OR; I survived my first real tri!


It should come as no surprise that I was very nervous about this race.  It was my first “real” triathlon.  It was my first “real” open water swim.  It was also going to be the very farthest out that I have ever swum in the ocean.  Over the summer I had one ocean swim with my wetsuit.  I stayed near the shore, and the chop made it nearly impossible for me to swim back because of my lack of bilateral breathing skills.  I wanted everything to go perfect so the day before the race I went to packet pick up at Zane’s Bicycle, and decided to take the opportunity to scope out the race location and the bike course.

I drove to the swim area and looked around.  The ocean was fairly calm, just a few waves lapping the shore.   I stared at the ocean, thinking, well if it is like this I’ll be OK.

I got in the car and drove the bike route.  I did get a bit turned around, but ended up finding my way.  It was a bit hilly, but it was a really beautiful area.  I did notice one turn where the road was a little rough, but otherwise things seemed straight forward.  My inexperience did get to me at this point though.  All I could think of was how was I ever going to find my way?  There were a lot of turns, it was a fairly technical course, and without help I was going to struggle.

I drove back home feeling pretty good about things.  My wife had her packet pickup that afternoon so we swapped out the kids and she headed out while I took the kids to Tae Kwon Do.  We met back up at home and I started my race prep.  Work has been so busy that I hadn’t gotten time to put anything together yet.  The night before I found a website called RaceChecklist.com.  It is a great site that you can use to generate a race checklist.  You click off check boxes and generate and print the list.  It helped me make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything that I might need.

With race checklist in hand I felt more or less prepared.  I still had to clean and oil my chain, and make any last minute tweaks to the bike.  I loaded it up into my car along with the bike pump and headed inside.  I loaded my transition bag with the checklist items and crossed them off one at a time.  With my bag complete I just had a few items that needed to wait until race day.

Typically the nerves associated with a race cause me some serious digestive issues.  We’ll keep it at that.  I didn’t want to end up running to the bathroom repeatedly on race morning so I knew I had to have some sort of medication plan ready to go.

Medication Plan

I decided to take two Imodium tablets the night before the race, and then take two more the morning of, along with some motion sickness medicine.  I followed the plan and it worked really really well.  I only had to go to the bathroom once all morning which is just about perfect.

I set the alarm for way too early o’clock and tried to get some sleep.  I tried really hard to sleep but my mind was on the swim.   I was also inexplicably worried about the bike ride.  I’m not the most confident person on a bike, but I feel much more solid lately.  I don’t know why I was getting nervous about it now, but all of those pre-race jitters left me with little sleep.  Maybe 4 hours.

When the alarm went off I was already awake.  I threw on the clothes that I left out for myself, tri shorts, tri singlet, sweatpants, wind breaker and fli flops.   brushed my teeth, medicated, grabbed my tri bag and headed out.

The drive was uneventful.  I wasn’t that nervous to be honest.  It was still dark out until just a few miles from the race location.  As I approach the sky just started to light up.  I found a parking space, grabbed my gear and headed into transition.  I picked a spot, dropped my bike off, set up my transition area, and went over to the chip pickup and body marking area.  After getting body marked I walked back to transition and counted racks from both the bike entry, and the swim entry to make sure that I would quickly find my bike.  I met up with a friend Betsie who was also part of the YMCA tri group and was doing the race with me.  She still had a bunch of setup to do, so while she took care of that I headed back to the registration area.  The registration area was on a deck overlooking the swim start.  The ocean was as still as glass, not even a tiny wave.  I have seen lakes with more motion.  I watched as a boat motored off to drop the buoys.   As the first one was dropped off I remember feeling relief.  OK that’s not too bad.  As the boat moved on to drop the second one I thought, ok, good enough…stop there…where are you going?  It seemed like the buoy was miles away.  Wow, that was going to be rough.  I tried not to let it get to me, but I was starting to get a bit nervous about the whole affair.

It turns out I was going to be in the last wave.  With about 15 minutes or so to the race start I went over to transition, took off my sweatpants and put on my wetsuit.  I wandered over to the beach where a couple of other tri club members were, and I watched the first waves go off.  I scanned the beach for my family.  My wife and kids and my sister-in-law were all coming to watch me race.  They came later just so that they could have an extra hour of sleep.  I was wondering if they were going to make it in time, and sure enough there they were.  I ran up to give them all a hug.  That was all I needed to get me going.  I headed back to my wave, and waited for my turn to start.


