This was my first triathlon and it has been in the making for quite a long time. Way back in November 2012, my wife Amanda signed us up for swim classes. It seemed like a good idea. I already ‘knew’ how to swim, but had always wanted to be better at it so classes were a great idea. My fitness had come a long way since I got up off the couch 6 months earlier so I went into the classes with a fair amount of (misplaced) confidence. I quickly remembered that my swimming was really just a survival mechanism. I worked my tail off that first class, and while I have it in my log as 350 yards, I really have no idea how far I went. 350 yards is probably a significant over estimation even though the first class was dominated by flotation devices to help keep us from going under.
While running was the major focus throughout 2012 and 2013 I tried to keep getting into the pool at least once a week. I didn't exactly like swimming, but it was hard and I think in some way that the struggle is good for me. As the yards started to add up, I thought everything would get better once I could ‘roll the odometer’ and get the first 100,000 yards under my belt. Well, I don’t know that 100,001 was any easier but after all of the hours of practice I've gotten comfortable in the water. I’m not fast, but I don’t have a fear of drowning anymore.
Pittsford Triathlon Distances:
- 300 yard swim
- 15 mile bike
- 3.3 mile run
The Pittsford Triathlon seems to be a popular race for first time triathletes and it is easy to see why. The swim is 300 yards in the pool and let’s face it, the swim is what intimidates people the most about triathlon, so a short swim in a pool takes a lot of the anxiety away. The organization of the swim start makes it even less nerve racking. When you sign up for the race you enter your estimated swim time for 300 yards. I estimated mine at 5:20. They then stack rank all of the entrants and let the fastest swimmer start first, then second fastest next, etc. Also, they didn't pick 300 yards out of the air but rather it is a 6 lane, 25 yard pool. So with everyone in a big long line that wraps around the outside of the pool you get 8-10 people hanging out in the water by the dive area. After the first person, who is already in the nearby lane is told to go, the second person ducks under the lane line and then waits for the signal to go 15 seconds later. Once the first person has completed 50 yards in the nearest lane they then duck under the lane line to the next lane over, swim the next 50 yards and continue repeating until they have gone back and forth within all 6 lanes of the pool.
Now with everyone estimating their swim time perfectly and 228 participants in the race, there would be virtually no need for passing. After all, with a group this size what is the chance that the Nth swimmer is going to be 15+ seconds faster than the N-1th swimmer in an event this short. Statistically speaking, it isn't very likely at all but in reality there was plenty of passing going on. So much for all of us being able to estimate out performances perfectly :-) Despite the passing, it was all pretty calm and folks were generally pretty cooperative. It really wasn't much more stressful than a busy day swimming laps at the pool in the YMCA.
The race started at 7:00 am. I was feeling pretty calm coming into this race, but I always like to show up on the early side to any race. Before every race it seems like 80% of the people show up at the same time and I’d rather be settled in and understand the lay of the land before they are around. I got into the parking lot around 5:40 am. There were about 4-5 bikes in the transition area already but the place was pretty calm. I picked a great spot near the bike in/out at the end of a rack and got my stuff into position. I had taken a triathlon clinic for this race a couple of weeks earlier and one of the excellent tips I got was to setup close to the bike entrance/exit. The point they made is everyone has to cover the same amount of ground so it is better to cover that ground without your bike. Basically, by being at one extreme end you get to run the length of transition without your bike, instead of run it with your bike.
My personal swim start time was 7:16:45. Somehow, my 5:20 estimate put me number 68 in line for the start of the race. This really surprised me, because when I looked at results from previous years a 5:20 time would have been top 25 overall for the swim. My best guess is that the official swim times actually include the swim, plus getting out of the water, plus walking down the hall, then running across the parking lot, then down some stairs into the next parking lot and into transition. So when I compared the time I could swim 300 yards in the pool to last year’s results I was really comparing apples to oranges. A person who is listed at 5:20 in the results is probably really swimming the 300 yards closer to 4:00 minutes. Fortunately, the race organizers are smart enough to stack rank everyone on the simple 300 yard estimate declared at registration instead of looking at previous results.
