Saturday, September 27, 2008

See Jane Run Tri (I survived!)

So the good news is that I survived and finished my first triathlon. The bad news is this may be the only triathlon I ever endeavor to complete.

Boyfriend and I arrived to the race a little over an hour before my wave started. Triathletes must be super early-birds, because most of the racks were already taken. It was confusing because there were numbers on the racks but the numbers weren't arranged in any sort of order. We wandered around a bit looking for my number (never found it) until someone told us that the numbers didn't mean anything and we could rack the bike wherever we liked. I found a nook and laid everything out.

Someone a few bikes down from me had this balloon up and I used it as my marker for my rack. So thanks, eyeball balloon lady!

I'm not sure if there was an official body marking station, but people were lining up and using a marker that was being passed around. So Boyfriend ended up marking me. He's done one triathlon and I've done one duathlon so we aren't so in-the-know on where the numbers are supposed to be written. We copied another lady who happened to be by us. Boyfriend wrote my number on the back of my calf and then someone told him that it should be my age. So if anyone saw the world's oldest woman in the race, that was just my race number, not my age.

After a quick trip to the bathroom I headed down to the lake. It was calm and surprisingly warm. There was a nip in the air when we got there and I had been dreading hurling my body into water. But once the sun started coming up it warmed up quickly, and the water was the perfect temperature for a swim. I got in about waist deep before my wave started. I bent over and stuck my face in the water to make sure my goggles were on okay. Some women were doing warm-up swims but I decided not to. In hindsight, I'm not sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing.

They called my wave to get to the start, blew the horn, and off we went. My strategy was to start off to the side and in the back. Waaaay in the back. I was the last person into the water in my wave. Once I was in, I stuck my face in ready to do the freestyle stroke I've been practicing for hours the last few months. I went three or four strokes and totally panicked. I have to admit that for 5 seconds I was about to turn around and forfeit the swim. I have never been a strong swimmer. I grew up in Hawaii but have never tried surfing. I hate being in oceans (and apparently lakes) when I can't touch the bottom. I panic when I can't touch and always move in closer to shore.

Well, here I was and my mission was to swim away from shore.

My brain was screaming that this was insane and we should obviously turn around. I told myself to keep going. I tried to swim the way I've been practicing but just couldn't catch my breath. Races tend to pump up the adrenaline and my heart and breathing were going way faster than it usually does when I'm in the pool. For a little bit I tried to breathe every time I stroked with my right arm, but I didn't feel like I was getting enough air. I told myself to relax, to pretend I was in the pool, and tried to do my every third stroke breathing pattern I usually do. No dice. At this point I pulled up and doggy paddled. Everyone ahead seemed to be doggy paddling because there was a bottle-neck to turn around the first buoy. So I hung out in the back of the pack, flipped onto my back and kicked. When I finally made it to the buoy the woman in front of me was backstroking. Genius! That has to be faster than just the kicking.

So I started backstroking. And I pretty much backstroked the entire rest of the swim. I tried to turn over a couple of times and freestyle but as soon as my face went into the water, I would panic. I even tried closing my eyes to pretend I was in the pool (since I practiced swimming with my eyes shut a bit; maybe it was the swirly green water that was throwing me off) but I couldn't calm down enough to get in a rhythm. I kept thinking of all those hours I spent freestyle swimming when I should have been practicing my backstroke instead! I probably swam a total of two lengths of a 25 yd pool doing the backstroke during all of my swim workouts the last few months.

Of course, I can't swim in a straight line on my back to save my life. I must have been told about 6 times by various lifeguards and water buddies on surf boards that I was veering too far this way or that way. I probably swam a total zig-zag! It sucked. When I was out there backstroking, not sure of whether I was going left or right, I decided I was never going to do an open water swim again. Period.

I'm a pretty slow swimmer to begin with, and swimming on my back doing a stroke I hadn't even practiced probably didn't bode well for speed. I kept hearing the horn going off for the subsequent waves (set five minutes apart). At some point around the middle of the swim I was aware that I was about to be passed by the stronger swimmers of the wave that followed mine. I had visions of being swam over by them, but luckily my zig zagging was pretty inefficient (something strong swimmers don't do) and I never felt anyone swim by (even though I got passed by half of the next wave).

When my foot hit the bottom as I approached the shore, I felt such a relief. As I mentioned before, finishing the swim was always going to be my victory. Boyfriend said I looked like I saw a ghost when I got out of the water and that the relief on my face was highly apparent.

I never had any time goals for the swim because I have no clue about how fast I swim. I never timed anything when I went to the pool so didn't even have an estimate of my ability. But let's just say I was definitely the last one out of the water in my wave. We aren't totally sure because they didn't hand out different colored swim caps for different waves. But I'll be shocked if someone in my wave was behind me. Boyfriend was about to alert someone that I hadn't gotten out of the water when I appeared. So yes, that's how slow I swim.

It looks innocuous but it's the Lake of Death. Seriously, unless the water was crystal clear
I don't think you can ask for an easier open water swim venue than this.

The rest of the race is pretty much a non-event. The bike course (11 mi) was flat except for one short, steep hill. I had a fun time out there since the traffic was controlled and the shoulder was wide. My legs didn't feel nearly as heavy as they had during my duathlon during the run. The run (3 mi) was on packed dirt trails and had some very short but very steep hills. I had about three strides where my shin had some faint twinges, but overall the leg was okay. I wanted to kick up the pace at the very end but told myself to save the shin in case San Jose was in the cards. I finished with a lot of energy since I only gave the bike and run a moderate-easy effort.

