My First Triathlon

August 27, 2019

August 27, 2019

This past weekend I competed in my first ever triathlon, completing the Sprint distance at the Chicago Tri. The past few months of training and race day itself brought me an entirely new love for fitness and what it can do for you beyond physical appearance. On paper, waking up at 5am on a Saturday for a 4 hour workout or having a mile-long packing list of gear doesn’t sound all that appealing, but it resulted in knowing things and being able to do things that I didn’t know or couldn’t do before, which is an incredibly empowering feeling.

 

For a little back story, you can read about my decision to try a tri and the beginning of my training here.

 

Getting Ready

In the last month of training I continued to swim twice a week, run twice a week alternating interval runs and a 5k distance, and biking once a week. Plus I incorporated yoga and light strength training for some cross training and recovery. On weekends I met up with the FFC Trimonster team at Foster Beach for their tri clinic series, which included open water swims, brick workouts, and a full mock tri, depending on the week.

The day prior to the race I rested up, feeling much less nervous than expected. By training intentionally for the 2-3 months leading up to the race, I felt very prepared. I did some restorative yoga, foam rolling, and made sure to hydrate as much as possible. I also packed my bags for the next day, laying out everything I needed for each step of the day in groups. This is where my type A personality really came in handy! Race day would have been much more chaotic without a certain level of organization.

 

Triathlon Gear- Day Before Prep

 

Race Day

As an athlete in the second event of the day, I was lucky to not have to wake up quite as early as the international distance runners. So at 5:30 am I got up to the most gorgeous sunrise. Unfortunately, despite what appeared to be beautiful weather in the forecast (blue skies and 75 degrees), the wind had other plans and the swim portion was canceled, turning the triathlon into a duathlon (run-bike-run). I was so bummed to not be able to complete the whole course as intended, but as I joined the other athletes at the race I could appreciate the adaptability and positivity of those around me. In the short run that would replace the swim, some runners playfully took off wearing swim caps and creating a swim stroke motion with their arms as if they were in the water.

That positive energy was carried throughout the day as I watched and waited for my wave (the second to last wave of the day). When it finally came time to walk over for our wave, I felt so ready and excited. I took off in the short .75mi run and quickly got to the bike portion, biking along lakeshore drive through the city, a rare opportunity. My excitement dwindled a bit on the second half of the bike leg as I turned back into the strong wind and what felt like an uphill journey the rest of the way. This led me into the run much more exhausted than I had planned, but despite being very sure I was going to throw up in the last stretch before the finish line, I achieved my only goal at that point and finished the run without walking. The conditions of the race required much more mental toughness than I had anticipated through all my training, but it made it that much more fulfilling when I crossed the finish line.

 

Community

One of my favorite aspects of the triathlon experience was the friendliness and support of the other participants and experienced triathletes. On race day plenty of strangers were spending time together waiting for their wave, easily talking to one another and overall it created such a welcoming tone for first timers.

I also experienced this amazing community fully by being a part of the FFC Trimonster team. Not only did I spend a month of Saturdays training with them and obtaining advice leading up to the big day, but having them there on race day was worth every penny of the membership. Being surrounded by the other athletes and coaches I was familiar with calmed any jitters I might have had. Plus having a team tent where everyone could gather in one place and team volunteers who generously moved our bags from the starting line to the finish was so convenient and appreciated. Most importantly, supporting and cheering each other on really enriched what could have been a completely solo sport.

 

Comfort Zones

Beyond everything, triathlon training has made me comfortable getting outside my comfort zone. Continuously (and anxiously) entering unfamiliar situations reassured me that trying new things never turns out to be truly terrible, no matter how unsure I am going into it. As I first learned about the FFC triathlon training programs, I remember attending my first small group swim class. It was a 6am class at a gym I had never been to. After finding my way through the locker room and to the pool, I awkwardly introduced myself to the coach since I had no idea what to expect and wanted him to know that 😂. With no way to turn back, I approached the first lane, the many swim training tools, and chicken scratch of drills on the white board that meant literally nothing to me. Once I decided to not take myself too seriously and just ask every question that came to mind, I enjoyed a fun and incredibly helpful hour of swimming. Basically every situation related to triathlon training went like this, giving me newfound confidence and excitement regarding unfamiliar situations, fitness related or not, going forward.

 

My First Sprint Triathlon | Chicago Tri

 

What I Learned & What I Would Do Differently

  • There seem to be A TON of rules, but they aren’t as strictly enforced as it seems and less overwhelming. Maybe it was only because I wasn’t among the super competitive, but from what I could tell it wasn’t a big deal if things like your race number was on your back instead of the front or you lost your tri tattoos and wrote your number with sharpie instead.
  • Rack your bike the day before. I’m so glad I did this. Not only did it simplify the morning of the race, but it ensured I got a good spot on the end of the rack (a much easier spot to find your bike and avoid congestion).
  • You don’t need to put race tattoos on the night before. I heard so many people say to apply them the night before, which could be helpful if you’re trying to reduce your to-do list on the morning of, but I found I kept waking up in the night thinking they were somehow rubbing off onto my pillow (although based on the difficulty of getting them off, that clearly was not going to happen).
  • Nothing new on race day. I probably heard this tip more than any other throughout training, especially when it comes to nutrition. I ate the same thing on the morning of race day that I did every Saturday morning for training and I felt comfortable knowing it would sit well and sustain me throughout the race.
  • There’s a lot of running in transition that is not part of the running course. I can only speak to the Chicago Tri on this one, but even though the Sprint distance technically only runs a 5k there’s a lot of running between each leg of the race since the transition area is so large. For the next race I’ll probably train farther than race distance to better prepare.
  • Suggested gear lists include way more than what’s necessary, especially for your first race. As people get more competitive and increase distance, things like nutrition gels, fancy bikes, wetsuits become more important, but you can get by on a basic list to start. I wanted to be sure I would continue doing triathlons before I invested in an expensive bike so I raced with my very old, very heavy hybrid and it was harder for sure, but I was able to finish which was all I cared about for this one. However, this is the first item I will be purchasing for the next one.
  • I learned what I want to work on for the next race. 
    • Practicing swim drills to improve speed the way I train for running rather than just swimming the full length every time.
    • Joining a running group to continue that team experience that I loved with Trimonster and improve my time by being pushed by faster runners.
    • Increasing the distance of everything to train for the full olympic distance next year!

 

What’s Next

This is most definitely not my last tri. I absolutely loved the training and the experience I had this past weekend and am already planning race goals for 2020. Definitely showing up for Chicago next summer at the international distance, and maybe even Miami in April (fitcation, anyone?!)

 

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