Last year I competed in the Half Aquabike, my first multi-sport race of any kind. Aquabike is like it sounds – first you swim and then you bike. No run required unless you want to run from transition to the finish line, but your time stopped when you entered transition so no need.
This year I participated in my first ever triathlon, the shortest triathlon offered, although their distances vary. The Redman sprint was half the Olympic distance event – .5 mile swim, 14 mile bike and 3.1 mile run.
Redman only offers sprint and olympic events every three years when they host the USAT Club National Championship, but you don’t have to participate in the club championship to race. Due to personal reasons I knew early in the year I wouldn’t have the time to train that I had last year. Plus, I’ve been doing a little running (key word, little) and thought a triathlon, even a sprint distance, would offer me a new challenge (and thus motivate me) so I chose it over the Aquabike. I considered the olympic distance but the 6.2 mile run scared me off.
As it turns out, I’m glad I didn’t taken on more than the sprint. The fact is I didn’t swim in open water until the practice swims for Redman (Thursday and Friday, event was Sunday) and I hadn’t swum frequently enough for the 1/2 mile distance to be easy and effortless. Although I had been swimming consistently for several weeks I had focused more on running and could run 3.1 miles with confidence – no speed – but that was okay.
My goals was to finish the sprint in under 2 hours. My goal time for the swim was :20 minutes, just under :50 minutes on the bike and to complete the run in :36 minutes. My transition goals were under 5 minutes for T1 (I took 10 minutes last year) and under 2 minutes for T2.
Due to my usual angst about events like this – open water swims particularly – I didn’t sleep well and actually got up just before the alarm went off at 4:30am. I quickly had breakfast (1 serving oatmeal with honey and a slice of toast/pb & h) and then sipped on a half cup of coffee while I got ready.
First Mistake: Overate and/or ate too late – not enough time to digest before swim.
We got to Lake Hefner about 6:15am, and there was the same hum of activity like last year just not as loud. I quickly found my bike and started laying out my gear.
Mistake #2: Need to have a smaller “footprint”, my gear took up more space than my neighbors even though I managed to contain it in my little space without intruding into theirs.
I squeezed into my wetsuit (more about that later) and went to pick up my timing chip and waited. I used the time to think through my transitions and synchronize my watch . Mark was on hand to capture it all.
All photos by Mark@loveofbikes.com
Unlike last year everyone walked down to the water before getting into the different waves. Unlike last year there wasn’t carpet from the boat ramp to the water. There wasn’t mud this year (yay) but there were small rocks (boo) that my feet seemed to find. My feet are calloused from walking barefoot a lot but somehow I managed to get cuts both practice days and this day on the way back after the swim. Not good, I hope they will roll out the carpet to the water next year.
For the sprint there were two men’s (green & yellow) waves, one women’s (pink) and safety (purple)wave. I had signed up for the women’s which was the largest wave by far. The waves began in the water. I had planned to line up in the back on the outside, but since there were a lot of women there standing, I chose the inside close to the orange buoy where there were only two other women.
When the horn sounded for us to start I had clear sailing – for about 2 minutes. The group started moving toward the buoys and the kicks and bumps were pretty constant. I sat up and waited for it to clear somewhat then started swimming again. Fortunately where I was the water was deep enough to swim. Unfortunately I seemed to be velcro’d to the worst kicking offender I’ve ever had the bad luck to swim with. Seriously, she kicked me just below the sternum which hurt for a couple of days after, but the worst was her kick to my neck. Besides hurting it stunned me. I got dizzy and nauseous, the dizziness scared me so I sat up and treaded water until I felt better but I could never get into a rhythm after that. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, my wetsuit felt too tight and I was just short of heading for a boat or kayak with my thumb out to hitch a ride.
It took all the discipline I could muster to continue on and I did, but it wasn’t pretty. I did the side stroke, breast stroke and a choppy freestyle – it was awful. Plus I could not shake that woman!!! At one point, maybe her 10th kick, she popped up and said “I’m soorrrryyy”, obviously realizing she had been beating me up. She was a large woman too so her kicks and hits packed a wallop. What a disaster. The water was so shallow at one turn that it was impossible to swim so we had to walk in the mud – at least I didn’t get kicked.
It was pure hell almost from the start and I couldn’t wait to exit that water. I could see Mark right at the shore, he was worried because I was one of the last pink caps to come out and my swim had taken almost 5 minutes longer than I anticipated.
I told him as I was walking to transition about “that woman” because I needed to vent.
Mistake #3: Consider the safety wave to avoid large waves, line up on outside, event if I have to swim farther I’ll be faster if I can avoid getting clobbered so much and the jam ups that occur from too many people fighting for the same space. Also more training, if I could have swam fast enough and long enough to lose her I could have created my own space.
I skipped the wetsuit strippers and tubs for cleaning feet. I quickly got my wetsuit off and cleaned my feet with the water from one of my two bottles. I toweled off and slipped a long sleeve top over my wet tri-tank. Best move I ever made because it was still in the 50’s and cloudy which made for a cold ride.
