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You know you are pushing yourself toward your next challenge when you are totally fine with an alarm clock at 4 a.m.
The 22nd annual 2013 Ukiah Triathlon took place on September 8th, on what was to be one of the hottest days of the month. I’ve had several friends ask why these races start at ungodly hours in the morning, and at this venue I was thrilled to start before the real heat of the day kicked in.
For those not sure what I’m talking about, triathlons are a multi-sport race that have many different distances, but all have these events in this order:
- Swim: This events swim distance was 750 meters (half mile) in a very low Lake Mendocino
- Bike: A 22 mile ride for this one
- Run: 5k run which also equals 3.1 miles
This was only my second triathlon, and although the Ukiah Triathlon is a locally known event that many have identified as great for first timers, it was a different experience for me. There are 2 places to set up and get ready for the next part of the race called transitions.
This was my first time to get organized enough to set up two separate transitions.
I cajoled my husband/photographer Ray to go with me and our trip up north 60 miles was very fast. It is amazing how little traffic is on the roads at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning!
We made it to the venue at Mendocino College in Ukiah super early so we had plenty of time to figure out that not only are there 2 transition areas, but they located a few miles apart. This made for interesting logistics for anyone traveling alone interesting. I couldn’t imagine after finishing this race having to pack up all your stuff and ride your bike back to the car. Although that is exactly what I saw happening.
My Bike-to-Run transition is pathetically small. I don’t use bike shoes that clip into my pedals yet (after my bike race this weekend, that will change soon!) so my bike shoes are my running shoes. All I had here was a hairband and my water bottle I run with. This little bottle that straps to your hand and has the coolest top that makes getting a drink super easy is one of my favorite fitness gifts from my adorable husband.
Getting ready for your dream milestone is all about timing.
Giving yourself time to get set up, get ready and in my case, psyche myself up to go.
Setting up the Swim-to-Bike transition was a little trickier. We were given large plastic bags to keep all our stuff in so that the race committee could gather up and bring us everything we needed after the race.
Add to that a sandy beach that we were running over after the swim and the whole goal became how to keep sand off your feet and out of your socks/shoes for the bike ride.
Everyone was gathering up, finding room to set up. There is a classic triathlon tradition of having your race number written in permanent marker on your arm and leg. This was my first time and I was a little thrown when they also asked my age… which was then written on the back of my calf!
Carrying your age around, visible to everyone, makes you get comfortable with that number really quick.
There are a lot of tips and tricks for getting into, and ideally out of, a wetsuit fast. I think I may have finally figured is out this time without making a slippery mess out of myself or my gear. I have to say that if used right, Tri-Slide can be your best friend.
I had promised myself after my last scary water experience that I would get in and warm up to prepare for the swim. The water temperature was a lot warmer being farther North and later in the summer. I was able to get my face in the water and had a lot less of a panic attack, even with the visibility underwater almost zero.
We had a floating start since the lower water changed the swim route a bit. That means that when it’s your turn to go, you can get in and stay afloat at the starting line until it’s time to go. This is another reason I LOVE wetsuits. Yes, they are a huge pain and take time to get off and on, but it is next to immpossible to sink in one of these things.
The countdown to start was loud and clear and we were off! I started really fast, just trying to get out of the pack, which wasn’t that large to begin with. I was so excited to just be able to actually focus on my swim and not be panicked about breathing in cold water!
As we got to the first buoy and around the first turn, I practiced sighting more. Sighting is when you go against every natural tendency to turn your head to the side to breathe, and instead, look straight forward to see where you are. I really need to practice this more in the pool since I can’t seem to get the timing down without taking a big gulp of the lake. Yuck.
About halfway around I flipped over and swam back-stroke for a few to catch my breath and remind myself of the good swim skills I’ve learned. It felt so cool to round that last buoy and be passing swimmers to the swim finish line. I’m not fast by all means, but this swim made me feel strong.
The swim exit was on the beach which meant having shoes handy in order to run 400 yards to get to your bike. I had brought some cheap plastic flip flop sandals for this purpose. I’ll know better next time since wet feet and plastic shoes are not a stable combination for running!
Getting ready for the ride with feeling in my fingers and toes was amazing!
The warmer water left me with feeling in all my extremities which made getting my wetsuit off so much easier. That Tri-Slide let the wetsuit just pop right off my wrists and ankles.
Now the trick was to keep the sand away from all my riding gear.
