Guest Post: Jessica’s first TRI is in the books

We run because we love it.

You’re lucky if you never reach that day where that Wednesday tempo run on your training schedule starts sounding about as fun as scrubbing mold out of that water bottle you forgot to rinse, but it happened to me last summer.

Three marathons in, running stopped being fun, but quitting wasn’t an option. I was starting the process toward my fourth 26.2, and my heart wasn’t in it.

So as my job was bringing me to Rochester, New York, I changed things up, and Sunday evening I typed the words into my blog: I am a TRIATHLETE. (Related: I am a duathlete and I am a marathoner).

If all goes as planned, on July 14, I will be a half-iron lady.

I’m thrilled not only by my results but by the fact that I felt SO prepared, thanks to a great group of friends who advised me

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The deets: Overall time – 1:47:21; 820 yard swim – 24:00; T1 – 3:12; 13.6 mile bike – 50:00; T2 – 2:00; 3.1 mile run- 27:40. I finished 168 of 260 overall, and 12 of 20 in my age group.

(Note: This is the cleaned up and shortened version of this blog. Click here for the exhausted, rambling, Keuka Lake Riesling-induced version.)

(Another note: Thinking about a tri? Read all the way toward the bottom, where I offer some tips.)

PREPARING

When I started this madness I thought I could get away with a one piece and a hybrid. By the time I got done loading my road bike, my wetsuit, clips and the other goodies into my car, my trunk looked like this. Remind me never to call running expensive and equipment intensive again.

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I stayed in the dorms at Keuka College. Saturday night I sat on the same dock I’d be spotting the next morning from the distance. Could I actually do this? I was out of bed before 6 the next morning, set up my transition using tips from the wonderful coach Mary Eggers. I made my first rookie mistake, I left to stretch, forgot transition closed an hour before my wave, and had to ask the transition crew to hand me my swim stuff, giving them the “it’s my first time” smile.

SWIM

At Mary’s clinic the previous day, she told us horror stories of open water competition that left me wondering if I should have done less lap-swimming and more aqua kickboxing.

With the joke, “ok ladies, if you end up passing a slower guy, remember this is a non-contact sport,” the last wave of Olympic athletes were off, and they let the mere sprinters into the lake to warm up. As others took the dive, I put my big toe in, and it took all my willpower to not be That-Person-Who-Jumps-Back-With-Her-Tail-Between-Her-Legs.

62 degrees is a lot warmer on dry land.

So I inched in, first to my ankles, then my knees, then my waist, then I finally took the plunge and almost came up in shock. You get used to it, the people around me said. I might as well had “first-timer” written on my forehead. I stayed in until they cleared the water. I caught up with two other first-timers, and for a half hour we waited.

That was the worst part.

I only learned to swim in August, taking a few lessons at the Y then progressing on my own. This was my second time in open water – the first time, as I was coming to shore, I came up for air and ended up face to face with a dead fish. I may have screamed a little. Ok… more than a little.

The silver caps, younger females in the sprint race, were finally up. 30 seconds. 10 seconds. Horn.

I didn’t get kicked in the face. No one swam over me. Mary’s spitting-in-the-goggles-to-get-rid-of-fog strategy worked beautifully.

But I was swimming like a drunk on New Year’s Eve, all over the place. Nice blue line at the bottom of the pool, I’ll never take you for granted again.

Four buoys helped split the swim up on the way out, but getting back we were just citing an arc that was deceptively far away. Somehow, I made it. No broken nose. No bruises. No dead fish. I stripped off my cap and goggles, ran up the stairs, and into transition.

BIKE

The beautiful Flower awaited.

Flower is my lovely Cannondale Synapse, a gift from Uncle Sam who was quite kind to me at tax time. She’s named after her first race, the Flower City duathlon.

The wetsuit came off, the bike shorts, tank and clips went on, and inhaling a Honey Stinger I ran my bike out. I’m still getting used to the new clips, so I avoided embarrassment by the mount sign. Narrowly.

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It was an easy 14-mile course with a few hills. And that’s where I learned the beauty of all the indoor cycling I did this winter – I crushed it on those hills, passing people left and right.

Less than an hour later I was back in transition. I re-racked Flower, and put on the Asics, knee straps and compression sleeves.

Money can buy speed on the bike. I didn’t have the advantage the people with fancy tri bikes had, but at least I was off the hybrid.

But running? It’s all you.

It’s only a half hour of your life.

RUN

I’m assuming this is a family-friendly blog, so I’ll keep what I was saying as I took those first few steps of the run to myself.

