In January, I'd invested (with the help of family, as a holiday gift) in a gym membership for the first time. Having an apartment with a fitness center is great, but scoring the one treadmill (that is half-broken, mind you) we have is rare, and I refuse to resort to elliptical training. Besides, I had a new sport to conquer: swimming.
I had planned on swimming the summer before, but got limited exposure. I'd be lying if I said my first true swimming experience of 2013 didn't de-motivate me as well -- I couldn't finish a full lap in a 20m pool without having to stop and gasp for air. Going in on a membership would force me in to the water. I had to figure this swimming thing out, especially if I'd ever planned on tacking triathlons on to my resume.
The first weeks in the water were rough. Similar to the summer previous, I could only do a freestyle lap or two at a time before needing rest. In order to gain arm strength and overall swim fitness, I quickly moved to breast stroke, which I could complete 10 laps (500m) by the third week in the water. In the meantime, I researched methods to improve swimming fitness, particularly focusing on my kick (which, at first, involved tossing kicks out the window completely).
It worked. By the end of January, I was able to successfully complete 10 laps, this time freestyle. I immediately signed up for a "tester" triathlon, the LifeTime Indoor Triathlon, set for March 30th at my Lenexa gym location. I was able to expand my endurance distance to 1000m by race day, a distance I never even thought possible within the first year swimming. I was also able to consistently "time trial" 500m at well under 2:00/100m, exactly what I needed to actually be competitive for my very first foray in to triathlons. I also registered for the CGSC Triathlon in Fort Leavenworth, another sprint triathlon, set for April. LifeTime Indoor Triathlon would be the perfect warmup.
March 30th, 2014: LifeTime Indoor Tri Sprint Triathlon, Lenexa, Kansas
Swim: 550m @ 10:00 (1:49/100m; 1:40/100y)
Bike: 10.88mi @ 30:00 (21.8mph)
Run: 2.71mi @ 20:00 (7:23/mi)
1st place of 19 in category, 2nd of 39 overall
The LifeTime Indoor Tri series is the perfect introduction to anyone -- like me -- interested in starting in on triathlons, or even simply putting yourself up against a new challenge. The format was easy (or rather, "easy"): swim for 10 minutes, get a 10-minute first transition to change, bike for 30 minutes, get a 5-minute transition 2, and run for 20 minutes. In total, an hour's worth of work, and an hour and fifteen minutes from start-to-finish. Points would be given based on leg placing (for example, the first-place swimmer in a field of 39 would get 39 points, the second-place would get 38, and so on).
My heat's start time would be 7:40am. I arrived at the gym, membership card in-hand (although, you do not need a membership in order to sign up, they will require you to fill out a temporary membership form before entering the gym). The fact that arriving just felt like another day at the gym likely help me put me at ease. On the way to the locker room, I dropped by Activity Services to pick up my packet, which consisted of a LifeTime Indoor Tri latex swim cap, bib number and pins, and a few brochures, all wrapped up in a LifeTime Indoor Tri drawstring bag. We were allowed to use the locker rooms per usual, so I set up a locker like I would a transition area: shoes out, freshly talc'd, and ready to go; heart rate strap hanging over the dowel rod with sensor attached; shirt and shorts set out with bib number attached. I put on my lycra swim cap, my goggles, and my latex swim cap over all and headed to the indoor pool.
The swim format would be 10 minutes in the pool, swimming as many lengths (not laps) as possible. Lengths were counted by half-length, which means a total count of something like 18.5 was possible (which would essentially be 9.25 laps). Stewards stood at each end of each lane to assure the walls were touched to count a full length. Two stewards were set up at the "12.5 meter line" (25m pool per length; 50m per lap) to count anyone that had successfully swam (or is it swum?) a half-length by time-up.
I stepped in to the water with a little over 5 minutes before my wave start. The pool didn't seem as chilly as usual, though that was in all likeliness the adrenaline. I did a half-length's each worth of breast stroke and freestyle before the stewards signaled for us to get ready. 5-4-3-2-1- and we were off.