Have you ever tried balancing on one foot, while washing another and avoiding stepping in a sandy spot? I guess if you’ve been to the beach, you’ve got the general idea.
Wet feet went into socks, then into shoes, and finally onto my bike. Unfortunately the side affect of a wet transition area meant the bottom of my running shoes slippery on my pedals for the first mile or so.
I had everything I needed for the next 22 miles of bike ride. I mentioned I don’t use cycling shoes that clip into my pedals? This trek was good and bad for this scenario. Good because as we headed up a steep climb, I watched two riders almost fall trying to re-clip shoes that had come unclipped. Bad because when you are riding that long, giving those big muscles on the front of your thighs a break is possible if you are clipped in. No such luck for me.
I was using a new toy on this event for the ride and run – a Soleus GPS watch. This is a perfect way to easily see your pace and speed for both the bike and run and works great.
When you remember to start it.
I hit the button for the darn thing to find the GPS but forgot to start counting until I was a few miles in. At least it gave me the feedback that kept me going. I’ve found that for my motiviation, a little steady feedback on how I’m doing can kick me into gear.
About halfway through the ride, I felt a twinge of strain in the back of my right leg. I tried different seat positions and foot positions on the pedals to make it all the back to Mendocino College.
Remember I mentioned that everyone had their age written on the back of their leg. Well I kept myself amused during the bike by being alternatively thrilled if I was passing someone younger than me, and then thouroughly humbled as someone who had 20 years on me screamed past at an amazing pace.
As I rounded the final section of the ride, I spotted Ray at a perfect spot and waved. He even caught me on one of my last turns before heading into T2 – the 2nd transition where we pretend we didn’t just swim a half mile, and bike 22 miles and head out for a quick and easy 5k.
Hopping off my bike was scary since I thought my legs were going to drop me to the pavement. Major loss of muscle control! After spinning in circles for the last hour and 20 minutes I had lost the ability to use my legs for walking.
I held onto my bike for dear life as I walked to my transition spot. I dumped my helmet and racked my bike, grabbing my modest running gear and was off.
The good thing about biking 22 miles in wet clothes is that you are very dry by the time you are ready to run.
The run started out tough as I tried to get the feeling back in my legs. After a short jog across the parking lot, we hit the running route on that started on a dirt trail! Thank goodness I had been running with a few friends that will only run on trail or this would have been quite the shock to my knees. Trail running uses so many of the stabilizer muscles in and around your knees, I really believe its made my street running stronger.
That didn’t really help at the moment, when I was heading up a slippery slope and just could not figure out my breathing. Feeling out of breath is not anything new on a run, but the heat of the day was starting to climb and I already know that heat and me running is not a good mix.
I was a mile into the run and had a runner pass me who, according to the handy dandy writing on his leg, was 40. He quipped “Are we having fun yet?”. I picked up the pace and caught up a few yards up. We chatted about our experience so far. He had a rear wheel flat, but was determined to get through his first triathlon. This was his challenge for turning 40 – complete a triathlon.
It’s amazing the stories that lead people to want to challenge themselves to take a race like this on.
The run just kept switching back, over trail and hills, with the road jsut out of reach.
The heat was starting to wear me down, so the little bit of shade on the road made and rest of the run bearable. Just after hitting the road I saw a welcome sign – the 2 mile marker! Only 1.1 mile to go.
This is the part of the race that takes a lot of mental muscle. The last part is usually where you want to pick up the pace, cross the finish line strong, use every last part of energy you can.
The sun was blinding me pretty well on the trip to the finish line but rounding that last corner feels great. I spotted Ray, trying to wave and run faster at the same time.
A few days later I was able to confirm that I improved my time in both the swim and the run:
- Swim: 20 minutes
- Bike: 1:24
- Run: 33 minutes
Dream milestones take a lot out of you
The next few days were spent limping slightly and but overall feeling alright. It is a little disturbing how I recovered from this race. I’m not examining it too closely, but really appreciating the results!
Now it’s your turn to share. What was your latest dream milestone? Did you just check something – big or small – off your list?
Go get your fit on – Heather
Heather Montgomery is a fitness writer, triathlete, and serial entrepreneur who is devoted to sharing what she has learned about becoming a triathlete after age 40. She uses her Metabolic Training Certification to help other women struggling to get fit in mid-life. She lives and trains in Santa Rosa, California, the new home of the Ironman triathlon. You can find her biking the Sonoma County wine trails.
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