<strike>Swim</strike> Run, Bike, Run

Today, I completed the Strawberry Fields Triathlon.

Danielle and I got up at 6:30, which is kind of early for a weekend. For breakfast I had a bowl of honey nut cheerios with skim milk (because my 2% milk had turned sour on me). After tending to the rats, we headed out. We managed to fit both our bikes in my car, which was nice, and we easily found a free parking spot when we arrived at the site just before 8 am. We put our bikes together, and set up our transition areas. The transition area was pretty full when we got there, and I wandered around a bit looking for an open spot. Turns out I was looking for too big a spot, because I ended up wedged pretty close in between two other people (which was not a problem at all).

After visiting the porta potties, we quickly went to look at the water. The surf looked pretty rough but not insurmountable. We put on our wetsuits and caught the tail end of the pre-race meeting. Danielle’s friend told us that, due to a strong long shore current, the swim course would just be an out and back to a buoy. When we got to the swim start, along with several hundred others, the announcer informed us of a 15 minute delay. Then they moved the starting line a bunch up current. Finally the white capped men (who are expected to be the fastest overall) got to start. We watched them go into the ocean, and then rapidly drift with the current. One young boy turned back fairly quickly, while most of the men tried repeatedly to get past the 3rd set of waves. I think a few of them did make it, but without my glasses I couldn’t tell.

Next up were the white capped women but, seeing the result of the men, the race organisers changed the swim course. The women were told to swim out a lot less far, then take a left at the lifeguard, swim through the surf for a few hundred yards, and then turn into shore at the next lifeguard. And they were off, with much the same result as the men. It was made worse by the fact that the lifeguards (who were mostly on surf boards) had a really hard time holding their place. A pair of jet skis showed up to tow the lifeguards back up current, but it seemed to be a losing battle.

My group was next. The route was adjusted once again. Life guards were to stand where the water was ankle to knee deep, and we would run around them. I was pretty disappointed, because I’ve spent a lot of time learning to swim freestyle somewhat acceptably, and I was looking forward to the challenge of making it through the waves. (I’ll be the first to admit that I might not have made it, but that’s what the lifeguards are there for.) At least I could finally start the triathlon (duathlon?). We all ran around the first guard, and I dove into the water just to get wet. About half way through that run my legs started to really complain, and when the water rose above my shins I decided it was time to walk a bit. I was not the only one. Occasionally swimming a few strokes, but mostly running, I made it to the exit point, very tired. I don’t know if swimming would have been harder or easier, but that run did a number on my legs. From the water to the transition area is 165 meters through beach sand. No fun to run either but I didn’t get passed too much, and I got the top of my wetsuit off. Time to get on the bike.

I found my bike easily (thank you exit-triathletes-only sign). It was pretty busy but not too bad. By the time I had gotten my wetsuit off it was just me and another guy. Having the transition area on grass was really nice because I could comrtably sit down while working on getting the suit off my ankles. As I was running with my bike it crossed my mind I wouldn’t be needing the arm warmers I’d stashed in my jersey pockets, but it didn’t seem worth going back for. After a short run past lots of excited spectators, I was allowed to get on my bike. Putting on my shoes (while on the bike) didn’t go as well as when I’ve practiced it. I weaved a little but luckily nobody was right behind me at that time. Eventually (while still in the park) I got both my feet in my shoes and I could start pedalling for real. It feels like starting with my shoes on the bike wasn’t worth it, although I’ve never actually tried to run in my bike shoes and that may have been worse.

Almost immediately I was passing people, and I would keep passing people throughout the entire bike course. There were a few times where I slowed down a bit because people in front of me were being passed, but I don’t think it affected me too much. One guy did speed up as I was passing him. Because there was no space in front of me, I dropped back a bit waiting for the next chance. The person behind me then passed me and the guy in front, who did the same thing again but couldn’t keep up. At the next opportunity, which was going through the first turn, I blew past the first guy and didn’t see him again. I did get passed some, but I don’t remember anybody in my age group passing me (once I got my shoes on). They were all skinny women on expensive-looking bikes.

