I couldn’t ask for a better first race experience today. Given the weather conditions and the amount (or the lack thereof) of training I had under my belt, the incredible amount of support I had in the form of a buddy doing the race with me (Charanya), all my Ironchicks buddies, equally nervous; an awesome cheering squad in the form of Coach A, Sharanya, Arvind, Gayatri Rao and supremely supportive Bharath and an incredily supportive race environment, I had a BLAST! Till I got the the run at least by which time I was mentally done with the race and it was brutally hot and humid.
Race day began with a surprisingly good night’s sleep. I took lots of rest on Saturday. I was up and ready to go by 5am. Bharath was more excited than I was! There were many things I didn’t know what to expect. For instance, for a change, I felt comfortable about the swim. But I was nervous about the bike and the run – the bike cos the course is hard and the run because it’s after 2 bricks which would take a lot out of me in terms of endurance. Moreover, I haven’t had the real experience of putting it together. I had no idea what to expect when I put it all together at once!
But this wasn’t about timing or competition for me. It was the experience of a triathlon! Getting into transition as it opened was the best advice among many that I got from Coach A. Getting early means we also got to park at Decker Lake instead of a mile away at the Expo which really matters once you’re done with the race and don’t have to lug your stuff. We first got into T and went to get body marked. Then I set up my T area, got to the restroom, pumped my bike, got sunscreen on and got ready to meet my cheering squad. We went over by the swim entrance and the first thing I wanted to do was to get into the water (per Coach A’s strategy for race day panic). I felt great in the water, swam a little and there was no panic whatsoever.
We got into our waves (I almost went to Wave # 1 of the blue caps of older women). Mine was wave 9 and Cha’s was wave 10. Bharath was there right until I got into the water taking pictures. I was nervous at this time but far calmer than I would have expected. As Ma would say, I thought about my guruji, dedicated the swim to him and asked for all forms of divine help I could at that time. The race start was pumped! The announcer was saying lots of encouraging things but I really just wanted to begin already! Then the gun went off.
It was way better than I’d expected. The wave being small I didn’t get pummelled by the swimmers. I started with breast stroke till I could get away from the crowds a bit and then began my freestyle stroke. I did a fantastic job of sighting both freestyle and breast stroking. But I realized that the breast stroke is far from ideal for distance swimming. Soon my legs began to tire and I actually defaulted to freestyle to move faster and more efficiently. Not to say that I didn’t do breast stroke at all – I did it every time I thought I felt tired and needed to keep my head out of the water. I didn’t ever feel the need to stop and hold onto a noodle. Something told me this was going to be the best part of my race and I should keep swimming. Eventually the next wave’s faster swimmers caught up with me but I felt great about catching up with the earlier wave’s slower swimmers as well. I like to be in the middle. Not too good but not too shabby either :).
Got out of the water and spotted my smiling husband first thing! I yelled for my slippers and ran to T1. I wanted to go pee but decided against it. Cha came quickly behind. I made the mistake of wearing my race belt first. Should always, always wear helmet first. Get the darn bulky thing out of the way but its best practice for security reasons too. Met Cha who said I better pee first. Bharath claimed he was watching me make an action-move with the bike but suddenly I dropped it and ran to the next port-a-potty. I wasn’t sorry about it one bit!
Started on the bike with Cha but she took off pretty soon. I decided to stop and take a GU gel at that point and drink some water. Kept thinking about advice about hydrating on the bike which helps for the run. Oh well, if anything I over-hydrated! The hills on Decker Lake Rd. were easy. Not bad at all. It took a while to settle into the rhythm of the pedal. Most of the hills on the bike course were following a downhill so I pedalled as fast as I could to gain momentum. The crazy hill after the stop sign though was more than I bargained for. I biked the whole thing almost to the top and suddenly I just had to stop to drink water. It’s what I did. And then got back on and pedalled. Walking that hill is harder than pedalling for sure!
