Well, that’s all, folks—I finished my inaugural triathlon season on Saturday by completing the 4th Annual DeRuyter Lake Triathlon.
I knew this swim-bike-run event was going to be low-key—it’s relatively late in the season, and there was no preregistration—and this triathlon epitomized a “grassroots” event: no swim caps, no race bibs, and no timing chips. (No age-group awards either, just top three overall male and female winners.)
Without these staples—plus no sponsors and no USAT sanctioning—the event’s overall atmosphere was different. Don’t get me wrong; as always, the race director, volunteers, and triathletes were helpful, friendly, and excited. (Sidenote: I bonded with two, erm, older male participants. One even said I looked like an elite, legitimate triathlete, which totally made my day!) However, the race didn’t feel like a traditional tri. Overall, though, I think this laidback vibe was good for a “one last triathlon hoorah” before ending the season. Although triathloning centers on challenging yourself and pushing your limits (and having fun, of course!), this non-competitive atmosphere reminded me why I got into the sport and why I love it.
Anyway, because this DeRuyter Lake multisport event differed from both the Cazenovia and Skinnyman Triathlons, this recap will be a little different, too. First, because there were no timing chips, I’m going to guess the “official” times aren’t 100 percent accurate. What’s more, there T1 and T2 weren’t calculated. (T1 was counted as part of the swim time, and T2 was counted as part of the bike segment.) Time and speed are important, but they can be overshadowed by lessons learned during the tri itself. With this perspective in mind, I’m going to focus on what I learned from completing my third triathlon.
Swim – 0.5mi./800m
Overall, the half-mile swim was logistically similar to CNY Triathlon training sessions, but the weather and water conditions created the toughest OWS I’ve tackled to date. Here’s how it went down.
(I’m wearing the Zoot wetsuit and bright orange swim cap.)
Usually, swim waves are organized by sex and age, but on Saturday, race numbers determined start times. For example, since as number 8, I—along with triathletes numbered 1-19—was in the first wave alongside men and women of various ages. (Lower numerical values are generally reserved for professionals and elite age-groupers, so I felt very legit! Ha.)
Twenty swimmers comprised each wave, which made jockeying for position virtually a non-factor. Nonetheless, I secured a spot far to the left and at the front of the line. The course itself was an out-and-back loop; out was fine, but back was tough. Really tough. The headwind created white cap waves, so swimming forward was difficult, and simply getting a clean breath was nearly impossible. Even though I had some OWS experience in these conditions, it wasn’t enough; in fact, during all of these choppy swims, I cut the workout short.
Lesson learned: It’s beneficial to practice in all OWS conditions. (Within reason, though–stay inside if there’s thunder or lightning).
Bike – 15.9 miles
Coming off a slow swim, I wanted to get after it on the bike. Before the race on Friday afternoon, I drove the course with my mom—well, she drove while I took in the terrain—so I knew the general elevation. Plus, since the route circled the lake three times, I became familiar with it in no time. Here’s the good news: Not a single person—male or female—who had a roadbike passed me. In fact, no women overtook me. (I think my “roadkill” count was about seven.)
All the men who passed me had tribikes, so I did my best to maintain contact for as long as possible, but I couldn’t hang with them. Throughout the ride, I focused on maintaining a high cadence, and ideally, I wanted to negative-split my loops, meaning each lap would take less time than the previous one. (According to my computer, the course measured 15.7 miles, and my speed averaged 16.5 mph, which was OK considering the wind.)
Lesson learned: Get a tribike Consider getting a tribike down the road. (And seriously think about getting aerobards during the off-season.) A girl can dream, right? Until then, embrace biking in a variety of conditions, including the wind and rain. (Again, within reason.)
Run – 3.0 miles
Even though I felt strong coming off the bike (“strong” being relative, ha!), I was too conservative on my run. Like the swim, the run course was an out-and-back loop. On the way out, I found a pace bunny, “reeled” him in, eventually passed him, and repeated the process. (Both people I passed were men.) I like loop courses because you can catch a glimpse of your competition, and sure enough, I spotted two women in front of me. The first was too far ahead to catch; the second was a bit closer, and it would be a challenge to reel her in. (I also couldn’t believe only two women were ahead of me!) Rounding the turnaround point, I picked up the pace. During the trip out, I noted some prominent landmarks and their locations so I’d have a sense how far into the run I was and how much farther I had to go when I came back. However, I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t have a strong sense of the course. (When I drove it Friday, I went by the map from last year, which mirrored the bike course. However, the route actually went the opposite way.) Basically, in what was about 400m from the finish (I didn’t have a strong sense of the distance at the time), a woman surged ahead and passed me. My gut told me to stay with her, but since I didn’t have a clear idea of how close the finish line was, I simply maintained contact. It wasn’t until I saw the final descent that I realized the finish line was near, but by then, it was too late to catch her. Even though I finished strong, it was frustrating to cross the finish line and know (1) I still had gas left in the tank, and (2) the woman who ended up placing 2nd or 3rd overtook me. (I think I placed within the top five or eight, but I’m not sure.) The good news: I set a new sprint-distance PR. The bad news: The time probably isn’t that accurate; as I crossed the finish line, volunteers yelled, “1:33, 1:36, 1:39,” so my time is somewhere in that ballpark, ha. Lesson learned: Energy allocation is huge. During a race, a triathlete constantly assesses how much energy they have and how much they can expend on a given event. I’m hoping this principle becomes more natural with experience.
After the race, the participants, organizers, and volunteers gathered in the DeRuyter General Store.
There were lots of snacks … and mimosas?!
Have I mentioned how awesome triathletes are? Unfortunately, the bubbly beverages were just for a small group of people, but it was a great way to celebrate the end of the season.
And amidst smiles, laughter, and adult beverages, my first triathlon season came to a close. I can’t believe how quickly it went by–from deciding to try a swim-bike-run event, selecting triathlon gear, and completing my first race in my hometown, I’ve had a total blast becoming a triathlete. What’s more, I’ve found a sport–and a lifestyle–that I truly love; now, I can’t imagine my life without a wetsuit, roadbike, or super-short fingernails. (Hey, don’t want to rip the wetsuit, right?) Although I’m sad the season’s over, I’m excited to enter the off-season; I’m “hungry” and ready to improve.