Having my first-ever competition swim in the pool I'd been practicing in was a godsend. I made sure to focus on my breathing, well-knowing adrenaline would be high, and thus my breathing may come off balance from time to time. I didn't want to be caught by surprise when I'd run out of breath prematurely. Focusing on the center stripe helped. By 8 laps (16 lengths; 400m), I was cooked. I kept checking my watch for the nearing time-up (which you should NEVER do, if you are faced with this swim format), and noted I had about 2 minutes plus remaining. I had to at least grab 500m (10 laps; 20 lengths). I hit the wall completing 500m with 20 seconds to spare. I quickly sprinted towards the other end, and with 2 seconds left, stopped knowing I'd never reach half-length. 525m (21 lengths) total. Not bad. And apparently first on the day thus far. I caught my breath, waiting the short time until time-up, and then slowly swum (or is it swam?) back towards the end lane. I felt accomplished already (the swim leg is always the most-challenging for the non-swimming beginners), but my 10 minute transition started now, and I knew it'd come and go quick. No time to revel.
I grabbed a 20-second rinse in the showers to avoid choking my bike neighbor of chlorine smell, though I doubted they'd have so much the courtesy. I changed, quickly, in to my clothes, including the newly-acquired Zoot Ultra Race 4.0 triathlon-specific running shoes. I'd covered the interior in talcum powder -- I'd be going sock-less today. A speed-walk to the second floor of the gym, I was a solid 4 minutes ahead of timing. Enough to set up my stationary bike for saddle height and handlebar reach.
The bike was collecting as much distance over 30 minutes as possible. This was to be my strength, technically, although with training for early-season half-marathons (the 39.3 series started next week), my time-trialing prowess had weakened considerably. 5-4-3-2-1- and again we were off -- this time in-place, furiously spinning away. Luckily being an indoor tri, I put some tunes on my iPhone to block out the ambiance. There'd be no sunshine and wide open plains to enjoy today.
I held over a 22mph average speed over 10k, when my legs started to ache. I also realized that my cycling neighbors weren't so crazy for wearing bike shorts as I had initially thought: on the stationary trainers we were using (different than those I had used in training before), the saddles were incredibly uncomfortable. I needed padding, and didn't have it. Only 10 minutes to go, so I chose 21.5mph and kept at it through until 3 minutes to go. I pumped it back up to 23mph, and made sure to taper down prior to the finish, rather than sprinting just before, to save what little leg I had left for the run. 3-2-1- and we were in T2. 10.88 miles completed, a 21.8mph average. Also, not bad, but not what I was hoping.
20 minutes was all we got on our run, completed on a bank of treadmills set up behind the bank of stationary bikes we'd just come off of. A few quick stretches, and I set up the treadmill to walk a bit, which was allowed, granted that I stopped and reset my treadmill prior to the start. If it wasn't ready before start, I'd have to wait until it was, and lose out on collecting miles. Familiar with the treadmill, I was able to reset it quickly. And 5-4-3-2-1- and the run was off. My quads were fairly thrashed, and my butt still hurt from the bike, making running a bit uncomfortable. I chose a pace and stuck with it, with momentary surges here and here when I felt comfortable.
Then, just short of 2 miles clocked, a side stitch. Athletes will endure any pain and discomfort, such as finishing a criterium with a broken rib, to completing a run despite bleeding blisters. But toss in a side stitch? I grabbed a quick 30-second walk, knowing my 20 minutes was approaching. Almost recovered, I set off again, slowly at first, ramping up as my body would allow. I had been practicing intervals on the treadmill recently, including fast finishes, collecting as much pace as possible before the finish of a run. So, with 2 minutes remaining, I pushed the treadmill out to 9.0mph, 9.2, 9.4... 3-2-1- ...and done. 2.71 miles. A 7:23. I could've easily had grabbed 7:15 if it weren't for the side stitch. Either way, completed. Finished. Accomplished.
In my heat, I would have collected the most distance over all three legs, so it was a matter of just waiting (at home) for the remaining heats to finish, and the scoring to be completed. Again, the individual with the most distance would be given the same number of points as individuals finishing. Seven long days, and results were up: 2nd place out of 39 overall. An additional two days later, and I realized they'd broken down results in to "age-group" and "masters" divisions. My division place: 1st. This must mean I can be competitive, but I had some work to do.
