With my duathlon racing all wrapped up for 2009, I figured it was time to get some open water experience for 2010. The HSBC Triathlon Series’ Lakeside 2 aligned perfectly with my previous schedule and allowed me to stay in game shape while getting a few weeks of swimming under my belt. Since, I am still very green around the gills, I selected the shorter distance race on the Saturday (600m swim, 20k bike, 4k run) to limit the time I would have to spend in the lake.
It was a chilly race morning but I arrived nice and early for my triathlon debut which gave me a bunch of time for a solid warm up. About thirty minutes before my wave, I started to get into my rental wetsuit to get a feel for it in the water for the first time. I was amazed at the extra float the suit gave me. It seemed like I only had to crawl in the water as my legs were so close to the surface without even working to keep them there. I tested out the suit for a few minutes and got used to the open water swim. Thankfully, the lake was calm on this morning and I did not have to work too much on my breathing over top of any waves.
When I finally felt confident about my chances to make it through the opening swim, I headed to shore to make sure my fans (my Mom and Jim) had made the trip safely, which they did after a slight detour through the side roads of Oxford County. My mom loves to snap away on her new camera and she wanted to put it through the full range of settings with a bunch of action shots. It was awesome to have somebody taking so many photos documenting my first real triathlon.
When our wave was finally up, I easily found a spot on the far left side of the swim course. I am sure there was a reason for the rest of them lining up more to the middle and right side of the starting buoys but I liked the left side that seemed to be the shortest line to the first turn in the water. As the horn sounded to start (wave number 2), I tried not to get caught up in the action to my right and set out at a controlled pace. I was doing pretty decent, so I thought, but wanted to do a sight check. This is when I noticed how fast the rest of my wave was going. Wow, they were flying in comparison to me.
I think this pushed me into a poor decision to increase my stroke pace. By the time I was to make my first turn, I had already started to wear down and found myself in breast stroke mode. I made the turn right beside the buoy and talked myself into returning to a sloppy freestyle stroke. I had not spent three weeks in the pool to do breast stroke around the 600 metre swim! I put down another 100 metres in a very inefficient manner before my tired shoulders forced me back to the breast stroke again. I used it as a chance to catch my breath and scope out the others around me. I was actually catching some of the wave ahead but, in reality, I was falling behind the leaders of my age group in a big way.
Once again, I found the strength to get back to a front crawl and was down the home stretch. I could see the others ahead of me exiting the water about 200 metres up on the beach but every time I got my head back into the water, the small current would push me to the other shore. I fought this for a little over a minute before I finally got in close enough to start walking through the weeds and sand. I had made it and 75% was actually freestyle, a poor version but still quicker than my trusty breast stroke.
Running through the water was tough and zapped my energy. I made sure to use all the tips from Alan at Swim and Sports to get out of the suit as quick as possible. Pull the Velcro tab, yank the zipper down, get my swim cap off, start peeling off the top of the suit one arm at a time. Well, things seemed to be going well until the darn wetsuit ripped big time in the shoulder. I hope the charge to repair is not too much as it would put a damper on an other wise great experience.
I had to clear this possible expense out of my mind for now as I had a lot of work to do to catch up. Upon reaching my bike, I got the rest of the suit off and grabbed my bike from the rack. This would be my first ride without socks but I was not too worried as the air seemed warm enough at this point. My goal was to hammer out a top 5 bike split to get back into the game. I rushed to get up to speed and was off through the field of triathletes and duathletes. I felt like I was really moving as I cruised down the left side of the competition. The road was already busy with several other riders so I was constantly yelling out “on the left” to make sure I did not lose any momentum. I pushed harder and harder but was not quite at the pace I wanted.
When I hit the turn I could tell I had made some big gains and knew it was hammer time. The wind was now a little to our backs so I used it along the ride home to get my average up to a more respectable split. A few hundred metres from transition I was up near 38km/h on my computer so I was pleased with my progress and started my dismount preparations. I have noticed in the past few races that I need to maintain speed leading to the dismount and will work on this over the off-season. I continue to throw away valuable time taking it easy after posting very competitive bike splits leading to those final few hundred metres.
Back in transition, I saw only one other bike on my rack so things were looking good. My bare feet, though, were numb from the wet of the swim and cool wind on the bike. I stumbled to get my racing flats on but was still out the back gate with one of the faster changes. The first several steps were very strange as I could not feel my feet at all. I did not worry about it and just pushed on as hard as I could thanks to my fans urging me on! I lost a little time from my goal pace right out of the gate due to the grass and curves covered to get out of the staging area but was up to speed by the time I hit the asphalt.
The first 800 metres consisted of an asphalt street joined to 1.2k of gravel country road. The gravel road had tire wide paths of hard surface that I was able to keep the pace through as I made my way down a slight slope to the turn around. Just before I reached this marker, I started to cramp in my side. I slowed down a touch to work it out with my hands and also used some breathing methods to relieve the pain. It seemed to work and I was able to race on without tossing away too many more seconds.
Feeling that I was in decent shape (judging by the lack of runners coming back towards me as I made my turn), I decided there was no reason to hold back now. I had the one minor hill to climb but other than that I made short work of the 2k on the way home. I could only see one other person in front of me that resembled my age but he was a couple hundred metres out in front and moving at a clip very similar to mine.
Once I hit the final kilometre, I hammered it out, leaving nothing in the tank. It was so cool to find that gear again at the end of a race and helped me move up a few spots on the overall standings. Being a duathlete, I am use to knowing the final placing immediately after the race but here I had to wait several minutes before they posted some results to show how the waves mixed together. My goal was to go top 20 overall in my first tri attempt. In the end, I reached 6th place overall and 3rd in my Age Group which I was very happy to achieve.
The challenge has now been set to improve dramatically in the water over the course of the off-season. Although, my swim was not quite what I imagined in my pre-race visualizations (I honestly thought I could pull myself across the 600m in roughly 2:00/100 m pace based on my pool times), I still feel pretty confident with my abilities to bring my splits down by the time Milton rolls along next spring.
On the bike side, I was able to lay down a solid split and recorded the fastest time of the day (tri and du included) which slightly exceeded my target heading into the race.
On the run, I really felt I put in a solid effort but I could not get my watch on to pace accurately. I also left some seconds on the course negotiating the grass out of transition and trying to work out the cramp but I am still pleased with the result. Looking at the overall run times, I was fourth quickest among the field and still under my yearly goal of 4:00/km.
With multisport events now finished for the season, I will relax for a few days before gearing up for a few running races this fall/winter. Currently, I have a marathon in mind and would also like to test a few 5k races to see where I sit these days at that distance.
Thanks for reading,
PS - I have to say hi to a number of people that I talked to in Lakeside. John from FMCT, who has been very generous with swim tips and videos. Anne from Saugeen Tri Club was down from Hanover (my old high school town) competing and cheering on her daughter in the KOS! Energizer Bunny (Jeff) and Triskele (Shayne) from Canadian Triathletes.com picked me out of the crowd and introduced themselves which was cool to finally meet after several conversations online.