Although my fingers are pretty sore after writing this entry.
Over the weekend, our household participated in the Orillia Triathlon, Duathlon and Try-a-Tri. A couple of weeks ago, Lynn decided that she was ready to jump back into the triathlon waters with a Try-a-Tri (350m swim, 10k bike, 2.5k run). The Orillia event also happened to be the provincial athletic championships where triathlon clubs could compete for an infusion of cash based on their participation rate, and given that this was the Nickel City Triathlon Team's first year of existence Lynn wanted to support our team and ensure that Sudbury would be known for more than mining. Aside: our team actually came in third for participation points at the event, so we won $300 for the club -- yay team!
Lost in the wake of her enthusiasm, I decided a few days before the event to join her: partially because I wanted to support the team in more than just a "I paid my membership fee and got a Web site going" way; partially because I wanted to cheer Lynn on; and partially because I totally screwed up the date that our friends were hosting a going-away barbecue and I suddenly found myself with a free day. So, because someone was going to have to look after Amber during Lynn's race, I was going to have to choose either the sprint triathlon or duathlon for my own event. Not having put much time into swimming practice over the summer (and by "not much time" I meant three swims of over 250m), and knowing that I would have to breast stroke the swim portion and face the ridicule of my fellow athletes, I opted for the duathlon instead.
The sprint duathlon is a 2k run, 32k bike, 7k run event. I decided to view the first run as a warm-up, bear down for the bike, and pray for divine intervention to carry me through the final run. You see, given that I'm a member of a triathlon team, I have put some time into running... but not much recently. And my biking, well, I can't say that I've had any structured practice at distances beyond riding to the supermarket to pick up some groceries. I did complete a 24k mountain biking race a few weeks ago, which at least gave me confidence that I could make it through a slightly longer road race. But I'll be honest, here: I would normally view a 7k run as a complete workout. Tacking it on to the end of what I would view as a complete bike workout was pretty scary.
Anyways, enough preamble. How did the whole thing go down? It started with Lynn, Amber, and I all waking up at about 4:00 am and not being able to get back to sleep, thanks to Amber's continuous restlessness for the next hour and a half. Of course, as soon as we gave up hope and started putting our things together for the event, she was very happily snoozing away again. Maybe she just wanted to have the whole bed to herself.
By 7:15 we had arrived in Orillia at Couchiching Park. The sky was overcast, there was a steady breeze, and it was cool: about 15 degrees at that point. Perfect weather for me. My race time was 8:20, and despite Nature's urgent call I took a quick glance at the l-o-n-g portable washroom lines and decided to shut down my innards, rack my bike and complete the registration forms first. It was a vain hope that the lines were a fluke and would be gone by the time that I was ready. Instead, I ended up finding a normal park washroom and waited in line for another fifteen minutes: thankfully the race start had been delayed by fifteen minutes, so I wasn't panicking about time. It was a very communal event: only one of the three stalls had toilet paper left, so the person that landed that stall got to pass TP to the stalls on either side. By the time that I got out of that miserable but necessary situation, I had less than ten minutes until my race began... no time for last-minute adjustments of the bike, or for ensuring that I was properly hydrated, or even for checking the race course layouts. Before Lynn realized that the duathlon was starting, I was lined up in the first wave -- then I was off and running.
That first 2k warm-up run? Nasty. I think my body was still a little shocked by the lack of sleep and the overly-long wait for the washrooms. Each kilometre seemed way longer than it should have been. By the time I got to the transition zone, a few duathletes from the second wave that started two minutes after mine had already passed me. But that was cool: my goal was to complete the race. I had no illusions about how my fitness level compared with the average participant in the sprint
I was in and out of the much-feared transition zone (the area where you change into your biking shoes and helmet, grab your bike, and run out to the start of the bike course) in under two minutes. I say "much-feared" because I had heard horror stories from other first-time triathletes and duathletes about the level of confusion they experienced in the transition. To be honest, I don't get it: as long as you remember where you racked your bike, you just run over there, do your thing, and run back out. No big deal. Maybe you just have to be mentally prepared to do this in the middle of a race with hundreds of other people rushing around at the same time. Maybe I have no mind, and therefore don't understand why that's a scary thing.
It was great to see Lynn and Amber on the sidelines, cheering me on. In previous events I've always felt embarassed to have people cheering for me when I know I'm in the middle or bottom of the pack, but I realized that I should probably stop taking myself so damned seriously. Yeah, I know, duh... but it was really nice to see them there, and to hear Lynn. Amber was apparently babbling away too; Lynn claimed she started just as I came into sight, so who knows? I also heard Andrea from the triathlon team cheering me on. Maybe there's something to this team thing after all!
