Last Sunday, 11 june 2017, I did my first triathlon. And although it was only a 1/8 distance and I had been training pretty well it was tough.

The distances were a 500m open water swim, a 22.5km bike ride and a 5km run to the finish.

How I became a triathlete

Somewhere at the end of 2016 I made the decision to take on a triathlon. After a couple of years of thinking about it I finally made the decision. A little push from a good friend, and long time triathlete, and another friend who made the decision as well was all I needed.

Smart as I am I decided to start with a 1/8 distance, and build from there. Even though I’d always said that if I would ever go for a triathlon my final goal should be a full Iron Man distance. Lets just start small with this one.

So me and that good friend found a 1/8 distance triathlon not too far from home and registered. That was the point where I started to think about my current fitness. I’ve been riding road bikes and mountain bikes for years. So that would be the easy part. Running I did over the course of years with some periods of rest in between. That would take me some training, but would be manageable as well.

But then, the biggest fear of every beginning triathlete; the swim.

Training my biggest fear

Off course I can swim. In the Netherlands all kids learn to swim at an early age. And when I got my PADI diving license, which includes a test swim in open water, my instructor was impressed by the ease of it. But now I would be swimming for a distance, and trying to get some speed as well.

So first things first; I bought myself a nice pair of Speedos and swimming goggles. Every man needs his tools. Somewhere in November I headed to the pool for the first time. After a couple of minutes of warming up I decided to try out a lane of borstcrawl.

Like every beginner I started out way to hard, tried to give it my all to make it to the end of the 25m. Somewhere just over the half of it I had to give up. Completely out of breath. I peddled further to the side of the pool and hang there for a while to get my breath back.

Lesson 1 right there: this is going to take some specific training sessions to learn.

After weeks of going to the pool twice or three times a week I slowly saw some progress. I managed to stay calm in the water. I learned how to breath, even bilateral at a later point. And more importantly I managed to complete 500m intervals. Slowly increasing that to 1000m intervals as well. Still at a old ladies pace, but it felt good overall just to be able to get the distance.

After a while the swim training kinda disappeared from my weeks. Slowly but surely I had a harder time to get out of bed early in the morning to hit the pool. And my build-up swimming capacity deteriorated pretty quickly.

To make things worse we had a vacation planned a couple of weeks before the triathlon. We’d come back on the weekend before my first triathlon. And most of the times my travels doesn’t include that much work-outs.

The beginning of the swim leg

I had all my gear set up at the transition zone. Bike ready, helmet on top of my aero bars. Cycling shoes next to the bike. Also my running shoes ready for after the bike ride. And started putting on my wetsuit. Just minutes before the start we entered the water. We had a rolling start.

I was chatting with my friend somewhere in the middle of the group. Before we knew the start shot was given. There was no real announcement that the start was coming.

The speaker suddenly went from 3-2-1 and GO! The group started to move and I went for it.

As competitive as I am I tried to stay close to the people around me. Big mistake as that were all more experienced swimmers and triathletes. The first 100m I managed to stay close to them.

Yeah, kudos to me. But around that point I was already exhausted. Simply by not paying attention to my breath and pushing too hard. To make things worse my goggles started to fog. And because I’m wearing contacts I won’t take them of when I’m in the water.

So the only thing I could do was fall back on the breaststroke and try to get my breath back. The other 400m I went from breaststrok and trying to do some borstcrawl to just some kind of peddling through the water.

Overall I managed to get out the water after about 13 minutes. Which I thought still wasn’t that awful for a first time.

The first transition

Getting out of the water went pretty good. It was a small run/walk to my transition setup. So as everybody does I tried to get of the upper half of my wetsuit during the run. Which I managed to do, but afterwards I saw that there were some nails in my neoprene. Not sure how and when that happened, but it must have been in this transition.

So putting on my cycling shoes and helmet. Getting the bike of the rack and run to the exit of the transition zone. Since I’ve been riding bikes for a lot of years now I still own road cycling specific shoes. Those aren’t easy to put on while on the bike, so I couldn’t run barefooted.

On my wishlist are triathlon specific bike shoes. So I can learn the trick with elastic bands and putting the shoes on while on the bike.

So far, transition 1 went well.

Riding the bike – my favorite part

As said before I have the most experience on the bike. I think that is true for most triathletes. So getting my speed up wasn’t that hard and I managed to get an overall speed of 34km/h.

Placing me 27th overall for the bike leg. In the meantime I took over about 30 people that were ahead of me out of the swim.

That was exactly the confidence boost I needed. Too bad the organization didn’t check stayering during the race at most points. I’ve been overtaking several groups of riders that clamped together. Which made me feel even better.

At first I thought that I needed to spare my legs a little on the bike to keep them fresh for the run. But as everything went well and riding went smoothly I decided just to go for it.

After all I don’t think it was necessarily the best decision.

The second transition

Jumping of the bike before entering the zone. Running to my setup and quickly taking off my shoes so I could try to wiggle myself in my running shoes handsfree while taking of my helmet.

The idea sounded great, the execution a little less.

Not that it took me longer, but it didn’t really go any faster. So heading out for the run.

Finishing with a strong run (trying to…)

At least, that was kind of the plan. I never planned a very strong run.

I had hoped for a decent run compared to my training. Knowing that I’m not a high pace runner so I wouldn’t be overtaking lots of competitors here. If I didn’t lose too much places that would be nice.

Off course I had done several brick workouts. Where I first had a 1-hour bike training and directly went for a short run afterwards.

The first ones hurt like hell, but after doing a few of them my legs kinda got used to the transition. But not that day. Or my bike leg was so much more intensity that I train (which could be right) or my legs just didn’t feel like it. Coming out of the transition zone I wanted to slowly get into a manageable running pace.

Somehow for the first 2 kilometers I could hardly run. Switching from a short run at a slow pace to a short walk back and forth.

Luckily after those 2km my legs were sore enough that they wouldn’t be any better off with small walks. So from there it was running at a slow pace.

Run time was about 28 minutes for 5k.

Yeah, that should have been much better. Especially since I ran 10k in 52 minutes just 3 weeks earlier.

Overall

My main goal was to finish the race and gain my first experience with triathlon. Second was hoping to finish within one and a half hours. This didn’t seem like a very tight target time, but I knew it would be hard and this was a good and realistic target. My overall time was 1:26:31 officially time. And 1:26:30 on my own watch. So more kudos for me as a great personal timer!

What did I learn from the experience;

  • Swimming even harder than I thought
  • I need to let go of my competitiveness and race my own race
  • More swim training
  • Riding bikes is my thing
  • Running after racing is much harder than after a training

Up to the next one! The 1/4 Triathlon in Anna Paulowna on the 19th of August.

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