It’s Sunday afternoon, warm and sunny. My husband is asleep, napping after a late night working and an early morning being the world’s greatest support crew. As I’m typing this, my cat is taking a bath in the sunshine, inches from my bike shoes drying in the sun on our balcony. My legs are sore, but my kneecap doesn’t feel like it’s going to explode through my skin. I’m finally having a second cup of coffee. I think it’s safe to say I’ve had a pretty good day.
My first tri of the season is the same first race I did last year. Back then it was my first ever triathlon. Several of my friends who were also racing commented on the difference in my demeanor this time compared to last. I remember acutely how I felt waiting for my swim wave to start last year (why are women 30-39 always last?). I felt like a string pulled so tightly that I was vibrating all over the beach. I couldn’t get a handle on my anxiety and although I did fine in the swim last year (backstroke all the way!) the panic I felt in the water was probably as much a result of a self-fulfilling prophecy as it was my inexperience in open water.
This year, things were different. I can’t say I felt totally comfortable in the water, but I did the warm up swim and realized pretty quickly that the waves were choppy enough to push me around, and also that as soon as I turned to the right around the first buoy I’d be okay. This gave me, if not confidence, then at least more knowledge about what to expect.
After the warm up swim, we had about an hour to wait before wave Z (Zeeeeee!) took off at 8:02 AM. It got pretty cold standing around wet, as the temperature was in the low 60s and it was quite overcast. I think the lake water was actually warmer than the air temperature, which was certainly not my previous experience with this race. I always bring a fleece jacket with me, though, and I like to wear it until the latest possible moment so I can keep warm before racing.
While we were waiting, we noticed that the beach does, indeed, have a very nice view of the Capitol across the lake. Well named, last year’s race name.
Capitol View has been rebranded the Couples Triathlon, and one positive effect of this is that all the different couple groups (co-workers, married couples, two girls, two boys, etc.) were arranged in different waves, so for once my wave was what I would consider a reasonable size of about 15 women — all of us racing individually and not as part of a couples team.
Capitol View/Couples Tri starts with an in-water start, standing about thigh deep in the lake. The swim is a rectangle and I remembered from last year that it’s shallow enough to stand all the way to the first buoy, and a lot of competitors do try to run all the way there. I find it much more efficient, faster, and less exhausting to swim, so I positioned myself at the front of the pack. I thought I was being strategic to be at the front/outside, figuring that although I might swim a little farther, at least I wouldn’t be swum over or run into everyone walk/running.
When the horn went off, I dove in, ready to push it for the first 50 meters to get out of the melee. About three strokes later, a women dolphin dived right into me from behind. She hit me kind of hard and I was a bit disoriented. The next thing I knew, I was swimming on top of her, something I swore I’d never do to another human (or, I guess, any animal except a fish or other water-dwelling creature). I tried to get off of her as quickly as I could, and I think I was only on top of her for about five seconds, but it felt like a long time. But maybe look before you dive? To be fair, though, I don’t think I was swimming all that straight. I was getting moved around a lot more than I had expected by the waves and the current. My grand plan to angle in from the outside wasn’t working out too, too great, as the current was pushing me further away from the buoy.
I wouldn’t say I felt comfortable at any point during the swim, but I didn’t panic, and I just kept swimming and sighting. Once we turned right at the first buoy, the current and waves were much, much less of an issue and I could settle in a little bit. I even drafted off a girl for a little bit (by which I mean maybe ten strokes). But she was going a bit slow for me, so I scooted around her and made the turn back to shore. As on the way out, many athletes chose to run/walk in the shallower water. I was determined to swim as far as I could, and I passed probably a dozen walkers doing this (many from other waves, not my age group). The downside? The bottom of the lake at the swim exit is a goopy, mucky muckfest, and the feet of so many people before my wave got there meant that swimming through it was putting my face into black water. I couldn’t see anything, not even the usual green murk. It was kind of super gross, but hey, I was going fast, right?
The run up to T1 is kind of a long one, and I was happy to have my friend Jenny (my inspiration for ever doing a triathlon in the first place) running alongside me with encouragement. I was super, super happy with my T1. I ran in, got my wetsuit off pretty quickly, put on my sunglasses, my helmet, and my race belt, grabbed my bike and I was off.