It was quite windy and, of course, it felt like the majority of the course went into the wind. The one stretch with the wind full on your back was pretty sweet, though. About 4 miles into the course I decided it was time to eat the hammer gel that came in my race packet. I wouldn’t have even bothered but James seemed adamant that it makes quite a big difference. The flavor was OK, but mostly my body didn’t seem prepared to accept food at that time. I swallowed to small bites before putting the remainder back in my jersey. Then I had some water. I have no idea if it helped me or not.

Towards the end of the course is the biggest climb of the bike, which is going over a bridge. Just before that a 50 year old woman blew by me, but she slowed down enough going up that I stood on my pedals for a little bit and stuck with her going up. Then she just pulled away from me and I never saw her again. At the end of the bike lots of people helped me turn sharp enough to enter the park. Taking off my shoes was easy, and I got to pedal some more once I completed that. I didn’t take the “Slow down!” people quite seriously enough and I almost blew through the dismount line (just like the guy next to me) but stopped in time. I reracked my bike, emptied my pockets, put on my running shoes and started running. Just before the exit of the transition area I noticed something was wrong, so I took off my helmet and left it there on the ground.

The run pretty much sucked. My legs didn’t want to go, and people were passing me left and right. An 11-year old girl passed me like I was standing still, and then these 2 guys wearing tutus did the same thing. I stopped and walked at each aid station for long enough to drink a little cup of water. When I did this around mile 2 (3rd aid station), I suddenly noticed a blister on my left pinky toe. Luckily that was also about the time where my legs started to feel more like running (but not less tired). I only occasionally felt my blister after that, but it sure hurt a lot when I first noticed it. I got to pass the finish line, but it didn’t feel like the mental kick in the head that other people say it is.

I ran to the next turnaround point where there sadly was no water. Turning around had me running into the wind, which was extremely refreshing. Between that and the knowledge that I had less than half a mile to go, I actually managed to speed up a little. I kept pounding the pavement until I saw the red arch in the distance, and when it seemed closer than I thought it was, I even managed to kind of spring for the last 50 yards. They said my name, but I was more focused on the sports drink that was handed to me while somebody else was taking off my timing chip. I think I’d gone through half of it before the chip was gone.

I was pretty wiped out, but didn’t feel as bad as I did after the 10k. I wandered around a bit, grabbed a sweater, and managed to cheer on my wife and her friend as they ran past the finish line, and then across it. The rest of the time was mostly spent feeling wiped out. I didn’t get enough water or food. I probably could have found more water, but the post-race food seemed to be limited to chocolate-covered strawberries and oranges. Tasty, but I would have preferred something more substantial. Other than the swim being cancelled (which is a direct result of a poor choice of venue) and the food, I thought the race was run well.

At the end of the race, I just felt done. Not happy or sad, just glad that I didn’t have to run anymore. This is in contrast with how I felt at the end of the 10k I ran last year. I think the difference is that I got to enjoy some scenery during the 10k, and that I wasn’t sure at all how fast I would be able to finish a 10k. I don’t remember any scenery from today’s bike, and barely any from the run. I went just a little faster than I expected to go. Completing the swim would have been the most satisfying part of this race, but it was cancelled. Maybe I’ll do another tri where the swim won’t be cancelled, but that would be the only reason. In a longer race you might have more time to check out the scenery, but you’re still primarily focused on getting somewhere fast which means you won’t stop to smell the roses. I would still like to do a long (100 miles) bike ride some day. But for the next month or two my focus is to get my back in shape again.

PS. The results are up for everyone to see. My “swim” was 5:52 (which translates to an incredible 14:39 per kilometer pace). 3:08 for T1. 35:28 on the bike (19.4 mph). 1:32 T2. 26:18 run (8:46 miles). I placed 43rd out of 68 in my age group, and 339th out of 687 overall.

About the author

Living the good life in Seattle, occasionally sharing something interesting with the Internet.