People race for different reasons. Some absolutely love to race and race often. I find more enjoyment in the training regimen than the racing, but having a race to prepare for makes the training more enjoyable. Pre-COVID, one of my 2020 goals was to do three triathlons. I’m still determined to fulfill this goal, even if it means having to solo make shift triathlons.
My first triathlon in three years happened this past Friday afternoon at Folsom Lake. A “super sprint triathlon” organized by Total Body Fitness, a great Sacramento based multi-racing organization. The super sprint triathlon consisted of a 400 meter swim, 5 mile bike and 2 mile run. The Folsom Lake triathlon layout is a challenge one. The lake levels are low this time of year so the swim to transition is a good 200-300 meters. The bike course through the park roads is hardly straight, always up, down or twisting. Plus the park roads are open to sun starved lake visitors. The run is on the undulating dirt trails paralleling the lake, and it was a warm summer afternoon.
I made the trip with my wife and three kids. The kids were giddy to see dad race. Ondi reminded Sarah of a memory from four years ago. Then three year old Sarah was on the sidelines cheering, but also audibly asked mom, “Mom why is that lady running so slow!?!?” We then reminded the girls how to “cheer” this time around 😉
Two fellow Chico Triathlon Club teammates were competing as well, Jason Dodd and Darlene Henderson. We had a nice chat in the transition area. It’s always nice seeing familiar faces on race day. It’s calming and encouraging. Because of COVID, the race consisted of waves of 10 athletes starting the race every 30 minutes from 4:00pm to 6:30pm.
I was in the 4:30pm wave. Open water swimming is so different than swimming in a lap pool staring at a black line. Even the swims at One Mile don’t fully do it justice. I made a point to get into the lake before my race start. There’s something “alien” about the open water swimming environment. It’s best to get in the water and “acclimate’ to this foreign environment, calming the senses. Although my first race in three years, I’ve enjoyed a nice three month block of training, most of which I would characterize as “pre-season” training. I knew I wasn’t “race sharp”, but I had goal paces in mind. I wanted to swim close to 6 minutes, bike over 20 mph and run somewhere in the low 13 minute range.
The clock struck 4:30pm and we were off. The pre-start swim was definitely beneficially. Normally, the swim start is hectic, and I get a huge shot of adrenaline and rapid breathing. Triathlete, like many other sports, is so mental. The swim especially is very cerebral, just you and your thoughts and a dark void of water. Given the short distance, I knew the swim would fly by. I focused on a high stroke rate, lots of sighting, and an “attack” mentality. I existed the water in 6:40 – a tad slower than I hoped for, but feeling good. I kept the intensity on the “long” run up the beach to transition.
Thankfully I still remembered how to put on a bike helmet, bike shoes and sunglasses. The bike course is technical. I opted for my triathlon bike because I knew the course and the high risk sections. I’d recommend a road bike if you’ve never done this course before or if you have beginner bike handling skills. I pushed hard on the bike course, probably too hard early on. I probably should have taken the first couple of minutes a little more conservative in order for my body to adapt to the changing environment. As a result, I was breathing hard, never really catching my breath. Coming into the 5th mile, I decided to drop the effort a little in preparation for the run. I finished the bike course averaging about 21.5 mph – above my goal pace.
Ahhh the run – At this point of the race, I begin to question the sanity of the triathlon creator – why swim bike run? Why not swim bike rollerblade or swim bike race walk…I’ve always thought the first and last mile of a triathlon are the hardest – the problem is – this was a two mile run and the temperature was in the mid- 90s. I felt like molasses out there. I was so thirsty the first mile. The run course wasn’t overly hard – trails, small undulations, but my fatigue exacerbated the situation. I tried to stay positive during the first mile believing I would feel better during the 2nd mile. After mile one, I really tried to focus on my form and turnover, which helped a lot. I ended up running 14:35 – a lot slower than I wanted to. My finishing time of 39:04 was good for 4th place overall for the day.
Overall, it was fun to finally race again and test myself after three years off!