Sunday, July 11, 2010

First Triathlon - The Pat Griskus sprint triathlon in Middlebury, CT

Today, Wednesday July 7, 2010, I did my first triathlon, The Pat Griskus sprint triathlon in Middlebury, Connecticut. This tri was recommended to me by a friend of a friend, and the race was said to be a good, well-run, USA Triathlon (USAT) sanctioned race.  It was approximately 80 miles from our apartment and the race started at 6 P.M.

The race consisted of a 0.5 mile swim, a 10.5 mile bike ride, and a 5-K race (3.1 miles, events done in the order listed here).  The race website says "The Sprint distance starts with a half-mile swim in spring-fed Lake Quassapaug, enjoy the challenging 10.5 mile bike around the lake, and the out-and-back 3.1 mile run."  I'd come to find out later that the bike ride was extremely challenging, as it was extremely hilly and very tough.

I got there early to register, get my race numbers for my bike and run, to get body marked (where the wrote 194 on my arm and leg along with "FT" to brand me as a "first timer", a phrase that I heard yelled at me while I was running a few times), and most importantly to set up my bike in the transition area, along with my shoes, race belt, watch, helmet, swimming goggles, and sun glasses (for the bike portion).  There were approximately 675 participants including relay teams (where teams of 3 split up each of the 3 events evenly) and I saw everything from super expensive road bikes to one dude with an old mountain bike (which I saw as he was passing me on the bike course).   As I had never done a tri before, I asked people around me a lot of questions to get set up. What was really cool was that everybody was really nice and was willing to help me (in fact, people actually seemed like they wanted to help me and the other 150 or so first timers). There was a guy next to me, DL, 54, also from Manhattan that I hung out with (he ended up with an extremely impressive time of 1:17:00, crushing me, 4th in his age group, just missing a 3rd place first timer medal). There was a woman with an Ironman bag, so I talked to her for a while, asking her about the Ironman since I'd like to do one someday, and she was more than open with me (unknown to me at the time, she is an extremely talented triathlete and she ended up winning the woman's race today by 2 seconds).  I love running and I say "hi" to everybody I run by. Most of the time, people just ignore me without even an acknowledgement, which I never understand. Some have suggested to me that it is because many runners are loners. Who knows. What I do know is that every triathlete that I was around today was friendly, which was a breath of fresh air.

I rented a Blue Seventy wetsuit for the race ($80, which I ended up applying to the $300 cost of the wetsuit when I bought it after the race). The temperature was around 90 and the water temp was 75, so they encouraged first timers to wear a wet suit to get the benefit of improved buoyancy in the water. Being a weak swimmer, I'll take all of the help I can get, so at 5:45 I put on the wetsuit and felt instantly like I had a 108 degree fever, as the wetsuit was hot!!! (I'd never worn a wetsuit before or done an open water swim before). Prior to 5:45, I did get in the water to swim without my wetsuit, and the water was very nice, and frankly I would have been fine without a wetsuit, but I really wanted the help.  So, being super hot with my wetsuit on and about 21 minutes until my wave would start swimming (wave 3, at 6:06 P.M., each wave being spaced 3 minutes apart), I jumped in the water to stay cool. The wetsuit was so buoyant that I floated without hardly doing anything!  Awesome, I thought to myself.

Not being a strong swimmer with little experience (until 4 weeks ago I hadn't swam lengths since high school), and also because all of my tri friends said the swim is like a war zone with people pushing, grabbing, scratching, dunking, and pulling on each other, I decided to hang at the back of my wave when our wave started. I also intended on being on the side to stay out of the "war zone". So when the race started, I calmly and very nervously walked into the water as many in my wave (which was the Masters wave that included people from 40-70+ years old) ran into the water to establish a position out in front of everybody. As I was walking in the water, I was so far to the side that there were a bunch of humongous rocks, and for a minute I thought to myself "great, now I'm going to sprain my ankle before I even start racing". Luckily, I was able to get in the water safely and I started swimming.

My tri friends had also prepared me for the worst at the beginning of the swam.  One of my friends CH said that he wanted to stop swimming within a few minutes of starting (he eventually pushed through his panic).  Another one of my friends, PN, said that I should expect to hit the wall at about 100 meters.