Garmin map of the bike

Garmin map of the run (Lake of Death is the one in the upper right of the picture)

I had my Garmin for the bike/run but don't have a regular watch so don't know my total time or swim time. I'm sure none of it is very impressive. Overall the race was nice for beginners but not organized very well. There was no one giving directions about the transition area or body marking. There was no one making sure you didn't sneak off with someone else's bike. People not even participating in the event were allowed into the transition area.

So looking back (and ahead) I'm not so sure I'm cut out to be a triathlete. I'll be honest and say I love running more than swimming or biking or combining all three. Triathlons require so much equipment. Packing the night before was a major headache. Runs are so much simpler. Triathlons are really expensive. I don't get leaving all of your valuable stuff out in the open (amongst a crowd who covets such things, no less).

And of course, I'm obviously scared to death of open water swimming. They say to never try anything new on race day and I'm pretty sure trying to swim in open water for the first time was a really bad move. But there is just no open water around where I live that I can access easily without needing a wetsuit. And let's not talk about the seals in the Bay. At first I thought I should have done a warm-up swim. Maybe I could have calmed myself down and gotten into my pool-rhythm. But giving it more thought, I think it would have just totally freaked me out and I may never have even started. So in the end I won't second guess that too much.

The irony of all of this is that I love swimming in the pool. It was a great addition to my regimen. But, I hate swimming in open water and most of the tris around here are done in the ocean or lakes. I really dislike training on my bike. I'm scared to death of hills and traffic and living in San Francisco there is tons of both of that around here. But, I love cycling in events because the traffic is controlled. So whether I do duathlons, triathlons, or aquathlons, I'm either going to have to train in a way I dislike or race in a way I dislike. Hence, I'm seeing mainly running road races in my future.

Scratch it off the list: Complete a triathlon, Done.

Obligatory race swag photos:

Now on to the little secret I've had hidden in the closet (quite literally) the last few years. In 2005, Boyfriend (who was not my boyfriend at the time) and I went to JackRabbit for the first time. We both walked out with a new pair of great-fitting running shoes and also something else. Down in the bowels of the Brooklyn store in the sale bin, we found this:

Boyfriend was already a triathlete so he got one (looking back, he must have been doing it to impress me that he was willing to wear a shirt with bunnies because I've seen him in it maybe once) and I got one because 1) It's got three rabbits on it! 2) It was going to be far off in the future, but I was pretty sure I'd do at least one triathlon one day, and 3) It was on sale, for less than $10. So I donned it today for the very first time!

Thanks, everyone for the advice and well-wishes. Sadly, I got most of it when I got home from the race. But rest assured it was all stuff I was thinking, just couldn't put it into practice. I'm proud I finished and did have a good time (once I got out of the water). And to go on a three mile run today...That was the real treat.


losangelesdaze said...

Good job on your first tri!

I freak out when I swim alone in the pool. My imagination starts playing tricks on me and I start to picture sharks or deep sea creatures that want to pull me down. I once swam in a lake in Switzerland and freaked out so much I had to be dragged back into the boat. Just the thought of having so much water around me, and being surrounded by darkness, gives me chills.

So I admire you for finishing the swim!

bunnygirl said...

OMG I love the t-shirt! And I'm SO glad you finished and got to wear it.

If you want to do more tris, stick with wetsuit-legal ones. I panic in open water too. I didn't learn how to swim until my 30s, so I have a brain that is convinced I can't swim and nothing I do seems to change that.

But wetsuits, what can I say? You can't drown in them unless something else has gone wrong, like a stroke or heart attack, in which case you're going down anyway. When I go to swim in my wetsuit, I always try to drown myself, which never works, and after that I'm a satisfied and fearless (although slow) swimmer. :-)

Huge congrats on getting through what I know was a terrifying swim. You did great!

Rabbits' Guy said...

Great shirt! I like race reports!

One I went in a couple years ago gave us shirts spelled "Triathalon" ... now they are collectors items!

Side stroke ... faster, easier to go straight, ya don't look down.

Erin said...

Good for you! I know what you mean about the water though. If I can't touch bottom I freak out.

*aron* said...

CONGRATS and great job on your first tri!!! you are a triathlete now :) i cant imagine those open water swims... no way i would ever attempt one!

Sarah said...

Congrats!! I know you said maybe never again, but I promise, my first few open water swims were total freakouts and I thanked god when I made it to shore. It gets better. I'm doing my first HIM next month and I FINALLY feel comfortable swimming in open water.

furrybutts said...

Congrats!!! Excellent job completing the triathlon!!

I don't qualify to wear that Jack Rabbit t-shirt, but I sure would love to have it, lol!

d. moll, said...

Congratulations on being able to wear your Jackrabbit shirt. It sure sounded like an ordeal in the lake of death....

RoadBunner said...

Thanks, everyone for all of the nice comments! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one with the very rational fear (in my opinion) of not being able to touch the bottom! And putting on the shirt was even better than the medal.

bunnygirl: I did think about wearing a wetsuit for buoyancy but figured for my first I wouldn't make the investment. I'm not entirely convinced that being able to float would calm me down, though.

rabbits' guy: I don't know how to do the side stroke. I took swimming lessons as a young child and can do the breast stroke, freestyle, butterfly, and backstroke. Good to know, though, if I try it again! It is just not something that would have come naturally to me this weekend.

sarah: I may do another just to redeem myself. But when I was out there I was pretty convinced it was a bad, bad idea. Physical pain is pretty easy to forget (e.g. at mile 23 of a marathon you say, "never again!") but fear is a little different. We'll see...

ShirleyPerly said...

Congrats on finishing your first tri!!

If it makes you feel any better, your first open water swim experience was very similar to mine. Wear that cool t-shirt with pride!