Friday, June 20, 2014

Tejas Tri--Race Report

A few weeks ago, I competed in the Tejas Triathlon in Sugarland, TX.  I had looked at previous years' results and knew the field was going to be much more competitive than other races I've done, so I didn't really expect to end up ranking well.  I primarily signed up because of the swim.  I am wanting to work my way up to a half ironman, which means getting comfortable with a long, open water swim.  I'm completely comfortable with the 400m pool swims I've been racing in, so I figured it was time to up the ante.  Tejas Tri had a 600m open water swim, but with an age group wave start and taking place in a small neighborhood "lake".  It seemed like an ideal way to take the next step on my swimming.

600m is not a long swim, I've done more than 3 times that in a pool without breaks.  Looking out at those buoys lined up though?  That made it seem a little more intimidating. 
That's me in the orange, taking my long, blind walk from transition to the start line.  I think one of my least favorite parts about races is sitting around with no glasses waiting for the start. 
My group was second to go.  I'm standing up in orange, getting my goggles on.  The water for this race is really warm, almost too warm, so no one was swimming in wetsuits. 
And before I knew it, it was time to start swimming!  The first 25m or so went really well.  I stayed to the back and outside because I knew I'd be one of the slowest swimmers in the group.
The next 25m still went pretty okay.  I bumped into a few people, got what felt like a light kick to the leg from someone, but none of this "washing machine" scariness you read about.  Of course, the next day, the spot where I got that "light kick" looked like this:

But it really didn't feel that bad in the moment

The rest of the first 100m went pretty well.  I was sighting okay and swimming well.  I was starting to get tired already though.  A lot of people talk about panic in their first open water swim, they freak out and that makes it hard to breathe correctly.  I didn't really have that experience.  What DID happen was a complete inability to find a rhythm.  I was getting through that 100m, but I was constantly stopping, moving myself away from people, shortening my stroke when I bumped into someone else.  Maybe I'm just too nice?  The lack of rhythm completely messed me up though.  I was wasting energy like it grows on trees.  The swim is NOT where you want to waste energy in a triathlon.  When I tried to just go for it and finally felt I was evening out, it turned out to be because I was going off course and just away from everyone else (the nice lifeguard blew a whistle and got my attention before I went too far).
I ended up doing a LOT of breaststroke, because at least I could do that steadily.  Problem is, I never swim more than 25m of breaststroke in training.  That would come back to bite me in the butt later.  It's also more tiring. 

I always felt safe in the swim.  There were a lot of lifeguards floating on rescue tubes and more people in kayaks.  The rules say you can stop and rest by holding on to something as long as you don't make forward progress and I did end up deciding to take advantage of that in the second half of the swim.  I saw a few other people do the same and all of the guards that were in the water seemed to be great, they really encouraged the swimmers to just take it easy and rest and then cheered them on and told them they were doing good when they took off again.

Moral of the swim---the ability to swim a mile non-stop in a pool means absolutely NOTHING about your open water swim with a crowd abilities.  It is almost an entirely different skill.
I was feeling pretty crummy on my way out of the water.  See all those men around me?  Yeah, they weren't in 30 and up female wave.  Not one, but TWO waves that started behind me caught up to me.  I knew I wasn't going to be competitive, but sheesh.  I gave Josh a big thumbs down when I saw him and some random spectator yelled at me that it was okay, the swim was over, it was time to move on.  Right she was...
Transition was a little bit encouraging.  We had assigned spots by age group and some bikes were still on the rack, that meant I wasn't making a total fool of myself.
It looks like I'm just walking out of transition, but I really was jogging and actually did pretty good here.  Even with walking out of the swim, my T1 was middle of the pack for my age group. 
Because there was some rain and transition was in a grassy area that I knew was going to turn into a muddy mess, I chose to start with my shoes on the bike. 
It was my first time to strap into my shoes on the bike in a race.  I had practiced it a couple times at home and found it pretty easy, so I was comfortable giving it a try.  I was worried I would grind mud into my clips walking across the field in shoes.  Bike mount went well and getting into my shoes was not a problem.  I could definitely improve though. 

The bike portion was more mental than physical.  It was a flat, easy course.  Because my swim was so abysmal though, I was CONSTANTLY being passed by the young guys catching up to me.  That was a little demoralizing.  They were all nice enough, announcing when they were passing and every once in a while shouting a word of encouragement as they went by.  I regretted not riding hard enough in my last race, so my little mantra for this one was "race the bike".  I know it's my best leg, I need to make up as much time as possible here.  So I tried to block out all the guys passing me because I wasn't really racing them anyway and eventually I started catching up to some women in my age group. 
Remember how I said all the breaststroke would come back to bite me in the butt? About halfway through the bike, muscles started to cramp up in my right hamstring and glutes.  It wasn't fun, but I managed to stand on my pedals and stretch a little bit to make it bearable.   
Bike dismount was great, I was out of my shoes and on one pedal at the dismount line, able to run into T2 without ever stopping.  Virtually a flying dismount, just a little slower than the more experienced folks.
All that was left was a little jog through the neighborhood (and past a sign warning of alligators in the water...yikes!)
It was starting to get hot and I was running out of energy....until I passed the first timing mat, which gives the announcer my name.  As he's announcing my name, he also says a second name.  I could see my shadow in front of me and another shadow was creeping up and starting to pass
In short, aw hellz no.  I really really hate being passed at the finish line
Turns out I had a little bit of energy left for a short, all out sprint.  So the guy actually beat me by something like 20 minutes because he had started after me, but it was a fun finish. 

As far as the race goes, it was well organized, on time, warm water and a safe course.  I was really disappointed in the tech shirt quality, I think it's the cheapest feeling shirt in my drawer.  Mostly, I was disappointed that they did not hand out medals.  We got cheap water bottles instead.  I've got plenty of water bottles, I would have really liked a medal for a full sprint race with a longer than typical, open water swim. 

I was feeling a little down about my ranking/times when I first saw them, but then I compared against previous races and it turns out I didn't do all that bad.  My swim pace was actually faster than I swam in my first race (which was only 400m and a pool).  Thinking back, I'd say I probably felt just about the same after this swim as I did after that one too.  My bike went well, I kept my pace over 16mph for the first time (still pretty slow, but improving!).  My run was a 12:30 pace, which isn't fabulous, but it's not terrible and it's better than other races I've done in similar temperatures.  Each of my transitions were a full minute faster than my average race T1 and T2, so that's improving as well.  Basically, I raced well in a really competitive field.   I ended up 20 out of 23 in my age group and 447 out of 579 overall.  Not bad at all when it's all said and done. 

Anyone out there have open water tips for me?  I have very limited open water practice opportunity, what can I do in the pool to feel more comfortable in open water?

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