bike ride.

I made it through town, across the bridge and into California, and was ready for the long stretch to Parker Dam. I saw a sign that said 30 to go. I missed the unit...even though the race was measured in kilometers, I sensed that it was stating 30 more miles (while hoping it meant 30 kilometers). I passed a couple of riders, then a few riders passed me. I jockeyed for position with two different women, I passed them on all the down hills, and they passed me on the up hills. Somewhere around 10 miles, I found myself thinking that my feet would probably hurt if I could actually feel them, and somewhere around mile 20, I realized that I was right.

Because I did not have time to drive the bike course, I studied the course map the night before as I was falling asleep. The course down to the dam had a few minor elevation changes, 20-60 feet over a distance that looked manageable, with two bigger hills, but the course from the dam back to the transition area did not note any changes in elevation. I just kept telling myself, “Just get to the dam, then I’m home free”. So naturally, I was quite relieved when I crossed the dam, and equally shocked when I had to climb what turned out to be the first hill of many from the dam back to the transition area. It turns out that the elevation on the map was marked for when the course got back to 400 ft., and in no way implied that there were not elevation changes. The hills were more gradual, which of course is code for LONG. Every time I thought I was done climbing, I would turn a bend and see my next challenge. I tried to think of it as lessons in life, staying positive and saying stuff like, “ See, you never know what you’re gonna get. You just see it, then do it. Spend less time thinking about how you’re gonna do it and instead just do it.” This worked for hills 1- 16.

Hill 17….. Seriously?

Climbed that one too, then hills 18, 19, and 20. I cannot believe I thought this was going to be flat.

Coming into the transition area I saw Jodi and Tracy (a class mate of mine who lives in Havasu, just upstream from Parker; she donated money to my race in honor of her Aunt, who is currently being treated for lymphoma, and her childhood dog, who died of lymphoma, both of whose names appear on my running jersey).

I hung up my bike, pulled off my cycling shoes, slid on my running shoes, changed into my running jersey, grabbed my hat and water, and I was off. The run was long, and with it going on 11:00am, it was starting to get hot. As I was putting on my run jersey, I felt that swell of emotion again. I was completing a triathlon, which is something I had always wanted to do. Four months ago I started this journey with that very self centered focus. It was something for me. Nearing that goal was emotional enough, but knowing that I was also completing this race in honor of friends and family members touched emotions in me that I had not expected. As I write this, though, I’m not sure why I did not expect the emotion, knowing full well that I routinely cry for Hallmark commercials and still cry for the Free Willy movie preview. I thought of crossing the finish line, knowing what it meant to me to complete this race, knowing what it meant to have Jodi there at the finish line and knowing that I completed this race in honor and with honor for the millions of people, dogs, and cats that have been and will be affected by lymphoma, leukemia, and multiple myeloma.

There it was: this finish line. I came around a bend in the path and saw the group of Team in Training folks, tried to find Jodi in the crowd, and heard the cheers. I had to start running, if for no other reason than to help them not need to cheer for five minutes. Then, I thought that they should have put the finish line closer to the bend, because even though I was running it seemed like they had to keep cheering for a long time still. The race clock came in to view, and by then so had Jodi. I saw her smile, saw her taking pictures, then saw the clock read 4:29:29.9. I had forgotten that it was set to the first wave and my only thought was I will NOT finish this race in over 4:30.
So I sprinted. Apparently, many of the people cheering me on liked that I sprinted to the finish. I was just trying not to collapse, have an asthma attack, or turn my ankle.

So there it is, my race report! I did it!

200-plus hours of training, four-plus hours of racing, and 40-plus hours of fundraising. A lot of ups, a few downs.  Great friends…not only the ones I’ve met, but also the ones I’ve reconnected with through the course of fundraising. It was a great experience every way I look at it.

I’m looking forward to my next tri.

Lake Havasu Triathlon 3/22/08
Olympic Distance 1500m/40k/10k


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date: March 4, 2008