Monday, July 23, 2012

Drown, Fall or Dead Last

My first triathlon is exactly two weeks away on Sunday, August 5 at the Oshkosh Area Sprint Triathlon, held in my hometown of Winneconne, WI.  The tri been on my mind nonstop this past week. I'm excited for the new experience, but also very nervous. With running events, I know how to prepare myself. I know protocol. I know what to expect from past experiences. When it comes to the triathlon, it's a big new horizon for me. I've rattled other triathletes with question after question. I've read online stories, columns and forums. But in the end, there are just some things you learn best when you do it yourself.

Like any new adventure, there is always fear of the unknown. The most common thing new runners say to me before their first race is "I just don't want to be last." Rightfully so. It's the fear of inadequacy that lives in all of us from the early age of grade school. We know we may not be the best, but certainly don't want to be the worst ... or last picked.

My initial goal with the triathlon was simple... Learn to swim. Finish. 

Then it became... Don't drown. Don't fall off your bike and please Lord, don't let me be dead last.

And now as the date clicks closer, the competitive athlete in me starts to rear out. You see, there are very few (if any) races that I sign up for to 'just participate'.  I enjoy my daily runs and relax my pace to run with friends during training. But when I toe the line on race day, the adrenaline in me says, "Bring it!"  It's why I do races... to test myself, to find my best.  If I wanted a fun run with friends, I'd save myself the race entry fee and just run my favorite trail. So forgive me friends, I will never be the pal who runs stride for stride with you in a race (unless your name is Anna and I'm trying my best to keep up!). I don't mean that in a bad or judgmental way to those who do races for fun - it's just who I am.

So this competitive nature has driven me to train hard this past week. I had some great brick workouts, combining the three sports of the triathlon...

The swim is no doubt my weakest area. I've never swam before this past January, so it's been a learning process. Swimming is not as easy as the pros make it look. It's extremely exhausting, but I love what it does to my core. I was pretty dedicated to swimming practice January-March and then I got distracted with the marathon... and just lazy every since. This past month, I've gotten my rusty swimsuit back in the pool. Oh-my, it felt like I was starting over.

When I registered for the triathlon, I did sign up for the "slow swimmer" wave, so I'm hoping that will relieve some of my fears of being drown by the mass of people. It is an open water swim in a lake, which I've never done before either. Curiosity got the best of me this week, and I looked up the 2011 results from this event. I literally had no idea what a good time was for a 1/4 mile swim. Amongst the women, it looked like 10-12 minutes was about middle-of-the-pack. This past Friday, I brought my stopwatch to the pool and swam a 1/4 mile time trial. In fact, it was the first time I ever swam that far without stopping for a breather.  I did 13.5 consecutive laps (small pool) in just over 11 minutes. I was satisfied with this, knowing that it probably won't make me last out of the water. Of course my competitive mindset immediately thought, "I wonder if I could get it under 10..."

When it comes to the 16 mile bike portion of the triathlon, I'm not entirely worried. I've ridden bike all my life and in recent years, I've spend lots of time training those muscles in Spinning class. Although I'm not entirely comfortable on a road bike since most of my outdoor rides have been on a mountain bike. The wider tires of a mountain bike definitely offer more stability and confidence.

I just bought my first real road bike (as compared to the ten-speed I had when I was 12 years old). On Sunday, I took her out for a 20 mile ride and couldn't be more pleased with how she rides. What a difference! I love this purple beauty and she's all mine! My only concern I still have is riding tight quarters with other bikers. I've never done that before; I always ride solo.

Of course I know I can run the 3.1 miles in the sprint triathlon. What I don't know is how fast. How much will my legs have left after the swim and bike?  Of course, this is the whole point of doing brick training. On Wednesday after nearly two hours of swimming and Spinning, fellow Sole Sister Karen pushed me in a 3+ mile run. It was so hot and humid outside; my legs were tired and she wouldn't let me slow down (love/hate moment here). The run proved to me that I could run a mid-9 minute/mile pace, despite weak conditions.
Love this gal, but ready to kill her for making me run so darn fast! haha

On Sunday after 20 on the bike, I immediately set off to run a 5k. The sensation was so weird in my legs. I couldn't tell how fast/slow I was running (and usually I'm a pretty good gauge of that.) But I was happy to finish the 5k under 30 minutes without really pushing.

Are you a triathlete?
Please share your words of wisdom and advice for this first-timer!

Ready for the Olympics?!  Don't forget to sign up for the Virtual Games.


  1. Good Luck!! A tri is something I have on my bucket list.

  2. I am so ready to try a tri. I am excited to hear about how you do, your training sounds great.

  3. I am doing my first tri on Sat August 4th in Champaign. It is a mini, 400 meter swim, 6 mi bike and 2 mi run. The last two weekends we have done mock mini tri's and its amazing how your body feels so different after doing all 3 events. I shaved 6 mins off my time from the first trial to the trial we had yesterday. So if you have the opportunity to do it all, including transitions, I would suggest it.