I spoke to a couple of the other guys lining up in my wave.  We were all first timers, and the tension was palpable.  One of the guys I spoke to said he had never done an open

The worst part is behind me, literally!

water swim, the other had done limited open water swimming.  I remembered my first open water swim, it was terrifying, I felt bad for that first guy, this was going to be an interesting experience for him to say the least.

The countdown started, and I thought about how I wasn’t really that nervous now.  Maybe it was a good thing to have gotten there so early.  This allowed me to work the nerves out, and relax.  Seeing my family certainly helped as well.  The horn blew and we were off.

Being the last wave there was no worries about other people swimming through us, so I found an opening in the middle and I started my swim.  The swim start was fine.  No bumping really and I was glad for that.  It wasn’t long before I started to breast stroke.  I wasn’t tired, I was just uneasy.  I didn’t want to swim off course.  It would be a good time to mention that I have no breast stroking ability, so I just kind of floated there while making arm movements.  I doubt that I made any forward progress.  Within a few minutes that doubt started creeping in.  “Oh boy, my arms are tired already, this sucks, I can’t do this.”  I realized that, although I hadn’t gotten to the first buoy yet, I was already pretty far from shore.  My mind started trying to get me to freak out.  I stopped repeatedly to breast stroke.  I could hear people chattering in the background “are you ok” “how are you feeling.”  A lot of chatter for a swim.  It sounded a lot like that scene from Titanic where everyone is in the water.  It is quiet, the waves lapping here and there, and the whispers and chatter of nervous people.

I kept it going, no time to turn back, you can do this.  I made it to the first buoy, because I stopped so often I never had issues with swimming off course.  I was stopping waaaaaay too much.  But I think I needed that just to feel comfortable.  The good news is that I wasn’t breathing heavy.  I hadn’t choked on any water, really in the grand scheme of things I was doing really OK.  In fact, I started noticing that I was getting more tired “breast stroking” than just swimming freestyle.  I set a goal, swim to the first turn buoy and then you’ll be fine.

I started doing more and more stretches of freestyle swimming.  I really pushed myself.  Before long I was doing longer and longer stretches of freestyle.  Every so often I would fine myself swimming near someone, but that was pretty rare.  At one point I did get bonked in the head by someone, and someone did swim slightly up my back, but it never freaked me out.  As I focused on that turn buoy I increased my freestyle stopping just enough to site.  At one point I popped my head up and banged right into the buoy.  Luckily it was just an inflatable balloon, so I smacked it out of the way and went around it.

When I made the turn I got my confidence back.  Because the buoy weren’t set to a square, the first two buoy went out the farthest, so I was now as far into the ocean as I was going to get, the rest of the swim was heading to shore.  To me, that meant I was halfway.  I now went ever longer with my freestyle stroke.  I rarely paused, and I started passing some white caps from the wave ahead of me.  As I made the last turn I put it into gear and started doing proper freestyle with sighting.  I also started swerving slightly but I was feeling much better.  I also bumped a few more people, and at one point I actually got a dirty look, whatever!!  With about 200 yards to go I started kicking.  I have been told that kicking in triathlon swimming is not a good idea.  It tires out your legs and really doesn’t add any appreciable speed.  Like a good trooper I just dragged my legs behind me the whole time, and just started kicking to warm up.  I have to say, however, that my kick made a huge difference.  I’m not sure if it was just a perception thing, but I felt like I turned on an extra gear when I started kicking.  I was really moving.  I felt great as I approached the shore, then, out of nowhere, BANG.  I feel this thump against my forehead as the swimmer in front of me made one last kick for shore.  Immediately I felt every muscle in my body tense, and both of my legs cramped at the hamstrings, and calves.  As soon as I felt that cramp twinge I relaxed them and it went away.  I think instinctively I just relax when I feel that twinge, and it really seems to help me get through them.  With all of that going on I just stopped swimming and as I did my feet hit sand.  I was done!  The swim was over!  I certainly didn’t set any speed records, but I do have a PR (it was my first Sprint so yay).  My goal was to survive the swim, I did that and more.  I felt good, not tired, and I wasn’t breathing heavy.  It was a good day!


