Six lessons learned from my first open water triathlon

Subaru Shawnigan Lake Triathlon race report

First off, my stats:

  • Swim time (500m): 12:26
  • T1: 4:48
  • Bike time (22km): 49:51
  • T2: 3:03
  • Run time (5km): 30:39
  • Total time: 1:40:45

PrΓ©cis: Nerves!

I did everything I could to calm my nerves going into my first open-water-swim triathlon yesterday, the Shawnigan Lake Subaru Triathlon.

I entered the Sprint race because I thought I needed race experience heading into the Subaru Victoria Triathlon June 16, which will be my first Olympic Distance (1500m swim, 45km bike, 10k run).

I entered the Victoria Triathlon because I won an entry to a Subaru race as a prize at the Fort Street Beginner Tri back in April. See how this triathlon thing just – happens? At the start of the season I had only planned on two pool swim tris: the Fort Street Beginner Tri and the Tri of Compassion at the end of June.

I call it “sport creep.” When I take to a new sport, I just get sucked more and more into it: climbing, running, cycling, now triathlon.

Anyway – I was a jangle of nerves for 2 days prior to Shawnigan. I was worried about 3 things: swimming in open water with a bunch of other swimmers around, feeling dizzy and discombobulated in Transition #1 after getting out of the water, and getting a side stitch on the run after Transition #2 from the bike ride (that happened to me at the Beginner Tri).

So, to prepare, I got myself a wet suit and headed to the open water as much as I could in the last 2-3 weeks, also made it a point to do at least one bike-run brick workout each week. I think I managed more than that as a matter of fact.

 

Lesson #1: relax and trust your training

Achievement unlocked. πŸ™‚

Shawnigan race start with Hazel and Bob

Go Tristars! Me, Hazel and Bob before our race started. I wear nose plugs to keep from sneezing and dripping when I get out of the water.

I knew I was prepared. It was just a matter of calming those damn butterflies in my stomach. So, instead of taking it easy at home Friday night, I took my own advice.

When I was a Political Science and Sociology teaching assistant I always told my students: “You can’t cram for a final exam in the humanities. If you’re not prepared the day before, you can’t pick it up in one evening. You’re as ready as you’re going to be. Just go out and have some fun the night before, don’t obsess about it; come home relatively early and get a good night’s sleep.”

I went out to a friend’s birthday party at the Argyle Attic and had a beer and some poutine Friday night. Saturday, I got a ticket for the pasta party and socialized with team mates. These all worked very well to put me in a good frame of mind before race day.

Sunday morning, I spent a few minutes visualizing my whole race from start to finish while listening to my race “anthem,” Love Like a Sunset Parts 1 and 2, by Phoenix. At race time, I was largely calm.

Lesson #2: be redundantly, excruciatingly early to set up transition area

Achievement still locked πŸ™

However, because of the logistics of getting there, and the schizophrenic weather which had decided at the last minute to be rainy – leading me to question my gear and clothing choices – I found myself still futzing around (Dave, my old climbing buddy, would call it “ferkeling”) setting up my transition area when the race officials admonished all Sprint athletes to get into the swim area right away.

I lined up at the water not sure I had everything laid out, and I wasn’t the only one. I looked around for my teammate D, who had ridden up with me the previous day to drop off our bikes. She had been threatening to not show up because she hadn’t been open water swimming yet this season. I had threatened back that I would appropriate her nice new bike if she didn’t show up. She wasn’t there. “Hey – D isn’t here – new bike for me!” I joked to the others lined up. I took advantage of the swim warmup and felt better about things.

Lesson #3: know your strengths

Achievement still locked πŸ™

The horn sounded, and we were off. I had seeded myself at the back because I judged myself a newbie.

But I was definitely a stronger swimmer than the ones I got behind and couldn’t pass because of lack of my own lack of skill, confidence, or tactical knowledge in open water. Some were doing the backstroke and criss-crossing in front of me (geez, I thought I couldn’t swim in a straight line), some were doing the breast stroke and frog-kicking (please new triathletes – don’t kick. Save your legs and your sister athlete’s face.)

Emerging from Lake Shawnigan after swim

Emerging from Lake Shawnigan after swim. I’m smiling because I’m just enjoying being dizzy.

At one point, in frustration, with 100 metres to go, I stopped, looked around and had a little discussion with myself: “You are DOING THIS. You are a triathlete. The good news is, you’re better than you thought. Relax, keep swimming and get on that bike!”

I completed the swim in a respectable 12:26 but I could have been under 10. I was smiling big-time in the photos but I was a bit dizzy and discombobulated heading into T1 – I’ve NEVER had that much trouble getting my wetsuit unzipped!

 

Lesson #4: make it so you don’t have to think at Transition area

Achievement still locked πŸ™

I got to my bike and doffed my wetsuit in record time after finally finding the zipper pull – but the jacket I had planned (at the last rainy minute) to wear over my trisuit was not there. I had left it in my bag off to the side of the very crowded transition area. What to do? Go get it? Leave it? Also – my feet were wet and so was the towel I had left there to dry them off. Socks on wet feet? Would they dry by the time I got back for my run? How to keep my running shoes dry?