  4. Good luck, Jess! This is on my radar for next year!


  5. I wish I would have found out about this tri sooner! It sounds like it would be a good one for a first tri. Maybe next year.can't wait to hear about your race!

  6. Jess, I did the Oshkosh Tri about 6 years ago before I had a baby and fell off the exercise wagon. It is a good race, the bike and run are pretty flat. The swim, the good news is that it isn't that deep. Now I know you and I were not the tallest in Winneconne but I could touch the entire time and it was about chest deep. The advice I have during the swim is to keep your bearings or you could swim off course or at an angle. Also, be prepared for walkers instead of swimmers, and don't be surprised if other swimmers grab your feet or kick you. Finally, have a great time riding around our great little area! Hopefully the weather holds out and you have a wonderful time! I know you can do it!

    1. Ah - great to know Kari! Thx for all the info. Looking forward to being back in Winneconne!

  7. I want to do a TRI next spring.... good luck! I am sure you will be awesome!

  8. My biggest fear when I did a try-a-tri was getting on and off my bike in front of cheering spectators. Try practicing running alongside your bike and jumping on it to get a feel for it. You'd hate to be hustling through your transitions and face plant in the middle of them! Good luck and ENJOY!

    1. Um, yeah... haven't even thought about that one! Thx!

  9. Be calm and focused on the swim, relax until you come around the last buoy and can see the beach, then bust a move. Take the turns on the bike wide as there is sometimes gravel & debris on the inside on the country roads and you don't want to get loose. And just have fun & keep pushing! You'll do great!

  10. Hey Jess...
    Do not worry about it. It's your first triathlon. Honestly, the best advice to give for this is to "just have fun with it". Once you have your "base" time for your first triathlon, the next one you just have to try to beat that time, and so on...
    Learn the transition area. Where do you come in on the swim? How do you get to your bike from there? Where is the bike out? Where is the run out? And of course, where is the finish line?
    Don't worry about other cyclists on the course, just stay to your right and say "on your left" when you pass.
    You will do great and you'll become addicted like many of us have. :-) Enjoy the day!
    - Jennifer Sandenaw

  11. I'm excited for you! I just did my first sprint triathlon a week ago and loved it. The swim is definitely my weakest part too... have you practiced at all in open water? I only did once, and I wish I had done more. It's odd when you're used to seeing through the clear water, and you have to occasionally peak up to see where you should be going. I'd also recommend starting very slowly in the swim. I think I tried to go out fast, and I had a mini panic when I was breather faster than I could come up for air. Hopefully you won't have that experience, but if you do, flip over and float on your back to catch you breath, then go again. Apparently it's very common to panic in the water, so do your best to take it easy and focus on your rhythm. Enjoy yourself!!

  12. Best of luck Jess! Enjoy the ride... it's soooo worth it! T2 is my biggest fear always but yesterday (I trained for it) it didn't feel as bad. Yes, legs feel very weird but it can be done... the thing is that after the swim and the bike the body's somewhat tired but it's such a great combination of sports (or so I find it :p) Go with the flow... you'll do great! Can't wait to hear all about it!

  13. I've done 2 tri's in the last 3 weeks, with those being #1 and #2. Here is my best advice.

    1. If you haven't tried running barefoot on different surfaces (grass, blacktop, sand etc.) then make sure to give this a shot. Your legs will feel a little wobbly getting out of the water so make sure you test this transition if you haven't. Kick your hardest at the end to get your legs used to working.

    2. Get there early so you can pick your spot in the transition area and gives you plenty of time to ask others about the race course. Lay out a towel with your gear on it so you claim your transition space!

    Good luck and I know you will do great :)

  14. You will love being a Tri participant!

    My hubby does the Ultra distance and the 70.3 Ironman as well as the sprints and the Olympic distance and he is addicted.
    Once you get more comfortable on your bike you may want to look at some aerobars and if you have that urge to go big (distance) carbon is the next step for you.
    Yours is a sprint so no real worries but as you progress to Olympic and longer just remember to hold out a bit on the bike, save the legs!

    YOU ARE AWESOME ... have fun!

  15. Here are some great tips for easier transitions:

    Things I did were arrange sunglasses, used a race bib belt and skipped the socks for my bike and run.

    Good luck!

  16. Hello! I'm going to follow your blog, as I registered for my first sprint triathlon in October. I've lost 70 pounds since last October, and training for the triathlon will hopefully boost off the final 30! I'm enjoying your blog.

  17. I think we all fear things we've never done, but SO exciting that you're going for it anyway! you'll rock it, no doubt in my mind!!! I wanna register for one SOO bad but my fears hold me back...I gotta just take the plunge, because like you, I am terrified of the swim! you look great, by the way!!!

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