Friday, August 3, 2012

My First Triathlon: Post Race Analysis

For the first time in my life it totally paid off to be OLD!  I won my age group in the beginner division.  Don't believe me?  You can click here and then choose "results by division" and scroll down to "Female Beginner 35-39."

This was a big jump for me to do this triathlon last night.  I have been thinking about doing one for years, really, years!  But I’ve always had a bunch of excuses and fears about it.  Will my shoulder (that I had surgery on almost 17 years ago) start hurting again?  Will I even be able to run after swimming and biking?  I’ll have to learn how to ride a road bike, how will I do that?  How will I learn how to transition?  What will I wear?  How and where will I practice open water swimming? I have no idea what kind of workouts to do, how will I figure that out? Can I even do this without a coach?  Will I be able to stay motivated?  When will I even find the time to train for one sport, yet 3 different sports?  But given time and help from Andrew I just pushed all of that aside and kept talking myself down from this being a big deal and telling myself it was just a trial thing (it is called “Y not Tri”) so I should stop thinking about it and just do it already!  And I’m so glad I did because it was so much more fun than I thought it would be! 

I haven’t really competed in anything in a very long time (I don’t count that half marathon a few months ago, that was not about competing for me, I just wanted to finish) and I was very nervous about the competition aspect, imagining all these amazing athletes in excellent condition.  I was relieved to find a wide array of shapes and sizes and to really see that shape did not predict ability!  And I surprised myself by getting a little bit competitive as I was racing. As soon as I got in the water I started to feel that little bit of competitive spirit coming back, I kept thinking, “well that person is not that far ahead, come on, work harder, you can pass her!”  And that is a fun challenge! 

I definitely wasn’t prepared for this in the way I would have liked, I feel almost like I was faking it a little bit because of that.  In the last couple of months I have only done a handful of actual rides on my bike and the same amount of swim practices.  I have been running 2-3 times a week so at least I had some running training, which is good since I am truly a terrible runner, I don’t think I’ll ever be fast!  (my excuse is that I’m probably 95% slow twitch muscle fibers, so I have endurance but no speed, at all).  I much prefer to feel over prepared, so being underprepared made me very anxious too.  I was so thankful that Andy really helped me out; he made sure all my gear was set up right and that everyone was where they needed to be on time and gave me a lot of encouragement to just get out there and try it.  He sent me a text message every couple of hours while I was working that day in clinic reminding of when I was supposed to be eating and reminding me to hydrate, it was awesome to have someone play the support crew role!

Even though I was anxious and underprepared it felt good to just go for it, and the way I made it through was to just focus on the part that was right in front of me; before the swim I was saying to myself, “ok, just figure out how to get into the water, ok, so where is the buoy?  Yes, I see it, just get to the buoy, just get there.” And once I got there I was thinking, “just get back to the shore.” And from there I was thinking, “just put on your stuff and get on the bike.” You get the idea.  I don’t know if this is a good strategy or not, it meant that I probably road the bike slightly harder than I should have.  I came out of the water 3rd in my heat of 40+ people and that felt pretty good, and while biking someone passed me about half way (it was a 6 mile ride, so not very long) and I was annoyed by that and so I kept up with her and ended up passing someone else (which shocked me).  The one thing I was really not prepared for was the way my legs would feel when starting the run because I haven’t done any stacked workouts.  That is a bizarre sensation!  For the first mile of the run my legs felt like they weren’t my own, they were moving but I had very little control over them, they felt like jello, but not in a tired way, just in a weird nonfunctional way.  I can’t really describe it very well.  The run was only two miles and so fortunately during the second mile they finally felt like my own legs again and I could move them a little faster (not fast enough to keep me from getting passed by some people who were clearly very good runners!).

So here is the breakdown of things that went well and things that could use improvement, this is where you are welcome to throw out suggestions that might help me next week when I do a “real” sprint triathlon! 

Things that went well:

-I remembered to bring all of my gear and I even brought back ups for some things!  (thanks to Andrew)
-The pond was not nearly as gross as I thought it was going to be, I pushed thoughts of all the ducks pooping in that pond out of my mind while swimming and pretended it was a lake, which worked.
-I had an extra water bottle at my swim/bike transition and sprayed my feet off before I put my socks on and that helped get all the sand off (supposedly if you’re serious you’re not even supposed to wear socks, you’re supposed to leave your bike shoes clipped into your peddles and put your shoes on while you start the ride, that is WAY out of my ability level!).
-I clipped in fairly quickly without falling down
-The biking portion was flat so I didn’t have to do much changing of gears, I chose to grind up the small hills which I “think” was good?
-I really like the triathlon shorts that I bought, I paid a little extra for nice padding in the butt (like bike shorts) and I was happy I did that, they were super quick drying too!
-I was faster than I expected at both transitions, and at the time I was just wishing I could rest and catch my breath, but I was trying to gain as much advantage as I could going into the run because I knew it would be terrible.
-I wore a number belt/strap instead of pinning the number on for the run, so glad I did that!
-I focused on extending my stride length throughout the run, which always seems to help me when I’m tired (any other running advice is greatly appreciated!).