These are all questions that should NOT be answered while you’re in transition! My heart rate was up, I was dizzy and chilly from the swim, I had never done this before.

I decided to forget about the jacket, leave the socks in the running shoes with a bag over top of them, and wear the gloves I had managed to leave out. Ever tried to get full fingered cycling gloves onto wet hands?

“Just leave the gloves!” Someone shouted from outside the transition area. But they were already on. Shoes on, helmet and glasses on, then I was off on the bike portion.

In hindsight, I would have put my toe warmers on my bike shoes before I even left the house that morning, then the socks problem would have been solved already.

 

Lesson #5: in a Sprint, just ride like hell, it’s only 20 km or so

Achievement unlocked πŸ™‚

I had ridden the bike course the week before with Garth (thanks Garth! I’m so glad we did that!) so I knew what to expect: rolling hills and potholes, with one steep but short uphill just on the other side of Shawnigan village. My aim was to hit a 25 km/h average pace.

Once my feet froze up (within 2kms), I decided the only way to keep the rest of me warm was to spin like hell and finish fast (for me anyway).

I was pleasantly surprised when D passed me not far into the bike. “Hey! You made it!” I said.

“Long story,” she called out. She had arrived on the shuttle 9 minutes before our start time and had an even more frantic time at transition then I did, getting into the water in the nick of time after our siren went off.

The bike portion ended up being the most fun part of the day. As I gained momentum I started passing people – going up hill even! All those Russ Hay’s Saturday rides paid off. Also – the stern lecture about no drafting echoed in my head whenever I found someone in my sights. I thought it would be easier to put on the gas and pass people rather than be accused of drafting and given a penalty or disqualified.

The motorists of Shawnigan Lake were very courteous and kept their distance and their patience was duly noted by this triathlete. You’re all very welcoming and forbearing – thanks for hosting this event in your town!

Before I knew it, I was headed into T2. I was so surprised it was over that fast I let out a big “Whoop! Whoop!” about 25 metres from the dismount line. I was so jazzed I ran my bike down into T2, in my bike shoes on frozen feet, passing people on the trail. I think I was trying to get some feeling in them before I started the run portion.

 

Lesson #6: Bricks are your friend.

Achievement partially unlocked

In my very first tri 18 years ago I got a painful side stitch going from bike to run. I remember someone at the time, a veteran triathlete who was volunteering at the race, running beside me and telling me to breathe in, expand my diaphragm and exhale slowly to try to get rid of it. It worked (but I still came in last) and I used that in my running career later on. I rarely had that problem in all my years of running, but when I did, it was after a long absence, and the breathing would help.

So when it happened at the Fort St Cycle Beginner Tri, I knew that continuous practice would get rid of it. Still, it’s not altogether gone and I was nervous about it coming back and slowing me down.

Running at ShawniganWhen I got up out of the T2 area and onto the trail, I felt it. “Cripes, here we go again.” I measured my breathing and tried to keep pace anyway. I thought I was crawling along at 7 or so minutes per km (I didn’t wear my Garmin), but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, not worrying about all those runners passing me. There seemed to be a lot of them though …

The side stitch was not severe and was gone by the time 1k mark passed. I still couldn’t feel my frozen feet though. I just hoped they wouldn’t hurt once I regained some warmth and feeling!

I turned around at the 2.5k mark and saw a lot of runners still behind me. The finish was about 2 km of all downhill – awesome for a strong showing in the photos! All our team did very well, with Garth, Owen and others setting personal bests, and others (who I don’t know – yet!) on the podium. When I got the results later I was shocked to find I was 26.5km/h average speed on the bike and 6:07 minutes/km on the run. They were just the times I was hoping for, and I guess I set a personal best too!

I had a great time, in spite of the rain and mud. It was a fabulous day. I’m definitely a triathlete now!

Shawnigan_all_done

*all photos by awesome and beautiful teammate Connie Walters Dunwoody

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4 thoughts on “Six lessons learned from my first open water triathlon

  1. Denise McGowan

    Well done Victoria from Victoria! With so many more triathlon adventures to come, I can’t wait to read more about your pursuits! It was a pleasure being your teammate…xoxo

  2. Pingback: Five lessons learned from my first Olympic distance triathlon | tori klassen

  3. Mike Terhaar

    Hello,
    I wear a nose plug as well when I swim and it has made all the difference in the world. It’s nice to see another swimmer benefit from wearing one as I do. I was told over and over by every so-called authority on swimming that nose plugs should not be worn. What these people fail to realize is that most swimmers are not wearing them because they get water up their nose. They serve as the one-and-only answer to ameliorate often severe sinus problems that occur after swimming. I wish more people would advocate nose plugs instead of demonizing them because I imagine there are a lot of swimmers out there who would really benefit from wearing one.

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