I was done setting up transition by 6 am so with over an hour to spare I just walked around and enjoyed a beautiful morning. The night before at home I laid out everything that I needed for T1 and for T2. I stared at it for a good long while. I even pretended to go through the motions, take this off…put that on, etc. So it wasn't a big surprise when transition was setup quick and race morning felt calm. Well, at least that was the way it began. They started announcing that transition would close at 6:45 am so I went over one last time just to obsess a little and I was pretty annoyed to see that someone was jealous of my end spot on the rack so they decided to take the end spot by hanging their bike off the other side. This would have been a little annoying, but then became very annoying when I looked down and everything that I had neatly set up in transition next to my bike was now conveniently located underneath their back tire. Sigh. Being a late comer, my new neighbor was still there so I pointed out that it was pretty rude and quickly let it go. 20 minutes to go until the event gets started.
I left transition still feeling calm and walked over to the pool. I got near the building and then my heart stopped. Oh crap. No goggles. Apparently, I was feeling a bit too calm about the race. For all of my staring at the T1 and T2 piles at home I never stopped to think about what I would be taking off when I came out of the pool. Oops. I scrambled back over towards the table for one of the sponsors, an eye care company. No luck. I started asking around and one of the organizers had a brilliant idea to ask the lifeguards. My son has probably lost 6 pairs of goggles when on on the swim team at his school. There has to be something in the lost and found. I got to the lifeguards and asked about goggles. Their response was, “Well, we don’t normally work at this pool…”. Uh oh. My heart stops again. “…but I did see some over here.” Whew. I grabbed a pair. They seemed to work and I went about trying to find my position in line. It was now nearly 7:00 am and the event was about to start.
“Swim” Time — 6:48.21 — 84th out of 228
I lined up behind #67 and the first thing I noticed about him was that he was wearing very baggy swim trunks. I really didn't want to have to pass anyone. Was I seeded too far back? After a closer look I realized that he looked like someone that might be a faster swimmer. After all, both of my kids would be way faster than I am in the pool even if they were wearing parachute pants, so maybe everything would be OK. Also, I declared 5:20 when I signed up, but I've been battling some shoulder soreness that has eliminated speed work and distance from my swim workouts. I was swimming 5:30-5:40 for this distance 3 months ago but I was likely slower now so it was more important to worry about getting passed.
Before I knew it, it was my turn to push off the wall and start swimming the lanes. Within 75 yards, I caught #67. I spent 10-15 yards tickling his feet so when we reached the end of the lane he held up for a second, I ducked under the lane line early and kept going. Then before I knew it, I caught someone else and then I caught another. Now someone has started tickling my feet, but when I get to the wall they seem far enough back that I shouldn't stop so I keep going. A minute later, I find a fourth pair of feet to slap and I've got another pass. I exited the pool 64th, tossed the goggles back where they came from and walked out to the hallway.
T1 Time — 1:21.89
Once in the hallway I slipped on some ankle socks and crocks. I grabbed a small towel I had staged and started walking and then running out of the building and over to T1. Having the crocks got me into transition much more quickly and comfortably than would have been possible barefoot on 200 feet of blacktop baking in a warm morning sun. In transition, I snapped on my race belt with my bib # attached, then I took forever to fasten the Garmin on my wrist, got my glasses, helmet and bike shoes on my feet for the 10 foot run to the bike exit. While heading to the exit I tried to get the Garmin started and it was giving me trouble. Oh well, no time to mess around with the electronics. I did what I could and then hoped for the best.
Bike Time — 40:49.65 — 5th out of 228
Average Speed — 22.0 MPH
Once I got on the bike I stood up and started mashing the peddles as hard as I could. I rode this course a couple of times a few weeks ago and I thought it was surprisingly tricky. The bike is only 15 miles so it isn't like there are going to be any mountainous climbs but there are many rolling hills, some of which can bring you to a crawl before you crest them. In my two previous rides I didn't go all out, but I pushed the pace pretty good and wound up riding the course in 47:xx minutes. Today in the race I was hoping for 44 minutes. I immediately started catching people on the bike. After the first 5 minutes or so my heart was pounding but I felt OK and was starting to settle down a bit inside. I went to check the Garmin and it looked like I did get it started successfully, but some of the data was missing. It wasn't until much later in the bike that I realized that the GPS was still turned off from a treadmill run a couple days earlier. Oops.
