Trial By Fire

This morning, I attempted to complete a new-to-me triathlon training challenge:  a swimming and running race, which Scott, the head coach of Full Throttle Endurance, rightfully dubbed Trial By Fire.


I got burned.  Big time.

The sport of triathlon is very humbling:  It’s crazy that I can kick butt on the swim during an indoor event, yet DNF on the same section less than one week later.  Yep, you read that right.  I notched my first DQ/DNF this morning.  Sigh.

Here’s the breakdown:


The FTE racing team took over Chelsea Piers around 5:20 a.m. to set up transition and warm up.  The “race” started at 6 a.m.  I’ll be honest; I was intimidated going into this event.  Andrew invited one of my teammates (the guy who won the indoor tri last weekend) and me, and beforehand, we joked about being called up to the big leagues.  Everyone was very friendly, and I asked a few people about their strategies.  The consensus was to not go out too fast.  I also talked with MB and exchanged a few emails with Andrew, and based on their input, I decided to pace myself (duh!), recover during the swim, and use the majority of my energy during the run.  This is a very unique event because it caters to my strength and weakness Achilles’ heal, so I expected it to be quite interesting.

Sidenote:  There were photographers and camera crew who documented the entire thing.  Not that I should be surprised after a photographer attended Monday’s practice.

Anyway, around 5:50 a.m., Scott outlined the logistics:  The elite wave, which the top 10 men comprised, would start ahead of everyone else.  After they finished, the rest of the team would begin.  That’s standard, but what really surprised me was the swim-to-run transition:  Each time we exited the pool, the “course” took us outside and down a set of stairs, so we entered the track from the ground floor.  I totally didn’t prepare to run outside in 30-degree weather.  There were flurries, too!

Next, Scott and Danny assigned lanes, and after each run segment, we would hop back in the same one to swim again.  There were 10 people in my lane, which led to a total washing-machine start.  Like swim starts in open-water, there was jostling and fighting for position, but in a super-condensed area.  At least during OWS you can spread out.  I didn’t want to waste energy trying to pass and swim over people, so I waited about five seconds and then started.

During the opening 100 yards, I conserved energy by drafting off the swimmer in front of me, but the pace was too slow.  I wanted to make moves, but passing in a lane that contained 10 people (we were circle swimming) would be nearly impossible, so I settled in and hoped this conservative start would pay off.

During the first transition, I made some my rookie mistakes like putting on my shoes (everyone ran the 0.25 and 0.5 mi. segments barefoot) and taking off my swim cap and goggles.  This may not seem like a big deal, but it was lost time.

Up to the 500-yard mark, the race was a blur.  I followed my plan of recovering during the swim (I passed only three people) and somewhat attacking on the run; I dialed in to my default 8:00 min./mi. pace, made up ground lost, and passed who I could (about 10 people).  Surprisingly, my heart rate stayed under control during transitions (I think the cold air outside had something to do with it), and my body seemed to respond relatively well going from swimming to running to swimming, etc.  The discomfort never seemed out of control, and cardio-wise, I felt really strong.

Spoiler alert:  I didn’t make the cutoff for the 500-yard swim segment.  The master’s swim team had the pool reserved for 7 a.m., so we had to be out by 6:59 a.m.  I completed 400 yards before Danny told me time was up.  What?!

An expletive dropped, and my mental game went down the tubes:  How could you DNF?  Did you really think you could hang with these triathletes?

Not finishing part of the session never crossed my mind.  Sure, I knew it would be tough and hurt quite a bit, but I thought completing 1,500 yards and 5 miles wouldn’t be an issue.  That being said, though, I knew my run splits, but didn’t track my time in the pool.  I knew I was swimming conservatively, but I should’ve been aware of how much time I was taking.  This DNF situation can be compared to not making cut-off times during half- and full-Ironman races.  It’s a horrible feeling, and I refuse to let it happen again. (Also, I didn’t learn this until afterward, but at least 50 percent of our group didn’t finish the swim.)

Luckily, I turned around my mindset on the track.  I stuck in a pace line with three other women, and although the laps blur together, I do remember trying to find another gear for the final 800m, and my legs simply wouldn’t respond. (Probably due to lack of adequate fueling and inexperience going from swimming to running to swimming, etc.)

Technically I finished the “race” in 1:12:XX, but there will be an asterisk or DQ/DNF next to my time.  In the grand scheme of triathlon things, I know this isn’t a big deal, but I’m really frustrated and disappointed.  I mean, I’ve never DQed or DNFed before—but I guess there’s a first time for everything.  And as I’ve known since day one, swimming is my Achilles’ heal, and this subpar showing has definitely relit a fire (not that is was extinguished, but still).

So what’s the plan?  I’m grabbing drinks with my teammates tonight—and doing major work in the pool tomorrow morning, and staying positive.  T-minus 30 days until South Beach!


Have you ever received a DQ or DNF?  How did you handle it?

16 responses to “Trial By Fire

  1. Oh no! How frustratign! That is what scares me most about 70.3….

    • carriestevens

      The worst part is probably the fact that I was holding back. If I had been going 100 percent and still missed the cutoff, then I could deal with it, but I finished *really* comfortably. Live and learn, I guess. 🙂

  2. That is frustrating, but those moments are going to happen every once in awhile! Stay positive and rock it next time!

  3. Gosh that seem so intense. I think there is always room for growth but for your first time doing this you sure learned a whole lot.

  4. You’ve got this in the bag girl! Hard core training, check! Awesome attitude and dedication, check! 😉

  5. Sorry to hear that but better to happen during practice than in one of your scheduled races. A 10-person in 1 lane swim start sounds miserable.

    • carriestevens

      If it had to happen, I’m glad it was during a practice and not a race–very optimistic way to look at it. And the swimming lane was so crowded!

  6. I’m so sorry to hear about this! It actually makes me kinda mad because I feel like logistics effed it up (like having too many peeps in the pool, making it hard to pass).

    BUT, I think it’s really awesome that you’re finding the silver lining and using it as a learning experience. Every little bit helps 🙂

    • carriestevens

      Logistic-wise, it was nuts! I thought it would be more under control, so that was an extra mental challenge to overcome for sure. At least I’ll know for next time … and there will be a next time!

  7. This must have been such a bummer but also such a great learning experience. I’m definitely similar in being very cautious at times and it can totally burn you (and, of course, lead to good things as well). I love reading your tri recaps!!

    • carriestevens

      When it comes to running and racing, I fall on the conservative side for sure. I’ve never bonked, hit a wall, or run out of steam, but I have finished events with lots of gas in the tank. Hopefully I can get good at using more! 🙂

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