One day earlier this year, I said to myself, “Enough dreaming, just DO IT already!” So I signed up for my first triathlon, the second annual Atlantic City International Triathlon on September 15. There were two events: the International, which was a mile swim, a 20-mile bike ride, and a 10K run, and the Sprint, a 1/4-mile swim, a 10-mile bike ride and a 5K, which was just added this year. This being my first, I signed up for the Sprint.
Since I was under the impression that the open-water swim portion would be my weakest link, I really made an effort to work on it. While I am a decent pool swimmer, I really didn’t have a lot of experience in open water. So, thanks to Dr. George and Christa Studzinski, who kindly extended the offer to practice swimming in the lake at Smoke Rise, I joined them, plus Wayne Carlson, Anne Chesny and some folks from Smoke Rise on some early morning Sunday swims across the lake and back. I really enjoyed myself and gradually got over any reservations I had about it. I wasn’t concentrating so much on speed as my form and my breathing and just becoming comfortable in the water. I even attempted the annual Smoke Rise Biathlon once again and was pleased with my performance.
As for biking, the only time I really rode my bike was for pleasure. I have never competed in any type of bike event. Every summer, Tom and I would take the bikes down to the shore and just ride around Belmar, Ocean Grove, Spring Lake and Avon-by-the-Sea. We were in no rush to get to any one destination, we just enjoyed the scenery, not paying attention to time. But now that I would be doing a tri, I needed to ramp it up a bit. Tom took me up to South Mountain Reservation, which has a section closed to cars. Each revolution is about 2 miles so I would do 5. The rides were enjoyable and the hills didn’t seem to bother me so I really didn’t think it would be a big deal. I got comfortable with the gears, the brakes, the downhills, the turns. Again, speed wasn’t my goal here, but I realized that in the tri, it would NOT be just a leisurely ride.
Oh, and did I mention that I own a mountain bike? It’s a beast but it’s great on all sorts of terrain. I did have it tuned up before the tri but I was not going to invest in a fancy tri bike for my first race. (More on this later).
I assumed that I would shine in the run, since that was my event and I’ve been running competitively for about 10 years. I was told by friends who did tris that I should try and do “bricks,” bike riding sessions broken up by running, to get used to the transition. I did a couple of these but I probably should have done more.
Before I tell you how I did, I must send a BIG shout out to Beverly Salerno and Susan Palermo. If it were not for their support and constant persuasion, I would not have found the courage to do a tri. I was wonderful seeing them on Sunday morning, along with Robyn Herman who was also doing her first tri. They totally put me at ease. My goal was just to finish.
I’ve broken down my recap by event and I also put WHAT I’VE LEARNED from seasoned triathletes after each section.
THE SWIM: The swim, for the most part, went well. The Atlantic City Bay was absolutely gorgeous (about 74 degrees) and I was glad when my wave finally started since the air was actually cooler than the water and it was VERY windy. I was told that, during the swim, people might accidentally hit and kick you. I just tried to get out of the way. But as I reached the turnaround point, some BIG guy swam over me! Not into me, OVER ME! I was submerged for a few seconds and was actually more angry than scared. I wanted to yell out, “Watch the &*^% where you’re going!” but he was long gone, with barely an apology. My left calf was a little sore from trying to get out from under him but I shook it out and it seemed OK. One of the “swim angels” on a surfboard saw me struggling and asked if I was all right. I said I was,just a little shaken up. I finished the swim and was amazed how much faster the trip back was than the trip out, since the current was with us. Once out of the water, it was such a pleasure to see Tom standing by my bike! I stood around talking to him longer that I should have, though, tried to eat a peanut butter sandwich (but it tasted like sawdust), and I was off again, running my bike across Bader Field out onto the Altantic City Expressway (toll free!) where I would begin the bike portion.
WHAT I LEARNED: Swim to the outside of the pack, to avoid such collisions. Don’t spend too much time in transition! I DID “donut” my socks properly, placing them in my running shoes. Tom also treated me to a pair of triathlon laces that allowed me to slip into my shoes effortlessly. Great investment!
THE BIKE: First off, this was one of the most enjoyable bike rides I’ve ever done. Not so much for the scenery but for the sheer freedom of riding along a highway that was closed to traffic. For the most part, the ride was flat, with the exception of the exit ramps, but then you got to coast down them. The worst part was a strong headwind in our faces for the trip out. I have to tell you, I didn’t see a helluva lot of mountain bikes out there, but I thought I was moving along at a decent pace. I pedaled hard the entire way, only stopping to coast down the exit ramps. Once again, Tom was there to greet me as I dismounted and ran my bike back across the field to the transition into the 5K. This time, transition was a bit smoother, since all I had to do was remove my helmet and take a GU gel.
WHAT I LEARNED: You can’t really do a decent ride for speed on a mountain bike. Also, as one seasoned triathlete (from West Orange, no less!) told me, with a tri bike, you use your calves and hamstrings more than your quads. Therefore, your muscles transition better into the run portion.
THE RUN: I thought I was going to ace the run since I was already “warmed up” from the swim and bike ride. But noooo! My legs felt a bit leaden and it took me a full mile to “get the lead out.” I complained to the runner next to me and he said, “Just relax and enjoy it. This is the last of it.” So I did. I didn’t care anymore, I felt good, I was going to finish my first tri. Most of the run was on the boardwalk and spectators were milling about and shouting out to us to keep going.
WHAT I LEARNED: You MUST do bricks religiously if you are serious about doing tris. This helps your muscles transition better from the bike to the run. You should ride for 4-5 miles, park your bike, run for 3, and get back on the bike for 4-5 more.
This was my slowest 5K ever, at around a half hour, but I didn’t care. I picked up my finisher’s medal and was already thinking about which triathlon I was going to do next.
T1 (first transition)–8:23 (WAYYY too long!)
Bike: 47:55 (yikes! My weakest link!)
T2 (second transition)–5:06 (a little better but not optimal)
Run: 31:56 (stiff legs)
P.S. For anyone considering their first tri, I would highly recommend this one. Great logistics, organization, and lots of support!