NJ State Triathlon Race Report

I ran the New Jersey State Sprint Triathlon on Saturday. This is proof that I did indeed survive in one piece: dsc3571 I’m going to begin this post by saying that my attitude going into this race was unlike any race I’ve done in the past. I started running again seventeen days before, after being in pain for seven weeks. Even when I was back to running, I was skeptical about if it was a fluke or if the pain-free state of my “test runs” would last. I was biking and swimming regularly, but I was hating biking, and not confident in my swimming because I was trying not to irritate my leg the entire time. The point is, as I stated to many people last week, I was doing this triathlon. Not racing it. Brennan talked to lectured me on Wednesday, telling me I was not to get competitive, think I needed to pass everyone, and go try to accomplish anything other than finishing the darn thing without pain. I told her not to worry, that was my only goal! She didn’t believe me at all, but I knew Saturday was going to be one of those days I planned as I went along according to how I felt. Because honestly, nothing was making any sense, so that was the only way this was going to play out.  I”m not saying I had no goals or plans whatsoever. They were something like this: Swim: Be strong. Don’t back off. Don’t let anyone swim over you. Don’t let anyone kick you in the face so you’ll get knocked out and drown. Don’t choke on water. Don’t kick too hard and irritate the IT band. Hammer it in after the turn.  T1 & T2: Don’t stress, make sure the ITB and everything else is in check and ready to go – stretch if that’s necessary in order to do so. Bike: See how fast these new tires can go. Average a faster speed than last year. Don’t irritate the ITB for the run. Run: Relax. Just do it. Don’t be in pain at any point. Think of River to Sea and Hood to Coast.

The line to the parking lot at 6 AM. Pretty sunrise!

I got to the park pretty early. Apparently it was a good time to get there parking-wise, and many people had already arrived, but for my sanity, it was a bit too early. Oh well. I just wanted to start the darn thing. I usually see a lot of people I know, but I only saw a few before the start. I’m usually an extrovert pre-race – chatting with people calms my nerves and gets me pumped up for the race. I know lots of other runners who prefer to listen to music off in some corner alone…while I understand the concept, that is not me. I set up my spot in transition and then finally made my way to the swim start, where they were just starting to allow practice swims to the right side of the actual start. The water was ninety degrees. Ugh. It didn’t feel too bad during the practice swims I took, but I noticed my arms were pretty tired.

Setting up in transition.
Setting up in transition.

SWIM. My wave began at 7:47 AM. Last year, I was just with the F20-24 age group. This year, they merged two age groups so that F20-29 had the same start wave. This scared the crap out of me when I read it, and with good reason. That meant twice as many people were starting in the water at the same time. Twice as many chances to get kicked. And die (sorry, dramatic). As soon as I started swimming, I felt like something was off. There were swim too many people around me. I couldn’t breathe. I scolded myself, reminding myself of all the time I’d spent in the pool this summer, and the open water swim I did in June that felt totally fine. Even so, I kept looking up, more than I’d intended to, and seeing the buoys with the distance markers on them – 200, 300. I couldn’t believe I was going through such a crisis on the swim. I wanted air, that was all. I wanted to quit and be on my bike immediately. I felt like I was doing horribly. I rounded the big yellow buoy without any trouble, and then the crows in front of me thinned out. I was able to keep my head down more and actually swim normally, to an extent. Everyone seemed to slow down at this point, but it was my plan all along to speed up, so…I did. It was more of a “get-me-out-of-here” motive, however. I hit the ramp and ran out of that ninety-degree lake like it was on fire. T1. To put things frankly, I didn’t really give a crap. I felt like I almost died during the swim from a panic attack (later I would realize it was totally because I wasn’t used to 90 degree water and all those other people…). I had a stomach cramp and I was shaky. I put on my shoes and everything but also didn’t rush too much because I couldn’t catch my breath. Should I have? Well, yes, But again, I didn’t have expectations for this race. More on that later. BIKE. The first part of the ride was mad frustrating. I wanted to fly, because I felt like I completely blew the swim. There were so many people in my way though, and I wasn’t sure how to apply the passing rules when we were still in the park and so many people were riding slowly right in front of me. I was braking a lot, which was annoying and loud, since I just learned my brake pads are now nonexistent. I finally got into a groove when I left the park road, and was holding over 20 mph whenever I could. My max speed got up to 25.7, on a slight downhill. I was picking off people on road bikes with aerobars, and Camelbak vests, and tri shorts, and clips and bike shoes every minute, and it was awesome. I’m pretty sure with all that fancy equipment they should be biking faster, I would think. And then I’d pass them, to show them my broke self was fit, and they could get over it. Disclaimer: these were my actual thoughts during the race, and as bad as they sound, I’m just getting you, the reader, into my head. Cycling angry is an exhilarating feeling. Try it. 

