Here it is, folks, the last race report of the season. The Sugar River Triathlon markets itself as “a sweet little tri,” and it was.
Before this race, I had been thinking about my first two events this year, and how I had exceeded my expectations in each (other than the part of me that always expects to win, of course). I thought about how I was going to keep getting faster and faster, and then it struck me that sooner or later, I was going to have a race that was not faster than the one before.
It turns out Sugar River was that race.
The lead up:
A few days before the race, the organizers sent out an e-mail to all participants giving us a head’s up that due to high temperatures and low rain, the lake had unusually high levels of algae, and the swim might have to be canceled for safety. If it were canceled, it would be replaced by a 2 mile run, so the event would be 2 mile run, 16 mile bike, and then a 5K run. The final decision would depend on a water test, but we weren’t told when that test would be or when we’d be told whether the race would be a triathlon or a duathlon.
So, the morning of, I brought all my swim gear but tried to mentally prepare for extra running, as well. On the way to the race, we were surprised to come across a BRIDGE OUT and ROAD CLOSED sign on the road to Belleville. After some initial panic and wailing about the time, the combination of GPS on the phone and posted detour signs got us to the race site with minimal delays.
As Jenny and I were walking out bikes to the transition area, Josh and Adam helping carry our buckets full of gear, we heard the announcer talking about where the swim start was located and when we had to be there — so with no real announcement or drama, we knew the swim was on.
While we were setting up, the water temperature was announced (sort of): “The finger test shows the lake is pretty warm!” The announcer indicated there was no rule about wetsuits, but that we should take that piece of information into consideration when deciding whether to use one or not. I agonized for a few minutes, but ended up deciding to wear my new used wetsuit. I was eager to try it out, I knew I’d swim faster with it on, and I figured that the likelihood of overheating in a 1/4 mile swim was pretty low.
This was a pretty small race, so there were only five waves of athletes. The first wave was Relays, Clydesdales and Athenas, and Elites. They were followed by Novices, then a wave of men under 40, then a wave of men over 40, and finally our wave of all the age-group women. I was worried this would lead to a very crowded start for our final wave, but it turns out we weren’t that large of a group.
I was really not in good racing spirits before the race, despite a ton of support. My parents were there, Jenny’s family was there, Adam and Josh were cheering us on, and Jenny was right next to me while we were waiting to get in the water. But all I could think about was the other swims I’d had this summer, and I was dreading that feeling of breathlessness and panic, and the moment I was going to think I’d never breathe easily again and would have to flip onto my back.
I positioned myself near the back on the right-hand side (we were turning left on this race). I’d been in the back during my first race and collided with people as I passed them. I put myself in the front row on my second race and collided with people as they passed me. This time I just felt in a funk and not excited, so I went back to the back, figuring at least I was in control of the collisions when I was the one doing the passing.
The gun went off, people jumped in, and I stood there for a minute, sort of dazed. I woke up and realized I should probably get into the water, so I did, about 10 seconds behind the crowd. I immediately swam up Jenny’s legs (sorry!) two or three times (seriously, sorry about that), then angled myself on the outside and tried to avoid everyone.
The water was warm and super green and my wetsuit was delightfully buoyant. I kept swimming freestyle and realized I actually felt pretty awesome. I had been practicing sighting in the pool, so I tried to follow a pattern of six strokes (two breaths) and then lifting up my head to sight. This kept me more or less on track, with only a few instances of being off-course. When I rounded the first buoy, I realized that I felt great. I smiled into the water, coating my teeth with algae, and kept swimming. For a while I was between two women, so I felt like I didn’t even have to sight, just looked at each of them as I breathed to each side. But I passed them, and I passed more people, and I kept passing, and when I came out of the water, the only caps I saw near me were silver ones from the previous wave. There was one woman who finished about the time I did, but she must have walked to transition because I didn’t see any females in transition while I was there. I passed Jenny’s mom on the way out of the water, and her cheers gave me a lift.
I finished the swim in 7:03, almost a minute faster than last time. (This, after I said, “I don’t think my swim is ever going to get any faster.”) I did freestyle the whole time, I was calm, and I had fun. No panic!
The wetsuit came off super easily and I quickly dried my feet and got my socks on. Then I sort of sat on my bucket for a few moments, zoned out, before mentally slapping myself and saying (out loud), “What are you doing? Go!”
