Wanting to get my season started earlier this year, I decided to sign up for the UBC race in Vancouver. My friend, Kay, agreed and we decided to make a weekend of it.
After some discussion of the relative merits of sprint vs Olympic distance, as well as the relative competitiveness of each category, I signed up for the Olympic distance (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run). Kay, with her own goals in mind, signed up for the sprint.
In th days prior to the race we eagerly watched the weather forecasts – it looked like being a cold day. There followed much angst (and googling) regarding how to dress on the day.
Soon the big day arrived and we packed up our gear and made the five hour drive down to Vancouver. Once there we quickly mobilised our bikes to go and check out the course before it got dark.
The course looked simple enough, but the run from the pool to transition was incredibly long. We discussed the merits of having shoes at the swim exit. The temperature was also a concern, it was cold! Again, I wondered if I had an appropriate clothing plan.
The next morning I was up early as I had to get my bike safety-checked and my transition set up before my allotted heat time of 8:20, plus I was still on the fence over what to wear. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not nearly as cold as I had feared (though, be assured it definitely was very cold).
I chatted to some of my fellow competitors, and still no consensus. I don’t really own a lot of cold weather tri gear, with most of my events taking place in the sunny Okanagan, so the options open to me were somewhat limited.
I knew I didn’t want to spend a lot of time changing. I might not be in with a chance of winning (in fact might, does not really describe my nonexistent odds of winning very adequately at all), but nevertheless, my time is important to me and I didn’t want to waste it unnecessarily; this was a race after all. I left my fleece on my bike, just in case, and headed down to the pool.
At the poolside we were given a ‘dry bag’ which would be handed to us as we exited the pool. In it I put my shoes, (switch into bike shoes and leave them in transition awaiting my return for the run) and a towel. At the last second I threw in the thin long sleeve top that I had put on when I woke up that morning; not really triathlon attire, but…just in case.
The swim was 1500m and snaked up and down the 50m pool: up and back in each lane, duck under the lane rope and repeat. After eight lanes, get out, return to the start and do it again. The start was delayed by about an hour, I waited nervously. When we were finally called, we were instructed to line up based on our expected finish time, then, one at a time, at ten second intervals, we were started.
Immediately I missed having had a warm up, there had been spare space in the pool for a warmup lane. I had attempted to do a dry land warmup, but it clearly had not been adequate: I was struggling. It took me nearly 400m to settle into a rhythm, during which time around ten people passed me. All I could think was that I must have really overestimated my abilities! (Of course, in reality it could just have easily been their underestimations).
The walk back to the start was a welcome reprieve before more mind-numbing laps. People were still passing me and I had no idea of how fast I was (or wasn’t) going. It certainly didn’t feel fast.
When I finally got out of the water we had to walk (Walk! Not run, this is a pool!) – walk really quickly – almost all of the way around the pool to the door and out into the sting of the six-degree air. We were handed our dry bags and there were tents available for changing.
I stayed with my semi-minimalist strategy; I towelled off the worst of the water, put on the shirt over my tri top and pulled on my shoes. I jogged up the lengthy hill to transition, switched shoes, grabbed my helmet and bike and headed for the mount line.
The bike course consisted of four fairly flat loops. By the first turnaround, I was really regretting not putting my gloves on.
Should I stop and put them on?
No, that’s a waste of time – tough it out!
The route was shaded by trees on the way out, but shards of sunlight pierced through for the return trip. They felt so nice; the temptation to stop and stretch out like a cat in the sunbeam was almost impossible to resist.
I kept going.
I focussed on my breathing and my heart rate (both good)
…and how damn cold it was. My mind was really starting to wander in the second half.
I thought about the upcoming run, my cats and sunbeams (did I mention how cold it was?), last nights dinner, todays lunch, this blog entry…How much farther 40km is than my usual 20km (and how much longer Ironman would be than this). I seemed to be going so slowly.
Am I on lap two or three?
Finally, I completed my last lap – I could not have been happier, and turned back to transition.
I couldn’t really feel my toes, and my fingers refused to co-operate in changing gear or braking, but I made it to transition, changed into my running shoes and headed out.
At the start of the run I focussed on going slowly to allow the blood to return to my extremities. As I ran I suddenly realised that I was actually going to do this – my first Olympic tri – I knew I could finish! It really is quite new for me to be able to line up the start of events such as this, safe in the knowledge that I am capable of completion.
I ran on.
I should have taken off my sweater at transition, it’s too hot now. I felt jealous of the athletes that had started later, just for a minute. I tied my shirt around my shoulders and carried on.
As I came to the last couple of kilometres I gave my body the command to speed up – just like I always do.
OK…This speed is probably good.
I saw the finish.
How about a sprint?
I crossed the line solidly (and at the speed I had been maintaining throughout the run). People commented that I was still smiling. Of course I was – I had just finished my first Olympic distance triathlon!
My friend appeared at my side and told me that my finish time was around 3:20. I had hoped to complete in under 3:30. Honestly the race had felt subpar the entire time, so I am thrilled that I could have beaten my goal and done so with such a solid performance.
I’m pretty sure there’s scope for improving that substantially in the future, but that’s for another day – hopefully a warmer one.
All that’s was left now was to cheer our friend Kay across the line in the sprint event – which I failed to achieve, she was just too fast, even winning her age group!