T2. It seemed to be all-systems-go on the IT band. I did a little stretching and jogged to the starting mat after racking my bike. I’d gotten my Garmin all set with a couple miles to go on the bike. Why I took the time to put on my Garmin in T1: to make sure I wasn’t running too fast. Coming back from an injury and being in a triathlon, I had a feeling my pacing would be way off at the start of the run. I wanted to make sure I kept it under control. RUN. I saw 6:36-6:40 on my watch the first half mile of the run. What? No, no, no, slowww down! How is this 6:36 pace, it feels like over 7?! I talked myself into relaxing and slowing down eventually. The run hardly felt like a brick, which was weird but way more…um, enjoyable, than last year’s run. I hovered in the 6:50-7:05 range for the rest of the run, thinking about how I felt the whole time so any pain or discomfort in my ITB wouldn’t be ignored. My splits were: 6:53, 7:05, 6:55, 57.47 for 0.16 (5:59 pace). I was surprised at how easy a sub-22 5k in a tri right after an injury felt, but I was pleased with it.





Note: the bike was 10 miles this year (11.5 last year). I learned this…at the start.

There was a QR code on our bibs that I scanned right after, and it displayed really incorrect results. It said my swim time was 14:55, which made me think that it must have been as awful as I thought. I decided to skip the finish festivities, mostly because last year all the sun and bad food and announcing and party music had just made me overwhelmed. This year especially, I didn’t think I was close to placing in my age group at all, so I might as well get my stuff, take some pictures, and leave knowing I had accomplished what I wanted: I wasn’t hurting! So, you can imagine my surprise when I was at a diner with my parents and checked the official results to find out I had placed fourth in my age group. I think my mom was really confused as to why this made me so angry at the time, but I’m sire some of you will understand. I’d wanted to place last year and was fifth. This year I was hardly trying – for the first time ever, it wasn’t on my radar! What if I had really took it seriously, ran faster and made my transitions faster? Ahhhhhh. I knew exactly why I didn’t do that this time around, but it was still frustrating in a weird way. Then, I found out I’d gotten a medal for being the second New Jersey resident age group finisher…but I wasn’t there to receive it. Oops. This race report is a mix of strange, conflicting emotions, I apologize for that…however, that appears to be most of my blog?  Let me take a time-out by sharing some other pictures from the tri…

The start banners were from the Unite Half…ha.
Thinking that I’m in the clear pain-wise and can sprint it in now….
Bottle opener medal FTW!
Bottle opener medal FTW!
Another "I-survived-the-swim" picture. I'm not as concerned with getting water out of my ears in this one.
Another “I-survived-the-swim” picture. I’m not as concerned with getting water out of my ears in this one.
Transition area.
Transition area.

Overall, all silly frustrations aside, I learned a lot from this race. It was a huge confidence booster for me, not just going into the races I have planned the rest of the summer and the year, but for myself as a runner and athlete in general. It’s good to know I can come off an injury strong, hold myself back, and still do well. It’s good to know I can compete with the other cyclists in tris, now that I can average 19.5 mph on my new tires. It’s good to be back. 🙂


The cheapest triathlete ever

Go ahead and challenge me on this, but it is likely that after reading this post, you will agree that I am actually the cheapest triathlete ever.

Let’s start at the beginning. I have only done one triathlon, the New Jersey State Sprint Triathlon last July. I didn’t change my training very much because swimming and biking are as much a part of my typical training week as running, by necessity of staying healthy. It has been this way since my senior year of high school. In college I did more swimming and biking than ever, unfortunately because I was injured more than ever. Anticipating biking more when I moved into an off-campus house before senior year of college, I decided to buy a better bike than the one I’d gotten at Dick’s a few years back. With the intention of getting a road bike, I ended up leaving the bike shop having purchased a hybrid, which I was somehow convinced was good enough for the use I would put into it (rides of 25 miles or less, commuting 11 miles to and from work occasionally). Only a year later, I realized I should have just gotten an entry-level road bike, because the truth was always there: I wanted to compete in triathlons. Not just finish them, but race them.

