Telstra Triathlon SerIes Busselton
An Olympic Distance (OD) triathlon held in Busselton, about two and half hours south of Perth. The swim was in open water but contained within a marina, so conditions were fairly calm. The bike leg formed an out and back T pattern, with the majority of the ride being along the coast. The run was all on the footpath or road, along residential streets through the marina.
The Lead Up
This OD was the A race of my triathlon season. I knew I could complete each leg individually but I hadn't tried them all together. The season before I had raced in four triathlons, the longest being a sprint distance. The OD is twice as long. This season I had already finished three triathlons, climbing up to a distance that was partway between a sprint and OD. I felt ready to tackle the longer race.
I had signed up for a six week triathlon training course a few months before the event. This not only gave me some great tips (particularly in the swim department) but also introduced me to wonderful people, who I also learned much from. As well as this I was taking weekly swimming classes, hoping to improve my technique so that I could at least be slightly competitive in this leg of the race.
My training was similar to last year's schedule, covering three swims, bike sessions and runs each week, as well as strength training, core work and my regular kickboxing class. It was busy, working out morning and night almost every day, but I loved it. I think the huge variety in my training plan helped to prevent any injuries from occurring, so my preparation was mostly uninterrupted (except for some indulgence around Christmas and New Year).
I had never worn a wetsuit before, as the water was generally warm in Western Australia and it was a bit of a waste of time in a sprint triathlon. Something told me that I should invest in one for the longer swim - the buoyancy of the suit would reduce the amount of energy I expended, and I needed all the help I could get. I found out about a sponsor event at a local triathlon store, offering discounts on their new line of wetsuits. It was now or never. I listened to their spiel, got fitted up and walked away with a shiny, new, expensive, neoprene toy.
Living only five minutes drive from the beach, I often practised my swimming in the open water. Benefits: free, resembles race day conditions, get used to fighting currents and reading waves. Negatives: jellyfish. But now with a wetsuit on, the chances of being stung were significantly reduced. You would think. The beasts still got me, leaving nice red welts along my hands and neck. The wetsuit wasn't going to protect me from aquatic animals, so I hoped it would at least help to improve my swimming times.
I partially resented the wetsuit, only because of the extra labour involved. I usually swam in the morning before work, but now having to consider the additional effort required, I needed to set the alarm earlier. The suit wasn't too bad to squeeze into, but getting out was a different story. I used all the creams and gels suggested, but it wasn't coming off in a hurry. I wondered how long I would be sitting in transition wrestling with the thing come race day. There was also the clean up; you can't leave a wetsuit full of salty water, I was warned. So after each swim I drove home, strung it over the clothes line in the backyard and hosed it down, hoping to extend its life as long as possible.
Everything was going well in my preparation for the race. There was, however, a small amount of stress in my life outside of sport. After signing up for the triathlon, my husband and I decided to go on a holiday. Originally it was only going to be a month, but it then extended into a six month backpacking trip around Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. We wanted to experience as much of the dry weather on that side of the world as possible, which meant leaving early in the year. My race was on February 1st. We booked our flight out of the country on February 1st. I don't like to waste time.
So why was this stressful? Aren't holidays exciting? They sure are, but the planning for this holiday was a little different to most. Firstly, we had to pack up all the personal effects in our house, as we were going to rent it out while we were away. It is amazing how much you have to pack even when no furniture is included. Secondly, we needed to find a renter, without the assistance of real estate agents (costs were too high). We also wanted to offload our cars onto people we knew so they didn't have to go into storage. Lastly, we needed time to actually plan for the trip. Between full time employment and a heavy training schedule, there was little time left to figure out where we were going and what we wanted to do. I finished up work only two days before we left.
We were staying in Busselton the night before the race, so everything had to be ready at the house the day before. Packing for the triathlon, packing for the six month holiday, packing up the house, cleaning, organising keys/bills/cars, running around like a lunatic - it wasn't exactly the ideal worry-free buildup to an event that I would have liked.
The day was typically hot, which I didn't mind as I hate being cold at the start of a race. I picked up my race pack and made my way to the transition area to set up my gear. Bike racked, shoes laid out neatly, helmet ready to slap on my head - time to get this wetsuit on. Then an announcement came over the loudspeakers: "The water temperature is too high. Wetsuits are NOT permitted in this race." Ugh. All that time and energy practising with this stupid suit and I didn't need it anyway. On the flip side, I was a little relieved that I didn't have to deal with struggling to get it off after the swim. I tried to put this change of plan from my mind and concentrate on the race ahead.
It was a beach start, so I lined with with hundreds of other competitors and waited for my wave. I kept an eye on the other swimmers with the same coloured cap as me, determined not to miss the start like last time. I chatted to a couple of familiar faces, trying to stay positive and keep the nerves down.
Three, two, one and we were off. I always start at the back of the pack and this time was no different. I slowly ran down to the water, waiting for everyone else to make their strong starts so I could follow behind. The organiser was right, the water was warm today. Unfortunately it wasn't going to help me swim any faster.