I finished T1 in 1:34 seconds, all slowness attributable to a weird zoning out in my brain.
I was able to clip in a lot easier and less embarrassingly than last time. After all my moaning about the possible high temperatures, the race morning was actually really nice. It was overcast and cool, although humid. Still, I tried to start getting water in as soon as I could on the bike, not wanting to repeat last race’s mistake of dehydration. The bike started in the town of Belleville, but quickly switched to country roads, corn, fields, and cows on either side. As we proceeded out of town, I couldn’t help but notice (I am REAL observant like this) that we seemed to be continuously going uphill. But surely it would end soon.
We turned a corner. We were still going uphill, but steeper now.
We crested a hill. There was another hill behind it.
I seriously do not know how a lollypop bike course managed this, but I swear the bike was uphill the entire way.
That’s not true. But it almost was. I don’t have a bike computer yet, so I can’t tell you exactly how many miles the uphill was, but it was the entire way to the loop, and most of the loop itself. It was a lot of uphill is what I’m saying. I spent more time in granny gear than I have in a long time. The loop was a weird combination of extremely slow climbs followed by rushing, speeding descents, only to immediately turn into another slow climb.
I was passed by a few women on the bike course. The body marking for this race had our race numbers on our arms and hands and our ages on our legs; however, it was difficult to see the ages of the women who passed me because they were drawn on the left leg and they were passing me on the left. I also passed some women, who I assumed were from the Athena and novice group. I played leapfrog with one man probably twenty times before we got to the start of the loop and he left me behind.
I really need to work on my biking for next year. This is my weakest of the three skills, and the one that comprises the most miles on the race. I’m looking at aero bars for next season, and also very much want/need to get a good fit on my bike.
There were some very aggressive trucks on the bike course, which was sort of scary, but as far as I know, nothing bad happened.
I finished the bike in 55:45, enjoying the downhill (finally!) on the way back to transition.
Once again, I found myself zoned out in transition, staring at my feet, saying, “Go!” to myself. My T2 was 1:05.
The run was an out and back in the streets of Belleville. For the first time ever, I didn’t have heavy legs coming off the bike. I felt pretty great running, other than some cramping. I decided not to wear a watch (it just seemed too hard – I don’t know) and skipped the hat, too, as it was cloudy and not that hot. I didn’t really start hurting until the last mile of the run, when a woman in my age group passed me. I wasn’t about to let that stand, but I didn’t have the energy to pass her back, so I stayed five feet behind her and wouldn’t let her pull away.
When we were about half a mile from the finish line, a volunteer saw us and cheered us on. She told us we were doing great, and when we were passing, she looked at our legs and saw that we were in the same age group. She then yelled at me, “What are you doing? Pass her?”
I yelled back, “I’m trying!” and I was, but she did motivate me and I managed to turn it up a notch and make my move. I passed her and managed to put some distance between us by the end.
I finished the run in 25:54 — which was a PR for me this spring. The fact that I’ve now bested that run time by more than a minute gives me great confidence about the strides I’ve made this summer.
My total time was 1:31:19, which put me sixth in my age group. I was sort of confused about this at first, as I hadn’t seen that many women ahead of me coming out of the water or passing me on the bike (and I passed back a few people on the run), but then I realized that the elites, who started 15 minutes before us, were folded into the age group times, so there’s no way I would have known where they were on the course (other than ahead of me).
This was five minutes slower than my last race at this distance, but given the hills on the bike, the two courses were definitely not equivalent. I’m starting to learn this about races. It doesn’t matter what your times in the past were or how you ranked amongst the competition in previous races. It’s all about who shows up to the race the day you do, and what that particular course happens to be. Look at me, learning stuff and all that.
I felt great after the race (not like death as I did last time), which shows a few things. (1) I hate hot weather and it really affects me. (Solution – train more in hot weather and be better prepared for it). (2) I could have pushed myself more in this race. But it’s okay. It was a nice, happy race to finish out the season, and although I was in a funk for about half an hour afterwards because I had wanted to place and I didn’t, on the whole it was a good race for me. I am super proud of my swim time and actually enjoyed it, I had fun on the bike despite the constant uphill, and I didn’t have any heavy legs on the run.
The volunteers at this race were superb. Very supportive, cheering, encouraging, and good at letting us know where we needed to go. Thank you Sugar River volunteers!