I spent a lot of time on the bike yelling ‘Left’ or ‘On Your Left’ or in the case of the guy who decided to ride next to his friend with about 6 feet between them, ‘left, left, Left, Left, LEFT, LEFT, I’m passing on your left. Get over.’ I couldn't believe this guy was riding smack down the middle of the road casually sitting up drinking from his bottle oblivious that people were actually going to need to pass at some point. I almost crossed the double yellow line to get around both of them. Catching people on the bike was a lot of fun. I made a game out of seeing how much speed differential I could (safely) get when passing. I think I probably managed to pass about 30 or so people total on the 15 mile course. Every time I would get to a corner I would yell out and ask the volunteer/flag holder if the corner was clear before I went through as fast as I could. Some of the corners I had a good line of sight, but some of them didn't so I appreciated the extra set of eyes. I especially appreciated the volunteers that would occasionally stand in the middle of the road guaranteeing that traffic was clear. This was especially helpful for those turns that were immediately followed by a steep hill. I really didn't want to give up any more momentum than I absolutely, positively had to.
On a left turn near the end of the bike course, my heart stopped again. This was the last turn to take before entering into the park where transition is. The left turn comes at the end of a slight downhill and then immediately turns into a slight uphill. I wanted to get through the turn as fast as I could to keep momentum but I was coming in way too fast. I slammed on the brakes hard and realized that I was going to be in the wrong gear to start pushing up the hill so I hit the shifter hard during the corner and, well, shifted way to much all at once. I think I probably jumped from one extreme to the other on the back cassette as the bike let out a horrible racket and the first thought I had was, ‘crap. I just dropped the chain.’ After a few more seconds, I realized that I just got a bit rambunctious and that the loss of resistance was being at the extreme of the gears and not bike parts dragging on the ground. I pushed has hard as I could right up through every last bit of the bike course.
I averaged 22.0 MPH on the course. My fastest previous average on a flat ride was 20.1 MPH. It was a good day on the bike.
T2 Time — 1:13.39
I managed to do a dismount while rolling without wiping out so embarrassment was successfully avoided for the moment and into T2 I went. I ditched the bike and helmet, grabbed a Gu, slipped on the running sneakers and off I went. I wanted to eat a Gu near the end of bike leg but the tape I used to stick it to the frame wasn't holding very well so this would have to do. It might have been for the best. I was pushing hard enough on the bike that I was nauseous more than once.
The Gu was hard to choke down as I started the run through transition. After getting out, you are greeted by stairs up to the next parking lot for the beginning of the run. For the record, stairs after a hard bike are evil, but as far as stairs go these weren't that bad. I struggled to find my running legs. I've been doing a lot of biking, running and swimming…but I have rarely done a run immediately after getting off of the bike. Also, I've never biked like this in my life. Never. So it made sense that it was going to take a minute to find my stride.
Run Time — 22:38.41 — 11th out of 228
Pace — 6:52 per mile
I ignored the watch for a while and then when I went to look at it, I realized that my heart rate was way too low. I do my tempo runs at 170 bpm. I will typically run a 5k at 185-190 bpm. I was hoping to run this 3.3 miles similar to a 5k effort. I wasn't even at tempo effort when I looked down and saw 165 bpm. I thought I was running kinda fast. I was catching people after all. I kept trying to push harder but it just didn't come. I think this is the point where accidentally having GPS off did me the most damage. After the bike, my ability to perceive rate of speed was gone. My perceived effort was high, but was it high enough? If I had pace data to look at I think it would have shook me out of cruise control, but I didn't so I just kept pushing and took peace in the fact that I just got done with a really fast bike leg.
After plugging along on the road for a while, I reached the point where the course goes off road. About 1/4 mile from the finish there is a small blacktop path that is easy to miss that is a ‘shortcut’ to the finish line. This ‘shortcut’ is part of the course, but not at all obvious from the official course maps. There are people that will make sure you find the path and go the right way during the race, but if you are a first timer trying to figure the course out ahead of time this can be a very easy detail to miss.
I tried to put everything into the last bit of the run that I could, but after seeing the results I’ll be left to wonder if I really did. I finished 9th overall, which is great, but I missed 8th place by 0.48 seconds. It was nice to see my family and a coworker on the course cheering during the race and even nicer to get caught up after it was all over. Well, at least it would be after I laid down in the shade for a minute and spent some time on the sports chiro/massage table for a few minutes. I couldn't pass up the free professional help, especially when there was no line at all.
Finish Time — 1:12:51.55
Overall Place — 9th
Age Group Place — 2nd
Overall, it was a beautiful day and a wonderfully well run race. I can’t wait to go back next year and try to move up in position. This race was an awesome introduction for a first timer and will be a fantastic kickoff to the triathlon season for next year.