My first triathlon of the 2014 season is officially in the books: On Sunday, I raced the classic distance (0.5-mile ocean swim, 20.7-mile bike, and 4-mile run) of the South Beach Triathlon—and took first place in my age group (female 20-24)!
My finishing time also ranked me as 13th female overall and helped my team—Full Throttle Endurance—take home the overall team title.
I love these people.
I couldn’t have asked for a better season debut!
In the words of my coach, my performance can be summed up as the following: “You dominated [I beat the second place girl by 27 minutes], but your bike split should’ve been five minutes faster.”
Heading into this race, I had a successful two-week build: I nailed key workouts, recovered effectively, and completed brutal events like Trial By Fire and the Red Hook Crit that helped build confidence and mental strength. Above all, I felt dialed in. Nervous, yes; anxious, yes. But prepared and ready to do work.
And not only do work, but perform. For every tri I race this season, there will be expectations—specific times, certain paces, and overall finishing positions. Thanks to my athletic background, I’m accustomed to training through and performing while being cognizant of these goals. But I wasn’t exactly immune to the taper crazies; I was a total head case during taper week and second-guessed nearly every aspect of my training: Can I ride confidently on my new tri bike? Should I have run more?
Thankfully, though, my demeanor changed when I arrived in Fort Lauderdale. (I went down with one of my teammates a few days before the race, and we stayed with her aunt.)
We had an opportunity to relax, hang out, and not think about the race.
In South Beach, the energy returned—but it was positive. I had a great open-water swim Saturday morning and felt fresh while riding my bike. I trusted my training, I trusted the process, and I was excited to see it come together.
Swim – 0.5 mi. – 15:04 (goal – 14:xx)
There were two major concerns regarding the swim: First, would it be wetsuit-legal because water temperatures taken earlier that week notched 78 degrees (and above the 76-degree cutoff); and second, how choppy would the water be. On race morning, the mercury read 76 degrees, and the water was choppy. This was an ideal combination for me. Yes, the wetsuit news helped everyone, but as a stronger swimmer, I benefit from tougher conditions. Bring on the chop!
Anyway, the swim course stayed consistent with last year’s route: swim out to a buoy and then stay parallel with the shore.
Unlike last year, though, it was a time-trial start, so athletes were organized by age group and then released every five seconds or so. Although I understand why this change was implemented (mass starts can be intimidating and dangerous), I preferred the mass start. As a stronger swimmer, I easily distanced myself from my age group competitors and caught up to folks who started 10 minutes beforehand. Basically, I never had clean water and was constantly maneuvering around people.
Overall, the swim went well. My coach said I should be around 14 minutes, but I would rather have a slower swim in tough conditions. And anytime you come out of the water with essentially a five-minute lead, it’s a good swim.
Transition 1 – 3:47
It was a long run from the beach to transition, but my wetsuit came off easily—no hands required, which meant I threw on my helmet and sunglasses quickly. Unfortunately, I got stuck behind a Wall of Dudes and couldn’t get out of transition as fast as I would’ve liked.
Bike – 20.7 miles – 1:04 (goal – sub-1 hour)
As outlined in my race goals, I wanted to spend time in aero and get used to handling my Slice. And holy cow, I love my bike! I felt like I was flying on the straightaways, and climbing the eight causeways/mini-hills seemed much easier than last year. Although my handling skills were rusty, I rode confidently and stayed in aero for the majority of the time.
How fast do I have to be in order to wear an aero helmet?
The course was extremely congested—around 2,000 athletes raced—so I basically rode on the left the entire time and passed Throngs of Dudes. “Chicking” guys is addicting—ha! Only two women passed me, one of whom was a Full Throttle coach/elite female. Looking back, I should’ve pushed to keep her in my sights. Yes, it was my first time racing my Slice, and yes, there was a nasty headwind at the turnaround (my speed dropped from 21-22 MPH to 17-18 MHP), but my legs never reached that stinging, but sustainable point. Plus, my coach said I should’ve been two minutes behind her when in actuality I rolled into T2 seven minutes later.
Transition 2 – 1:45
As I re-racked my bike and slipped on my shoes, I surveyed the transition area; as suspected, I was the first off the bike, but didn’t know how much of a lead I had. (It was 18 minutes.) I figured it was substantial, but I didn’t want to hang on and hope. My legs felt good as I headed toward “run out,” and since I didn’t really uncork the bike, I decided to push the run.
Run – 4 miles – 30:54 (goal – sub-32 minutes)
Going into the race, I was the concerned about the run: could I pace the bike and still piece together a solid run? Would the heat and humidity be factors? But as I hit the boardwalk, I assessed things; my legs felt incredibly fresh, and it humid, but not suffocating. All right, let’s do this!
For the miles one, two, and three, I shut off my brain and ran—shorter, shorter, quicker, quicker. When my watch clocked the first mile at 6:15, I was astonished. Did I really just run that—off the bike?! I knew this pace wouldn’t be sustainable, so I eased off the gas and settled into the 7:15-7:20 ballpark. These splits shocked me too. Sure, I was working, but the pace didn’t match the effort level; a 7:20 never feels that … comfortably uncomfortable. This race was my first time running off my Slice, so perhaps that’s where credit is due. Anyway, I kept my brain “off” and focused on picking off dudes, but the thought still crept into my head: can I hold this for another mile?
And that’s when it went downhill.
Unbeknownst to most athletes and all of my teammates, the last mile went onto beach, aka sand. And not hard, packed sand either.
Get me outta here.
This half-mile out-and-back stretch was the longest mile of my life. At one point, I saw 9:10 on my watch and honestly thought it was all over. And when a girl with what looked like “23” on her calf passed me, I tried to kick and catch her, but could not push off the sand. She crossed the finish line seconds before me, and I was convinced I was number two.
Official finishing time – 1:56:11 – 1st in age group (20-24) and 13th female overall
I may have said a few choice words under my breath (sorry, Grandma!), found a teammate, and we slowly walked to the FTE cheering section as we cussed out the sand. We watched the rest of the team finish, and then headed to the awards ceremony. Spoiler alert: I did in fact win my age group.
And Full Throttle captured 21 podium spots—woohoo!
All in all, I’m happy with how this race transpired, and it also validated what I think about my training so far: my swim is good, but I need to keep working on the bike and run. My next race isn’t until June, so it’s time to get after it!