Hi everyone! Guess what? After 8 weeks of learning how to swim and ride a road bike, and dealing with not being able to run, I’M A TRIATHLETE!
Quite possibly my happiest race day picture EVER!
I had a great experience this weekend at the Gold Nugget Triathlon, even though I was crazy nervous about the whole entire tri process because it was so much more complicated than my usual run races. On Saturday afternoon I had to drop off my bike and all of my gear at the high school where the race was taking place. The entire parking lot was transformed into the T1 area, and after picking up my bib I set up my gear in lucky spot #957. For a list of what I packed in my race bucket, go here!
After being at the race site I got so incredibly nervous and I couldn’t calm down until the race started the next day! It was a tough night, but when I woke up the next morning I was calm enough for breakfast at 9:30 before I got dressed in my tri kit. I kept getting emotional realizing that I was about to become a triathlete, and also knowing that I was going to race for the first time in months! I forced myself to eat a bagel on the way to the race because I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat lunch, and I arrived at the race start at 11:00 AM, one hour before my on deck time. The race started at 8:00 and the last wave started at 3:00, so I was starting around the middle of the pack. But starting in the afternoon meant that it was super hot while I was on the course! I got in line to get my body marked, and when the volunteer asked me how I was doing I almost burst into tears because I was so emotional about doing my first tri. Everyone was so nice and gave me lots of cheers and good luck wishes! Then, to calm my nerves a bit, I hung out with my friends and watched people complete their swim in the pool before my number got called on deck.
Once I got down there, I felt strangely calm. I had anticipated that I’d have an anxiety attack either before or during the pool portion of the race, so I planned on mostly doing the backstroke in the pool so that I could fully breathe while swimming. Before I even knew what was happening, I was jumping into lane 6 with two other medium paced swimmers and was given the countdown to start swimming! I started with freestyle and then switched to backstroke for the end of my swim. Even though I had to pass people 3 times and got passed once, I was pretty calm in the pool and was able to keep a really steady, strong pace for my 500 yards. After I was done, I struggled with getting out of the pool (it was deeper than usual!) until the lap counters pulled me out, and then I grabbed my towel before running over the T1 mat. Even with all of those extra things, I managed to finish my swim a bit faster than I’d planned and I was so proud of myself!
In T1 I quickly dried off my face and applied sunscreen to my ears and face before throwing on my socks, shoes, and helmet. I was terrified I would forget something but since I was already wearing my race outfit there wasn’t too much to worry about. I was definitely surprised that my legs were already feeling tired, and wished that I’d done more swim to bike brick workouts. But with my husband and lots of strangers cheering me on, I headed out onto the bike course!
I could tell by mile 1 that the heat was going to totally destroy me. I know that temps in the upper 70s aren’t “hot” for people in many places, but in Alaska that’s about as hot as it gets and I hadn’t trained in weather like that. I’d anticipated a cloudy day in the 50s so it was a shock to my body to be pushing so hard on my bike in such warm, sunny weather. At around mile 4 we left the bike trail to cross over the bridge that leads to the military base, and the police officer had to stop us to allow traffic to pass through. I was secretly relieved to be able to stop and drink water because I could already tell that my body was overheating. I had to stop once again at mile 8 for a quick drink and to rest my legs for 30 seconds because the entire course was uphill and I was starting to fade. I have never felt that weak on my bike before and all I could think was that I wanted to get to the run course so I could drink lots of water. The hills in miles 10-12 were brutal, especially the one right before T2. But somehow I made it to the top without passing out, and then I hobbled through the transition to the “run” portion of the race. My legs felt like jello for at least a mile!
I had to do 4.1 miles of super fast walking through the woods on a tank trail to make it to the finish line, and it gave me a lot of time to think about things. I thought about my injury and how much I wanted to run, and then and all I could think about was how happy I was that I had an excuse not to run in the hot weather. Whenever I felt dizzy and wanted to slow down, I reminded myself that I was going to be a triathlete in less than one hour and it helped me keep on pushing on. I also felt self conscious because everyone around me was running and I must have looked like the worst triathlete out there, but I knew that I was doing exactly what was right for my body and what was going to help me continue to recover and get back to running soon. I had decided that I was going to run it in to the finish once I got to the area with the spectators, so at mile 3 I started to feel really excited about getting to run again and kept imagining how amazing it would be to cross that finish line. When I got close enough to see the turn to the finish line where the spectators were, I took a few tentative steps running, and then realized that I felt awesome and pain free so I took off as fast as I could. People were cheering for me and telling me that I looked so strong, and as soon as I saw the finish line I began crying because I knew that I was finally going to become a triathlete! I crossed the finish line in 2:30, meeting my time goal that I didn’t think I could possibly reach!
As soon as I was done I knew that I was overheated and dehydrated, but I was so incredibly happy and proud. The finishers shirts were adorable, as were the “medal” race necklaces that we got. I had to wait around for my bike to return from T2 on a FedEx truck, and then I immediately went home and laid on the floor for about an hour just staring at my results in shock. I am still emotional every time someone talks to me about the race because I’m so proud of what I did!
It’s still too soon for me to process exactly what happened on Sunday, but overall I’m so glad that I did this race! It was a great tri for newbies like me – in the field of 1600 girls there were over 400 that were doing their first tri, and it was so cool to share that experience with other racers. But these Alaskan ladies are no joke, and I was definitely a back of the pack finisher. I know that if I’d had more time to learn how to swim and how to get comfortable on my bike I’d be able to finish faster, and if I could have run the 4 miles instead of power walking I would have cut 20 minutes from my time. So I’m hoping that by next year I’ll be able to finish much faster. Yep, you read that right – I’m totally doing this race again next year! It was a great experience and I loved the all-girls atmosphere and positive vibes for people of all abilities. Right now I’m choosing to focus on how amazing it is that I finished a race pain-free while dealing with this injury, and that I competed in two totally different sports after learning them only 2 months ago. I might not do another tri anytime soon, but I know that next year I’m totally going to be back out there tri-ing again!
Have you ever done a triathlon? What was your favorite part about the race? And if not, what is holding you back? It’s AWESOME!