Last year my first triathlon was the Hartwell YMCA sprint. I instantly fell in love with the event; the venue, Big Oaks Recreation Area; and the organization that puts it on the Bell Family YMCA. Their volunteers were and are amazing, courteous & thoughtful. Go Race Production also did an excellent job setting up and running this race. This year I moved up from the sprint to the Olympic distance. I wanted to challenge myself, and I felt an Olympic distance race would help me better prepare for my A race: Ironman Augusta 70.3 in September.
I arrived early and watched the sunrise over the lake as I set up my gear in transition. As I waited for the 7:00 am start time I walked around to calm my nerves and chatted with some of my fellow triathletes. This time around I knew a few people and had even trained with a few of them. Anderson SC and Hartwell GA have an awesome triathlon community. Last year I knew only one or two, having just relocated to the area about six months before. Races are better when you know people, so much better.
Sweating the Swim
I was more than a little nervous about the swim. Open water and I have a history. We are not friends. Also I had never done 1500 meters in a race with no wetsuit & no current. Granted I had open water swims that long or longer last year and a couple in preparation for this race. It was a matter of confidence. I would have to have find some or make some.
The moment came. The horn sounded. I hit the water, and waited to see if I would panic. All systems were go as I sighted for the first buoy, moving at a moderate pace. I started my mantra: swimming is winning. My right eyepiece on my goggles filled with water about halfway to the buoy. I quickly determined that non-dominant eye sighting was not a strategy that was going to work for me and stopped to clear and adjust my goggles. Then I was at the second buoy and heading for the third. After I rounded the third I had a bad moment. I caught a “wave” in the face and missed a breath. The panic briefly surfaced. Then I heard a voice in my head say “you’ve 300 meters left suck it up.” The voice was a bit gruff and withering but it was also right. I sucked it up and found myself trotting up the boat ramp. I glanced at my Garmin 42 minutes, eight minutes faster than predicted.
Power on the Bike
I needed a strong bike leg if I was going to beat the four-hour cutoff. There was nothing for it but get Beastly. Yes I am one of those nerds that names his bike. I found Beastly, a Look 566 carbon road bike, pawing the ground waiting for me to get him out on the course. My second mantra rang in my head: hand on bike: fair fight. Transition took longer than it should but, hey, new distance, new challenges.
I had a new tool to use for this race: a 4iiii crank-based power meter. My coach, Jamie Church, had given a target heart rate and power for the first 5 miles of the bike and for the last 20. I kept finding myself exceeding the power limit and dialing myself back. On the way out I saw several friends heading back in and yelled encouragement and they yelled back. I knew the course well. I had ridden it pre-race and was surprised how quickly I found myself at the turnaround. I even managed to grab a water bottle from a volunteer at the aid station. Whoo hoo. The ride back seemed to take longer than the ride out but soon Big Oaks was in sight. My bike was not as fast as I hoped but I was still in this thing. Time to run it in.
Run Buddy Run
Transition took 1:29 minutes. I should have been out in less than 60 seconds but again new distance. My run has been growing stronger all year. Granted I’m still hovering around the 12-minute mile in distances beyond 5K. But progress is progress. The race director summed up the run along the dike very well in his pre-race remarks, “flat as you could hope for but zero shade.” True story! It was already hot. This year, like last year, the aid stations were equipped with water, heed and ice towels. The towel draped over my shoulders made a immense difference and you could refresh them in a special bucket at each aid station. I ran solid and stopped at all but one of the aid stations. I regretted that decision all the way to the next aid station.
Soon the first lap was behind me, and I was running out the second. My run was strong, and I was holding pace. The second lap was challenging in so many ways. Heat, fatigue and resolve battled it out. Resolve won. Then I was across the line. I succeeded at racing a new distance, beat the cutoff and made an unlikely podium appearance in my age group. I was waiting around to see which of my friends made the podium, only to hear my name. Outstanding!
While I’d always like to be faster, especially on the bike, I have to say that I’m satisfied with my race. I did not go out too fast on the swim, bike or run. An accomplishment I thought would never happen, put in a solid swim and a rock solid run. Thanks to my triathlon coach, Jamie Church for injury-free training and a great race plan. Thanks to Dave and the gang at Speedshop Bicycles for equipping me with an awesome bike and power meter. Thanks to all of the local triathletes that inspired me and trained with me. Stumble on!