But wait — no shoes?
That’s right! I’m so happy to have successfully executed the shoes on the bike maneuver. I held them in place with rubber bands and when I mounted my bike out of T1, I rode off with my feet on top of the shoes. By the time I was out of the park and crossing highway M, I had successfully put both (sockless) feet into the shoes and closed the velcro.
I enjoyed the bike quite a lot, although it seems my memory had blocked out how hilly it is. I remembered it as gently undulating, which is a nice euphemism I apparently came up with in my subconscious. Still, though, I was able to stay on the aerobars for about half of the bike (still getting used to them), and I passed quite a few people. No one in my age group, unfortunately, and based on who passed me and when, I think I was leading my age group out of T1. Which is not to say that I won the swim, but rather that my combined swim and T1 times had me in the lead. And I have to say, I’m pretty proud of how long I held it! No, scratch that, super effing proud! I was passed by a woman in my age group (we had our ages written in marker on our calves, in case you’re wondering how I knew) at about mile 8 of the bike.
I was also passed a few times by the same guy I kept trading spots with in the Sugar River triathlon last summer, which I found hilarious. No reaction from him, though, so I doubt if he recognized me.
And, at one point on a downhill, I hit 32 mph according to my bike computer. It was pretty awesome.
At the very end of the bike, as we were almost at transition, I slowed down just a little bit to get my feet out of my shoes and ride into the end barefoot on top of my shoes. I’m glad I did so successfully, but as I was getting it together, I was passed by another woman in my age group. I was right on her heels, though, and I actually beat her out of T2. I did wear socks with the run this time, but I might work up to not doing so. We’ll see. Like I said, with the new orthotics and the new bike strategy, etc., it’s been a lot of changes all at once.
Starting the run, my legs felt pretty good, and my knee wasn’t complaining. Pretty shortly into the run, the same woman who had passed me at the end of the bike ran past me, but I kept right behind her and waited for the right chance to pass. She made it easy on my when she started walking about half of a mile in. By my reckoning, I was in 2nd place in my age group. I saw a sign that said 2 miles, and I felt AWESOME. How could I have run 2 miles already? This was truly awesome. I must have been booking it!
Or… I must have been reading the sign for the Olympic racers. Oops. Turns out I hadn’t even made it 1 mile yet.
My run was quite slow, about 10 minute mile pace. But you know what? I was so happy the whole time. By the run portion of the race there’s so much less to think about. No water and no gear to worry about, no planning for the next transition or the next stage. This is it; just run. Or shuffle. Anyway, the woman who had started walking passed me at about mile 1.5, along with another woman in my age group who was seriously booking it. I later saw that her 5k was about 22 minutes. I kept the walker woman in my sights for the last 2 miles of the race, but I just couldn’t close the gap.
While I was running, I was reflecting on how happy I was to be racing and how many times this winter I thought this wasn’t going to be possible with my knee injury and the slow, slow recovery. And my knee is a little swollen now, afterwards, but it wasn’t bothering me at all on the run. I also, more than a handful of times, glanced down at my race belt, saw the word “Sprint” on my race number, and thought, Well, I’m not sprinting at all! I found this hilarious at the time, but seriously, I could have picked up the pace a little bit.
The only downside to the couples format was that we had to wait quite a long time to get the age group results, because all the halves of the couples that fell in our age group were also eligible for individual awards, and they had started in the couple-y waves, not the age group waves. I was fairly certain I hadn’t placed, but you never know. One of the women who had passed me could have placed overall, which would have moved me up to 3rd in my age group (which is what I placed last year, on my mountain bike, 6 minutes slower than this year overall).
When they finally put up the results, I was 4th in my age group, but I was happy with my overall time: 1:17:49. Especially considering that my run was absolutely the limiting factor in my race. I’ve barely been training the run, given the knee problems, but I’m hopeful that the orthotics and the work I’ve done in PT will continue to help and I can get back some speed soon.
Run: 30:47 (oof)