It was a relief to get on the bike. I was looking forward to grabbing a bottle of water that I thought I had read would be available at various points throughout the bike course, rehydrating, and putting in the best leg of my race. Unfortunately, the first 5k felt horrible. I think part of that was the fatigue and low bodily fluids; part of it was that Orillia is a pretty hilly place, and much of the first 5k was uphill; and part of it was that I hadn't practiced for a real race situation on my bike all summer. Hmm. After the 10k mark, however, I settled into a good rhythm and felt very relaxed with my pace. The course winds through some beautiful farmland, and it was honestly enjoyable. In fact, I was in such a good mood that I was actually jovially congratulating the two or three other cyclists I saw on mountain bikes or with luggage racks.
Ah, did I mention my bike? In the midst of some pretty serious road bikes (100mm aerodynamic tires, carbon frames, aero bars, and other thousand dollar options), I was one of about five people on a mountain bike. Not just any mountain bike, either: this is my 8 year old, steel frame, front suspension Oryx Equipe 2000 that I converted into a commuting bike (with the addition of a luggage rack) a couple of years ago. To be fair, it does have semi-slick tires on it: but I also noticed just before racking my bike that the cable for the front derailleur had frayed to the point of just a couple of strands holding the derailleur in place.
You know how in old TV shows where the hero would be handing onto a rope over a cliff's edge and the rope is slowly popping fibers? Yeah, that was my derailleur cable. As I didn't have time to fix that pre-race, I knew that I was going to be stuck in the middle ring for the entire 32k. That's not bad for me when I'm hill-climbing; I've been blessed with thunderous thighs that can power up hills (and indeed, I passed many a labouring fancy road-bike cyclist on my way up hills), but the downside is that I was forced to merely coast down the hills rather than switching into my top gear and keeping my cadence up to make the most of inertia.
During the final few kilometres I saw one crash victim huddled in an emergency blanket waiting for the ambulance to arrive. It was a sobering moment. I realized that I really shouldn't take any part of the race for granted. Next time, I'll make the time to do some proper maintenance on my bike; it would completely suck to have my brakes seize up at the bottom of a hill and go from hoping to post a decent time to hoping to get out of the hospital without a permanent injury.
Oh, and that water that I was going to pick up on the bike portion to rehydrate myself with in preparation for the run? Never happened. I don't know where I got the crazy idea that somebody would be handing out water on the bike section, but I was wildly wrong about that. During one of those jovial moments, one of my fellow cyclists took pity on me and handed me his sport drink, so I had a few squirts of that around the 20k mark. It's a good thing that I've had plenty of camel training on my bike in past years before getting spoiled with a hydration pack a few years back. It's also a good thing that the sun stayed hidden behind the clouds. In the end, I finished the bike portion of the race averaging 26k/hr on my poor old bike -- and you know what? I'll take some pride in that.
Ah, I also had some disgusting sport gel packets to give me energy for the race; Clif's "Razz" and "Mango" flavours. They tasted like jam that was super-saturated with sugar. I had one packet during the first 5k, and another packet around the 25k mark. I think they helped; I imagine that the toast I had downed almost three hours earlier was long gone by the time the race rolled around. So, yay sports gel packets for energy! Boo sports gel packets for taste.
The transition from bike to run went relatively smoothly, although I lost a few precious seconds as I retied the laces on my running shoes and wound up taking just over two minutes in the transition. Elite racers get through the transition zone in under a minute and every second counts, but I'm not fooling myself here: I've got a lot more work to do on the running side of things before I have to worry about shaving a minute or two off my transition time.
The final 7k run was, well, brutal. For me, it wasn't so much of a run, as it was a run, then walk a little bit, then run some more, then walk a bit more. I got to watch many, many people in their 50's and 60's blow past me on the run, but I did manage to chase down the 71 year old guy and leave him in my dust. There was water every kilometre on the run, but at that point I didn't really care; after the first cup of water in the first kilometre, it wasn't going to make enough of a difference for the rest of the race.
In the end, I finished the whole course in 2:12:36 -- that was 120/144 overall, and 27/29 in my age/sex category. Had I shaved off three seconds somewhere, I would have caught the next person in my category... damn, maybe those shoelaces do did count! My split times were: 2k run - 11:10, 32k bike - 1:16:05, 7k run - 41:20.
So that's the lengthy story of my race. I completed my first sprint duathlon, and completed my first brick workout at the same time. I've got some numbers to compare my future performance with, and some motivation to stop letting those 40, 50, and 60-somethings pass me on the runs. And I wasn't even the primary reason we were at the event... but Lynn's story is going to have to wait, because let's face it, you want to hear it and it deserves a front-page entry of its own: it is way more impressive that she's been able to throw her hat back into the triathlon ring so quickly after a C-section, and you want to know just how well she did. Jeez, maybe there is something to this whole "living an active life style" thing?