I am shocked. I did really well at the Delta Triathlon last weekend, and my surprise comes not from how well I did compared to others in the race, but how well I did in comparison with myself. Looking at my times for my most recent sprint distance triathlon in July 2011 – Point Grey Triathlon – with the exact same distances, you can see how this race stacked up.
This is a huge improvement, though there are some factors that explain some of the difference, namely The Accident that had me out of training for six weeks early last year, and the mild hills that are part of the Point Grey Triathlon course. But seven minutes on a sprint distance is a huge amount of time to shave off. I expected to improve, but not by that much.
The Day Before
This is the first race where I felt little, if any, nervousness. The night before my first Olympic distance triathlon, I was a zoned-out basket case the entire day before. This race, I hardly thought about what lay ahead. I had no trouble falling asleep and then slept solidly until the alarm went off at 7am. I ate a regular breakfast, goofed around with the kids, checked my gear once, pumped up my bike tires, then we loaded into the car and were off. Part of it is that the Delta Triathlon was my eighth triathlon so I knew what to expect. I also didn’t have high expectations for this particular race due to the injuries that threw me off training for the preceding few weeks.
We arrived at the Ladner Leisure Centre on a gorgeous sunny morning, an hour and a half before my scheduled race time of 10:20am. I was taking my sweet time picking up my race numbers and getting body marked when someone informed me that things were proceeding “well ahead” of schedule. Apparently my heat was set to start in less than half an hour and I still had to get my transition area set up and change into my bathing suit. I motored down to transition and put everything where I thought it should go. As I left, another athlete remarked, “that was the fastest transition set up I’ve ever seen.” It’s funny to realize that I’ve now raced enough to be quick and confident about setting up – I used to spend so much time fussing around in transition getting everything just right.
After all the rushing, I ended up in the swim holding area for what felt like an hour, idly chatting with others and getting hungry. (Thanks to the awesome volunteer who gave me half a banana from the volunteer food!) What nobody tells you before you start these types of events, is that there is a whole lot of “hurry up and wait”. You’re always rushing to get there early, but then you often have to wait around for ages to actually start.
The swim portion is typically the most dreaded part of the triathlon; I love swimming, but even I’m happy when the swim is done. For this reason, novice triathletes sometimes prefer pool swims over open water swims. Pools offer a controlled environment, and no chance of lurking sea creatures. But I wouldn’t recommend the Delta Triathlon to anyone who isn’t confident in the water. In an open water swim, you always have the option of starting slow and way out to the sides of the field to avoid other racers. But, at Delta, they throw nine people at a time into a lane 25 metres long. As each person finishes, a new person is added. Though people started at the same time as others with the same estimated swim time, you could expect to be passed if slow or have to pass if fast. I found the swim to be quite aggressive, and not for the faint of heart (this might also be because I was in with fairly fast – and confident – swimmers). 25m is not a long length for passing, but I did a fair amount of it and was passed a couple times.
The race volunteers were supposed to inform me when I had just one lap left, but there must have been a bottleneck at the end of the lane right when they would have shown the card for me, because I suddenly got to the end of the lane and felt someone grabbing my head yelling, “You’re done! You’re done!” It was a pleasant surprise to be done, and I’m glad someone was counting because I lost track in the melee in the pool.
This is where my training with the swim club showed. I shaved 1:30 off my time from my last sprint triathlon. It might at least partially be because of the drafting going on in that tight little lane, and all the wall push offs, but I’ll take it.
I raced down the long run out from the pool to transition, threw on my bike gear and headed out. The bike portion was a double loop on a mostly flat course, with only one tiny hill up and over an overpass just before the turnaround. The bike leg went fast. I got out to the turnaround and was like, “This is it? I got here already?!” I felt exactly the same when I got back into the race staging area before heading out for the second loop. I tried to push myself on the bike – not thinking about how my legs might feel on the run – and passed a few people, but I couldn’t sustain the big ring for long at any time during the race. On the second loop, just before the turnaround, a woman absolutely blew past me as I climbed up the overpass. She had 39 marked on the back of her leg, so I’m relatively certain she is the one who ended up winning our age category. My final time, including both transitions was 41:02.
My transition to the run felt slow – my hands felt cold and shaky and it took me awhile to tie up my shoelaces. I haven’t been doing brick workouts since February, so when I started to run, my legs were leaden and I felt like I was moving like a snail. Thankfully my legs loosened up after the first kilometre and it was easy to get into a good rhythm on the pancake-flat course through one of Ladner’s suburban neighbourhoods. On a 5km race, the way I set my pace is to take it a bit easy at the start and then build to a pace that is steady and hard the whole time. I had a few moments where I really felt like I needed to slow down, but convinced myself to keep up, especially as I started catching people. I predicted 23-24 minutes based on my level of training, but I finished in 22:48 (a 4:34/km pace), which had me stoked.
The whole family was at the finish cheering me on and ringing cattle bells. I pushed to the finish and it was over. I checked my time while driving home and just about lost it I was so excited. I got a third place finish in my age group, which I hadn’t expected so unfortunately I skipped the awards where I would have received a medal.
In the weeks leading up to the race, I had been thinking about throwing in the towel this year on triathlon. It just didn’t seem worth it – the early mornings, trying to fit in workouts while work was getting crazy busy, modifying training to work around injuries, and those same injuries not getting better. But this race reminded me of why I love triathlon and the training that goes with it. A beautiful day, a beautiful flat course, the energy of competition, my family cheering for me and – finally – my training paying off so hugely.
3/29 in my age category