It was not pretty.

My legs didn’t know what to think at the sudden change of movement, so they just went numb. I sucked down a mint chocolate GU, saw my legs beneath me and trusted they knew what to do, since I couldn’t feel them.

The pain eased up after the first half mile, but as much as I told my body to slow down, I couldn’t control my speed. It was a weird autopilot kind of thing.

I had used my phone app for the bike, but as I came through transition, my hands were sweaty and shaking so I left it behind and ran without GPS. We were running along a back road by the lake, and even though everything hurt, I just wanted to be done.

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I thought about my old friends in Ohio, I thought about my new friends in Rochester, I thought about my pups Lizzie and Brandy. At the moment it seemed like an eternity, but in retrospect, the last 27 minutes went quickly.

Mary was announcing. Shaky and dizzy, I crossed the finish line with that weird exhausted kind of grin. “Everything hurts but I feel great.”

I did it.

I got some ice cream. And a delicious bottle of Yates Cellars semi-sweet Riesling, which would be gone later that evening.

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THINKING ABOUT A TRIATHLON?

From one newbie to another, here are a few things I was glad I did:

1)      Swimming lessons: I signed up for basic lessons at the Y, but lucked out, with two triathletes guiding me, I learned things like spotting and working with your arms to save the legs.

2)      Equipment: You don’t need top of the line, but without my road bike and wetsuit I would have been at a serious disadvantage. Shop in the winter for a wetsuit, I got mine at half off.

3)      Seek out all the advice you can. Don’t be afraid to ask silly questions.

4)      Practice, practice, practice! Nothing can prepare you from that horrible feeling going from bike to run. But you can learn how to deal with it!

5)      Get in open water. Even though I only swam in a lake once, this one time practicing helped me out so much on race day.

6)      Learn the transition rules! All my stuff had to fit into a space about one foot by three feet. Plan it out ahead of time! What will you need when?

WHAT’S NEXT

So what went right? I was prepared, had quick transition times, was ready for the hills and finished strong.

Where can I do better? More open water practice, if I can quit the zigzagging I can shave some serious minutes off the swim time. I should also practice mounting and unmounting on the bike with the new clips. Oh, and I should learn flip turns in the pool, no more being spoiled by that wall every 25 yards.

June 16, I’ll be doing double the distance at the Quakerman triathlon at Orchard Park. Then one month later I’ll be at the Musselman half iron in Geneva. I’ll finish the season with the Highlander Cycle Tour (Corkscrew Century) in September and the Wine Glass Full Marathon in October.

“But Jessica, I thought you were sick of marathons?”

Perhaps I needed a break, because tomorrow is my nine-mile training run, and I can’t wait for it!

Bring it!!

Follow my blog for more random musings as the big race day approaches. Hugs to the lovely Scootadoot ladies for letting me guest post, and happy miles!

Jessica Alaimo is a journalist and a three-time marathoner living in Rochester, New York. She completed her first triathlon June 2, and is training for her first half Ironman July 14. Outside of training she teaches indoor cycling, enjoys gluten-free cooking and competing for a spot on the couch with her two retired racing greyhounds, Lizzie and Brandy.

Like her shiny brand new Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/jessicatris703 and follow her on Twitter, https://twitter.com/jessicatris703

9 thoughts on “Guest Post: Jessica’s first TRI is in the books

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience with us Jessica! I’m so glad you didn’t have any battle scars from the swim portion. LOVE the “swam like a drunk on New Year’s Eve” reference cause I can totally see it! Am super excited to join you for the big event in July!!

  2. Awesome job! Thanks for sharing this and congrats!!
    Question: Is it ridiculous for me to attempt a race like this on a hybrid? Im about to buy a new bike and a hybrid seems practical but if I want to do a few races a road bike might be better? I have done 80 miles on a mountain bike because I’m dumb so there’s that…

    • It’s not entirely insane to do a short or Olympic tri on a hybrid! Just mind the cut off times, since you might be slower on the hybrid, you want to make sure you can get through the course (usually they are pretty generous!) And I’m with you, I did a full century on a hybrid, it took me 9 hours 🙂

  3. The thought of a triathlon is so much more appealing to me than, say, a marathon! 😉 The idea definitely intrigues me.

    Thanks so much for writing about your experience for us. I’m looking forward to nosing around your blog and I’ll definitely be looking forward to hearing all about your half-Iron!

You’ve heard my thoughts! Would love to hear yours here.