Monday, June 20, 2011

My first triathlon!

On Saturday I participated in my first triathlon! It was AWESOME. I can't wait until I do this again. I trained with a couple friends and that made it so much more fun than if I had done it all myself. This was not a full-length Olympic triathlon, of course. Are you crazy? I have never in my life ran 10 miles or whatever the terrible sum would be. I'm not a runner. I'm just not. But swimmer? Yes. And cyclist? Almost. So here are the details:
Feeling confident at the start of my first triathlon.

200-yard SWIM
This is shorter than the typical sprint triathlon (where the swimming portion is usually 700 yards or so). It's not my fault. I wish it had been a longer swim, because I'm competitive in that area. Anyway, the swimming portion took place in a high school swimming pool, with two people sharing each lane. There were 8 or 9 heats, with the slower swimmers (based on seed time) going first. I was in Heat 6. Honestly, it was hard not to make fun of some of the people swimming in the earlier Heats. There was one man who threw his arms out like he was doing the butterfly, and his head was out of the water the whole time. Yes, so it was the butterfly-doggy-paddle. A very interesting stroke that I might try to patent. I had a lot of confidence going into the triathlon because most triathletes (seems to me) have little swimming experience. I swam with speed and energy, but of course I didn't want to burn out, so I did not go at top speed. I won my heat with ease, jumped out of the pool, ran over to my pool shoes, threw them on, and ran out the building to the bicycle staging area. My swim time plus "must-put-on-pool-shoes" time was 3:40. I beat my training partners Dan and Geoff. I was expecting to beat Geoff, as he is not a swimmer. But Dan and I both swim for a Master's Swim Team, and he is always faster than me. I think the 20-second difference between our swim times is more about how we transitioned to the bicycle than the actual in-pool swimming speed.
My training partners Geoff and Dan, before the triathlon began.

11.2-mile CYCLING
This was by far the most exciting thing I've done all year. I've never participated in a bicycle race. I completed the 11-mile hilly route in 45:09, though this includes both the swim-bike transition and the bike-run transition. I sat in a chair I had set up in my transition area, threw off the pool shoes, briefly towelled off my feet, and put on socks. The socks I had previously rolled up so that they would roll over my mostly wet feet without too much delay. This worked really well! I put on a shirt, my running shoes, my cycling gloves, and helmet. Then I jogged with the bike to the starting point, hopped on, and within two cycles of the pedals my right shoelace got caught in the chain and gears. It was ripped to shreds and I had to dismount to re-tie my shoes. What a way to start a bike race! It literally only took a few seconds so I'm not fretting about it. I zoomed down the road out of the high school parking lot and onto the streets of the town. Police or firemen were posted at most of the intersections to stop traffic and let the cyclists race through. What a blast to finally own the road and not have to worry about getting hit by a car. (This was only true at intersections though; otherwise we did have to share the roads with cars). Within a couple miles we were out of the town and on rolling country roads. There were 76 cyclists in this race, and we were well-separated due to the different swim start times. I passed a few cyclists going up the steeper hills, and I was passed by others going down some of the hills. Given the relatively few number of people who passed me, I really thought I was holding my own on the cycling and I'd be competitive in the event--like performing better than average for my gender-age group. But nope. I placed 12 out of 13 in my gender-age group, and I placed 37 out of 76 overall. Even Geoff and Dan beat me by a minute or two. What? The cycling was supposed to be my best event. But Geoff commutes to work most days, and he has a hill to climb. And Dan does a "spinning" class every Thursday where they work him hard. It seems I had not been training as much as I thought I had, at least compared to my comrades. But no problem. I had fun! 

3.1-mile RUN
Finished with the biking, I dismounted and ran over to my transition area. I took off my helmet, my gloves, and drank a few ounces of Gatorade. A student of mine (I teach at a small college) was in this race, too, and his transition area was adjacent to mine. He and I swam in the same heat, and he did not pass me on my bicycle, so I knew I was actually beating this 22-year old. In fact, looking at the results, I was beating him by 1.1 seconds. I was also beating Geoff by 8 seconds, but Dan was ahead of me by more than a minute and a half. The run would change all that, as I have very little experience running. I run a few miles each month, but it's not my strongest or favorite activity to do. So, I was competitive among my friends until the running portion. Geoff is a runner, and he ended the race 6 minutes ahead of me (all of this was acheived during the running portion). Dan ended the race 2 minutes ahead of me, so was running only 0.07 mph faster than me (his pace was 9.72 min/mile and mine was 9.84 min/mile).

