This was an odd distance for a triathlon, somewhere between a sprint and Olympic distance. It would be my longest tri to date, and I was using it as a practise race for my Olympic distance triathlon in four weeks time.
The swim leg took place in the Swan River, the main waterway in Perth, in relatively calm waters. The bike and run leg were all on roads/pavement and were mostly flat, with the slight amount of headwind that is common in Perth.
The Lead Up
I completed a road marathon in August 2014 and commenced triathlon training not long after this. During marathon training I had cycled once a week, as well as participated in strength, core and kickboxing classes, but swimming was non-existent. I knew I wasn't a strong swimmer, and I would use any excuse not to get in the pool or the ocean. Once I had made the decision to compete in triathlons again this season, I summoned up the motivation to get myself out the door and into the water two or three times per week. Getting started was always the hardest part; once I got going, I didn't hate it as much as I thought I did.
I bought a couple of triathlon training books the year before, and used these to help organise my workout schedule. I only loosely followed these plans as I wanted to fit my cross-training in, and they were dictated by when the gym offered those classes. I used the distances listed in the books as I guide for how far I should be swimming/riding/running in each session, although I always ran a lot further to maintain the running endurance I had built up.
This was the third triathlon of the season for me, coming off four the year before. I had finished a six week long triathlon training course in December and was also participating in group swimming lessons, hoping to improve my weakest leg. I was training daily, usually morning and night, with longer back-to-back sessions on the weekend. I was fitting in several swim, bike and run sessions each week, plus I continued the strength, core and kickboxing workouts as my cross-training. It was exhausting but I loved it, being outside in the warm summer weather.
I had no injuries in the build up to any of my triathlons, and I recovered quickly from each one. Being the holiday season I had a couple of days off here and there (namely the day after Christmas and New Year's celebrations) but generally my training was uninterrupted.
Being held on the fourth of January, few people were willing to turn up to a triathlon so close to New Year's Eve/Day. In a way it was nice, not being surrounded by hundreds of other athletes and having to navigate your way through the maze to find your bike in the transition area. But when there are only six females competing in your distance, it's easy to stand out (and not necessarily in a good way).
I arrived about half an hour before the start, and with no crowds it was easy to pick up my race pack and rack my bike. With everything organised I spent some time studying the course maps (again), warming up and taking in the early morning views. After a while I noticed that a lot of people had left the transition area and I wondered where they went. I looked over at the jetty, where the swim was due to commence, and there everyone was. I started power-walking over, trying not to panic. Before I had reached the start of the jetty I heard the gun went off. Now I was running down the jetty, trying to put my swim cap and goggles on my head. The event coordinator saw me coming and started urging me on. "Quickly, quickly, get in there". As I was running I felt a sharp pain underneath my big toe, but I didn't have time to worry about it. I leapt off the end of the jetty and into the water, a minute or two behind everyone else. As if I needed more of a handicap in the swim leg.
Due to the small number of people, all waves for this distance started at the same time. That meant there was no one coming up behind me, so it was obvious I was last. Incredibly, I started gaining on one other swimmer and I ended up catching him at the halfway point. Sadly he found another gear and pulled away, leaving me out all alone at the back of the pack. To make matters worse, there were jellyfish. Why were the jellyfish this far upstream? I dealt with them all the time at the beach, and now I had to face the stings here too. I just accepted the pain and kept pressing forward.
On a positive note, when you are last out of the water it's easy to find your bike. I completed a speedy transition and set off on the bike course, hoping I could somehow make up some ground. I have never been particularly strong on the bike, so I didn't hold out much hope. I overtook people here and there, but it was hard to know which lap everyone was on. Plus competitors from the duathlon and the shorter tri distances were also on the bike leg, so I had no idea where I stood.
My cycling leg was the same as it was for most races, fairly slow and steady, but I didn't concern myself too much with it. I powered through the laps as quickly as my muscles allowed. With the 27 km done and dusted, I breezed through the transition and took off running, happy to be tackling a 10 km run rather than the usual 5 km.
The path was scenic, loosely following the river and ducking in and out of trees. I passed several other runners, but I presumed that most of them were not racing my distance. I was sure I was still last, having gained no ground on the bike. The pain in my big toe suddenly became apparent again, forgotten about until now. I didn't worry about it and focused on getting through this final section of the race.
I had a small amount of energy towards the end so I picked up the pace slightly for the last kilometre. I could see a woman ahead of me and wondered if I could catch her. I surged forward and slowly made ground, reaching her side with about 50 metres to go. Once she realised I was next to her she took off, obviously not pushing as hard as she could. She beat me by one second. I later found out she was in a younger age category than me, and she won this category. Good to know I can keep up with the 20-something year olds.
I stuck around for presentations, which I normally do to see if I win a spot prize. When it came to my age group I clapped for the woman who came in first, someone I didn't see at all on the course. Then something strange happened. I heard my name being called over the loudspeaker, for second place in our group. I couldn't believe it! I walked up to accept my prize, sure that I must have misheard the announcer. It was the first time I had ever been on the podium, and I was blown away. Until I heard the next message: "Now we'll do the 40-49 year old age group." Wait a minute, what happened to third place. Then it hit me: there was no third place because there were only two women in my category. And I came second. Or last, depending on how you look at it.
Looking at the results later I discovered I came in third out of the six females competing, and second place had only beaten me by one second. Although it was a small field and I missed the start, I was proud of how I finished off the race. I also learned that I had the fastest female transition times on the day (which doesn't mean much) but, more surprisingly, the fastest bike leg too. How did that happen? I guess the frustration of being way at the back of the pack motivated me to dig deep and bring my A game to that section of the race.
The pain in my foot hadn't subsided after the race, so I hobbled over to the first aid team to see if they could find the cause. After much deep, painful excavating with a sterilised needle and a pair of tweezers, they pulled out a piece of glass. I must have picked it up running to the start of the swim leg. A quick look inside my socks and shoes told me that I had been bleeding for most of the race but I barely even noticed it. Adrenaline helps you do some crazy things sometimes.
Don't miss the start! Find out what time your wave starts and keep an eye on everyone with the same coloured swim cap as you. Be early if you have to, just don't be late.
Don't let stupid mistakes hold you back. I may have been last to start and last out of the water, but I ended up with the fastest female time on the bike. You never know how a race will pan out, so don't give up.
Finding the motivation to go swimming was difficult for me, as it is my least favourite part of the triathlon. I used several strategies to help me get over my mental hurdle:
First was the swimming lessons. Finding a coach and group of people who expected you to turn up was great at helping me make the effort to attend week after week. I call this social accountability.
Second was the triathlon training course. When I pay that much money I want to make sure I get as much return as possible, so I attended every single swim session they offered. I call this financial accountability.
Lastly I ended up negotiating with myself. I call this personal accountability. Some combination of these worked 95% of the time:
Just do an easy, short swim today, no pressure.
I need to tick off the workout on my training plan - I don't want a gaping hole highlighting my laziness.
I will get changed, grab my gear, head to the beach then see how I feel (once I got there, I always got in the water).
Anything is better than nothing.
More calories burned = more calories I can eat.
I will feel a million times better after the swim than sitting on the couch thinking about how I didn't even try.