A true sign of a good weekend is when you can (a) talk your friend into her first triathlon and (b) race your heart out for fun. To be technical, Sunday was not the first triathlon for my friend Mary. She had competed in an indoor triathlon at one of her local gyms and actually won her age group. So she’s been through the drill before, although from personal experience I know it’s a bit different, and a little more daunting, to move from the spin bike and treadmill to the open road.
The beautiful thing about the Pittsford Triathlon in suburban Rochester, N.Y. is that the swim is done in the high school pool. No worries about open water, especially in early June, making it a great triathlon for first-timers and a great warm-up for people like me who eschew the cold temperatures of open water, at least for “racing” purposes. While not an easy course (the bike is full of rolling hills and the run has some nice ones to boot) it is a user-friendly triathlon. I wanted Mary to have the experience of enjoying her first tri in a low-key environment. For myself, I was looking for an opportunity for a fantastic workout and more race experience. Mission accomplished.
Swim: 300 yards
This was a time-trial start with swimmers going off every 15 seconds. The 25-yard pool was divided into six lanes so the 300-yard swim consisted of two laps in each lane, followed by ducking under the lane line to enter the next lane. During registration, triathletes gave their estimated swim time for 300 yards so that organizers could arrange the start times accordingly. Give people the opportunity to seed themselves and it rarely works. There were bottlenecks with people attempting to pass and others attempting to hold off the pass. I saw people walk the shallow end, and that was before I got in the pool. Luckily for me, I was only passed once and didn’t seem to get into too much of a water traffic jam. Since the official swim time in the results include the amount of time it takes you to leave the pool, run out of the school and over to transition, I’m not quite sure how well I swam. Ducking under the lane lines was certainly a bit more challenging than I anticipated, but pushing off the wall every 25 yards instead of every 50 meters was a nice change of pace. I went hard all six laps and in the end, felt good about my effort.
Bike: 15 miles
Confession time: I have a difficulty clipping into the bike in a race setting. Ok, sometimes I have difficult clipping in no matter what the setting, and hence fumbled the transition a bit. But once on the bike, I felt at ease. While not familiar with the bike course, I had heard from others that it was rolling with no real climbs. I had two goals on the bike: Go all out and catch Mary.
Mary is a superb swimmer and started a good 20 minutes before me in the pool. Given more distance (300 yards is so short even I wasn’t afraid of the swim) she would thoroughly trash my butt. However, she is new to cycling (her bike was just a week old) and if I have any strength at all in triathlon, it’s the bike. Since this was a fun race, I decided to go all out on the bike.
The first few hills I allowed myself to warm up, embracing my granny gear. (Seriously, in the first few weeks of the outdoor cycling season I have been in granny gear so often I should be wearing a babushka.) Quickly, however, I worked all my gears and found the rhythm of riding the hills and pounding the flatter portions. I knew that Mary was ahead of me and wearing a bright pink top. Every time I saw a brightly colored top in the distance I thought, must catch Mary! I didn’t speed up, but kept consistent and strong, eventually passing the brightly-colored individual only to discover it wasn’t Mary. For the record, I had no desire to catch and pass Mary for competitive reasons. I wanted her to succeed and frankly didn’t care if she beat me. But thinking about Mary on the course kept me pushing a hard gear throughout the rolling hills instead of putting it on cruise control. It helped me stay focused on my goal for the race. And that was a wonderful thing. As I pulled into transition and glanced at my Garmin, my face broke out into a smile. That was one of the best rides I ever had.
The run: 3.3 miles
Excited about my bike, I got ready for my run and promptly had problems putting on my socks. (I can not run without socks. I get blisters.) About halfway through the run, I would realize the speed laces I put in the night before were not quite right on my left foot. Note to self: Try out speed laces before each race. And if the store doesn’t carry the brand you like best, take the time to tie your traditional laces. But before the joys of toe numbness came the odd sensation of jello in my legs at the start of the run. Ah yes. I have not done a brick workout since, well, since I did the Ironman in Montreal in September. Hello hamstrings!
I took the run steady with the goal of being consistent and strong. There were a few hills on the run, but I thought of them as harmonious. I wasn’t quite sure how quickly I was moving, but felt pretty happy with my pace. By Mile 2 I found Mary, who by this time had teamed up with Nicole, another first-time triathlete, for the run. We exchanged a friendly jab as I passed and we all continued trucking along. As I hit the Mile 3 marker, I started to see other athletes who had finished the course, hanging out along the road to cheer on the rest of us. I broke into another big smile as I kicked it in for the final 100 meters, crossing the finish line feeling happy and completely spent.
Mary finished a few minutes later and I cheered wildly for her as she crossed the finish line. I had suggested this race to her only a week before and we both signed up on Monday night — just six days before the race. For me, it was training race. In essence, that’s what it was for her, too, as she prepares to complete the sprint distance mini-Musselman in Geneva, N.Y. next month. And while there is something special about the preparation for a key race, there’s something incredibly fun and affirming about stepping into a race based on your fitness and desire alone. There was no plan for this race other than to go out and do my best.
Do my results have meaning? Sure they do. First off, my bike is not as bad I thought it was and my run has improved. But more than that, the race showed me I can go all-out and not only survive but thrive. I am strong, both physically and mentally. And most importantly, all the little things I’ve done for the past few years have helped me create a life I want — one characterized by activity, adventure and joy, filled with friends to play with and mutually supportive relationships.