Tough luck. I was stuck with what I had given my very tight budget. I raced the triathlon with the thicker tires the bike originally came with, averaging 17.9 miles per hour on the flat, 11.5-mile course. I think I came in around 645th of 1100 for the bike…and 62nd in the run? Something crazy like that (the swim was in the 400s). It was really clear that despite my efforts, I was truly a runner, and also that my bike was not cutting it for my goals. I came in fifth in my age group, and the top three got to the podium. I ran faster than the second and third place women, I think, and had the fifth fastest run time for females overall. And let me tell you: I wasn’t saving a darn thing, I biked hard. For a lousy 17.9 mph.

Last year’s results (kind of blurry…). I am highlighted in yellow, 5th in my age group. Cycling-related frustration ensued.

That fact left me frustrated, and I decided to see what I could do to make my bike faster. A trip to a bike shop left me with slightly thinner tires and a bike computer. So, you know, I could beat myself up when I bike up hills slower than I would run….I have been going on longer rides this summer, however, and it just doesn’t feel like it’s enough. Biking has felt like a chore. Like the definition of the word chore. Like I’d rather wash my kitchen floor some days. So, I went to another bike shop at the end of last week. Going to a bike shop is an experience.  As someone who works in a specialty running store, I get it. I get that you often need to spend money to get something that is going to provide you with the best experience and fit possible. I feel like a hypocrite every time I go to a bike shop for this reason. This time was no different – I felt like that customer who wants to extend the life of her shoes that already have 700 miles on them by adding a Spenco insert. It doesn’t work that way.

My conversation with the guy at the shop went something like this:

Me: “I want to make my bike easier to ride, and go faster, but I can’t afford a road bike right now. I’m riding 30+ miles on this and it just feels slow.”

BG (bike guy): “That’s about as much as you will get on this bike. You really need a road bike.”

Me: “I averaged 17.9 mph in the tri last year and would have placed if I had gone faster, I think.”

BG: “You rode 17.9 on that thing? Well, you’re clearly a good cyclist. You just need a road bike.”

Me: “On rides through the Sourlands I have averaged about 16, but it just feels like such hard work up the hills.”

BG: “You’re riding through the Sourlands?” (shakes head) “You just need a road bike.”

It was kind of awful. However, I got a new set of tires that are even thinner, and they do feel awesome compared to the old ones. As in, I’m almost excited to see what I can do Saturday! Specifically, how close I can get to 20 mph now that I have hit those speeds on regular, easy rides I’ve done since then.

I also bought bike shorts. I’ve worn them twice – whenever I wasn’t going to hop off and do a run right after. They are definitely a nice change but sometimes don’t provide quite as much relief as I was expecting. So this was a nice little rant about how I’m the cheapest triathlete ever. If this summer had begun differently coming off the marathon I would have considered saving money for a road bike more seriously, but now that my focus is on the two relays, I will be thinking about that more later. I arranged to bike the race course tomorrow morning with three other people, so I’m looking forward to that!

Running update: I ran 3 miles Sunday! However, I ran a little less than 2 today in preparation for running 3ish with a group (!!!) tomorrow and then waiting until go-time Saturday to give my leg a rest and it did not feel so great. There seems to be some sort of knot that has traveled higher up my quad and is giving me pain when I sit down and rest my leg fully. It didn’t bother me running until after I finished today…so I’m being super, super cautious now because I really expected to be all set to go Saturday after my successful run two days ago.

In work-related news, we received an unexpected visit from a Nathan rep on Thursday for our group run. He provided optional sample hydration belts and handhelds for the runners…and beer. I wanted to stick some bottles in a hydration belt for a fun photo op, but not everyone cooperated with my silliness that night. He also brought some posters and stickers, one of which said something like the following:

…except it said that dehydration is THE leading cause of running injuries. I am very curious as to if that is the case. Could you really be slightly dehydrated on a normal run and end up injuring yourself? I will have to do some research on it. In my somewhat-injured state I’m interested in figuring out exactly how that works.