Things I didn’t expect/could be improved:

-I didn’t know they wouldn’t let us into the transition area during the youth race and so I got anxious about not being able to set up my stuff and had to wait until just before the race to do it (the kids started first and had their own transition area but had to go through the adult transition area to get on the bike course which I didn’t know).
-I need to antifog my goggles, I had to pause halfway and do a little bit of breaststroke to clear them out.
-My shirt could have been tighter, when I bought it earlier this week (paying more money for it than I planned, which means I’m pretty much stuck with it) the woman at the triathlon store told me I might want it tighter but the idea of running in a really tight shirt didn’t appeal to me (I have postpartum flabbiness that I prefer stays hidden under a “partially relaxed cut”), but it did feel like it was billowing around me while I swam.
-I somehow, given my years of not swimming, have gone back to having a 2 beat kick, which is a habit I broke a long time ago, but now I guess will have to work on breaking it again (or should I?)  the good part about a 2 beat kick is that I basically don’t use my legs while I swim, so at least I save energy?
-I could have laid out my transition stuff slightly better so I could have stood on my towel after the swim, this wasn’t totally my fault because a girl racking her bike near me was like, “um, you need to move your bike over because I’m not going to have room to put on my shoes” so she got 3 feet of space and I got 12 inches.  I need to be more assertive.
-I should have had some big gulps of water in the transition area before getting on my bike.  This coincides with the next one:
-I can’t get my water bottle out of the holder without swerving all over the place.  I HAVE to learn how to do this because my mouth felt like a wool sweater from being so dry during the entire 6 miles of the ride (worsened by my total sucking of air).
-I almost missed a turn off into a neighborhood because I didn’t analyze the route enough before the race (assuming there would be a big group of people in front of me and that I would follow them). Fortunately I was not too far off from the girl who had passed me so I was able to follow her.
-I almost hit a person while on my bike, it was another athlete and he was trying to cross (not at one of the designated places and he didn’t even look before he stepped into the road) and I screamed, like a real scream, which I didn’t mean to do, but it made him jump back, so we avoiding colliding.  Glad to know that reflex was there when I needed it but I should probably learn to use my brakes and how to handle my bike better.
-My cadence on my bike was not fast enough, my guess is that it was around 60-70, and Andy has told me it needs to be 80-90 because it’s more efficient, but I really enjoy grinding it out, I like the slow and steady turn of the pedals, is that really a waste of energy?
-I pre-tied my running shoes so that I could just slip them on, and I purposely didn’t double knot them because I didn’t know how well that would work.  Ends up both of those things were a mistake, my shoes felt awkwardly loose AND they came untied, so I ended up wasting 30 seconds retying my shoes about ½ mile into the run.  My husband had bought me some Yankz earlier in the day but I was nervous about trying them for the first time during the race, definitely will next time I run!
-My sports bra was really wet throughout the whole race, anyone have advice on a certain brand or type of sports bra that is ultra quick drying (and relatively tight but also flexible?).
-I drank water (from the little cups they hand out at water stations) while I was running because I was so incredibly thirsty after not being able to drink water on the bike.  Ends   up I’m not very good at drinking water and running hard at the same time because I choked and sputtered both times, maybe I should have just stopped and drank my water?  (I normally carry a water bottle when I run so I don’t know why it was so much harder out of a cup?).

Wow, if you read all the way to the bottom of this then you could totally do a triathlon, it’s less effort, seriously!  And advice about anything triathlon related is totally appreciated!


  1. Great work Julie. First off, for the record 35-39 isn't old yet, Kristen Armstrong is 39 and just won the gold in the time trial for the second time! Being a good swimmer already means you will be able to make amazing gains in triathlon even in your 30's.

    I think I've done upwards of 30 triathlon including half ironman and racing the collegiate triathlon championships so I have a few tips based on your "could be improved" section.

    1) Brick training- you probably already found that word but it's what you call doing bike-run transition training. Over time I got to the point that I could run at my normal maximal rate after biking even a long distance, but it takes awhile. (In fact my 5k PR is in a triathlon). One easy way to start doing that is to simply throw your running shoes on after EVERY bike ride and run even just a few blocks.

    2) Bike Cadence: when you run, one generally runs with a cadence of ~90-100 when you are running why do you want to bike with a higher cadence? There's actually research to show improved run times after pedaling higher cadence on the bike! Good article here:

    3) Drinking: In a 50 minute race there's a negligible need physiologically to drink if you went into the race hydrated and it's not super hot. I'd recommend really working on your biking skills so that you can get ALL you drinking done on the bike, knowing that most of that is to ward off discomfort of cottonmouth and not actually helping your perfomence through hydration. A few studies suggest we perform optimally at ~3% volume lost so in that short of a race no need to try to ward off the volume losses. So if you are using regular bike handles on your bike then you just need to constantly practice getting your bottle out on regular rides. If you have tri-bars (which if you are swerving that much with regular bars I wouldn't recommend yet at all) then you can also get water bottles that fit on the front and have a long straw that let you drink in your aero position. The shape of my body and position on my time trial bike never really let me use that stuff I just had 1-2 cage bottles depending on the length of race.

    Hope that helps!

    1. That totally helps! I appreciate the advice! That article is good and I will definitely need to work on both my running and biking cadence! I don't have tri-bars, this race was actually my 6th time on a road bike, ever, so I truly am a beginner, I generally prefer my bikes stationary, BUT it is really fun to ride fast on a road bike, probably the closest feeling to flying you can have under your own power I think. And I plan to go out tomorrow and practice with my water bottle, you're right, I knew I didn't really need the volume (I'd been hydrating all day) but the dry mouth was awful. While I was running all I really wanted to do was swish it around and spit it out, but I didn't know if that was kosher or not, so I choked on it instead! Thanks for the advice!