Saturday morning the tri season officially got started around here with the Issaquah Triathlon. It was a sprint distance event, and I did it mostly because a) it would be fun and b) it would give me a chance to see how the half-ironman training was progressing. Was I making progress? Or was I going to be in danger of keeling over at the side of the road in Lake Stevens in 6 weeks?
I knew the lake would be cold, although odds were it would be warmer than Lake Washington was a couple of weeks ago. I was right – the 60 degree water temperature felt like nothing. The thing I didn’t count on was that the air temperature would be very chilly – just under 50 degrees – at the start. On the plus side, it warmed up as the sun got higher in the sky and I joked that the low air temperature would make the lake feel warm by comparison.Â I wasn’t too far off – the cool temps made the ground cold enough to make my feet cramp up standing on the beach before the start, so heading into the relatively warm water was something of a relief.
Per the advice of the woman that taught the tri swim class I took over the winter, I positioned myself near the front but way to the side of the group.Â The water was about knee-high, and when the whistle went off?Â I started swimming.Â (The guys wave ahead of us ran through the water until it was waist height, a mistake for which they were mercilessly heckled by the announcer.)Â For the first time in a race, ever, I was in the middle of everyone at the start rather than getting immediately left behind.Â I managed to avoid getting kicked in the face and found a mostly-clear path, although I did have to stop and tread water for a bit in the crunch at the first buoy when I couldn’t find my way through the group of people.Â I swam a wider arc than I really needed to from the first buoy to the second, but I had clear water and I was, somehow, passing people.Â This blew my mind, since normally I consider it a good race if I don’t get passed by the people in the wave behind me before I exit the water.Â I rounded the second buoy with much less traffic and swam until my hands were scraping the bottom of the lake.Â I exited the water with 8 minutes and change on my watch, something that surprised the heck out of me as I figured it’d be closer to 15.Â (However, I also thought it was going to be an 800 yard swim and it was only a 1/4 mile, which explains the record swim time.)
For the first race of the season, it wasn’t bad.Â I didn’t feel particularly great in the water – nowhere near as strong as I’ve been feeling in the pool lately (which I’m going to blame on not being used to swimming in my wetsuit) and I was dizzy as all get out the entire time.Â However, I was able to keep my heart rate and breathing under control, which I wasn’t able to do at last year’s early season race, so I’ll take it as an improvement.Â The first transition was slow, as I was dizzy, trying to get my wetsuit off and my shoes on, and it just felt very rusty in general.Â Clearly, it had been a long time since I’d done this.Â I was on my bike and out in just under 2:30 which, while not great, isn’t all bad either.
The 15 mile bike course was OK.Â It was a rolling course along a mostly-shaded road with one decently sized hill in it.Â I’m getting much better on the bike, but hills still bring me to a dead stop.Â While I’m sure part of it is the fact that I just need to get in better shape for that sort of climbing, I’m sure a lot of it is I need to learn how to gear my bike so I don’t kill my legs but also don’t lose more speed than I need to.Â It’s just a matter of practice (which I can get plenty of around here, for sure).Â I got passed by a lot of the super-fast guys in the wave behind me, but I also passed a few people as I rode along.Â I was a wee bit nervous about the new pedals on the bike since I hadn’t had a chance to actually ride with them and had also had quite a bit of difficulty clipping into them on the trainer.Â However, through luck or divine intervention or something I got my feet clipped in with no problems whatsoever.Â This put me way ahead of a bunch of other people, apparently, who had trouble getting clipped into their bike because their feet were still numb from the swim.Â The extra float (how much my heel can move side to side – the standard SPD pedals I was using didn’t allow for any heel movement at all, these allow for quite a bit, which is really nice) sort of freaked me out a bit when I got out of the saddle to climb the hill, but I got used to it pretty quickly.Â The best part about these pedals is that it’s super-easy to clip out of them.
The best part about the bike course?Â The turnaround was higher up than the transition area, so while the way out had more uphill riding, the way back had more downhill riding.Â Speeeeedyyyy!Â I flew back into the transition area, changed my shoes and hat, had a Gu, and was off.
