This weekend, my triathlon racing season officially began with the Nautica South Beach Triathlon in Miami, FL. About 70 Full Throttle Endurance (FTE) triathletes made the trip, and our team did very well overall; we had people on the podium for almost every age group.
As I wrote a few days ago, this event proved to be the toughest swim-bike-run I’ve completed so far (both mentally and physically), but it felt absolutely incredible to push through the pain and put my training to the test. Even though this triathlon was a “C” race for me (meaning I didn’t “race,” but rather trained through it), I pinpointed specific weaknesses that need to be improved before my first Olympic-distance triathlon—the Mighty Montauk—in June.
Let’s talk about the expo briefly first. After flying south Saturday morning with one of my teammates, we checked into our hotel, met up more teammates, and headed to the expo to get our race packets.
A race expo on the beach? No complaints here!
Not a ton of pictures to share, but in my defense, we stayed for only 20 minutes or so; the vendors weren’t that impressive, and we didn’t want to be standing in the sun mere hours before the race. Other than going to the expo, we didn’t do anything eventful Saturday except relaxing, eating an early dinner, and going to bed early.
At this point, I should also mention most of my teammates arrived in Miami Thursday or Friday, and the FTE coaches held open-water swim and bike-course clinics Saturday morning while I was in transit. I can play the “what if” game all day, but I really think had I attended those sessions, my swim and bike would’ve gone much more smoothly. Oh well—train, race, and learn.
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t sleep well Saturday night (does anyone actually sleep the night before a race?), and I woke up before my 4:10 a.m. alarm and felt calm, confident, and ready to do work. If you’ve talked to me during the past few weeks, then you know this race had me amped up and stressed out. So many aspects of this event made me uneasy—my first ocean swim, my third bike ride outside of the year, my first time competing in heat and humidity, etc.—but I mellowed out the week before the race; by Wednesday, my doubts vanished, and my mindset shifted from “how will I cope?” to “I can’t wait to put everything together.” Also, my triathlon support system that includes my coaches, teammates, and mentors were invaluable. So overall, race week was an emotional roller coaster, but I trusted my training, respected the taper, and felt totally dialed in Sunday morning.
Transition opened at 5:30 a.m., and my teammates and I arrived around 5:40 a.m. Unlike the other three triathlons I’ve done where triathletes choose their spot in transition, this event had assigned bike racks based on bib numbers because there were so many people competing—more than 3,000! Since I got there early, I set up my gear on my assigned rack (each triathlete chose their own spot on their assigned rack) near a tree with a huge branch that seemed to point to my spot; I knew this would be a perfect landmark.
The pre-race meeting took place on the beach, and this is when I realized the swim would be tough: Even though the water temperature registered at 73 degrees Fahrenheit (much cooler than the anticipated 78), the ocean was extremely choppy thanks to the wind. We’re talking whitecap, 15-foot wave choppy. Our coaches gave us some last-minute tips, and most importantly our head coach Scott said this is exactly why SoBe was a “C” race for us—as New York City triathletes, we can’t train for these conditions; we can’t train in 35-degree weather and race when it’s 75 degrees.
Swim – 0.5 miles (16:31, 1/17; “secret” goal – sub-20 minutes)
First, I’d like to say I had the most interesting swim wave ever: females 18-24 (my age group) and Clydesdales 200-224 and 225+. (For the non-triathletes, larger individuals compete in the male Clydesdale and female Athena divisions, so basically I was chilling with a bunch of dudes who looked like football players.) Moving on.
At the swim start, I positioned myself far to the left with the hope of getting more clean water. This strategy would most likely lead to swimming a longer distance overall, but I would expend less energy without having to deal with the positioning chaos.
Prior to race day, one aspect of the swim I obsessed over included my wetsuit selection. Past SoBe water temperatures notched 78 degrees Fahrenheit, which is still wetsuit legal, but my coaches highly suggested buying a sleeveless suit. (I’m still wearing my full-sleeved Zoot that I bought last summer.) Even though a sleeveless model would prevent overheating, the general rule of thumb is to wear a full-sleeved one as long as you can tolerate it because literature suggests it will make you faster and more efficient. Since I’ve had a full-sleeved since day one, I’m used to it, and plus, I need all the help I can get when it comes to the swim.
Anyway, this ocean swim was definitely the toughest time I’ve ever had in open water. My first ten strokes or so felt good, but then the unrelenting waves hit. They tossed me around like I was in a washing machine. At one point, I looked up and saw a 20-foot wave and had no idea what to do. This spurred a mental freak-out, but to keep myself in the race, I broke the swim into smaller sections and tried to banish the negative thoughts: get to the first buoy. Find your rhythm, focus on your breathing, engage your abs. Get to the second buoy. Once I eventually made it to the second buoy, I had calmed down, but I anticipated a 20-minute-plus split; it must’ve taken me five minutes to get to the first buoy alone. I forged ahead, though, and settled into my comfortable pace. A little more than halfway through, I passed hunter green caps, or people who started one wave (five minutes) before me. OK, maybe not all is lost.
