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Lessons From a Tri Rookie

September 9, 2010

Running in my first tri!

Last September, some friends of mine (the Stewarts) competed in a local triathlon.    They sounded like they had a lot of fun, and told me I should plan on doing it in 2010.  At the time, I wasn’t in shape to do any portion of a sprint tri, but the seed was planted.

I am a bike geek first and foremost – I have been cycling the better part of 30 years.  Running and I are not friends – I get out there, I can even “chug” 4 to 5 miles.  But “chug” it is, there is nothing fast about my running, I was nicknamed the Diesel by my high school softball team for a reason.  And swimming, I have grown up swimming, but swimming 25 meters at a time, freestyle, in a pool – I hadn’t done that in nearly 20 years.

What better way to get back into participating in events than by stretching myself, right?

My training for the Anthem Sprint Triathlon started as early as last December – my plan started with “chugging” a few times a week + yoga to kick start my weight loss.  It worked.   I started with jog/walking, and worked up to running 3 miles at a time.  I mixed in my normal bike riding, and with Yoga, was good to go for a few months.  In the past 3 months, I upped my running mileage (one long day a week of 5 to 6 miles, in addition to a couple of days a week at 3 miles), and became more consistent with my cycling base – making sure to cycle on the days I didn’t run, and trying for one long ride (2+ hours) a week.  In the last month I added a day or 2 a week of swimming at the local Y on easy run/ride days to finish it out.  All this exercise, combined with healthy eating really helped with my weight loss, and as the tri approached, my goal was to finish it to the best of my ability, although secretly I wanted to kick some butt on the bike leg.  I registered in July so I couldn’t chicken out, and entered myself in the “Athena” category for women over 150lbs.

Soon, Labor Day weekend was here, and the race was upon me.  I was a little nervous going to pick up my race packet the night before the race.  Packet pickup was at a local tri shop here in Phoenix, Tribe Multi Sports.  I didn’t feel like a triathlete, and was fearful “they” (the real triathletes) would wonder what I was doing, entering a tri.  My worries were for naught!  Everyone was super nice, and encouraging.  I learned that my perception of a triathlete was a little off (I was picturing super skinny, über fit people, sipping water).  My first tri lesson:  there are all types of triathletes (and I got an umlaut in!)

The next morning, I arrived at the start/finish area, got my numbers marked, and picked up my timing chip.  Soon the Stewarts (the same fun group of friends that suggested I do the race last year) pulled in, and were showing me the ropes on how to set up my transition area.

As I was setting up in the transition area, I noticed that yes, there were several serious looking triathletes and yes, they wore aero suits with aero helmets strapped to their time trial bikes.  More importantly, there were even more “Joe athletes”, folks that were competing because they could.  They came in all shapes and sizes, and they were riding an assortment of bikes – mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, and even a cruiser bike.  I was returning from a potty run when they were having the pre-race athlete’s meeting.  My second tri lesson:  it is important to be there for the pre-race meeting, and to listen to the instructions as well (this is “Tri-Rookie” foreshadowing).  Soon, it was time to leave the relative safety of the transition area and line up at the start.

Since it is still fairly hot in Phoenix, the triathlon was run in reverse, run, bike, swim.  I lined up with the other women for the start, and soon we were off.  The run went by quickly, although the return leg was uphill.  Then I transitioned to the bike.  Again, I was amazed by the amount of people out on heavy mountain bikes (with knobby tires).  The bike was over too soon, and I was then jumping into the pool to finish it off.  We were swimming serpentine 25m laps through the pool.  I finished one trip through the pool and a volunteer guided me toward the finish line.  After my timing chip was removed, and I had caught my breath, I had a sinking feeling that the swim seemed too short.  It was.  One of my friends confirmed I should have snaked my way through the pool twice.  I ran back to the timing official to get my chip back, and was told it was too late, my time had been stopped and could not be restarted.  I was bummed; I made a huge mistake in my first tri.  My friends encouraged me to finish my second lap, and I did with them cheering me on through the pool.

Team Stewart plus me after the race!

After I got out of the pool, we were hanging out, swapping stories while waiting for the results to post.  I was curious how I did on the run, my weakest leg, and the bike, my strongest leg.  To my surprise, I finished 2nd in my category in the run (32:06), 1st in my category on the bike (47:32), and 1st in the swim (4:59, although only one lap).  I was shocked that I had done so well, I had just wanted to finish, and at the same time I was sad, because surely I was going to be DNQ’d for my swim mistake.  I sought out a race official, and explained my mistake, and to my surprise he did not want to DNQ me.  He thought it would be fair to double my swim time.  The official timer doubled my time, and added a 2-minute penalty for my mistake.  Even with my “padded” swim time, it was enough for a win in my category!!

I was elated!!  I had set the tri as a distant goal many months ago, and really just wanted to have the experience of competing in a tri, and finish it to the best of my ability.  To win my class was icing on the cake for sure.

I have sat on the sidelines for so many years, that it is difficult for me to put into words what it felt like to get back out and compete again.  I think the best way to put it is to say that I really had a great time getting out there, and pushing myself beyond what I thought was possible.  The most inspirational part of the race happened while awards were being handed out – about an hour after most had finished the race.  There was one other athlete out on the course, and as she finished the swim and crossed the finish line, the crowd went nuts cheering her accomplishment.  My third tri lesson:  the tri community in Phoenix is welcoming, accepting, and supportive of all athletes that compete in a tri event.

Although cycling in my passion, and I have several cycling events targeted over the next year or so, I will for sure be competing in another triathlon.

1st Place in the Athena category!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. marycycle permalink
    September 9, 2010 3:19 pm

    Congratulations Lisa! Great story about your tremendous effort. I love that you won even after major flub up, and penalty time added to your swim! You rock. Just think how well you’ll do in your next triathlon now that you know how to set up transitions and FOLLOW DIRECTIONS.

  2. rich puccinelli permalink
    September 10, 2010 9:51 am

    Congratulations Lisa, great job. Can’t wait to see you ….Puch

  3. brkeyes7 permalink
    September 13, 2010 11:41 am

    Congrats! It’s always a good day when you come home with the W.

  4. Susan Mahenski permalink
    September 17, 2010 9:00 pm

    Congratulations Lisa! What an inspiration you are…loved reading your story. Looking forward to working out with you in Bootcamp.

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