These are the biceps of someone who finished 491st out of 513 total finishers in the swim

These are the biceps of someone who finishes 491st out of 513 total finishers in the swim

Luray Triathlon, Olympic Distance (1500m swim, 40 km bike, 10km run)

Nifty results analysis by Aaron

August 16, 2014

Luray, VA

When Aaron and I started dating, his ‘TRI GEEK’ vanity plate was almost a deal breaker.  I had known a smattering of triathletes, and by all accounts they were the crazies: the dudes who strutted around in outfits that would hardly fly in a 70s gay bar, and who had enough electronics to make a play for Inspector Gadget.  I objected to everything triathlon: the complexity of gear, the absurdity of costume, the obsession with data, all on top of my complete dismissal of all things swimming and biking.

My hatred of swimming started as a child at a sleep-away camp in the Pennsylvania mountains where the prime torture was a required swim class in a freezing, slimy green algae-filled lake.  Every feline hair in me smoldered.  Bikes were generally my friend as a child tooling around, and it wasn’t until adulthood that the fun of whizzing down hills was superseded by the sores on my ass, the terror of cars side-swiping, and being forced to ride that stupid exercise bike whenever I got injured running in college.

Aaron back in his tri element

Aaron back in his tri element

Aaron assured me that TRI GEEK was merely a relic of the past, and he hadn’t done a triathlon since 2008.  His VW died shortly after our first date, and the vanity plate was not carried over to the Jeep Wrangler he bought off Craigslist.  We carried on, under the assurance that I would never be made to bike or swim.

Fast forward a few years to the end of 2013, when I developed a kind of injury I had never had before, that threw my entire world for a loop.  I’ve struggled with all kinds of injuries over the years — IT band, knee issues, plantar fasciitis — but nothing like the fibroma, nothing that was visible — and *permanent*.  I was shaken to the root, and the terror of never being able to run again far exceeded my terror of the bike and the pool.  In no time, I had bought a new Speedo, ear plugs, goggles, a bathing hat, and eventually we retrieved one of his friend’s old Softride road bikes.  The conversion was complete.  Only I stunk.

The biking I took up pretty quickly, at least relative to the swimming.  There was definitely a learning curve — I don’t think Aaron will ever forget the time I got off my road bike and walked it down a hill because I was having trouble getting the brakes to work and didn’t want to risk flying through the trafficky intersection.  Once I got a hang of the brakes and gears and stuff, I quickly got comfortable on the bike, and pretty soon we were doing long (40-50 mile) rides in the mountains.  The swimming was pretty ghastly, though.  There was a lot of clenching of the side of the pool, gasping, half-drowning.  Half the time the goggles didn’t actually keep any water out of my eyeballs.

But I kept it up through the months, and by spring of 2014 I was game for signing up for the Luray Triathlon in August.  I was still a pretty crap swimmer, but I figured I could at least cover the distance and then the bike and run would be okay.  My biggest concern was the darn goggles.  It was going to be a challenge enough to swim the 1500 meters with functioning vision, but I couldn’t imagine how I was going to get through the swim half-blind and dumping the water out every couple minutes.  I threatened to do the swim without goggles entirely.  Aaron did not disguise what a terrible idea he thought this was.

We drove out to Luray early on Friday to get a test swim in.  There were many bits of the triathlon that I had never experienced before, including the open-water lake swim, the ‘bric’ (where you do a little jog after you bike to simulate what happens on race day), and the transition zones.  On Thursday night Aaron and I practiced transition zones and organizing all the stuff.  I typically hate this kind of thing, but Aaron made it fun by laying it all out on a towel as if it was a little picnic.  My bike handling skills are lacking, and it’s not easy for me to eat and drink while riding, so we concocted a strategy for getting calories in during T1 and T2 that centered around Ensure drinks.  Now the last time I had an Ensure was when I was puking two days from food poisoning back in June (the Ensure had gone down and then right back up), so I was banking on my stomach to not recall that experience on race day.

The results of the test swim were mixed.  On one hand, I loved everything about swimming in the lake, compared to the pool.  The water was fresh and clean, I loved seeing the sky and trees and mountains.  But the goggles were filling up with water no matter how I fiddled with them (tighter, looser, higher on the face, lower, over the hat, under the hat…).  The RD of the race, Dave Glover, is an old friend of Aaron’s from his Reston days, so we said hi to him after the swim.  Aaron introduced me, and I immediately launched into, ‘Do you think it’s crazy to swim in the race without goggles?’  There was a group of people clustered around Dave (Aaron thought they were lifeguards, but it turned out they were the pro athletes) who started whipping out extra pairs of goggles and offering them up.  I was overwhelmed and speechless by the outpouring of kindness, but one of the pairs from a woman seemed like it might be a real good contender, so I thanked her profusely and promised to find her after the race to return them.

notice the chipless chick in goggles running against the flow

notice the chipless chick in goggles running against the flow

We spent the night at Portobella, which Doug and Kerry have seriously spiffed up over the last year, and drove back to Luray the morning of the race.  We were one of the last cars to arrive and had to park in the far corner.  Given that this was my first triathlon and I didn’t know any of the drill, we should have given ourselves plenty of extra time for all the required set-up.  But good luck with that.  The pre-race set-up was entirely chaotic — there was no room for my bike on the rack, I didn’t know I had to get my number written on my arm, I never had a chance to pee, and when Aaron and I finally thought we were in the clear and approaching the start on the beach, we realized that both of us had forgotten to put on our ankle chips.  We streaked back up the stairs to retrieve the chips, and I barely made the start with my age-group.   The morning was chilly (in the 50s), so at least all the dashing around had warmed up me.  But my goggles had also entirely fogged up.

