A few days ago I mentioned to a friend, Sophia, that I signed up for my first triathalon, the sprint distance "Escape from the Rock" held on Mercer Island. While she is an experienced trail runner and rock climber, Sophia has yet to tackle a multisport event and said she was "Tri-curious".
After we got done laughing at the wordplay, I promised a full race report from my first triathlon attempt.
Luckily, I survived this Sunday's race to share my experience.
Unlike Sophia, I wasn't really curious about triathlons. I'm a decent runner and cyclist, but never perfected my swim stroke or tried on a wet suit. I just didn't see the point of swimming. It was hard, cold and slow, and I didn't really know how to swim properly anyway.
Growing up I always passed on opportunities to do laps in a pool, for a hike on a trail.
While lacking interest in any type of swim competition, I have a hard time turning down a challenge. So, two weeks ago when a friend encouraged me to sign-up for the Escape from the Rock, I had to go for it.
After registered, I glanced over the race course.
- Half-mile swim in Lake Washington
- 8.5 mile bike ride
- 2.5 mile run
No problem with the last two. I just needed to make sure I survived the water to make it to the bike racks. The idea of a half mile swim in open water with hundreds of kicking feet chopping around me was intimidating, to say the least.
Do they allow floaties?
With the race just a week away, I wanted to fit in two training swims.
My first swim was in the shallow water of Greenlake.
Knowing it was going to be my uniform for the race, I donned goggles, a swim cap and a pair of padded cycling shorts with a small seat shammy (soaks up less water and will be easier for the run). No wetsuit for me.
I waded into the water and quickly learned that I could only take a few strokes with a front crawl before I had to switch to a backstroke.
My legs and arms felt sluggish and within just a few minutes of swimming (if you can call it that) I was exhausted and pulled my body out of the water.
Children were building sand castles as I toweled off on the beach, head hung in defeat. I began to regret my decision to sign-up for a tri. Shoot!
A few days later I got my will back and fit in a second training swim. This time it was at the actual beach where the Escape from the Rock would be held, Luther Burbank Park, on Mercer Island.
Now in the deeper and larger Lake Washington, the water was colder, but not enough to cause my limbs to stop flailing. Like before, my endurance or technique was weak and after 20 minutes of cutting circles around a wooden piling, I called it quits.
My fate was sealed and I'd have to accept whatever race day brought me.
At 6am on Sunday I loaded my bike, swim gear, running shoes and singlet into my car, picked up my friend and headed for the race start line. After checking in with the organizers of the Escape from the Rock, I had a number "8" was written in marker on each hand and set up my gear at the transition point.
A few minutes before the first wave of competitors swimmers dove in, I pulled off my shirt and headed for the start line. About 3/4 of folks were wearing wet suits in the overcast, cool 70s weather. They were the smart ones.
Meanwhile I stood shirtless, protected by just a watch, cap, pair of goggles and a pair of bike shorts. Uggg. I just wanted to get the swim over with.
I headed into the water in the fourth wave of swimmers and quickly realized that I would have to settle for a slow and steady approach if I wanted to make it out of the water alive.
To my fortune, I wasn't kicked and didn't panic. Instead I just used the backstroke and slowly made it along the triangle shaped course.
After struggling for who knows how long, I was relieved to step on solid ground and ran up the beach.
I survived! The hard part was over. While I was at the back of the pack, I had a sense that my luck was about to change.
I tossed on a bike jersey, a helmet, a pair of sunglasses and strapped on my cycle shoes. After a quick jog through the transition point, I began the bike course.
Following a few lefts and rights, I crossed onto the I-90 express lanes and started to pursue the racers ahead of me. I switched gears and pretended my heavy bike with flatbars (great for city use) was an ultralight with tri-bars (the aerodynamic type that L. Armstrong use).
While my confidence was injured on the swim, I got my groove back on the ride. With each cyclist I passed, I felt stronger and more focused.
Before I knew it, the 8.5 mile course was over and I reentered the transition area. I swapped my bike, helmet and cycle cleats for a pair of sneakers and darted out to finish the last leg of my first triathalon, the run.
I was finally in my element!
The finish of the 2.5mile out-and-back course came quickly, but not before I was able to pull in a few more competitors. YES!
I crossed the finish line at 1:10:01 and was 12th in my division of 28. I don't think I'll become an Ironman anytime soon, but it was a great adventure.
For the rest of the race results, click here.