Despite the fact that I practiced removing my wetsuit in the water, despite telling my wife that she should remove the top part of her wetsuit in the water, despite all of those things, and perhaps because I had just been kicked in the head, I just ran out of the water.  I tried and tried to get the strap off, but it wasn’t until I was half way to the transition area before I got the top half undone.  I did manage to hold my cap and goggles so that they would stay in the sleeve, so it wasn’t a total loss.

To be honest, T1 was a blur.  I don’t really know what took me so long but at 1:53, I’m not complaining.  I opted to ride without socks, so I quickly threw on my helmet, bike shoes, and glasses.  I tossed my wetsuit into a corner, grabbed a quick sip of my water bottle, and took off out of transition.   I hoped on the bike and off I went without issue.

All in all a pretty successful first transition.  Unlike the Winding Trails tris that I’ve done, I wasn’t even breathing heavy after the swim so I was good to go.


It’s important to note that my wife was one day away from her first triathlon as well.  I spent a lot of time prepping her on rules, and common rules violations. 

Zipping out of transition.

Unlike my triathlon, hers was sanction by USAT and she had to follow the rules or face a penalty, or even disqualification.  With that in mind…

I started the bike leg with the goal of just hammering it.  I am not competitive in my running skillz.  I can run, but I can’t run fast.  I was expecting, maybe a 9:30-10:00/mile.  So my only chance of doing well overall was to have a magic bike split.  Who cares if my legs are shot, I’m going to be slow.  I decided to use just water in my bottles, and one Raspberry GU which I would take at around the 10 mile mark on the bike.

The first mile out of transition was very crowded.  The biggest issue I found with going in the last wave was that there were a lot of people in front of me on the bike course that looked like they were checking an item off of their bucket list.  The bike for them was a leisurely stroll.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing at all wrong with that.  In fact, I think there may be entirely too many people that take themselves too seriously.  BUT, you should still follow the rules.  You should maintain distance from the rider ahead of you, but even more importantly, you should stay to the right of the road, and you should never ride two or even three abreast unless you are passing someone.

I struggled to get around a number of people without crossing the center line.  It was rough.  At one point I was passing a woman who was just riding beside another person.   That other person was in the middle of the lane, so with two abreast there wasn’t much space for me to pass without ending up across the yellow line.  I went for my pass, and just then the person on the outside starts sliding over.  I edged over and started screaming, “I’M PASSING ON YOUR LEFT…I”M ON YOUR LEFT…PASSING ON THE LEFT!!”  I don’t know what this person was thinking, I was right beside her practically screaming into her ear, and she just kept coming.  Maybe she was deaf?  But if that is the case, then I suggest that she LOOK BEHIND HER before making a move.  I ended up having to swerve across the line to prevent a crash.  In the end it was a non-issue, but it could have ended badly.

Shortly after coming that the race leader passed me heading in.  Wow he was cruising.   A bit later, I passed Betsie on the side of the road.  I asked if she was OK and she said yes.  I pressed on.  One thing of note is that there were more hills than I expected.  It wasn’t an easy joy ride for sure.  The ride preview from the day before, however, paid off.  I was able to anticipate both the messy intersection with the bumpy transition, and a very sharp left turn so things worked out.  Throughout the race I was next to a guy riding an old school steel bike with shifters on the down tube.  The bike sounded like it was barely holding itself together, but he was really rocking it.  We passed each other back and forth in the beginning, and I lost him after that.  About half way through the ride this fit woman blew by me and I tried for a little while to stick to her tail, but I wasn’t able to.

As planned, at mile 10 I took my GU.  Right then I was passed by a guy on a tri bike, and that guy on the steel bike.   As they passed me they slowed down, and so did I.  We came up to a hill with a right turn at the crest.  I used that opportunity to push past them both.  I cranked it and got around them at the corner and kept pressing.  The tri bike guy caught and passed me, but the steel bike guy didn’t have the gas.  I rolled into the transition feeling good.


I dismounted the bike without issue, and headed into transition.  I racked the bike and took off the helmet.  During the bike portion the sky was overcast, and because of all of the trees I just couldn’t see well with the glasses so I took them off and tucked them in my tri shirt.  I really need to get clear glasses.

I had brought some socks with me to put on for the run but hadn’t really decided what I was going to do.  When the time came I opted to wear them.  I was afraid that with my wet feet I might hurt them on the sneakers.  It didn’t take long to put them on, and before I knew it I had my visor on and was out of transition.