As we swam around the convoluted course, past million dollar boats docked at the marina, I found my rhythm and stuck to it. I knew most of my wave was way ahead of me, and I only had a couple of stragglers keeping me company at the back. This didn't last long. Within what felt like only minutes, the next wave of swimmers had come up behind us and started overtaking. I repeated my rehearsed lines: "I don't know which age group this is. They might be the males. Swim your own race. You're not competing against them." Anything to keep the morale high.
It wasn't long before the next wave after that started passing us too. I occasionally glanced around to see if anyone with my coloured swim cap was still with me. There was still one or two, so I wasn't alone (and I hadn't gone off course). By the time I was coming into the finish, a third wave had caught us. I was trying not to be negative, but it was quite clear how bad my swimming was. I reminded myself that I had just swum 1500 metres without stopping, in open water, and hadn't drowned. The most difficult leg was done and now I had to focus on cycling.
I was in and out of transition in a flash (I'm really good at transitions - I wish there were prizes for this) and on my bicycle, pedaling hard to make up some ground. I love the start of the bike leg, when I am still wet from the water and the breeze helps to cool me down. What I don't love is a nose full of sea water, which takes me about five minutes to clear. Yeah, it's gross. You don't want to be near me.
One word: headwind. I don't think I hate anything more in a triathlon than headwind. I dropped the gears, kept my cadence high but I felt like I was going nowhere. Somehow 90% of the other cyclists had no difficulty, cruising past as if they were in a wind-free bubble. I wondered how they did it. It wasn't dissimilar to the swim leg.
Generally the only people I passed were those riding touring bikes (not road or tri bikes), those without clipless pedals, or anyone whose chain had broken. This was a small group of people. I knew that most people in my age group finished the swim well before me, so they were already ahead on this leg. While I may not pass them, I could be gaining ground and I wouldn't know. I found out later that I did move up a few positions in my age group between the swim and cycle legs, but my overall ranking was still near the back of the pack.
Occasionally thoughts of our holiday would pop into my head, which could be a welcome distraction from the never-ending bike ride. The problem was that I started wondering if we had forgotten to pack or organise something, and this would lead to a slight panic. I quickly dismissed these thoughts from my mind, reminding myself to check my cycling form and rehearse the upcoming transition in my mind so I was ready for the next stage.
After struggling with the bike and headwind for 40 km I was glad to be done with it. Two down, one to go, and that one was my favourite. Time to get running. I swapped my cycling shoes for running shoes and hit the pavement, determined to finish strong.
Happy to be on my favourite leg.
I was surprised by how much energy (or adrenaline) I had left in me after almost two hours of exercise at an all out pace. I took advantage of it and went hard, motivated by chasing down the next person in front of me. By this stage I was surrounded by men and women of all ages, so I had no idea who was in my category, but that didn't worry me. I wanted to do well for myself, and I knew my final position wouldn't affect how I would feel at the end.
I could feel a hot spot on the sole of my foot, as my skin rubbed against the lining of my shoe. I had never worn socks in a tri before, thinking it was a waste of time trying to put them on wet, sandy feet. That was fine for a 5 km run, but didn't hold up for 10 km. I tried to forget about it and concentrate on finishing the run. It would be several days before I could walk without feeling that blister.
The run was completely flat except for a small bridge crossing over a waterway. We crossed this bridge four times. Each time it felt like I was climbing Everest. Flat road was no problem, but the slightest incline was torture. Most people around me were walking the bridge (all the elites had finished by this time) but I dug deep and pushed myself up and over it each time. It was a great way to gain back some ground. In the end I don't think another female overtook me at any stage during the run (I knew all the fast women had finished about an hour ago though).
As I approached the end I saw Danny waiting for me, clapping and cheering me on. A huge smile was spread across my face as I crossed the finish line, ecstatic and proud that I had finished an OD triathlon. Despite my strong run I still finished in the bottom half of my age group, but I didn't care. I had set out to achieve a goal, and I had accomplished it. Nothing can take that away from me.
Post-race: It was a quick scramble to change, load up the car, drive back to Perth, shower, dress, drop off my tri equipment, pick up my travelling gear, have a sneaky celebratory drink and head to the airport. We made the flight with no problems. The hardest part was sitting still for the next six hours until our first stopover, on an overnight flight where everyone wanted to sleep. I was pretty sore and tired the next day. But still happy.
I am capable of completing an OD triathlon, and I now have the confidence that I could go even further.
Wear socks for runs longer than 5 km.
Swimming is still my weakest leg, despite weeks of group lessons and months of training. It can be demoralising to see how far behind you are so early in the race, but it's important to remember why you're out there and who you are really competing against.
Even when other parts of my life are stressful, I can put that aside to focus on the task at hand. The race was actually a nice break from the planning and organisation for our upcoming holiday.