Cyclists are so quick to tell us runners we should try cycling: it’s easier on the knees, they say. I’ve heard this for several years while working as a staff partner for a popular long-distance bike race. I just wrote it off as a recruitment technique, but I think there’s some method to the madness after last weekend. In fact, I took it up a notch and added in another sport to the mix!
My friend Nina is a passionate triathlete and she, not those knee-obsessed cyclists, finally convinced me to give one a go. For my first triathlon, I settled on this race. It seemed perfect: sprint distance (read: short); pool swim; closish to home. I have to say, though, I still wondered if I was ready for my first Triathlon. Some of you might be wondering the same thing, so I figured I should share my experience. Because seriously, If I, the most uncoordinated of Salty bloggers, can do a triathlon without skidding out on the bike, falling on my face, or drowning, then you probably can too.
I signed up for the triathlon (actually, my friend’s dad signed me up under the wrong name, which was helpful in case I did awfully) just a month in advance, so I didn’t have much time to train. I got on the bike once and swam a few laps in pool.
Side note: you may have noticed my lack of consistent posting on Salty Running as of late, too. I haven’t mastered the art of full-time working, balancing the mom thing to a busy 14-month-old, and finding time to do one of my favorite hobbies, writing. I squeeze most of my running in the wee hours of the morning and sometimes bring toddler in tow with the running stroller.
The point is, finding time to get to a pool and a bike trail wasn’t at the top of my priority, so I just went with it and hoped for the best, honestly. I wasn’t necessarily prepared, but I knew I’d be able to catch up for lost time on the running portion. At the start line, one of the more experienced triathletes told me that my goal for my first tri, like a first marathon, should be to “just finish it;” I kept that mentality with me the entire course.
For the swimming portion, we did 8 laps, totaling just 200 meters. I primarily focused on front stroke and implemented some breast stroke when I felt a bit of fatigue. I focused on breathing, long and consistent strokes and trying to stay in a straight line so as not to swim into another athlete. This triathlon started each athlete an entire pool-length apart, which minimized my stress of being ‘in the way’ or getting passed. I ended up finishing the 200 meters in 5 minutes and 12 seconds, which means nothing to me.
The transition phase from swimming to cycling had a learning curve for me. Toweling myself off, putting on my running shoes, shorts and helmet while taking off my goggles/swim cap and mounting the bike didn’t come with ease. It took me 1 minute and 40 seconds, whereas it took the more experienced Nina 1 minute and 18 seconds. Precious time lost! If I had it to do again, I would honestly practice this part to get a feel for it.
Upon getting out of the transition area (you must walk in this area and can get DQ’d for biking or running), the cycling was a 3.33 mile loop that we did three times, totaling about 10 miles. The course was bumpy, curvy and went through a cemetery. Though a challenge and fun scenery, I lost some precious time because I was petrified of falling. Most certified triathlon courses and bigger ones are a straight shot to enhance speed. I averaged around 17 mph and finished the 10 miles in 31 minutes and 28 seconds, followed by a 49 second transition (for comparison Nina was out of transition within 27 seconds).
The strangest part of the triathlon? Going from cycling to running. The speed of the cycling portion made the running feel SO SO S L O W W W W. I felt like my legs were not moving. I felt like Jello and yet I maintained a sub 7-minute pace for a hilly course, finishing this 5k portion in 21 minutes and 3 seconds. Nina was smart enough to have me practice going from cycling to running during our one training ride, just so my legs could recognize the feeling. I would highly recommend doing the same for your first triathlon so it doesn’t come as a shock.
Take-a-ways from my first go at a TRI:
I loved the whole-body experience. Other than my butt being a tad uncomfortable the next day, I wasn’t sore at all. I don’t know if this means I didn’t push myself enough or the fact that the hard work was spread across so many parts of my body, not just my legs.
The transition area required technique. I noticed more avid and experienced triathletes with a certain set up and smooth as peanut butter transition. I need work here.
A good bike can make all the difference. Unfortunately, I just don’t know if I’m ready to make a $1,000 investment in a good tri bike. Luckily, good deals can be found on Craigslist. Also, Christmas is less than 6 months away!
The swimming wasn’t as scary as I thought. Granted, my opinion might change if I try one in an open lake next time around.
I want to do another! I’d like to take some spin classes consistently to better prepare next time around.
I ended up placing 2nd overall even though I’m a klutz with zero experience. Because of my level of fitness from steady 30 mile per week running, I was able to perform quite well. I believe long-distance runners can easily transition to this type of event without much of a problem. Strong legs = good cycling.
Have you ever done a tri? Do you have personal stories or advice for us newbie runners-turned-triathletes?