On race day, I tend to be a little gratuitous.
I’ve finished my first adult triathlon, at the sprint distance, in Lake Geneva. First of all, it was great: a ton of fun, and it felt good to compete again. I placed 8th in my age/sex division, 34th out of the guys, and 39th overall, with a time of 1:24.11. I’ll take you through my race.
I’ve been training for all of three weeks, and in the last 4 days before the race, I rested pretty aggressively. So let’s call that 2.5 weeks of full-on, two-a-day-at-least training for this event. I ate well, I didn’t drink, and I tried to get sleep. All things that I wasn’t doing before the tri. Read the rest of the posts in this tag string to see what I did to get ready.
Set to ride fast.
Triathlons require a lot of stuff. There are three legs of the race, all with different, highly specialized equipment that can really make or break your race-day experience, given you’re actually trying to race. I had running shoes, a helmet, bike shoes/Speedplay clipless pedals and a 2005 Specialized Langster single-speed. Having done kids triathlons when I was, well, a kid, I knew some of the things that I needed. And thanks to the nice people at the Mission Bay Multisport shop down the street, I was able to get hooked up.
- Triathlon shorts (Zoot, necessary)
- Wetsuit (Blue Seventy, really nice to have)
- Number belt (Zoot, nice to have)
- Triathlon jersey (Zoot, not necessary)
- Energy drink (Accelerade, Lemonade, nice)
- Energy gel (GU, Espresso Love, nice)
- Energy bars (various, depends)
- CO2 rapid-inflate cartridges & tire irons (R2X, nice)
- Water bottles (Camelbak, necessary and really nice specifically)
- Aerobars (Profile T2+, REALLY nice)
- Flip-flop seatpost (Bontrager Race X, necessary for above)
- Elastic laces (nice)
- Body lube (Body glide, nice)
My setup. Langster, Bontrager, Profiles.
Observation 1: Aero Positioning
If you’re going to try to go fast, I’d recommend everything listed above. I used to think Aerobars were for poseurs, but after racing today… they’re one of the best things that I had. Now, if you have a bike without Tri/Time-Trial geometry (steep seat tube angle, shorter cockpit) and you want to “go areo”, you’ll need a seatpost that can throw you forward a bit. Otherwise your hip angle will be too acute, you’ll be too stretched out on the bike, and you’ll either cramp, feel like crap, or crash.
Observation 2: Singlespeed
Riding a singlespeed was a decent “decision”. I didn’t have enough money to get a road bike with gears of any decent level of quality, so I was going to have to brave Lake Geneva’s hills with a 48×16 gear ratio. I was more than a little concerned about that, but cycling is my best discipline so I figured it would be at least OK. I just didn’t want to walk the hills. Turns out it was fine, but not optimal. If you have aerobars on your bike, it make sense to stay in the aero tuck as much as possible, which I was able to do for a good portion of the race. Because I couldn’t maintain a good cadence (pedaling frequency) over some of the hills by matching my gears to the terrain, I had to come out of my tuck and stand frequently. That said, I averaged 20.48 MPH through the bike, which wasn’t all bad considering I had 3 weeks of training and no gears.
Observation 3: Bike repair stuff
If you’re setting your seatpost and seat forward, as I did, be sure your seat bag fits BEFORE YOU LEAVE. Otherwise on race morning you’ll be pissed and have to carry your crap (tubes, tire irons, wrenches, etc) in your pockets. BAD.
Observation 4: Getting ready
I saw way more people than I expected doing way more setup than I expected on race day. Get your stuff ready, and your setup dialed (seat height, foot position, helmet straps, etc.), at least a couple nights in advance. Not only is it annoying to have to do this on race day but it’s embarrassing. My buddy said someone was adjusting their helmet straps in the transition area. Seriously?
Not nervous at all. See?
My friends and I stayed in the Comfort Suites in Lake Geneva. Nice little hotel. They did question my choice to have a 4AM wake-up call, but that was party of the charm.
My breakfast consisted of two bottles of Accelerade, a cup of coffee, and an energy bar. Neutral stuff, and I was well-hydrated, which I always consider to be my top priority. When we got to the lake, it was pitch dark, which did not make it easy to figure out where check-in was, where packet pickup was, and where the transition areas started and stopped. I finally got marked with number 1138, got my goodie bag, and got a last-minute tighten and tire pump in.
The transition area was packed by the time I got in there. I picked a transition area far from the water and close to the exit… I wanted to do the smallest amount of running in my bike shoes, and I absolutely wasn’t going to try to get into my shoes while they’re on the bike. I am not sure that’s the right way to go. I set everything up the way I set it up when I was a kid (armholes on shirt aligned, water bottle to rinse feet, everything clearly separated from each other on an orange towel… easy to find). Much to my dad’s chagrin I’m sure, I missed the course talk, and didn’t know where we were swimming, which heat I was in, and any of the little rules and tips that you get by going to the course talk. I will not miss the next one.
Anyhow, I got into my wetsuit, Body Glide applied to ankles, thighs and calves for a fast transition out of the suit, and headed over to where the other wetsuited people were standing. Figured that’s where I should be. After waiting for about a half an hour, it was my number range’s time to start.
Playing in the water.
Swim – 5:09, .3 miles
First of all, ain’t no way that was a third of a mile. Because if I swam 530-ish meters in 5 minutes, that’s less than a minute per hundred, and I’m on to the Olympics.
We swam in groups of 50, and I was fortunate to find a girl that was swimming at my pace that I could “sight” with. The hardest part of swimming in open water, for me, is going in a straight line. And instead of having to pick my head up all the time to see where I was going, I could just swim and rely on her to sight. Way, way easier… picking your head up slows you down to nearly a stop, and changes your body position in the water. And given the density of water, it’s important to maintain whatever momentum you can maintain. I felt great in the water for most of the distance, buoyed by adrenaline and my wetsuit. My friends estimated I was about 15th in my heat out of the water, or about 215th of the total folks that been swimmin’.