Bring on CGSC
May 3rd, 2014: CGSC Triathlon, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
Swim: 200m @ 3:44 (1:52/100m)
Bike: 12.61mi @ 39:27 (19.0mph)
Run: 2.70mi @ 19:14 (7:02/mi)
Overall: 1:05:17; 3rd place of 17 in-category, 8th of 112 overall
In all reality, I didn't quite consider LifeTime Indoor Tri to be my first real triathlon, so much as a tune-up training session in company of others, but it was rather nice to come out of it with podium placing (albeit sans any prize). The preparation would hopefully pay off for the CGSC Triathlon in Fort Leavenworth, a "super-sprint" triathlon consisting of a 200m indoor pool swim (four laps, or 8 lengths), a 20k-ish bike, and about 4k run (2.70mi, measured). As I've noted before, the idea of lake swimming in Kansas doesn't appeal to me, so starting off in a pool would be right up my alley (or lane, as it were).
Registration was done through the Leavenworth Triathlon Club's website, a fantastic resource for area triathlons, including larger regional triathlons such as the Hy-Vee Triathlon/5150 Championships in Des Moines, Iowa (which, again, is on my calendar this year for the relay division). Two weeks prior to race day, the Leavenworth Triathlon Club posted a you-tube video on the race's web page with a full route preview, as recorded by what looked like a Garmin VIRB (nicely done, guys). Admittedly, given the nasty climbs included on the route, as well as rough pothole roads, I viewed the video perhaps a solid dozen or so times.
Packet pick-up took place in Fort Leavenworth, though given the distance and my schedule, I opted for day-of pick-up, something I'd never done before, and I hate doing due to any number of possible errors. Luckily, I had zero issues with day-of packet pick-up. Race organizers had everything running like a well-oiled machine.
Of note, if you ever have the opportunity to do any race on a US military base, do it. It's a great opportunity to experience an area that many don't get to experience. Organizers urged participants to arrive extra early, as all visitor cars had to be searched before arriving on base. I arrived an hour and a half before start time, which only put me in the car search line behind one other. By the time my car search was finished (which, if you have your drivers license ready, only takes about 7 or so minutes), there were already 5 cars behind me. Good timing. From there, we continued on to the base and grabbed early parking. Again, packet pick-up was quick, so within ten minutes of parking, i was pinning my bib number on and readying my transition spot. I had a lot of wait time as a result of my early arrival, but in my experience, it is much better than the alternative.
Morning-of was a touch on the chilly side, so I got in to my tri suit and sat by the indoor pool where it was nice and warm. As individuals arrived, many started practicing in the he lanes, but I chose to relax and attempt to calm my nerves, which, in hindsight, was probably a poor choice (swimming would've calmed my nerves, for sure). 15 minutes prior to start, we were called to the gymnasium next door for a quick mandatory athlete's meeting. Inside the gym we would line up in our respective heats, and march, heat-by-heat back to the pool area.
Athletes were sent off every 60 seconds, giving the next participant just enough time to jump in to the pool to get used to the water and find a breathing pattern. I was about 6th back in my 3rd heat of 10 each, so about 25 swimmers set off before me. Spectators glanced through the glass from outside of the pool area, which made for more room around the pool for athletes, but made spectating near impossible for all but six onlookers. Swimmer 25 (or so) set off, and I jumped in the pool, and quickly realized a small bit of important info that would've been revealed earlier had I done a warmup swim: There was a VERY deep end. Normally expecting a bottom below my feet, I sank down 3 feet below the surface, and tried to reach the top again quickly. I popped my head out in just enough time to hear 10-9-8... Damn.
3-2-1- and again, off I went. I found my rhythm quick, and swam the first 75m without issue. At the turn on to the 4th length, I came up on the swimmer in front of me and tapped to pass. It was obvious he didn't feel me, with his feet kicking wildly (seriously...this guy did not know how to kick). I tried to pass on the right just before reaching the wall at 100m -- brushed on the left cheek. I paused at the wall and waited for his push-off, and then set out for another pass, this time on his left. He was swerving all over the lane, to the point where it damn near seemed intentional. I found the line, pushed through the massive turbulence of his kick, and *WHACK* -- square in the jaw. As his heel hit my face, I was mid-breath. I took on board a giant mouthful of water, half down my throat, the other down my windpipe. I stopped mid-lane, choking and sputtering. I noticed the next swimmer approaching, so continued on, though the second I went submarine, I started choking even more. Lungs under water, I was hyperventilating. I hit the wall at 125m, grabbed hold, and let the next swimmer pass. I tried a breast stroke for the next length -- no luck. Any time my head ducked under, I choked. I had to resort to backstroke until I caught my breath (and emptied my goggles). 150m, passed by another. 175m, passed by another. My breath was back, and took to the final 25m back in freestyle. I made it to 200m, and exited the pool.