And so the hills continued, up and down. I caught up with Cha at the sole water stop. There were ladies of all ages, sizes, experience and bikes! One lady forgot to carry her water bottle so I lent her mine so she could drink at the water stop. In that 90F heat and humidity factor how can you possibly forget water?? It’s life threatening if you ask me! My chain came off twice during the bike ride and both times I had a volunteer to help but I lost at least 8-10 minutes there. As I turned on the last hill, the chain gave way for the second time and I felt mad! I said, come on Scarlett don’t let me down! Turning into the last teeny hill to the finish line I saw Cha on her way to the run. She yelled out for me! Bikers kept saying ‘Go Runners’ at this point and vice versa. I was still proud of the fact that I didn’t walk any of the hills.
Yet the thing that went through my mind mostly was that I need to train a lot more. Ironchicks was light on training especially the bricks were easy, but I definitely need to bike longer distances, bike harder and build stamina on the bike. My bike ride was no better or worse than what I expected. But I realized that while I could do the ride, I needed to get better, faster to be able to do it with less effort and more endurance. Nothing but training more can give you that.
I biked to the finish line and saw Sha and Arv and felt so happy to see their smiling faces. Sha was standing with the fantastic poster she put together the night before at 12.30 AM and it made me feel a bit woozy with emotion! I racked my bike as fast as I could, grabbed my running bottle (I called it Nathu, as it’s Nathan brand) and began the run. Saw Coach A and Bharath urging me on. This is where the race got awful. It was horribly hot and the new elastic laces made my shoes super tight. My toes were falling asleep and foot was cramping. I kept saying, I got this, it’s a 5K, think of it as the loop I do near home. But I was mentally tired. Many of the women there were walking and that didn’t help. I kept walking away the cramps and downed lots of water thinking it was because of dehydration perhaps. Big mistake. I was over-hydrated meaning I felt like a jug full of water. My tummy started cramping as I tried to run, it felt like running on a full stomach. Two ladies walking behind were discussing about the fine line between hydrating and belly cramps. I told them I was at the belly cramps. Finally at mile 2 I decided, it’s one more mile and I gotta figure some strategy out. Thought back to Coach A – when your body feels like taking it easy, give it a finite time to do it. So I did the last workout at Rogue on Wed. 1 minute run, 1 minute easy walk/run. I set my watch to timer and began. Every odd minute was a run and every even was a recovery – mostly a walk. I met Sha and Cha’s friend Deb on the way and told her I wanted to train with her this summer. She was so awesome.
Finally about 300 yards from the finish, Sha was waiting for me. She kept saying, the finish line is here and you have to give it everything you got. And I did. I love finish lines and I love sprinting to the finish. I sprinted and felt all the more better about it. But when I saw Bharath I almost started crying. I was so bloody disappointed with how awful the run felt. I kept thinking, I am a freaking runner. But no, now I’m also a triathlete and while I can run long distance, I need to train different and have a different game plan. I went into this race not knowing what to expect about anything except what I had heard. This was a great experience. On my next tri, which is hopefully soon, I need to get a plan together and figure out how to overcome the obstacles. Which are as follows:
- I need to get faster on the bike. I’m signing up for spin class this week at UT so hopefully that will help a bit. And get out on the road more often.
- Work on the stroke technique, especially arms. I kicked too hard as well on the swim which tired me. Gotta try the fins this time (thanks RMK).
- Gotta do more bricks of run and bike. Do medium distance bike rides and minimum 3-5 mile runs and run a lot more. I completely ignored the running on this training schedule.
- So do more track workouts and also try to run more in the heat, gotta get used to it. Its TX after all.
Maybe this is a lot for a first time triathlete (I did only begin 8 weeks ago) but these are longer term goals. I know where I need to put in some work. I need to break it down to smaller pieces like I did on the swim and the run. Interval training is the best.
And finally, ending on a positive note – I am EXTREMELY grateful for the new friends I’ve made in my new city. Everyone needs a set of friends to push them to be better than who they have been. I can completely, 100% dedicate my new self to my new friends – Cha, Sha, GRao, Vish, Coach A, Iti, Jairam, Sandeep among others who have inspired, encouraged and supported me all the way. My husband, Bharath who’s reactions have always changed from being aghast to extremely supportive and proud and finally my in-laws and parents and sister, who may not always understand why I do what I do – but they’re always so proud.
They ain’t seen nothin’ yet!