(1500m Swim / 40K Bike / 10K Run)
August 3, 2014
Age Group: F30-34, 12/17
Swim: 38:09 Pace: 2:32 Age Group: 11/17 Gender: 84/118 Overall: 371/442
T1: 2:37 Age Group: 11/17 Gender: 63/118 Overall: 274/442
Bike: 1:29:38 Pace: 16.6 Age Group: 13/17 Gender: 99/118 Overall: 428/442
T2: 1:53 Age Group: 9/17 Gender: 47/118 Overall: 291/442
Run: 54:18 Pace: 8:44 Age Group: 5/17 Gender: 47/118 Overall: 230/442
I was really nervous going into my first Olympic triathlon. I knew I could finish all the distances for the swim, bike, and run but didn’t know if I could do them all back to back. The swim would be 3X as far as my sprint triathlons, the bike would be 2X as long as the sprint distance, and the run was also 2X as long. However, I wasn’t really worried about the running. At the beginning of the summer (May), I loosely followed an Olympic distance training plan I found in Triathlete magazine to prepare for my sprint triathlons. I would swim 3-4 days a weeks, bike 1-2X per week, and run 1 to 2 times per week and interspersed a lot of hot yoga. The program itself was a six week training program that focused primarily on strengthening the swim. So once I was 6 weeks out from my Olympic triathlon, I followed the training plan as closely as possible.
I do think it helped because during my training my swim definitely improved and I gradually became faster and stronger during my sprint races. As with the sprint training, for this 6 weeks my training consisted of: 3-4 swim days, 2 runs, 2 hot yoga sessions, 2 gym/strength sessions, 1 computrainer class, and 1 brick workout. The first three weeks I followed it to a T. Didn’t miss any workouts. However, the second three weeks overlapped with the first three weeks of my marathon training program. So obviously, I had to ditch the hot yoga and gym sessions and replace them with more running sessions. It was a little dicey fitting it all in, but I made it work.
The day before the race I had to work so my mind was preoccupied with patients. So I didn’t really think about it. But that evening, my mind was going crazy. I was reading over the prerace instructions and I saw that there was a time cutoff for the first loop of the bike. What?!?!? Where did this come from?!?. The Olympic distance started at 7:30am and the time cutoff for finishing the first loop was 9:35am. Okay two hours seems like enough time right? Well, if you’re good. But I was planning on taking the swim slow and steady since it was my first Olympic distance race. And let’s be honest, the bike is my weak link so how was I supposed to ride fast enough to make it through the first loop in time when I can barely do the sprint distance at 15mph?! I calculated that if I started right at 7:30am and took 45 minutes to swim and then a 5 minute transition (I know that’s long but wanted to give myself wiggle room) that would put me at 8:20am. This would leave me 1 hour and 15 minutes for 12.5 miles on the bike for the first loop. Okay that seems like enough time, however, weaker swimmers are supposed to start towards the back of the swim. So if the race starts a little late and then I have to wait 15 minutes before I enter the water, it would be cutting it close for me. Bryan told me not to worry and that I would have plenty of time. But I was freaking out! I started to go into panic mode. So I made the executive decision to go to LA Fitness to swim 1500 yards at 6:30pm. I knew I wouldn’t gain anymore fitness, but it was just to ease my mind and to prove to myself that I can swim. So I swam my 1500 yards nice and easy. I didn’t feel tired and my mind felt a little better.
The next morning I woke up around 5:00, got my stuff together, had breakfast and was out the door around 6:00 to get to packet pickup in time. I had my usual race jitters in the car, but my mind wasn’t going too crazy. I told myself, no pressure, this is my first Olympic distance triathlon and am just doing it for completion. But the time cutoff was still in the back of my mind. The majority of our fellow Tri-Loco teammates were racing the sprint distance, so only a few of us doing the Olympic. I set up my transition area with enough time to talk to a few people and walk to the swim start at the beginning of the canal. Walking to the start, it finally got real. Wow, I’m still walking, this seems far. In the pool 1500m doesn’t seem far because I’m doing laps, but the canal laid out in front of me put it into perspective. I just did close to this distance last night without a problem so I should be fine. Keep calm.
