Wow. If I could sum up this entire experience, that would be the word I would use. To begin with, this was my first tri, and I’ve been training since November so technically I guess you could say that six months of work went into this one race. But I know it goes much deeper than that.
This race was held in Island Heights NJ, about 10 minutes from my in-law’s vacation home. We headed down on Friday with the intention of relaxing all weekend leading up to the race. Problem was, it was constantly on my mind. Anxiety and excitement built throughout Saturday and Sunday. Sunday night I drove over to the race to pick up my packet and to take a swim, since the only other time I’d worn my wetsuit was in the pool. As luck would have it, I forgot my goggles, so it wasn’t much of a swim. I got in the water and played around a bit, just long enough to realize that the water was warm enough to start questioning my decision to wear a wetsuit. When I got home, it was about 7:30 and I ate dinner and walked up on the boardwalk for a bit and came home packed my stuff and went to bed. Alarm clock set for 4:00 am.
My normally agreeable 2 month old daughter Molly decided that she wanted to play a role in my triathlon, and took it upon herself to refuse to fall asleep. I laid in bed watching the clock turn to ten and then eleven o’clock as my wife tried to sooth her. Eventually Julie took Molly downstairs so I could sleep. At some point the two of them came back up and snuck into the room without me noticing. Not to be outdone by her younger human, Shannon my 2 year old boxer dog also wanted in on the fun and found it her heart to vomit on the bedroom floor at 2:30 am. So there I was thinking about my alarm going off in an hour and half, cleaning up dog vomit and getting more anxious.
At 4:00, my alarm went off as planned and I took the dogs out for a short walk and fed them. I ate a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter and had a banana with a 32 oz of water. Julie came down with Molly at 5:00 and they drove me to the race. We arrived at 5:20. I checked in and set up my transition area. Although I was one of the first people there, I quickly realized that I was going to be one of the only people there on a road bike and not a tricked out tri bike. I talked with several people in the transition area who were really helpful to me as a newbie. Most seemed concerned for me as this was my first open water swim. I assured them that I was a confident and competent swimmer and that the run would surely be my weakest discipline. In fact, I told one guy that I wished the swim was longer, as that would definitely be to my benefit (foreshadowing). As time drew near, I put my wetsuit on and got in the water to warm up. My first thought was that I wished I’d done one or two of those sighting drills I’d read about. Oh well, too late now; good thing I’m such a strong swimmer. The RD called us back into shore for the National Anthem, which was moving especially on Memorial Day. As we stood there, I was able to make eye contact with Julie and seeing her there calmed me a bit. As the National Anthem was coming to an end, the unmistakeable sound of distant thunder rolled over the crowd.
Swim: 1/3mi out along the bulkhead and counter clockwise to form a rectangle Goal: 10:00
The RD instructed stronger swimmers to position themselves closest to the buoys so confidently, I did just that. When the gun went off, I was startled and began to swim like there was no tomorrow. Figuring that this was only 500 and some yards, I’d leave everyone behind me. With in seconds, not minutes, I felt myself getting extremely winded. I tried to slow down a bit but was getting hit, kicked and pushed under. It wasn’t until about 200 yds into the swim that I found any kind of a lane in which to swim. It was about this point that I realized that it had begun to pour. As the swim continued, I began to panic a bit. how was I going to finish this swim if I was feeling so tired and out of breath already. My swim wasn’t smooth, but I just kept plugging away. After what seemed like 30 minutes, I made the turn for home, grateful that I hadn’t drown or been yanked from the swim by the lifeguards. Exhausted from the swim, I stopped swimming and started to run sooner than I should have and my legs were burning as I entered T1.