tri (TBD), which will probably be to start toward the front of my wave to avoid this problem, but then I'll be the guy getting pummeled).  So, I'd say it took me 3-4 minutes of stopping and starting to get around a group of swimmers to get back into my grove again.  At this point, I was already at the turnaround point (about 400 meters of the 800 meters swim).  My friends had warned me about being too close to the buoy, as it gets extremely crowded there, but luckily it wasn't too crowded when I got there.  Then I made the turn back toward the beach, sighted it, and kept swimming.  At about the 500 meters point, I hit a wall, big time!  All that energy that I used to get around people had finally caught up to me.  I pulled up to tread water to get my bearings.  The panic that my friends predicted had arrived.  I looked over at the guys on the boats watching us swim and thought to myself "man, I really want to stop swimming, I really don't want to swim anymore".  At this point, 300 meters seemed like 100 miles to me.  I thought to myself "if I were running, I could just walk, and that would be it", but when you are swimming, and you are exhausted (my lungs where wheezing loudly as I was breathing very heavy with anxiety), even treading water is tough.  I thought to myself "get a grip, all of your friends told you that this would happen, so swim easy for a minute or two until you get your bearings back".  So, I did the side stroke (I thought about doing the backstroke as many had recommended to me but I hadn't practiced that since I was a kid, so that was out).  The water was a little wavy, which made the side stroke tough, but I started moving again.  I also saw many other swimmers around me struggling just like I was, so that helped me recover.  I tread water a few more times until I got my confidence back, and then started swimming again (albeit not totally straight).  I got back into my groove and finished strong back to the beach.  I walked out of the water and walked to the transition area.

My swim split came in at 22:03, which easily included 90 seconds of walking to the transition area (which was included in my swim time because the transition mat for the swim time was well up a hill), so it took me around 20 minutes to swim 800 meters, which given that I stopped for at least 3 minutes, I was very happy with (I had been swimming a mile in a pool in 41 minutes consistently, so I expected to be much slower in the open water).  The wetsuit definitely helped.

Transition 1 (T1) time:  2:29

I took off the top of my wetsuit as I walked to the transition area, got some water, and got to my bike.  Of course, not having ever worn a wetsuit before, I struggled big time to get it off, so I had to sit down to pull it off.  I put on my shirt, helmet, sunglasses, shoes, heart rate monitor, and I was off!  I felt strange (like I always do after swimming), but overall pretty good.  I got on the bike and started cruising.  I was averaging over 21.6 miles per hour for the first 4 miles of the 10.5 mile course, but then the hills started.  They were brutal and I wasn't ready for them (even though I have been training on River Road and on 9W in New Jersey which are very hilly).  I was pushing and passing a lot of people even though it was hard, but I ran out of water at around mile 6 (I had 2 water bottles with me but I was extremely hot from the swim), and they don't provide water on the bike course.  So, I pushed through the bike ride, each time running into a new hill (I said "UGH!" along with everybody else as each new hill came up).  The rest of the ride was extremely hilly, and I ended up averaging 17 miles per hour for the entire ride (which I was working for, as my average heart rate for the bike ride was 172, peak of 177).  Normally when I ride, my average heart rate is in the mid 140s.  I'm sure that they heat played a huge roll in pushing up my heart rate (as did the hills).

Bike time:  38:06, average heart rate 172, average speed approximately 17 miles per hour, 748 feet of elevation gain (i.e., a hilly course for 10.5 miles!)

Transition 2:  I got off the bike, racked it, put on my running shoes, and took off.  As I started running, I felt numb, barely feeling my legs.  I got some water, which was filled with ice (which I really appreciated), and headed toward the run.

Transition 2 (T2) time:  1:32

As I started my run, I couldn't really feel my legs, similar to the way I feel at mile 20 of a marathon.  I told my legs to keep pushing, and I looked down at my watch for my pace.  It said 8:36 per mile.  "wow, I thought to myself, it feels like I am running a 20:00 minute per mile pace".  I kept pushing, as most of mile 1 was downhill (and frankly, all I could think about was how much I did NOT want to run back up the steep hill I was running down on my way back on the out and back course).  My mile 1 split was 8:17 per mile.  At this point, I was exhausted, but I was having a blast.  I had a big smile on my face and was really enjoying it.  I thought to myself "this is much harder than I thought it would be, I really love this".  Mile 2 had some much needed Gatorade and water, which I walked to consume, then ran to the turnaround point, knowing that I would be able to walk at the water/Gatorade station on the way back.  Mile 2 split 8:45 (which was an accomplishment for me given how exhausted and hot I was).  Mile 3 had that hill I mentioned, and as I started running up it, I noticed that every single person (except for 1 that was running slower than I can walk) was walking up the hill, so I decided to walk it also.  Even though I was walking, my heart rate was still in the 170s.  I was spent. My mile 3 split was 9:47 per mile despite walking up the hill, and I sprinted the last 0.1 mile to finish.

Run split:  26:50, around 8:50 per mile, average heart rate 173.

Overall time 1 hour, 30 minutes, 57 seconds, good for 246th place and 28 out of 42 in my age group.

Overall, I loved it and am looking forward to doing many more triathlons.  My goal was to have a good time and finish, so I was happy that I logged an OK time

Before the race in the transition area....

The transition area..

The swim course - I started on the left, swam to the end of the yellow buoys, and then swam down the middle to the finish

The road to run up after the swim to get to the transition area (or, in my case, to walk up after the swim)

the grass to run up to get to the transition area (or, in my case, to walk up after the swim)...

The medals they gave to "First Timers".  Very cool!

1 comment:

  1. Hi - i'm DL's niece if you remember me! Loved reading your blog entry. He told me everything, but i really feel like i was running right along side you!! Best of luck next time! I wish you the best of luck in all your future competitions!