On August 11th, 2013 I competed in the Iron Girl Canada Sprint Triathlon. This was the first time that an Iron Girl Triathlon was ever held in Canada, and this was my first triathlon in over 10 years!!
Back before I had kids, I was talked into trying two triathlons, a sprint distance, and an Olympic distance. I also did a duathlon last summer – I HATED them all! I was ok with the swim part, great at the running part, but the cycling part… now that was a humbling experience! Shit – the whole thing was a humbling experience. People who do triathlons are very athletic and are in serious shape.
The picture above is an understatement – I honestly felt like I was pedalling backwards in comparison to the other athletes. Whooosh, whoosh, whoosh. That is literally the sound that you hear as a faster cyclist on a MUCH better bike passes you. Crap – to this day hearing “On your left” still sends waves of anger through me! I am a competitive person, so being passed like I was on a tricycle while I was pedalling my arse off did not sit well with me. That last triathlon I ever did I almost placed dead last overall on the bike. Hence why I waited 10 years to give triathlon another try. Folks – respect the bike, that is the hardest part of a triathlon.
Anyways, because I’m getting older, or not great at training smart, I’ve been getting injured from training to run my best (stress fractures, hamstring strains, ITB syndrome etc). So this summer hubby and I decided that I needed to do some cross-training, and registering for some local triathlons would be a great way to force myself to stay active, not injure myself, and to stay motivated. So I signed up for two women’s only triathlons: Iron Girl Canada and the Ontario Women’s Triathlon – that way the super-fast guys out on the bike course wouldn’t intimidate me and shake my self-confidence.
Admittedly, I put in a half-assed effort in my training. I went to spinning once or twice a week (I don’t own a road bike), I ran on average once a week, went to bodypump on Wednesdays and I swam once a week in a nearby lake with some girlfriends, which became more of a social swim than a serious swim as we got to know each other. NOTE TO SELF: Swim hard with the girls, then go out for salads with them afterwards.
Finally race day came. And I was NERVOUS!! I knew I could swim, bike and run – but I hadn’t put all three together since July 13, 2003 when I did the Mike Burwell Memorial Olympic Triathlon (my results: http://www.sportstats.ca/displayResults.xhtml?racecode=38544&bib=182). I couldn’t remember how to set up a transition area, and I had no clue what I needed nutrition-wise, what gear I needed, or what to wear. Folks, I’m a runner, so I borrowed a bike, a helmet, goggles and a two-piece tri suit in order to do the race. The only things I owned were my socks, and shoes.
The tri suit fit me well through the hips, thighs and bum, but I have no boobs and a narrow upper body frame (I wish the middle part of my frame was as narrow) so the top was too big for me. I probably could have worn a running tank top that I owned instead, but I wanted to LOOK like a triathlete, as I hoped that would help my race day confidence. I also wanted to LOOK like a triathlete for the photos *grin*. I wore my friend’s tri suit to the race, but headed straight to the race expo after racking my bike and picking up my race kit (this is called checking-in in the triathlon world). I was lucky – I found a vendor selling tri suits for $50. Every single suit on his rack was $50, no matter what the regular retail price was. I only found one small suit, so I bought it – I didn’t care about colour etc. I just needed it to fit well. The regular retail price on that suit was $180 so I got quite a deal on it. I was so grateful for finding something affordable to race in that I also bought myself a race belt, which is another thing that triathletes need. After your swim you have to put your race number on during your transition to the bike -when you bike you wear your number on your back, and when you go out on your run, you rotate your number to the front. Without a race belt this is pretty hard to do, though you could do it with a thin piece of rope I suppose.
I then went to the porta-potties and wrestled my way into my new suit, which if you’ve ever put one on, you will know is a warm-up in itself, especially since I needed it to be a bit small in the bum area in order to be tight enough through the bust:
I then went to set up my transition area:
I had no idea what I was doing, so I copied the girls next to me.
Once my transition area was all set up, I headed down to the beach to scout out the swim exit, and to practice running out of the lake and finding my bike. (Being able to find your bike in a sea of bikes is an important part of triathlon). The beach was rocky, and the path to the transition area was all pavement and up a steep hill. Ouch! My poor feet! I have a history of plantar fasciitis and walking barefoot is excruciatingly painful for me. It’s even worse when running uphill barefoot. (I tend to only wear my birks, or shoes with my orthotics in them, I’m rarely barefoot, even in my own home.) I counted the racks to my borrowed bike, and made a mental note of other landmarks near my bike. Note to self: Buy a very BRIGHT towel to set up my transition area on.