As usual, the run was only bad during the first mile. I had trouble picking up my feet and my right calf muscle was tense. I have problems with muscle cramps in my calfs, and in my experience, if it got real bad, I would have to stop running and I'd have trouble finishing the race. So I decided to stop running and walk for a couple minutes. This was a good idea because my calf muscle loosened up and it didn't bother me again after I started running again. The running route was simply around the high school parking lots, down a hill, through another parking lot, and then it finished with 5 loops around the stadium's track. Once I was headed to the track, I knew I'd finish the race and I felt good. Geoff was done already, and he encouraged me each time I made a circuit. Dan was right behind me. And that college kid that I was beating? Well, he's on the college cross-country track team, so yeah, he beat us all, finishing 21 overall, out of 76 adults. He ran 3.1 miles in 20:48. To do this, he would have had to pass me several times as we circled around the high school buildings and the stadium track. But I never saw him, and after I spoke to him after the race, he said he never saw me, either. There was no way for him to cheat (and I wouldn't expect him to do that anyway), but it sure was strange that we were both focussed so much on our own performance that we failed to notice who we were passing or being passed by.

In sum, I finished the route in 1:19:18. Maybe I didn't win the race, maybe I wasn't better than my peer group, but I still surpassed what I thought I could do. My goal was to finish in 90 minutes. I never expected to run very fast, but it turns out that my pace of 9:84 was my second-fastest run, ever (as calculated by My average speed on the bike was 14.9 mph, which is quite frankly admirable, since this was a hilly route and my bicylce is not a road bike (it is a hybrid model with a steel frame). My swim was not at top speed, yet it appears that it was rivalling my performance at a Master's Swim meet on 11 Jan 2011. My time then was 3:12, whereas on Saturday it was 3:40 which includes running out of the pool to my bicycle. I did really, really well. I feel so strong. I must do this again sometime soon.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Introducing Speedo Endurance

My first racing swim suit did not last long. I started wearing it in late November 2010 (see related post), and I swam in it for the last time in May 2011. The fabric at the butt crack (wish there were a nicer phrase to use) was splayed and I had to retire the suit for fear of it splitting down the middle during a swim. I was completely surprised that the suit wore out so quickly, but in speaking with some swimming buddies it appears that the elastic Lycra material is damaged by pool chlorine, and my daily use of the suit led to its early demise. My swim buddies wear separate suits for training and for racing. I did not know this because I am new to the sport.

The "board shorts" style swim suit I wear.
So, what should I do? I thought my options were to go back to wearing a non-racing pair of "board shorts" while training (see left), or to train in a new racing suit that will wear out every season. There are also some training suits that are very short but feature a mesh outer covering. I've seen college swim team members wear these in the pool. These latter training suits seemed to be a good compromise between the bulkiness of board shorts and the sleek hydrodynamics of a racing suit. I can't swim as fast in board shorts due to the drag they create in the water. The drag is actually a good thing when training, as it makes the body work harder. Nevertheless, I am having fun at least pretending to be a competitive swimmer, so I want a suit that helps me show off and feel good about my progress. Anyway, all this discussion about trade-offs of different kinds of suits was a bit hypothetical because I was now without a racing suit, and my triathlon was coming up in mid June (in fact, it is tomorrow!). So my first purchase would be a racing suit, even if the thing doesn't last long in pool chlorine.

The racing swim suit I just bought.
Fortunately, a swim team member told me about Speedo's Endurance fabric, which is meant to hold up to chlorine a lot better. He swims hundreds of miles per year and he swears by the suit. So, I've now got one. I bought the Speedo Endurance Mercury Spliced Jammer in black and gold. It cost a pretty penny, but now I don't have to buy more than one suit. I plan to swim in this suit for both training and competitions. It contains PBT polyester in place of Lycra. has an awesome web page that compares these and other types of fabrics.

My initial reactions: (1) it is not as elastic as my previous jammer; in fact, it feels a little tight at the waist as I put it on. Once it is on, it does not feel too tight. In fact, the fit is really good. (2) the fabric feels thicker and more durable. (3) As mentioned on the website, the material does not conform as much to my body as the Lycra-containing suit. That is, it reveals less of my male anatomy, and I'm thinking that's a good thing....