Swim Time: 9:46
T1: Cap, goggles and wetsuit came off without incident, but I have to admit that I didn’t notice much of a help from the bodyglide I had been so excited to used. I had planned on dousing my feet with baby powder in an attempt to get my socks on quickly and I recently invested in a pair of elastic laces for my shoes. Since it was raining so damn hard, my socks were soaked by the time I got to them, so I made the decision not to wear socks. Since I don’t yet have cycling shoes, I slipped my sneakers on sans socks, left my sunglasses where they were and got out of transistion
T1 Time: 1:18.9
Bike 7.5mi (2 loops) Goal: 22:30 *adjusted for shortened course
The bike course was advertised as being 9 mi, but for some reason it turned out to be 7.5 miles. Being one of the few low tech guys there, I was a bit nervous about the bike. I had no Garmin, no computer, no aero bars, no disk breaks, just my Trek 1.2 and the training I’d been following for months. I can honestly say that I’d love to have all of those gadgets, and will eventually. I can also honestly say that I’m not afraid of racing again without them and am not sure how much help they’ll be. I only got passed three times on the bike course and passed several more people than that. I’d never really ridden in the rain before and this was a rain to be forgotten for sure. It poured for the duration of the bike ride. Cats and dogs fell heavily upon our heads as we navigated the shortened course. I felt great throughout the entire ride, but the speeds definitely were reduced due to the weather, particularly the turns. As I came to the end of the second loop, I remember thinking to myself that I wished the bike was longer. I think it was my body’s way of telling me that I had a little more in the tank that could have been spent. Looking back, I definitely wish I had pushed it a bit more on the bike, I had it to give.
Bike time: 23:55
T2: Since I don’t have bike shoes, and the race was so short that nutrition wasn’t an issue at all, I racked my bike, took a swig of Accelerade and took off running. As I was making my way out of T2, I passed Julie and asked her how many people were ahead of me. A volunteer shouted that around 30 were ahead of me.
T2 Time: 30.3 seconds
Run 5K Goal: 27min
I’m a big dude. Always have been and likely always will be to some degree. Running has never been my strongest discipline. As I started my run, my legs felt surprisingly good. I wasn’t confident enough to open up just yet, after all the words of a friend echoed in my mind, “you want to finish this standing.” So I ran along at a comfortably hard pace. I was quickly left behind by a guy who I had been with for much of the bike, but I was okay with that for now. I took a cup of water at the station and continued running at no point did I see any mile markers, so I was guessing how far along I was all the way. After accepting some much needed High-5s from a bunch of kids, I saw the mile 2 marker and was shocked to see that I was on the home stretch. I began to open up a little, but unfortunately I would have liked to do this a little earlier in the run. Before long I could hear the RD announcing people’s names as they crossed the finish line. As I entered the home stretch, someone handed me an American Flag and I waved it high as I crossed the finish line.
Run Time: 25:27.5
Total Time: 1:00:57.8
Summary: The biggest thing that I can take away from this race is that open water swimming and pool swimming are not the same thing. Related? Maybe, but that’s as far as it goes. Luckily the race location will be a great place for me to practice my OWS on the weekends this summer. My transition strategies (or lack thereof) worked great as I was happy with both those times. I’m not totally disappointed with my bike performance, but I definitely wish I had pushed it some more. My legs had more to give and I feel like I could’ve dropped some more time out there had I really left it all out there. The run time was faster than I had hoped for, but not knowing how far into the run I was until mile 2 didn’t give me enough time to make up ground from a slower start. I’m pleased with my times, I beat my goal by a bit, but feel like I could’ve gone harder.
The race and course were great for getting my feet wet in this sport. I do wish that the race was longer. I definitely didn’t have the feeling that I was in an endurance race at all. It was a sprint and it felt like it. Undoubtedly, this was the first of many triathlons for this dude. The fire has been ignited and I will get faster and go longer. I had to talk myself out of going for a run when I got home this afternoon. Definitely gonna shake the cobwebs out in the morning though. Thank you to everyone who helped get me here and to those who will help get me where I’m going, especially: My wife Julie and my kids Luke and Molly for their patience with me. Greg and Jason who have inspired and instructed, without your help these last few, I wouldn’t have finished where I did. And to my sister-in-law Katie who was the only other family member to come watch me race. She did a great job pretending that she was interested in standing out in the rain when she was already quite sleep deprived. I finished in 40th place out of 123 athletes. I’m proud of that and I had a hell of a good time.