I signed up for Sweet and Twisted Triathlon in late June. I had been working out a little prior to that - LIFT and spin classes, short runs and some swimming which made me feel confident while signing up. Ironically, all workouts came to a halt a few days after I signed up. The next 4 weeks just flew by in a flurry of activity- driving trip to Colorado, packing, moving, unpacking. Before I knew it, there were just 3 weeks and 2 weekends left before the race. I hadn't even managed to find and buy a bike and there was hardly any time left to get one. I had to get moving.
First of all, the bike fell into my lap. Vanessa and AshG were going to do a relay and Vanessa was willing to lend out her bike. Her bike seemed to be a good fit for me. With that arranged, I concentrated on getting my workouts on track - LIFT on Monday mornings, swim at Mansfield dam with Deb on Wednesdays, short run on Thursdays, a pool swim and a bike+run session on weekends.
Other than getting physically fit, I knew I had to do something to tackle the heat on race day. I did not want to bonk during the run like I had in the two triathlons in 2008. For heat management guidance, I turned to the running guru amongst our friends - Gaurav, who runs for several hours each weekend in the Texas heat, just 'for the fun of it'. He explained how I could use an ice filled bandanna to keep my core temperature down.
Meanwhile, I had also observed that what I ate had a big effect on how I felt during and after my workouts. In the week preceding the race, I made the extra effort to eat right and eat enough to build strength for race day and tried to keep my water intake on the high side.
A good part of the last week before the race was spent on getting used to the road bike I had borrowed from Vanessa. The bike had to be tuned up and fitted for me. I also managed to get a little taper down in the last 3 days before the tri :)
It was race day eve pretty soon and I was at packet pickup. It dawned on me that I had ZERO bike maintenance skills. I did not even have a kit to fix a flat in case I got one on the course. There wasn't much I could do about that this late in the game. I just made a mental note to take care of this aspect for the next Tri, picked up my packet (also got gyan about the hilly bike course from Coach A who was volunteering at Packet Pick-up), and came home. I laid out my gear and went to bed fairly early to get some rest. The sleep was restless of course, but I was also excited about the next day.
Race Day Morning:
Vinit offered to drive AshG and me to Pace Bend Park on race day morning. We reached the park by 6:30a and while we were still in the line for parking, I managed to get really really nervous. I think I even asked Vinit to take me back home at some point of time. He wasn't going to do that, so I had to get out and do what needed to be done.
I quickly got body marked, set up transition and got my bike tires checked for air. Coach A came by to inspect my transition set up and after a few adjustments (like changing the bike gear, re-arranging my shoes, helmet, sunglasses, cap, Gu, race belt, etc. etc... you get the drift), he looked satisfied and gave his nod of approval.
Varsha told me that she had gotten a white swim cap from the organizers which basically made them look out for you on the swim course. She recommended that I get one too. So we promptly made our way to the organizers' desk and I got my timing chip and the white cap. We made the last port-a-potty stop, and Varsha (sweetheart that she is) also fetched my swim goggles from transition, which I had conveniently forgotten in my nervousness. I found Vinit and the three of us took off to the swim area.
The walk to the swim start was around 500m and each step increased my nervousness ten fold. Even in retrospect, I can't put my finger down on what it was that made me so nervous. I think it was just pre-race jitters and fear of racing in a 'new' place.
Then the swim course came into view. It was a straight point to point course that ran parallel to the shore line around 20 feet away from it. We would not have to turn around to do a loop or anything. I felt my nervousness quietly slip away. We dropped off our shoes at the swim finish area and walked barefoot towards the start. Varsha and I got in the water for a quick 10 minute warm up. The water was warm and familiar. It felt just like the cove at Mansfield dam where we swam with Deb. By the time I got out, I felt ready to race!
After a quick photo session with fellow tri-oomphers, we went to the wave start area where I found a place to sit and relax till the swim started.
The Swim (500m):
Soon enough, we were entering the water and the horn went off. I hung to the back of the pack to let faster swimmers go ahead.
I swam real slow so I wouldn't lose my breath and panic. I was so slow that 4 waves went past me. I tried to stay out of their way and continue at my own pace. Sha even managed to recognize me in the water and gave a shout out. That gave me a great boost!
