First, a little history. I started on this crazy triathlon thing in 2007. Several years before that, my husband had purchased us cheap hybrid bikes to ride around the nearby lake. A typical ride from our home was about 12 miles. So when someone mentioned doing a women’s triathlon to me maybe sometime in 2006 and explained the “Sprint” distance, I thought “I like to swim and am buoyant, so I won’t drown. I’m already riding 12 miles. Now if I could just figure out how to run.”
I’d been athletic in high school, playing volleyball, softball, tennis, and throwing shot and discus — none of which actually required much actual running. Here’s a picture of cute 16 year old me with 80s bangs in my volleyball uniform.
As an adult, I’d stayed moderately active playing co-ed sports and whatnot, but I’ve always been, let’s just say “aerodynamically challenged.” So in January 2007 I joined a running class and started “running.” We had to take a test at the local track to see which group we would go in. Not surprisingly, since I couldn’t run half way around without stopping to walk, I was placed in what I like to call the remedial running group. We started by running for 2 minutes, walking 1 minute. And boy, was that 2 minutes LONG, and that 1 minute SHORT. Anyway, having progressed to maybe 4 minutes run, 1 walk, I did my first 5K, very slowly, in February 2007.
Then I got pregnant. I tried to keep running for a while, but seeing as how I kept barfing in people’s front yards (I pretty much threw up once a day every day for about 7 months), I took a little hiatus to have my beautiful little girl in November 2007. (Meanwhile, my husband thought the triathlon thing sounded like a good idea, so while I was on hiatus, he joined the club and completed a few sprints in 2007.)
In January 2008, I started over with the whole running thing, and after a few more 5Ks, I decided to join a training program through a local triathlon club for a women’s sprint triathlon taking place in Las Colinas in July 2008. Training with a bunch of newbie triathlete women was a great experience, and I finished my first triathlon — slowly, still doing run/walk intervals (I think I was up to 7 or 8 minutes running by then). Here’s a picture of happy tubby triathlete me.
As you can see, while I was training for my first triathlon, I didn’t exactly change any eating habits to transform myself into a svelter triathlete. Unless by “change” you mean “eat more crap” because, hey, I was training for a triathlon and should be able to eat whatever I wanted. (If my 6’4″ husband could eat whatever he wanted while training and lose weight, so could I, right?). That didn’t work so well, and I lost MAYBE 5 pounds that whole summer. But the real problem was that even after I tapered off with my training (I was still “running” in a class a couple of times a week and a 5K every few months, but not doing a whole lot of other regular training), I continued to eat like I was training for a triathlon. By Thanksgiving 2009, I had ballooned to 341 pounds. (It’s not like I started off thin, and I think even at that first tri I was around 290, but that number was embarrassing. I will not include a picture.) So the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, my husband and I joined (re-joined) Weight Watchers. And in January 2010, I re-started triathlon training in earnest.
Fast forward to June 5, 2011. I had lost 120 pounds (still safely within the Athena category, but at least I wasn’t hauling around one of those tiny “normal” triathlete). I had completed 5 more sprint triathlons, 2 half-marathons, 2 metric century and an 80-mile bike ride in addition to numerous 30-40 milers.
And about 2 months previously, fresh off my 2nd half marathon, I had signed up for the Playtri Festival RBM International Distance Race, my first Olympic distance race, which would take place at the exact same site of my first triathlon. My husband was also doing his first Olympic at the same time and would be at the finish to cheer me on. So I should be super confident. Except I wasn’t. After my 80 mile bike race on May 5, I had tapered a little more than I should have, especially in the run category. I was still running 3 times a week, but I had pretty much eschewed (oooh, fancy word for ditched) my weekend long runs. And I had only done 1 brick — kind of. A 2 mile run after an 18 mile bike ride. So unlike my first sprint, before which the training group had done a couple of whole practice tris before race day, I was looking at 1500 meters of swimming, 24 miles of biking, and 6.2 of running without ever once having put even 2 complete parts together, let alone 3. And it was going to be a balmy 98 degrees, with virtually no shade on the course. The temperature wouldn’t matter too much if I could be done before mid-day, but I really had no idea how I was going to feel by the time I got to the run.
Plus, I was harboring a deep, dark secret (dun, dun, dun)…
My husband and I had been trying for baby #2 since the previous fall. I had signed up for my first Olympic race in the hopes of squeezing it in before I was too preggers to throw my triathlon dreams off schedule. But almost as soon as we’d officially signed up, I found out that we had succeeded in our efforts, and now I was about to do something I had never done before. 10 weeks pregnant!
You know how all the books say moderate exercise is good for pregnant moms, and that if you’re body is accustomed to exercise you can continue doing it as long as it is comfortable? Well, I daresay that most people would not characterize an Olympic tri as “moderate,” and since, as I previously mentioned, I had never done this before, I was not all that confident that this was medically prescribed. PROscribed, maybe, but not PREscribed. I had actually asked about this at my first appointment. She was glad I was exercising, but while not specifically saying don’t do it, she said that my biggest risk was dehydration, and that if I wanted to wait until 2nd trimester, that might be better. But I had paid those entrance fees, and the longer I waited to do this, the worse I would look in my sexy tri suit, so I just resolved that I would do what I could and not be stupid. I knew I’d be fine with the swim and the bike, and I would just walk if I had to, and I would constantly hydrate, even if it meant I had to pee in the middle of the race. So that explains a little more why I had tapered a little in my last month of training. At least this time, I wasn’t ralphing every day, but I still was having some pregnancy-related GI issues, and general fatigue that had cut a few workouts shorter than planned. But I was resolved to go ahead with this, because I just that determined (or crazy. You decide. I already know what my mother would have said, which is precisely why we didn’t tell her until after the race was over). My goal was 4 hours or less.