Recommendation: Get a wetsuit
No big revelation here. Just get a wetsuit. The buoyant affect of a wetsuit is unbelievable. I can’t really explain it, but wearing one just makes it super easy to swim.
About to disrobe.
T1 – 3:27
By the time I rounded the last swim buoy, I was starting to get tired. I was saving my legs with sparing kicks, but was probably a little over-conservative with my lower half. My arms were getting just a bit gelatinous.
But the hardest part of “T1″ (swim-to-bike transition) is the fatigue-related clumsiness. The actual act of changing gear isn’t really all that hard, but when you’re fatigued and more than a little wobbly from overexertion, everything becomes a whole heck of a lot more difficult. Everything was taking me way longer than I expected it to, mostly because I was missing things. When I went to put my bike repair stuff in my jersey pockets, I kept fumbling. When I went to snug up my kicks, I kept fumbling. I had the hardest time getting my number belt off my aerobars, and getting it to clip right was a chore. All in all, I think I can cut big time in this area… at least a minute and a half, if not two, by being a little better conditioned and by having a seat bag that fits.
Observation: Multiply difficulty factor by 20
Anything that seems easy to do in a non-race scenario becomes damn near impossible during a race, when you’re amped on adrenaline and wobbly from the swim. Consider that when preparing your transition area and selecting your gear.
Clipping in. Muddy Speedplays.
Bike – 50:03, 17 miles
I knew the bike was going to be, by far, my best part of the race. I’ve been a bike nerd for a long time–my aunt and uncles own a bike store in Arcata called Life Cycle, it’s awesome–and know a thing or two about riding fast. However, I did not know what the course was going to be like, difficulty-wise, and had not rode on hilly terrain for… what, 8 years?
The bike course began with a long, gradual hill, which I’m sure made a pretty serious blow to my average speed. The hill led us through some trees and onto a farmland plateau (familiar territory for me) and some surprisingly well-maintained farm roads. With 4 waves of 50 people strung out in front of me, I had a lot of targets to chase. One by one, I kept picking people off, until I found a couple of fellows with high-zoot carbon-fiber tri bikes that were riding at my pace. Determined to beat them to the second transition, I blew a bit more of my energy than I would have liked to over a series of 8 rolling hills that led back to Fontana proper. As I mentioned earlier, I stayed in my aero tuck as best I could, and maintained a pretty good cadence. Having a few gears to choose from would have been a nice plus, and probably would have gained me a couple more MPH on average. If I want to win this next year, I’ll have to be in the 25 MPH area, which will be tough if I do it on a SS again.
I was really happy with the performance of the bike, though. The Langster is a stiff, big-tubed aluminum bike, so it’s got a good power transfer, but is absolutely not the most comfortable bike in the world. And given that the aero position is a seated one, I was really glad to have added a carbon-fiber seatpost to reduce the vibrations coming through to my rear and man-parts. And while 48×16 isn’t the best gear ratio for climbing, she performed admirably, allowing me to stay with geared bikes on the climbs, admittedly with great effort.
One thing that I did not expect, and did not account for, was considerable chest tightness that I had on the bike. This was probably a result of my using an aero position that I had not trained with. I had a hard time opening my chest and getting a full breath, and had to remind myself to breathe through my belly, rather than trying to puff up my chest.
T2 – 1:28
The second transition was much quicker and easier than the first, but that’s to be expected: there’s a whole lot less to do. However, I was surprised to find that it was much more physically trying than the first transition, with the effects of the MUCH longer previous leg affecting my movement and balance. Just something to remember.
Run start. Fiddling as usual.
Run – 24:05, 3.1 miles
Wow. The run was rough. But I averaged under-8-minute miles–8 minutes was my goal pace given the hour’s worth of intense exercise that preceded it–and finished with a pretty good kick.
At the outset of the run, my calves were incredibly tight. Not sure if that’s just something I should expect at every race, or if it was a function of my bike setup being wrong, or if I was just trying to push too big a gear on my bike, or if I just rode too hard… but no matter where it came from, it wasn’t pleasant. It did go away after about a half-mile, and I was able to open up my stride as I got to the hilly portion of the course.
And man, was it ever hilly. And steep. Not fun to run up or down. But being able to maintain my pace felt pretty good. I finished strong and felt fresh (typical of my races, I never push myself as hard as I can for some reason).
Hamming my way to the finish. Also, sprinting.
Overall – 1:24.11
I’m pretty happy with my time. I wanted to go for an hour and a half, and bested that by nearly 6 minutes. For my first “real” triathlon, I think it’s a pretty good effort. The race was pretty well administrated, had a pretty nice, challenging course, and had some great scenery for my “pit crew” to enjoy while I was racing.
- Go out and try a triathlon, it’s fun. Almost anyone should be able to finish a sprint or supersprint distance. So why not do it?
- Take some time and read up on triathlon technique, etiquette, and gear choices.
- Spend as much time as possible setting up your transition area BEFORE the race, and as little time as possible in the transition area DURING the race.
- Get some aerobars, set your seat forward, and be efficient. Stay in your tuck as much as possible.
- Bring friends, and have everything you’re bringing into the transition area in one bag.
- Bring a full bike toolkit and floor pump with you. Follow Murphy’s law when it comes to that stuff.
- Seriously, get a wetsuit. Rent one. They cost like 50 bucks to rent.
- For a sprint, unless it’s like 90 degrees out, you’ll only need one bottle of water.
- Drive the course before the race for the bike bike and the run.
- Train for more than 3 weeks. But if you are going to do it with 3 weeks’ training, follow my training plan. Ha.