10 Rookie Lessons: Silicon Valley Sprint Triathlon, Part 2

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Sure, your first triathlon is bound to be exciting. But with anything “first,” you’re also guaranteed at least one Oops moment — or, in my case, 10.

I completed my first tri – the Silicon Valley Sprint Triathlon – together with my husband (who decided to register on a whim, while I was picking up my packet the day before the race). So here you have a run-down of the tri-als and tri-bulations of not just one, but two clueless rookies. Enjoy!

The Swim

SVST takes place at UVAS Reservoir in Morgan Hill, Calif. The half-mile swim goes around a piece of land, so you go in on one side of the reservoir and exit at another:The water temperature this year was 63 degrees, and even though several fearless souls braved the water in swimsuits, I was definitely glad to have rented a full-size wetsuit for the event. However:

Lesson 1: This shouldn’t be your first time ever swimming in a wetsuit.
My husband rented one the day before, then promptly stashed it away for the night. Next morning, he squeezed himself in and headed in for his wave start — only to realize the suit is way too tight in the chest and he couldn’t breathe. For the entire distance, he had to alternate breaststroke and swimming on his back. It was slow, not to mention very tiring and not in the least pleasant (I paraphrase for my family audience).

Lesson 2: This shouldn’t be your first time ever swimming in open water (leisurely childhood swims in lakes and seas don’t count).
I did test my wetsuit a few days before the event… in a swimming pool. That is nothing like swimming in open water, no matter how much I’d practiced “sighting” – getting in the habit of looking up to make sure I’m going the right direction. I wasn’t. The current kept pushing me out, so I had to make multiple turns to go back in and hug the shore. This was hardly efficient. Many people said they enjoyed the swim portion of the event, but for me, there was just too much “newness” to relax and get into a rhythm.

Lesson 3: Disorientation is real coming out of the water; make sure your transition area is well marked so you can find it easily.
Thankfully, my team members had picked our transition racks wisely — the first one you see coming out of the swim — and marked the area with balloons. Thumbs up for the well-prepared!

Lesson 4: You think you can swim, but those 5:30 a.m. swim lessons ain’t for nothing!
Even though I had a good swim (I didn’t drown!), I have much work to do in the pool to get ready for my next event.

Swim time: 21:24
Transition: 2:53

The Bike

A 16-mile out and back route, the bike course of SVST is plenty hilly: On the positive side, we test-rode the course once a couple of weeks ago, so I knew what to expect. That helped a lot! On the not so positive side:

Lesson 5: Learn to drink and eat while riding your bike.
If you plan to go on long rides (to be followed by running), this is a must. And a skill I have yet to master. Any time I reach down to grab my bottle, I feel like I’m going to lose balance and topple over — then slow down considerably, thus increasing the risk of doing just that. It’s ridiculous. In fact, at the turn-around point – eight miles in, eight to go – I actually stopped and dismounted my bike to get a drink of water.

Lesson 6: Learn to ride “off the saddle”
I can ride my mountain bike whichever way I want — sitting down, standing up, one hand, no hands, no teeth — but my roadie? Nope. It feels so much more unstable, swinging wildly from side to side if I stand up to pedal, that for now I would rather torture my legs on the uphills than optimize efficiency and speed by standing up.

That said: I had a great ride, if a little slower than I expected. But who cares? The wind dried my wet tri-clothes nicely, the sun was bright and the morning was glorious. I mean, look at that face: am I having fun or what? [NOT?][All due respect, race photographers… but I’m not purchasing these.]

Bike time: 1:06:57
T2: 1:14

The Run

The run portion of SVST – as with most sprint-distance triathlon – was a 5K. Just a teeny weeny puny little 5K. I could run a 5K in my sleep! Hell, I could run a 5K after running a marathon in my sleep! Er… think again:

Lesson 7: Never, ever underestimate the 5K when it comes at the end of an hour-and-a-half of exercise.
Seriously. What was I thinking? Off the bike, I zoomed out of transition thinking I’ll eat those 5 kilometers for breakfast. Within a minute, I was feeling the lack of breakfast: I was thirsty, hungry and slightly dizzy. Oh yeah: I should’ve eaten a gel or two on the bike, or at least finished off that energy drink. I had grabbed a GU on my way out of T2 and thrown a cup of Cytomax down my throat… both of which felt equally gross (no offense to the race organizers and volunteers!). Which leads me to:

Lesson 8: Never try anything new on race day.
Doh! And that includes, more than anything, nutrition. I had grabbed a new GU flavor, which tasted unsavory, to say the least. Couldn’t stomach even half of it. And the Cytomax was hardly to my liking, either.

This was also the first race I’d ever run — possibly the first run I’d ever run — without music. It felt awkward and new. Not bad, but let’s just say I’m not used to listening to my crazy heartbeat and labored breathing for 25+ minutes. Or not knowing how fast I’m going at any given minute.

Lesson 9: Practice running unplugged!
Gadgets like iPhones and iPods are verboten at triathlons, so I better get used to running without music — and learn to ignore my iSmoothRun voice prompts. Or invest in a Garmin.

Run time: 25:51 (8:33 pace)

But hey: don’t take all this the wrong way. I LOVED the experience. It was a hoot, beginning to end, and as I’ve mentioned several times, I’m already planning the next one. Olympic distance, Here I come!

Lesson 10: Everything they told you about the addictiveness of triathlon is 100% true!

Total time: 1:58:19
Age group: 8
Gender: 44
Race place: 171 out of 444

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