A couple months ago I competed in my very first sprint triathlon at Camp Pendleton. What I didn't know then was that sprint courses do not have uniform lengths for their swimming and biking legs. At Camp Pendleton I had to swim 500m in the ocean, which just about killed me, and after I drug myself out of the surf, I had to get on my mountain bike and pedal 18 miles even before I attempted the 3.1 mile run. To say I was unprepared is an understatement. My swimming was so poor that by the time I got to the bike portion I had used up most of the energy I had available for the entire race. I was so discouraged that I actually began to doubt that I would ever be able to train enough to finish my Ironman.
Today was a different story, and it wasn't just because the lengths were shorter. I honestly felt like I was more than ready for this one. I also had a secret weapon with me--my running buddy Emily. We left dreary, rainy Murrieta only to find nice racing weather in Riverside. The threatening, dark clouds above actually made for perfect running weather--not too hot and not too cold. We arrived super early so we could pick up our race packet, organize our bike and swim necessities in the transition area, and still have time to stretch, hit the bathroom, and relax a little before race time. This was a backwards triathlon so we actually ran first, then biked, and our last leg was the swim. Psychologically, this was perfect for me. I know I can run and my biking has gotten stronger, so I knew by the time I got to the pool I would have enough energy to complete a 150m swim.
Emily and I had planned to watch our pacing so we didn't go out too strong on the run, but after about a half mile we realized we were going faster than we ever do in our training. At one point we were doing a 7:15/mile pace, much too fast for us to keep up for over three miles. We slowed it down for the rest of the run and finished the 3.1 mile course in about 28 minutes.
Our transition to our bikes was quick. This was a beautiful bike course running along Victoria Avenue with views of all the amazing Riverside mansions, several schools, and lots of orchard properties. Despite the scenery we got down to business, and we were soon passing people up on the bike leg. We passed over thirty people and found ourselves among some pretty strong looking athletes all the way to the bike finish. At the transition area, we switched into our swim equipment and ran towards the pool for the final leg of our race.
The pool did not intimidate me. I jumped right in, but as soon as my feet touched the water I was hit with a painful charlie horse in my right calf. I stopped for a minute to stretch it out, and then continued to swim the 150m using just my arms so I didn't risk another leg cramp. I got behind some really slow swimmers, but on the second lap I passed them up, swam the rest of the pool using my freestyle, and never once resorting to a doggie paddle or breast stroke like I had at my Camp Pendleton race. I pulled myself up at the end of the pool and ran towards the finish line. Emily was there to cheer me on, and I crossed the finish in 1:16:12, a very decent time for me.
I am very proud of this finish. I trained hard, I raced hard, and it really paid off. I actually finished 6th in my age-division...less than 5 minutes from the woman who got 1st in my division. I know I still need work on my swim, but I have nine months of training left to prepare me for the 2.4 mile swim I will do for Ironman. What today showed me is that training does pay off. I may not like getting up before 5 am to swim and run, but if I do, I will be rewarded in the end.