Overcoming Obstacles - My First Tri

author : shelagh
comments : 1

Swimming. Why is it so easy when you're a kid and so hard when you're an adult? Every time I put my face underwater I panicked! I felt like there was some kind of secret that I just wasn't getting.

I decided to attempt my first sprint triathlon in March 2008, with my race being in August 2008. I had been going to the gym pretty regularly for about three years and felt uninspired. I'm a goal-oriented person in every other area of my life and like to set challenges for myself, and I knew doing a triathlon would not be easy. Well, not quite. I remember telling myself that when I swam in elementary school it felt pretty easy and riding my bike was no problem when I was a teenager. And it had been that long since I had really done either. But I knew the run would be my toughest part, since I have short little legs. At 5'2", I definitely do not have a runner's body!

So, I started alternating running and biking at the gym on the treadmill and the stationary bike. Living in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, workouts in March and April are almost always inside since it's so cold and icy. I found a pool near my house to practice, but took a really long time to start there. It was so easy to go to my gym since I'd been doing it for years, but changing my routine to go to the pool was tough. I also avoided telling most of the people in my life that I was training to do a triathlon, because that way if I didn't do it few people would know.

Then, on April 1st, my father passed away suddenly from a heart attack. It was like a really horrible April Fool’s Joke. He was a very important person in my life - wise and supportive every step of the way. He was a lawyer, and at the time, I was just about to do my final exams in my second year of law school. All of a sudden, I had to help plan a funeral, support my mother and sister, finish a paper, and study for four final exams, and all within a three-week time frame. Somewhere in there I was supposed to be training for this triathlon!

I had told my father that I was going to do a triathlon a couple of days before he died. I had put off telling him for quite a while because I was worried I would disappoint him. He said he was very proud of me, and knowing that, I knew I had to keep training, despite everything else that was going on. That's when I started training really seriously and finally bit the bullet and started going to the pool twice a week.

Oh man, swimming. Why is it so easy when you're a kid and so hard when you're an adult? Every time I put my face underwater I panicked! I felt like there was some kind of secret that I just wasn't getting, so I bought an online book that I found out about from another first-timer on Beginner Triathlete. Practicing the drills improved my stroke and my comfort in the water SO much. Not to say that I was a fast swimmer, though. Although I did the 750m distance a few times before my race, my fastest time was 22 minutes. And that was with doing the backstroke half the time because I couldn't do a fast front stroke without getting out of breath!

I didn't have a bike, so my mother-in-law agreed to loan me her comfort bike. I knew it needed some adjustments, so I took it to my local bike shop. The manager laughed at me when I told him that I was planning on racing with it. It was extremely heavy (I couldn't even lift it) and I couldn't get it above 15 kph, if that! So I ordered a lighter road bike through his shop and it was worth every penny. Again, I was slow (averaging around 20 kph training), but it didn't sap every ounce of energy from me just trying to pedal it!

My biggest concern, however, leading up to the race was the run. I only did the 5k distance once, and it was on a treadmill. I was really nervous about how that would turn out! I practiced three bike-to-run bricks. The first one I did was the first time I thought that I actually might not be able to do the triathlon. But I made it through.

Leading up to the race, I was really careful to get enough sleep and fuel up properly. I tried out a couple of different energy gels to make sure they didn't upset my stomach. I started doubting myself, but my husband and my family were very encouraging. Thank goodness my husband was there for the race. I was a total space cadet that morning! I set up my transition area and asked what we were supposed to do with our shoes. Out of all of the beginner articles that I read, I didn't realize that I had to run from the pool to the outside transition area in my bare feet!

I was in the first heat for the swim because I had estimated my swim time to be 27 minutes (this was before I did the swim in 22 minutes). All of the other girls in my lane had faster times than 22 minutes, so I was the last to start in my lane. It went pretty well, although I had to backstroke for about half of it. I kept catching up to the girl in front of me but I didn't think I was going fast enough to pass her, so I would flip onto my back to slow down a little! Then I just decided to do front stroke for half and back stroke for half. It worked out well - my swim time was just over 20 minutes, which was 2 minutes faster than training!

The first transition was great. I felt like I did it in no time. I hopped on my bike, and away I went. The course was nice and quiet, with 5k downhill and then 5k uphill, done twice. It felt so peaceful—this was my favorite part of the race. That is, until I had to get off my bike. I tried to get off my bike while it was still moving, which I had not practiced before. I fell onto my knee and got tangled up in my bike. Smooth, hey? Everything was going SO well until this point! Blood was running down my leg and there was no sign of first aid in sight. So, I had a decision to make. Do I take a DNF and tend to my leg, or do I run 5k with my war wound? I decided to do the latter. At the water station, I grabbed two glasses - one for me, and one for my leg. I started running and felt okay for about 1.5k, until I really felt the need for a water station, which was nowhere in sight. I didn't come up to another one until 3k in, at which point I had walked a fair portion of the course. But after hitting that water station and knowing I only had 2k to go, the adrenaline (and maybe the caffeine from the energy gel) kicked in. I powered through and finished the run in 38 minutes and 30-ish seconds, which was faster than my 5k training time on the treadmill the one time I did it!

All in all, my finishing time was 1 hour, 53 minutes and some-odd seconds, which was faster than my (once lofty) goal time of 2 hours. My goal at the beginning of the race was just to finish, and once my knee injury occurred it was really just to finish. To finish 7 minutes faster than I had hoped, with the injury, I was ecstatic. I didn't even care if there were only 10 people slower than me!


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date: September 8, 2008