I then walked to the swim start which was 500m away from the swim finish. The swim part of this race stays along the edge of the lake. For a beginner this is great because it means you can touch the bottom along the whole swim portion. I wore an old pair of $5 Old Navy flip flops to the race start, so it was really hard to walk along the rocky edge, but I couldn’t wear anything better because I was afraid of losing them at the swim start. I also didn’t take my phone to the start. Next time I may wear water shoes, though I’ll have to learn how to swim fast in them (are these even allowed in triathlon?). As I walked, I ran into a woman I recognised from the Open Water swim clinic put on by the Ontario Women’s Triathlon that I attended in late June so I nervously talked her ear off as we walked to the start. I then ran into my friend Simone from the OWT committee. I helped her zip up her wet suit and wished her well, she seemed really nervous as she was eager to do well. I then wondered if I should be more nervous or anxious? I didn’t have much time to ponder that, as I was in the third wave of swimmers, and had to get in the water to get warmed up, and used to the water temperature. Brrrrrrrr!
Iron Girl had an in-water start, so we all lined up in the water perpendicular to the edge and treaded water until the horn blew. I lined up too early because I ended up treading water for a good three minutes before the horn went. The race finally started, and I immediately felt my heart start to race from anxiety, not from effort. This happens to me during almost every race, so I have to consciously try to relax, and slow down to bring my heart rate down. After swimming on top of people for 100m the group thinned out and I settled into a slow easy stroke, and found that as the swim went on my endurance enabled me to pass the folks who started off too quick. When it comes to endurance swimming slow and steady wins the race. As I approached the end of the swim, I continued to swim hard up the beach until my hands were grabbing sand. I then was able to stand up and easily run out of the water. I learned this at the Ontario Women’s Triathlon Open Water Swim Clinic I attended, and was amazed at how many people I “swam” past who had stood up too soon and were trying to run through waist deep water. SUCKERS!
I passed more people as I powered up the hill to my bike. Not having a wetsuit can be an advantage as I didn’t have to struggle to run while trying to take the darn thing off.
Unfortunately I left my running shoes tied up when I set up my transition area, so I had to untie them before putting them on, then tie them back up (I don’t own lock laces). My feet were also wet, and I didn’t bring an extra towel to dry them off. I wished everyone around me good luck as they headed out for the bike – apparently most people don’t do this as they looked at me like I was from Mars. I finally got my shoes on, found my helmet and sunglasses that someone had knocked off of my bike and put them on. I unracked my bike and ran it to the bike mount line. Not owning cycling shoes proved to be an advantage with that part of the race because running in running shoes is much easier, especially when trying to run with a bike.
500m swim time: 12:52
T1 time: 2:59 (ouch – too slow)
I then headed out on the bike. I started out strong and soon I was in a position to change the gears as I had reached the highest speed that I could on that gear. Uhhhhhh…. how on earth do you change gears on a road bike?!? I found a small lever on the right brake and flicked it. Nothing happened. I found another small lever on the left brake and flicked it. Again nothing happened. I was stuck spinning my legs around and around.
On your left! — whoosh!
On your left!
On your left!
On your left!
Tears. A whole year of spinning classes down the drain. I was ridiculously heart-broken and I cried pretty much the whole way. I did manage to keep up with two chicks who were in the wave ahead of me on mountain bikes who were having a leisurely ride and talking to each other the whole time. Yes – this isn’t allowed in triathlon, but the swim waves were so large and close together that the bike course was pretty crowded so I guess that’s why they got away with it. As the two chatted, and I spun my legs around and around trying to keep up as much speed on that gear as I could, people kept on passing me:
On your left!
On your left!
On your left!
On your left!
But I finally finished the bike which felt absolutely like an eternity! I dismounted the bike at the dismount line, and ran to the racks. I racked the bike, removed my helmet, ate a Clif ShotBlok, and chased it with some water. I then headed out for the run.
20k bike time: 47:04
Pace: 25.5km/hr <- SLOW!
T2 time: 0:55 <- one of the advantages of not owning cycling shoes
I was seriously pissed off at how poorly my bike went so I took off on the run like a bat out of hell. Running is my forte and this is the part of the race where equipment does not play a role – The run is based on sheer natural talent and training. And I can run.
I felt like screaming “On your left” to everyone I passed just to get back at them. But I didn’t. I just powered past them. Kilometer 3 to 4.5 was on an unpaved trail. I’ve done some trail running in my younger days, so the uneven ground did not scare me. I continued to pass people along the narrow trail, and was tempted to push them to the right because for some reason they felt like they were entitled to the entire trail even though they were walking! I didn’t push them, but I sure wanted to! I continued to pass people all the way to the end of the run – I was finally finished!
5k run time: 26:46
Pace: 5:22/km <- Not too shabby
Sprint triathlons are tough because you are literally sprinting through each discipline the whole way. Although this is a 90 min race, this is not a race about endurance, not in the way a ½ Ironman or Ironman is. This is a fast race and there are some really fast and powerful athletes doing them. While I greatly enjoyed this race and the triathlon experience, I think an Olympic distance is more my thing… Maybe I’ll make that my goal for next year?
All in all I was ecstatic to be done! Overall finishing time: 1:30:33
I’m officially an Iron Girl!!
(Stay tuned for my Color Run and Ontario Women’s Triathlon race reports coming later this week).