By the time I got to the swim start, I had about 10 minutes to warm-up in the canal. It was wetsuit legal which I was happy about it, but even with the wetsuit the water was freezing. That was the coldest 74 degrees I’ve ever felt. After the warm-up, I positioned myself in line slightly past the middle of the pack – so in between middle and the back. It took about 10 minutes for me to get the jump off. It was a time trial start, so they waited about 2-5 seconds before releasing people into the water. When I jumped in, I told myself steady and strong. This is 1500m so don’t wear myself out in the beginning. I gradually started swimming towards the right side of the canal for a few reasons. First my body was just naturally drifting in that direction. Second I breathe only on my right side so it made it easy for me to follow the canal wall to my right so I wouldn’t have to sight as much. Third the majority of the swimmers were swimming in the middle or towards the left of the canal, so I bypassed congestion and the other swimmers were not in my line of sight so I could focus solely on myself and not worry about if I was getting passed or where the other swimmers were in relation to me.
My strategy worked out perfectly for me. It really allowed me to zone in on myself and not get distracted by the others around me. I think a lot of times in open water swims it bottlenecks and then I have to fight for position and I get out of my rhythm. This time I was completely in my zone breathing every two strokes and sighting about every ten or more. Every time I took a breathe I could see Bryan and my dad walking along the canal next to me and hear them cheering me on. It was like my own personal cheer squad that could follow me the entire length of the canal. I only had to stop once when someone’s arm hit me in the head and I had to reposition my goggles for a second. If I ever felt tired or needed a break I would swim breast stroke a few seconds to catch my breathe and then continue swimming. I only did this a few times, mainly when I got caught in the gross vegetation in the water. Why are there plants growing from the bottom of the canal to the surface of the water?!?!? It was a tangled mess at a few spots.
I never look at my watch during the swim portion of a race, so I asked Bryan once how far I was and he said I was over half way. Whew! Then when I approached the sprint distance swim start, I knew I was only 500m away and I started to pick up my speed a little since I knew I was almost finished. When I got to the finish there was a staircase in the water to get out. My balance was so disoriented from being in the water so long that I missed the step a few times and almost fell over. I ended up finishing the swim in 38:09! Much quicker than I had anticipated. I was very pleased with my swim time. Steady and strong really does help. I didn’t feel out of breathe once nor panic. Such a big improvement from last year when I breast stroked the entire sprint distance swim at Tri Indy because I panicked in the water. What a difference a year makes.
While running to T1 I took off my swim cap and goggles. I made the decision to take off my GPS watch before stripping off my wetsuit. It was so much easier than trying to get my wetsuit over my watch. My T1 time was 2:37. Not bad. Could have been a little quicker.
When I ran my bike over to the bike start, I saw Bryan and my dad again. I took a couple breathes and took my time since I was still nervous about the bike. I clipped in flawlessly and took off. There were a few sharp turns at the beginning while exiting White River State Park so I took my time used the first few minutes as a warm-up. I saw Gary and Connie, Bryan’s parents, as I was exiting the park. It’s always great to see familiar faces to help motivate me during a race. The bike course was relatively flat, so I could push myself to go faster. Computrainer class has definitely helped push me to know what it feels like to work hard. I’m not completely there yet, still a work in progress. But I need to learn to embrace the burn on the bike. I know what it feels like to swim hard and to run hard, but biking hard is trickier for me. So as long as I felt a burn in my legs I knew I was riding hard. I tried to keep my average speed above 16.0mph the entire bike leg. I really wanted to average at least 16mph this race. Starting to feel more comfortable on my bike, I rode in arrow position a few times while keeping up my speed. Towards the end of the first loop the road gets a little bumpy and needs to be repaved so I had to slow down a little. This other female biker and I kept passing each other. We went back and forth multiple times and then I finally gave in, okay you’re a stronger cyclist, go ahead and I’ll catch you on the run.