Transition 1 (2:36 2/17)
Coming out of the water, I couldn’t stop beaming—I made it!
In the zone—get me to my bike!
The run from the swim finish to my bike in transition was on the long side, and it was tough trudging through sand. Once I finally made it to my bike, I looked around and took inventory; nearly all bikes on my rack from my swim wave were still there. Even though I wasn’t “racing,” I realized I was one of the lead girls out of the water. (It wasn’t until after the race that I learned I was the first in my age group out.) But as I experienced firsthand, the race isn’t won in the swim.
Bike – 19 miles (1:02:49, 4/17; “secret” goal – one hour)
Going into this triathlon, the bike portion gave me the most anxiety: prior to Sunday, I had completed only two rides outside, plus I’m still getting used to my new saddle and riding in aero doesn’t feel totally comfortable yet. My bike plan was simple: start in aero, and if it feels too uncomfortable, then ride normally; and pass as many people as possible as Andrew said.
The bike course was an out-and-back route, and it wasn’t too hilly or technically, but it did contain a few climbs at causeways. It was also windy at points, but never unbearable. Anyway, I started in aero, but it didn’t feel right. At the time, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I made the game-time decision to ride the 19 miles “normally.” (After the race, Scott said there was a problem with my stem, and my bike was unsafe to ride. Yikes! Probably why aero didn’t feel right!)
Broing out and riding with the boys–story of my life.
Overall, the bike progressed OK. I felt strong and put forth a solid effort, but I wasn’t hammering. However, shortly after the turnaround, a 24-year-old on a tri bike blew past me. (Race ages are written on each triathlete’s calf, so you know exactly who is in your age group.) She made a decisive move and totally left me in the dust. She also ended up winning my age group.
Transition 2 (1:55, 2/17)
Total and complete blur.
Run – 4 miles (32:59, 2/17 for 8:15 min./mi.; “secret” goal – 32 minutes)
Like the bike, the run route was an out-and-back along the boardwalk that paralleled the beach.
OK, so long story short, I did not execute my run game plan. In fact, I basically did the exact opposite. The original plan? Settle into my comfortable 8 min./mi. pace for mile one and two, then assess the situation and try to negative split the run if I felt strong.
So what actually happened? I felt very fresh and strong coming off the bike, so I immediately shifted into my tempo pace and started picking people off. Miles one and two clocked in at 7:45 and 7:50, and I had a feeling maintaining (forget negative splitting) would be difficult, but I told myself I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.
I faced that bridge at mile 2.5.
This is what pain looks like.
That’s when the wheels started to fall off.
For the first time ever, I developed a cramp on my right side, my quads began to hurt (usually my calves begin to scream at mile two, so prepare for this discomfort), and my pace slowed big time.
Like the swim, I set mini-goals to keep myself moving forward: Catch that guy. Make your move. Shorter, shorter, quicker, quicker.
There was a lot of pain.
The final 1.5 miles were the probably the toughest I’ve ever run, and I owe my teammates and the FTE cheer squad big time for pulling me through. Every time FTE triathletes passed each other, we exchanged high-fives and words of encouragement. There were also a ton of FTE supporters along the course—including athletes who finished already—so even though I was running solo, I was never really alone.
So. Much. Pain. Running form totally falling apart too.
Before the finishing shoot, the course turned off the boardwalk and onto the sand, which I totally forgot about: Son of a nutcracker! (Not exactly what I was thinking, but my grandma reads my blog, so I have to keep the language PG—ha!) The sand eventually led to a mat, and I saw two of my teammates who started cheering like crazy. I was so happy to see them!
I smiled, gave them high-fives, and finished strong.
Finishing time – 1:56:52 (2/17; “secret” goal – sub-two hours)
My emotions were all over the place as soon as I crossed the finish line.
I experienced an endorphin high for sure, but my first reaction was disappointment; I wasn’t happy with how the race at all, especially my run.
One of my teammates and I compared race reports, and we agreed we did OK on the bike, but our runs didn’t go as well as we hoped. We both experienced side cramps too, a first for both of us. Anyway, we hung out at the finish for a bit and cheered for our teammates. My age-group results weren’t immediately posted, so I used a teammate’s phone to check my splits, which is when I found out about my second place age-group finish.
Obviously, this news was awesome!
One reason why I waited to post this recap was because I wanted to talk to my coaches first. There was a member party at Chelsea Piers Tuesday night, and I had a long talk with Andrew and Scott about the race. I expressed my concerns about the bike—looking at the data, I finished fourth in my age group, so it appeared to be my weakest event. However, Scott said point blank my time reflects equipment, not stamina/endurance: if I had been riding a tri bike, the end results would’ve been different. He also said I have one of the heaviest (read: least aerodynamic) bikes on the team, and I need to upgrade to a triathlon bike ASAP. Until I do, he said I can’t get mad when people pass me—ha! This insight makes me feel better because I know now it’s a question of equipment, not an inadequate engine issue.
Overall, though, Nautica SoBe was such a fun race–I had so much fun with my teammates, and I can’t wait to go back next year!