Here’s where it gets interesting.  I felt really good coming off the bike.  As I started the run I felt like I was jogging.  I couldn’t seem to pick up the pace.  I looked down at my

Final Kick to bring it home. (Please ignore the heel strike)

Garmin…then did a double take.  The Garmin said 6:22.  I don’t do 6:22.  I actually wasn’t sure I actually knew it was possible for me to run that fast.  I told myself immediately to slow down.  This pace was a recipe for disaster.

As a side note, I suspect that the differential between the speed of the bike i.e., 18+MPH and the speed of a run i.e., 6-7MPH, makes the run feel slow even if you are cruising.  It will be important to keep that in mind going forward because I could easily burn myself out trying to speed up.

I slowed the pace down to what felt comfortablish.  I was running between 9 and 8 minute miles.  I know, I couldn’t believe it either.  I don’t know where that came from.  On the run I passed a handful of people, but in a memorable moment, I was passed by a 67 year old like I was standing still.  Wow, he was impressive.  I kept my eye on him, but he kept slipping away from me drifting slowly into the distance.

The run course was dead flat.  It was right along the shore, and it was really nice.  The sun was starting to peek out from behind the clouds, but the weather was perfect.  maybe low 70’s or so and dry.  I ran into a handful of people that I knew.  It was an out and back, so on the return I saw Betsie again, and a couple of other people that I knew.

I managed to maintain my pace on the return trip, and with about 300 yards to go I gave it the kick.  I ran past just a couple more people, and ran through the shoot.  It was great to see my wife and kids there to greet me.  They even made me a sign.

Post Race

After the race I was beat.  I’m not sure I remember being that tired before.  Surprisingly only my lower back and my shoulders were sore.  I suspect that was due to the cycling.  I had a bagel or two, and we headed for home.  The next day was my wife’s tri, so I had to do the setup all over again.  All-in-all I had a blast.  I can’t wait to do my next tri.  I think I’ve caught the bug for sure.


Swim: 23:12 (1/2 mile)

T1: 1:53 (I think this was miscounted which explains why my bike time was best overall)

Bike: 46:09 (13.4 miles ) Includes the run up from the beach (maybe 150 yards)

T2: 1:13

Run: 27:06 (3.1 Miles)

Total: 1:39:33

Place: 21/27

Prediction Review, and Wrap up

Here are my goals from pre-race:

Number 1 goal, was to finish.  Check.  I think I crushed this goal.  Not only did I finish, I did it without panicking, and really without issues.  The swim was easier than I thought, and next time I know I can do better.

Realistic Goal: Swim: 0:20:00/Bike: 0:50:00/ Run: 0:31:00/Total: 1:45:30

I was slow on the swim, but I stopped way too much, that I can fix.  As for the rest, I crushed it.  I beat the bike time by nearly 4 minutes, and the run time by 4 minutes.  I also crushed my proposed transition times to slay that goal by just about 6 minutes.  Woot.

But what about my aggressive goal?

Aggressive: Swim: 0:20:00/Bike: 0:40:00/ Run: 0:28:00/Total: 1:31:30

Well, my swim was still slow obviously.  My bike missed the mark by almost 6 minutes, but I did smash the run time by a minutes, and if I’m honest, I didn’t think I could do that run time.  Overall I was within about 8 minutes of my aggressive goal.  I can live with that.

In the end I missed my aggressive goals for two reasons.  The first was the swim jitters.  I kept stopping, but really, I didn’t need to.   Nothing changed physically when I made the first turn.  In fact, if anything I should have been more fatigued.  No, this was an issue in my mind.  I can correct that.  As far as the bike is concerned, hmm, it is the only segment I am disappointed in.  Not because I missed my aggressive goal, no the time had nothing to do with it.  My plan was to really push myself on the bike.  To let it all hand out there.  I know that the bike is my strength, if only because I am extra week elsewhere.   I am actually disappointed because I just didn’t push myself on my bike.  If I had really pushed myself I may not have met my aggressive goal, but I sure as heck would have been satisfied.  In fact, if I had cleaned up the swim, and met the bike goal I would have been firmly in the top 100.  I spent most of the bike leg of my race with my HR below 165.  If I was really pushing it it wouldn’t ever get below that number.

In reviewing my run data, I think I could have pushed it harder there too.  I felt really good throughout this race, I think, if I feel the same way next time, I will push things a little more.  That’s pretty good all things considered.  What a blast.