When I approached the split to start the second loop I was relieved. I made the time cutoff with 20 or so minutes to spare. Whew! I could now relax a little and enjoy the race. The second loop was a little lonelier. The majority of the sprint racers had already gone by during the first loop and with me being a weaker cyclist, the other Olympic racers were way ahead of me, so I was by myself the majority of the second loop. I probably could have pushed a little harder on the bike, but this was my longest ride ever on Quinn and I didn’t know how long I could sustain my pace. Even in computrainer class, I usually max out around 20 to 21 miles. So I just tried to keep a steady pace while leaving enough energy for the run. Towards the end of the second loop I hit the rough patch again on the road and this time it hurt. Bouncing up and down on a hard bike seat is not much fun. I was ready to be off my bike. As I approached the bike dismount, I passed the sprint racers finishing their runs and the Olympic racers starting their runs. I was jealous that I had not started the run yet.
I dismounted flawlessly again. Woohoo! I ran my bike over to the rack and switched into my running shoes. Time for something I’m good at. My legs felt a little shaky the first few minutes. I knew I should take my hammer gel at this time but the thought of swallowing it made me want to gag and I wasn’t sure when the next water station would be. So I kept on running. I love this run. It goes behind the zoo and follows the White River around to the VA Hospital and then back on the canal path to White River. I’ve ran this course so many times during my marathon training runs. Since we moved to Broadripple, I haven’t ran this route since last fall. I had forgotten how much I missed running downtown. As I approached the first water station, I knew I should take water and take my gel, but I was in a good rhythm and didn’t want to break so I kept running. Probably not the best decision. The first loop of the run went by quickly and I passed Bryan and my family at the split for second loop. Okay Melissa only a 5K left, that’s nothing.
Starting the second loop, I felt myself starting to drag. My pace slipped a little and I was feeling tired. Once in the shade behind the zoo I felt a little rejuvenated. There weren’t as many runners since all the sprint racers had already finished. Just us Olympic people left. As I approached the water station, it was time to take my gel but then I thought to myself, there are only 2 miles left, why would I take my gel with 2 miles left. My time to take it had long passed. So I took a Gatorade instead. As I was leaving the water station my right hip was really starting to bother me. It had not bothered me all summer during triathlon training and it wanted to flare up now during my race. Great. So I just ran through it. If I felt good, I wanted to pick up the pace for the last few miles, but with my hip pain and marathon training I didn’t want to push it so I kept a steady pace. It didn’t hurt with every step, it was on and off every few minutes. As I approached the canal again, I knew it was almost finished. I ran over the bridge trying to pass any last person I could and sprinted into the finish. I finished my first Olympic distance triathlon in 3:06:37!
I was very pleased with my time. I had feared that I would be around 3:30 when I was panicking the night before and my goal was to finish around 3:15. So I beat my goal by 9 minutes! My swim was strong – I didn’t panic. I kept it steady and strong with each stroke. Now I know for next time I can go a little faster and not poop out. My bike was also improved. It was my longest ride and I finished with my fastest average pace of 16.6mph! I finally biked faster than 15mph! This was a huge accomplishment for me. I was a little disappointed in my run. I was hoping to average an 8:30 pace but instead averaged an 8:44 pace. I should have taken my gel right when I started the run and probably one halfway during the bike. By the time I got to the run, my energy stores were depleted and I was running on fumes. Only myself to blame, but now I know for next time. Triathlons are definitely a learning experience, and the best way of learning is to make a mistake.
I ended up finishing 12/17 in my age group. Middle of the pack for my first Olympic Tri – I’ll take it! Bryan told me that I would probably enjoy the Olympic distance more than the sprint distance and he was right. By the time, I feel warmed and in a rhythm in the sprint, it’s over. But with the Olympic I can get into a groove during the swim, bike and run. It was just more gratifying finishing the race as well. With all that training I want to feel like it was worth it. And with the Olympic it was. I still have one more sprint triathlon next week to close out my 2014 triathlon season and I better kill it!