On my way into the water, I splashed the goggles to defog them, squatted and peed, and managed to start with my wave.  The never-before-tested pair of borrowed goggles performed far better than any of the previous pairs I had tried, so that was extremely fortunate.  What was not so fortunate was that my wave was the 3rd out of 8 waves (set only 2 minutes apart).  So my game plan of ‘swim real slow and don’t drown’ was met with the clawing hands and karate-kicking feet of the hundreds of swimmers advancing on me.  The first ten or so times I got mowed over were jarring and I’d swallow at lot of water and have to tread a bit to get re-oriented.  But eventually I got used to the sensation of being dragged under water, knocked in the head, and otherwise abused.  I tried to just focus on staying on course and not hyperventilating.  I gave one dude a sharp kick in the gut when he over-groped.

dead last in my age group coming out of the water....

dead last in my age group coming out of the water….

I managed to stay collected, and crawled along at my snail’s pace.  I breathed every stroke, and just kicked weakly, with a main goal of not going too far off course.  My right side is my strongly dominant side, and I’ve only recently begun to learn to swim on the left side.  But didn’t want my dominant arm to get too tired, so I breathed left occasionally.  Out of the 33 women in my 30-34 age group, I came out of the water dead last.  It had been irksome to spend much of the swim getting mowed over and mauled and knocked, but I had found the swim effort itself not to be difficult or tiring.  And I really loved swimming in the fresh open water in the sunshine.

I trotted up to the bikes and completed the routine we’d practiced, including downing the whole Ensure.  The vast majority of bikes were long gone, giving me an indication of how far behind I was from the rest of the field.  But I was really looking forward to getting on my bike and not have to worry about anyone’s foot colliding with my head.

i just learned how to ride with 1 hand

i just learned how to ride with 1 hand

The bike ride was the ultimate highlight of the race.  I enjoyed it end to end.  And I was way too newbie to be able to push myself, for fear that I’d blow up (I’ve done about ten long bike rides in my life).  So I just tooled along as the course rolled through the beautiful valley, lined with horses, cows, and goats in the morning light.  I relaxed, ate my snacks, drank my drink, let myself speed down the hills.  The course was two loops, so there were a lot of people doing their second loop while I did my first, and then my second loop was pretty darn lonely, as there were only the real stragglers left.

if they had a prize for the most uneven splits

I think I’m the only person who took longer to do the swim than the run……

Aaron had warned me that the first mile and half of the run would suck after being on the bike.  He did not lie.  But he had prepared me for it, and I was able to push through and have an awesome run.  The course wasn’t ideal — a double out-and-back that was all downhill on the way out and all uphill on the way back, and mostly exposed in the hot sun.

the good part of running is i know how to go fast; the bad part of running is that i know how to go fast

the good part of running is i know how to go fast; the bad part is that it really hurts to go fast

But it sure was good to be in my element on my feet again.  I ran the 10th overall fastest time of the day (38:25 for the 10k).  Aaron was the only non-elite who ran faster.  Ironically, the run was the only event of the day where I had any real discomfort or suffering, because it was the only event where I knew how to push myself.  The road was hot and exposed, and my chronically tendonitisy right hamstring squealed and groaned.

Best part of the tri by far: getting to see Aaron in his Bruno suit

Best part of the tri by far: getting to see Aaron in his Bruno suit

Aaron was waiting for me at the finish line, having had a fine day himself.  He was very relieved to hear that I had thoroughly enjoyed the triathlon and was game to do another some day.  As we wandered around the finish area, we ran into a whole bunch of Aaron’s old Reston triathlon buddies, who were awfully glad to see him back in action after his six-year hiatus.  It was a bit of a Homecoming for him.  We tracked down Calah, who had given us the goggles, and she was very relieved that the pair had worked well for me and told me to keep them.  We insisted on giving her money for them, and she said she could find her at the awards ceremony.  In fact, it turned out she’d broken the course record that day and finished 6th overall, beating many of the elite men!  She was a total rockstar.  Her down-to-earth friendliness somersaulted by entire impression of the Triathlete.  Maybe the Luray event, with its low-key, homespun feel attracts the triathletes that are super-friendly and relaxed.  Luray was a great first triathlon: a great blend of being small and friendly but extra well-organized and filled with volunteers.

Post-race treats

Post-race treats

On the way home to DC we made a little pit-stop to have DQ with Sean in Leesburg.  Afterwards Sean was game enough to sit down for our first podcast recording for NECTR (Neglected East Coast Trail Running).  There was some major doubting of my whole podcast idea going down, but I was determined and made them sit and do it.  In the end, everyone agreed after the session that it was a lot of fun and accomplished what we set out to do.   We need to get some technical upgrades (GarageBand would stop recording after a certain song length and sometimes we didn’t notice and kept talking).  But proof of concept was a success, so stay tuned for the first episode of NECTR!







2 Responses to Tri-ing

  1. […] coming out of the water pretty close to the tail end of the field. She tells the full story on her blog, so I won’t restate it all. But after the race, there was one last lesson of triathlon that […]

  2. dug says:

    the sticker on aa-run’s helmet doesn’t look very aero

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