So there it is. The backstory. Now the race report.
The swim was in a manmade concrete lake generously called “Lake Carolyn” in the giant office park known as Las Colinas, TX. Here’s a picture of the entry into the swim.
Blue caps are the women — I’m in there somewhere. It is June in Texas, so wetsuits were not necessary. Which was a good thing, since my one an only other experience in a wetsuit — a sprint in April — did not go that well (long story short: constricted in my ample chest area = difficulty breathing about 300 meters in). There were only about 40-50 women doing the Olympic distance total, so we all went off in one wave. The course was set up kind of in a V shape. Head out 400 meters or so, round a buoy and turn back until you got to almost near the start and then make a left to head out another 400 meters at a 40 degree angle. I started off with my slow steady pace and rounded the first far turn buoy, and then it was like I was running with the bulls, and I was one of those poor schmucks who is at the back of the pack. See, for whatever reason, they started the 2 men’s waves AFTER us. So I had just a 3 minute head start. I did not like this situation. I mean, I do not understand why a sport that is so universally renowned for being friendly and supportive allows the shenanigans that apparently go on during mass starts (and which I try very hard to avoid by swimming at the back out of people’s way). So when the guys started bumping, kicking, and smacking me, I was thrown off by rhythm. I found myself breast stroking and trying to calm my breathing with at least 900 meters still to go. Arg. But after a few minutes, I was able to put my head back down and recover my stroke. And ultimately, except for that little 5 minute or so panic, it was a good swim. Total time 36:46.4
T1 Took my time, but didn’t have to use the potty (another side effect of pregnancy). Hooray! 2:25.8.
The best thing about this ride was that there was no wind! It has been super windy all spring here in Dallas, and I do not like the wind. Or hills. Although I have definitely improved on both. Anyway, there were a few hills, particularly over some overpasses, but overall it was a pretty fast course. My husband, who ended up with almost an identical swim time, passed me on my first loop of the 12 mile course. I was surprised it took so long for him to catch me, as he is much faster than me. On the second loop, I passed a few younger, skinnier people, even a couple of men, all of whom were doing the Sprint distance race that started after the Olympic. My sustained average pace was a bit over 15 mph, which is a pretty good pace for me sustained over that distance, and with a couple of decent hills. So I was pleased. Total time 1:34:27.7.
T2 Another uneventful leisurely transition, although I did actually jog my bike the short distance to my rack spot. Since I wanted to ensure I would stay hydrated, I had added the water bottle with the handle that I usually carried on my longer training runs and a hat to my usual sprint transition area. I wasn’t going to take any chances with the Texas heat, especially given the barren treeless course that lay ahead of me. 1:49.8.
The best news of the day was during the pre-race meeting when they informed us that the run leg had been shortened from it’s usual 6.2 to 5.5. Now that .7 should not have made that much of a difference, but for some reason that gave me a good mental boost. You had to walk (or at least I had to walk) up a steep grassy hill to get from transition to the actual running course, but that was okay. I started off running very slow and steady. I did not want to poop out on the 2nd loop. The first loop was nice an crowded. About 1 mile in, I passed my husband about to finish his 1st loop. He said “you’re not that far behind me, keep it up.” Very encouraging. And I got to see him two more times on the course to encourage him. (He finished in just under 3 hours, which beat his expectations. Yeah for him!). The only time I stopped to walk was at the well-placed aid stations to get a drink, refill my own bottle for the stretches without aid or to dump cold water on my head to keep my body temperature in check. Together with my slow steady pace, this worked like a charm, and about half way through, I knew I was going to finish, and finish feeling good. Unfortunately, when you’re as slow as me, that second loop of a 2 loop course gets pretty lonely. And eventually, there were just 3 people out there who hadn’t finished. One guy passed me with about a mile to go. But I beat the other guy. So I wasn’t last. Again, hooray me! My pace, 15:07 per mile, was much slower than my training runs, but given the heat and my condition, I was pleased nevertheless. My husband came back and met me with about a half mile to go, and took this sweet picture of me running past about the only “famous” thing about Las Colinas, the Mustang fountain in front of an office building (also the only place along the course with a few trees for shade).
Run time = 1:23:10.1. I did it! I even beat my goal time by over 20 minutes.
Total time was 3:38.40.0. I even won a 2nd place Athena trophy — 2nd out of 2, but hey, I’m not complaining. I loves me some triathlon hardware, even if it means no other “big girls” were cooky enough to do an Olympic triathlon.
Except for being hot, I felt pretty good after the race. And the funny thing is, it didn’t feel that much different than doing a sprint. And though I’m not going to get all nuts like Swim Bike Mom here and jump immediately to Half Iron, that distance is not entirely out of the question in my future. It’s amazing how our perspective about what is possible can change like that. Here’s a picture of hubby and me enjoying some post race fruit, and one of the best post race treats I’ve seen at a race, frozen Flavor Ice pops.
But first, I’m going to take a break from the rigors of “competition” and the Texas summer heat to take care of my non-injury medical condition.