At one point I did get disoriented though. Around 200 meters into the course, I didn't look up to "sight" for quite sometime and later found myself headed to the shore where I heard Sangeeta and Vinit trying to direct me back to the course :P.
I took my own sweet time to go past each of the five buoys. The swim leg felt long and crowded. Arms and legs hit me at various times, none too seriously except once near the 400m mark, where a jab on my face displaced my goggles and water threatened to flood my eyes and take my contact lens with it. Luckily I was able to adjust the goggles quickly and move on. This was something I had expected, so I stayed calm.
Swim finish was in plain view but somehow I wasn't getting any closer to it. There wasn't enough room to swim. There were swimmers all around and it felt as if I was stuck at the same point for a long time. I moved further away from the frantic swimmers and found my own path to the finish. While coming out of the water, I was glad that I hadn't freaked out in the water. I was also happy that I didn't stop anywhere or call for help and swam freestyle the whole time.
The Dash from swim to T1 (~500m):
I saw Vinit, Sang and Coach A at swim exit, quickly put on my shoes and walked to transition. I felt my stomach cramp a little and decided to not run at all in this 500m 'dash'. I took my time to relax and get my breathing back. In my head, I went over what I was going to do in T1 and T2. I was happy with myself thus far. I had survived the swim even though it had taken me a long time!
Once in transition, I met AshG and GRao at Tri-oomph bike rack. They were waiting for their relay partners to finish the swim. I quickly ate a Gu, wore my helmet, socks, shoes and took off with the bike.
The Bike (15 miles):
I love being on a bike - reminds me of my childhood rides with my brother. I was looking forward to the bike leg even though I had heard about the hilly course. I was eager to see what it was like. We had to do the same 7.5 mile loop twice. It was a beautiful, tree lined route of rolling hills around the park. The hills never ended and some of them were real brutal but I was able to manoeuvre my gears in time and also take advantage of some fast down-hills. It was tricky to find the right stretch to hydrate on the bike. I forced myself to drink enough Nuun and water since I feared bonking out later during the run.
The bike ride was thrilling actually and I had fun on the course. Near the end of my first loop, I crossed Sha and soon after that Deb crossed me. The camaraderie and occasional vocal exchanges with fellow riders made the ride more interesting. Oh yeah! I also posed for each photographer out on the course :)
After one last hill, it was time to dismount and head back into transition. I parked my bike, took off the helmet, wore the race belt and my hat. I had put a cooler in transition area in the morning. I reached for an ice filled bandanna from the cooler and tied it around my neck. I doused my hat, head and upper body in water, grabbed a Gu and a water bottle with Nuun in it and took off.
The Run (5k):
I was still breathing heavily when I set out on the run course. Vinit, Sang and Savi were there to see me head out. I waited for my breathing to become steady and then had the second Gu shot. The run was on a trail in the park and I made slow, steady progress. I was happy to be running and not walking. It was hot and I was glad for my cooling mechanism in place :)
Soon, I saw Cha. She seemed to be going slow. Her quad had cramped and she was going to walk it for sometime. I seemed to be locked into my pace and so I carried on. Soon after that I spotted Varsha. She urged me to go on running at my own pace. I kept going. The water in my bottle was warm and I didn't feel like drinking it. The cold water at the Aide station at mile 1 felt really refreshing. The organizers had promised cold sponges at the aide station at mile 2 and I looked forward to it.
Again the camaraderie on the course was really great. I upped my pace when I saw the 2nd aide station. There was the cold water again and the sponges felt like a slice of heaven! The bandanna around my neck was warm by now and I was feeling quite hot. The sponge did a great job cooling us off.
I was on the last mile now and could hear the noise coming from the finish line but it was still a good distance way. The third mile seemed to drag on forever. The trail seemed never ending. At one point I felt that my knee pain might flare up but I guess the softer trail surface as compared to tarmac kept it in check. Finally, the finish line came into view. I made Vinit run with me in the last stretch. I was feeling good and strong when I finished with a little dance and a huge smile on my face.
At the end of it all:
I had run a strong race and achieved all my goals
1. Not freak out in the swim.
2. Stay strong and ON the bike throughout the course.
3. Run and not walk during the run.
I know these were pretty basic goals. Improving my times will be my goal for the next triathlon that I do but all that is for later... now was the time for hugs and kisses and smiles and race stories and pictures and food and cupcakes!