We love to hear from our Evolve Athletes, especially when they don’t mind sharing insights with the rest of the Team. Chris A is kicking a$$ this season, so read on for his summary of learning experiences from his first Olympic triathlon.
This last weekend was full of firsts for me: my first open water race, my first wetsuit race, the first race on my first road bike, my first season with a coach, but most notably it was my first Olympic distance triathlon. I signed up for the St. Louis Triathlon the day registration opened, and I knew that I wanted to be able to do the Olympic distance in preparation for my ultimate goal of completing my first Ironman 70.3 later this year. I honestly didn’t really think about the challenge of that distance until about 2 weeks out when I started reading my race day strategy and fueling plan. At that time it started to set in that this is actually a pretty good haul for a first year triathlete. After setting out all of my gear the night before, and reading over my plan for the 300th time, I was confident that I was as prepared as I could be. I went to bed around 8pm and finally fell asleep around 12:30am. It was a 4:00am wakeup call to be there when transition opened to get set up, so I dragged myself out of bed and started fueling and packing up to go. When the race was over, I was confident that I had left it all on the course, and I was very happy with the result. As with anything in life, there should be lessons learned in order to improve upon your successes and failures. The following are some of my takeaways from my first Olympic Distance Triathlon.
1 - Conditions Will NOT Be Ideal
For several days leading up to the event, I was checking the weather every 5 minutes. I kept telling myself it wouldn’t rain and it wouldn’t be hot. The night before the race a friend texted me something along the lines of, “I was just kayaking on Creve Coeur lake, and I was fighting the wind and white caps, I hope it dies down for you tomorrow morning.” So here I am standing in my wetsuit at the swim out ramp trying to see the turnaround buoy FAR in the distance, and trying to figure out how I am going to swim into a 20ish MPH headwind and deal with whitecaps and waves. I was used to swimming in a pool, where it’s 100% visibility, and no turbulent water what-so-ever. After fighting through the asses and elbows of the first 300m, and finally settling into my stroke, it wasn’t so bad (other than slow going). I chugged my way through the swim and got through transition relatively fast, only to turn the corner south on my bike and hit THE SAME 20MPH headwinds. Great, now I have to do two laps of this basically in slow motion. I just remember thinking, “I’m not the only one dealing with this suck right now,” and powering through the wind. Again through T2, I set out on the run. It was much more humid than I was ready for (and I had forgotten my salt tabs, see takeaway 2). I now know that practicing in less than ideal conditions is key, and assuming the water will be flat, the bike will be smooth, and the run will be cool will make for disappointment on race morning.
2 - You WILL forget something
I had just gotten a brand new carry bottle for the run, and was looking forward to giving it a try (I know, don’t try anything new on race day). I had it all packed up in my duffel ready to go with Gatorade Endurance. When I came around off of the bike at T2, I got ready for the run in exactly the order I had practiced. Helmet off, gloves off in helmet. Hang the helmet on the handlebars. Slip out of my bike shoes and grab my race belt. Slip into my running shoes and grab my…water bottle that isn’t there…crap. I’m supposed to drink 20oz of Gatorade during my run, now what do I do? I remembered something that Coach Samantha said during our transition clinic the night before. Part of a triathlon is troubleshooting on the fly. Either you get a flat tire, your goggles fly off during the swim, or whatever else could possibly go wrong. Part of the challenge is figuring out how to deal with the issues on the fly. So, I grabbed what was left of one of my bike bottles and took off on the run.
3 - You Probably Aren’t Going to Win, so Manage Your Expectations
I set out several goals for myself, ranging from totally doable down to really difficult. The ones I completed were things like: finish the race, don’t drown, don’t crash, don’t trip. The ones I didn’t complete were things like: place in your age group, beat 30 minutes in the swim, beat an hour on the bike. There were a couple of goals that I was pleasantly surprised to have completed. I PRed the run distance, and technically I PRed the swim and bike also (first oly, I’ll take it). I didn’t even look at my swim time when I got out of the water I was so focused on takeaway 4.
4 - Practice Everything
The most important thing I did was practice. I practiced my fueling plan, I practiced getting in and out of transitions, everything. I knew that I would get too hung up on progress during the race, so I even had my Garmin set to displace only HR, since that is how I have trained for months. I didn’t care what my speed was, what my pace was or how far I had gone. I knew that if I trusted in my heart rate training, and followed the plan, I would have a successful race. I ended up finding out about my run PR after the fact when checking the unofficial results!
5 - Take Mental Notes
During your race, make sure to take mental notes of things that you have learned, or things that you can improve on in the future. For instance, I know I need to do some small things in transition to make it easier. When I got off the bike, I tried to slip out of my lace up bike shoes by putting my toe on the heel and pulling my foot out. Big mistake, instant cramp in my calf. Now I know that is probably a good idea to loosen them up prior to trying to get out of them. Having a mental inventory of everything that went wrong, and things you can change prior to future races, will only serve to improve your experience and times in the future.