As promised, here’s the recap of my first ever Olympic / International triathlon.
Kelly and I left for San Jose the day before the race, Saturday. We stayed in the very nice Dolce-Hayes mansion, getting a chance to enjoy the great weather and their swimming pool.
I went to pick up my packet and to also take part of the course description talk, where I found out all the small details about the race. It wasn’t anything major; the highlight was when the guy said that Almaden Lake was at its best this year, with the lowest levels of E. Coli on record. GREAT!
I tried to go to bed at 9pm on Saturday, but I wasn’t able to fall asleep anytime near that. I woke up once in the middle of the night, at around 1am. Just as I was starting to fall asleep again at 2am, my phone rang, apparently because someone in India pocket dialed my Google Voice number. Super strange, and very annoying timing.
The alarm was set for 4:45am, and by then I was already awake and ready to go. I wanted to make it to the race site by 5:30, so I could set up my transition and not freak out about not being there on time.
We made it there a little bit before 6, but this was still plenty of time, and everything worked out perfectly, with a good parking spot and all! It was quite the juxtaposition of energy levels, with me ready to bounce off a wall and Kelly fighting off her instincts to sleep for a few more hours. I set up my transition area, and did some warm up running drills, while Kelly sat on a chair and watched hundreds of people at least as crazy as I was.
I was going to be in the 2nd wave, which started at 7:04am. I was able to do a little warm-up in the lake, which was also my first ever swim in a wetsuit. The warm-up swim felt pretty easy, which was probably because of the extra buoyancy from the wetsuit, but I also felt like a million bucks. I was just happy that I felt ready for what was to come!
- Swim – 1.5km
The swim started right on time, and I tried to stay at the back of the group. There were about 60 people in my wave, and I wasn’t planning on racing anyone but myself.
I got passed a couple of times, but I also passed a couple of guys. Mostly, I remember getting grabbed, hit and climbed on. I can’t complain, because I did a little bit of that myself! The water was pretty murky, and it was impossible to see through the water more than a couple of feet in front of me.
The biggest issue was swimming in a straight line, which didn’t really happen. Every now and then I looked ahead to find the buoy that I was supposed to pass, and it turned out that I was swimming a little too much to one side or another. Whatever, it happened, and I corrected my trajectory without thinking about it too much.
I ended up finishing the swim portion in 34 minutes. That was a LOT faster than I had predicted, I was expecting to finish anywhere between 40 and 45 minutes!
- Transition 1
From the time I got out of the water and the time I got on my bike, 2:43 minutes flew by. In what now seems a blur of jittery legs, excitement and going through a mental checklist; I got out of my wetsuit, half-assed dried off, put on my helmet, sunglasses, jersey, bike shoes and ran from the beach to the start of the bike portion. I do however remember seeing Kelly as I was changing, and giving her a sloppy and wet kiss before taking off with my bicycle!
- Bike – 24.9 miles
The bike was sadly my big let down. I expected a lot more out of me, but make no mistake in thinking I’m not proud of what I did – because I am.
Since I started on the 2nd wave, a lot of the extremely in shape people from waves behind me started catching up with me, and passing me. I only passed a couple of people, but I’m sure I got passed by about a hundred people.
I focused on keeping my cadence in the 90s and staying hydrated, and letting my speed fall into whatever that meant. I enjoyed the bike course a lot, it was flat for most of the first two thirds, and there was a small climb with some nice downhills to pay off after it. (I got up to 35mph in one section!)
I ended up averaging 18.2mph, which is not too bad, but I wish I’d been a bit faster. I took me 1 hour and 22 minutes to finish the bike course.
- Transition 2 – 1:19
I speedily ran my bike into transition, took off my helmet, glasses, bike shoes and my jersey. It was getting nice and hot out there, so I was going to do the run shirtless. I had some trouble putting on my socks because my legs were a bit shaky, but I was overall pretty speedy about getting out of there ready to go on my run.
- Run – 6.2 miles
The first thing I remember about the run section was looking up as soon as I left transition to see Kelly smiling at me and taking some pictures. I was very happy that she was there cheering me on, it made me feel very special and gave me some much needed warm fuzzies to embark on what was to come.
Immediately after that, my quads started cramping. Ouch! I guess I should have done a few more brick workouts! I didn’t walk, I instead took very small steps and kept on jogging. I knew my legs would transition from bike mode to run mode eventually, so I just had to get my legs to know that with some high cadence running.
Some guy ran past me and suggested I punch my legs to get them to cooperate, so I did. Placebo or actual remedy, it kind of worked and I was able to speed up a little bit more.
For the first couple of miles, I nursed my aching quads with a slow run. I was probably doing 6mph, and getting passed left and right all over again. I didn’t care, my goals were to never stop, never walk unless it was at a water station, and to keep pushing until my legs responded like I knew they should.
At mile marker 3, I was running. It felt awesome. I set my sights on a couple of people in front of me, and made it a point to catch up to them and pass them. I did just that.
Mile marker 4 came and went, and I stepped it up to what I was going to consider “giving it all I’ve got left”. I got passed by a dude with long gray hair. On his calf was written his age with sharpie: 61. Hot damn. That was some pretty strong motivation to keep pushing, I knew it was almost over, and that the faster I went, the sooner it’d all be over!
When I got in the last mile, it was basically time to go a half loop around the lake. I could see the finish line from across the lake. My heart started beating faster, even though I wasn’t running faster. It was asking me to push harder, and it took me a while to figure that out, but when I did, I went as fast as I could.
I finished the last hundred yards in a full-out sprint – the kind of run that I did in the past when a dog was chasing me or when I was trying to catch a bus to get home because the next bus wasn’t coming for another 30 more minutes.
The finish line was there! There was music, there were tons of people cheering. I couldn’t hear or see anything, I was just focused on every step I took and every breath I took…. until I looked up and saw the clock by the finish line. It said 2:58, and I was suddenly overcome by a feeling unlike any other: I had made it, and I had beat my goal! I unconsciously punched the sky as I ran past the finish line.
I finished my run in a 54:22. I could have done that a lot faster if I hadn’t cramped up at the beginning, but I finished as strong as I could, and I have no complaints about that!
- Total time: 2:54:26
Right after finishing, I stopped running. My legs were about to give out, and cramping pretty hard. Or at least I think so.
I can’t remember what they were doing, because what I do remember is how damn good it felt to have made my goal, to have finished strongly and how much fun it all had been. I tried to focus on my breathing so that I could catch my breath, and noticed that I was smiling. I couldn’t even control it!
A small moment later, Kelly came out from within the crowd, and that completed what ended up being an extremely wonderful experience for me. She saw me running, she saw me doing my thing -and even got some great pictures of it all- and I could feel how happy she was for me.
I’m extremely grateful to all those who have shared encouragement and shown support to me. Even if I’ll never be a triathlon superstar, the gratification that the whole experience yields is indescribable, and a lot of that has to do with all the people that helped me get there. You know who you are: Thank you!
Above all, I’m endlessly grateful to Kelly. She gave away her first weekend in her summer break to spend it with me, driving 10 hours, waking up at a strange hour on a Sunday, standing around for 3 and putting up with all the shenanigans of my training. I couldn’t have done it without her, that’s for sure!
The rest of the pictures are here, on Flickr.