Official Swim Time: 24:26 T1: 6:07
After buckling my helmet and slipping on my socks and shoes I headed out to where you can mount. As I started to mount my bike (after crossing the mount/dismount line) a volunteer yelled and pointed to an area up ahead. Confused, I didn’t mount until I got to where he was pointing to but then people passed me having already mounted. Oh well, I stood did a couple of hard turns of the cranks and was up to speed quickly.
I was impressed last year how people obeyed the USAT rules on the bike. Passing when and how they should and riding to the right, etc. This year at the sprint, not so much. Guys rode together, passed too closely, one guy caused me to have to hit my brakes passing me so closely. Also a couple would pass me and then I would pass them, then repeat. I was measuring out my effort according to heart rate and my speed didn’t change that much so it wasn’t me. I think it might have had something to do with my age of “58” tattoo on my left calf.
There was a 3 mile section where we headed into the wind that was tough and evidently dropped my average speed by a bunch. Just before turning on to that stretch I checked my Garmin and my average speed was 17.2. By the time I finished it was 16.5. I also was cognizant of saving something for the run and probably backed off too much on the last lap – the bike was 2 laps around a 7 mile course.
I rode up to transition and quickly dismounted. I racked my bike, switched out my bike shoes for my gawd-awful bright orange and green Newton’s. Hate the color, love the shoe. Remembered to remove my helmet – yay – took a quick drink from my bottle with Fizz and then I was off.
Official Bike Time: 51:10 T2: 2:51
I started the run course thinking I would have to push it to finish in under 2 hours. My mission on the run was to run not walk. Go as easy as I had to go to make sure I didn’t have to stop and walk. This worked pretty well, although I walked for 10 seconds twice. I felt like I was the slowest running person out there, but when I got to the turn around for the 3.1 sprint run, I was pleasantly surprised to see I had run it in 16:00 and if I did the same or close going back I would finish within my 2 hour goal.
While biking I had hydrated and taken in two Hammer gels so I was in good shape nutritionally. I felt good in terms of both nutrition and hydration although I did stop briefly 3 times during the run to get a few sips of water.
I sometimes feel kind of silly when I’m running, wondering if I look as goofy as some of the other people do that I see running and also because my shoes are so gawd-awful bright – Day-Glo orange and green. I would have no trouble being spotted at night that’s for sure.
To run my pace and not feel compelled to run someone else’s I ran looking down much of the time and reading the funny comments on the trail or on the signs along the way. Great distractions! The volunteers were encouraging calling out by name or number all along the route. I focused my mind on my running form (lift, lever, lean) and breathing. I was getting the job done and that’s what was important. Before long I found two people to run behind that were running at a pace I could maintain.
I’ll be honest, I was surprised to pass women in their 20’s and I’ll shamelessly admit it spurred me on to keep running albeit slowly when I wanted to stop and walk. As I passed one young woman with her age of 28 plastered on her left calf, I considered telling her, “come on you can’t let an old woman of 58 pass you” to motivate her to keep going – luckily I kept that thought to myself and soldiered on. The two people I had been running with (22 and 25) got tired of this almost 58 year old drafting and dropped me, so I was left to struggle on by myself.
I really wanted to stop and walk but I knew if I did it would be hard to get started running again and the clock was getting close to that 2 hour threshold so I told myself everything I could come up with to keep going. I did a lot of motivational self-talk to run that last half mile or so. Once I got near the finish that was all I needed for motivation and I gutted it out to the finish. Gutting it out on a 3.1 mile run sounds over the top but for me it was true. The picture of me at the finish shows it too. The run was the hardest but it was also the part I felt best about. My goal was not to go over 36:00 and I finished in 31:45 my fastest 5k run yet. For the record, my only other 5k competitive run was in 1980 which my now 30-something year old daughter attended in a stroller.
My Official Run Time: 31:45
And I had made my goal of finishing in under 2 hours:
Official Finishing Time:1:56:16.27
I collected my medal and then had a seat in a nearby chair (those volunteers and Redman staff think of everything) for a few minutes when Mark found me.
I was pleased with my run, okay with my bike time, but disappointed in my swim. Every thing about my swim was disappointing, certainly my really slow time (last year I swam over twice as far 1.2 miles in 52:00,) but also the way I got rattled and lost (and never regained) focus. I’ve done a lot of thinking about what I could have done better and know I will do better next year.
Next year I may do the half aquabike again or possibly the full aquabike or half ironman distance – if I get really serious about my training. There was a significant difference between the main triathlon events (full and half IM’s and full and half aquabike) and the sprint in terms of vibe, energy, participants and number of volunteers which made it more exciting and just more fun to compete in. I like that and find it helps to motivate me, plus the people swimming the HIM or AQB seem to kick less!
All photos by Mark@loveofbikes.com