I checked my watch as I ran out from the pool area and in to the chill of the morning air: 3:40. If I back-stroked the final 75m, I must have been flying through the first 100. Though my overall was still saved, and I was entering the bike with climbs on the route -- my specialty -- I felt ashamed. All that practice, all that work, thwarted by an ignorant other.
Reaching my bike, first item on the top of my carefully-piled transition materials was a towel, followed by arm sleeves. Stepping on to a bike soaking-wet in 51-degree weather would assuredly send me in to a chill, so I dried off my arms and attempted to put on my arm sleeves. No luck. Fine -- screw the arm sleeves. Helmet -- check. Shoes -- check. Bike -- check. Out of T1, pissed off, I jammed on the pedals, taking all my frustration out on the road, and those that lay ahead on it.
The bike route, along with the rest of the race, took place on the grounds of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Nestled against the Missouri River, the route included multiple elevation changes. Two climbs in particular made the course an accomplishment all on it's own, each around one mile in length, and tipping the scales at over 11% slope in some spots. The first climb was located on the way out of the main base, up Sheridan Hill towards the base's shooting range. At the base, two bikes had already been suffering chain drops. Still tapping out my frustrations, I continued on, even cadence and pure determination. Before heading all the way up Sheridan, the route dives back down toward the center of Fort Leavenworth and around to the eastern side of the base back on Sheridan to the turnaround at the southeastern-most entrance. This stretch of road, though undulating in spots, felt smooth and fast (much of the route is over pothole-laden roads). I passed 1, then 2, then another 1 and 2, all on the way south. By my count, before reaching the second climb towards the north side of the base on Sheridan, I would've climbed all the way up to 15th or so.
Heading back north on Sheridan, the elevation picks up, this time to about 6% average grades over 1.3 miles in length. I passed bike after bike on the way up, finding one in the distance that seemed to be stamping out a similar pace. I kept my sights on his rear wheel, about 1/8 mile in the distance, and matched his pace, stroke-for-stroke. Up the second climb, my lungs were searing, and my quads were screaming, but I was committed to holding pace. Approaching the top, the rider in the distance started to gain ground, eventually losing him from sight as we dove back down towards the center of base and towards T2. I navigated the twisting roads as carefully as possible, taking full advantage of the flats, almost to the point of full-throttle, despite my full awareness that I had another 2.7 miles of running to do. 39:27 going in to T2...19mph average. Not bad for a climb-heavy course.
I entered T2, supposedly in 7th. As I ran towards my transition area, I saw two bikes on the ground, and other athletes' equipment all around. Apparently, the biker before me rushed his transition, slamming his bike on the bike rail, collapsing it. I couldn't hang my bike up. I had to hold my bike while I transitioned out of my bike shoes, out of my helmet, and in to my running shoes. Not even knowing if the bar had been secured by then, I was ready to exit T2. I hung my bike up anyways, and sprinted out.
My quads were trashed. Burning up the climbs during the bike segment sapped my power. I faltered during the slight uphill portion of the first half of the run. One athlete passed me. I wouldn't let it happen again. I dug deep, approaching another athlete ahead. He would be my target. As I approached, inch-by-inch, the finish line started to appear off in the close-distance. I was running out of time to pass back in to 7th, and energy as well. 7th place picked up the pace, and I couldn't match. I cranked out my best over the last quarter mile, just missing out on 7th by 13 seconds. Finished. 19:14 on the run, a 7:02/mi average pace. Overall time: 1:05:17, finishing in 8th overall. In my age group, I'd finish 3rd.
The 7th place finisher? Face-kicker. Bummer.
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