The first thing I noticed was that my right foot was still a bit numb from the swim, and while it hadn’t bothered me on the bike do you have any idea how hard it is to run when you can’t feel your toes?Â It was weird.Â Waaaaay weird.Â Thankfully my left foot was OK, so I just figured it would go away as I got warmed up on the run.Â The second thing I noticed was that I felt like crap and couldn’t catch my breath.Â I just tried to get into a rhythm with my pace and keep on running and breathing and figured it would work itself out eventually.Â Worst case scenario?Â It was only 5K, so it would be over soon.
The run course was billed as “cross-country”, so half of it was on grass and half was on roads.Â It was a little weird, and I wasn’t the biggest fan of it.Â I like running cross country courses, but not in races where I’m used to having a road course, you know?Â I was, however, a fan of the “water feature” on the course.Â At one point we ran behind some large office buildings that had their sprinklers on (Dude, we’re in a city known for its rain.Â Do you really need sprinklers?) which made for some fun as we got to run through them.Â I saw people dodging them but didn’t bother – I figured I was already wet from the lake, and the water coming out of the sprinklers couldn’t possibly be any colder than said lake so I just plowedÂ right on through.Â Less fun was navigating the flooded out course, but since there was no way around it I just stomped right on through the puddles.
The first mile marker had somehow disappeared from the course, so when I checked my watch at the water stop and saw 15 minutes, I knew I was at best halfway through the course and at worst just over a mile through it.Â I have a very, very hard time pacing myself running off the bike and can’t tell how fast I’m going at all.Â I tend to run a little on the speedy side, which I was hoping was the case here because if I had two more miles to go?Â I was not going to be happy about it.Â Around the next turn I saw a sign, and all I could think was, “Please be mile 2.Â Please be mile 2.”Â For some reason I was afraid it was going to say “1.5 miles,” which, huh?Â When have I ever seen a 1.5 mile sign on a course?Â Yet I was convinced that was going to be the case, since I was only 18 minutes into the run.Â If I was at mile 2, it meant I was running 9 minute miles which… I haven’t run that fast in years.Â There was no way.Â Plus, I’d been getting passed left and right during the whole run.Â Thusly, I must be running at a snail’s pace.Â No way I’m 2 miles in.Â None.
Yet, when I got close enough to read the sign?Â WAY!Â It was indeed mile 2!Â Initially I rejoiced because, “Woohoo!Â Only one more mile to go!”Â Then I thought, “I have a whole other MILE?Â Noooooo!”Â Ah, the beauty of the hard-run 5K.Â Knowing I was nearly done, I put the gas on and passed by a few guys (guys!).Â Then I took another look at my watch and realized that if I could hold my pace for that last mile?Â I had a chance at breaking my 5K PR.Â My road 5K PR that I’d set in a 5K race that didn’t involve an hour of swimming and biking beforehand.Â That was all the motivation I needed to keep going, although I was tired and thirsty and really just wanted to lie down for a bit.
A few more turns later and I saw the park that the finish line was in.Â I wasn’t sure exactly how far I had left to go, but I knew it had to be less than a quarter-mile so I gave it everything I had.Â I crossed the line at 1:34:01, setting both a new sprint tri PR and a new 5K PR.Â Overall, I took about 7 1/2 minutes off my sprint time from last year.Â The layout of this course was slightly different – a shorter swim, a longer bike – but my bike pace was faster than last year and my run time was about 2 minutes faster.Â Plus, I took 6 seconds off my 5K PR.Â It’s not much, but I haven’t come even close to that record since I set it, so I was pretty excited.
All in all?Â It was a great day.Â The race was a lot of fun and I’m very pleased with how I did.Â I’m definitely in better shape than last year, and I feel like this whole “half-ironman” thing might actually be doable.Â Most excellent.
Last, but certainly not least, The Boy deserves a bunch of credit for getting up at 5:15 in the morning to come watch me race.Â Not only did he get up way early, but he did it on a day when he wouldn’t be able to go back to bed and take a nap once he got home since he had to go help a friend move.
For those that are interested, here’s how the numbers turned out:
Swim (1/4 mile): 9:01
Bike (15 miles): 52:33
Age group: 34/49
All women: 191/339