A Rookie’s Race Report

Well it’s official.  I have evolved from runner to triathlete.  Sunday was the Rookie Triathlon put on by Jack and Adam’s Bicycles, Austin Fit Magazine, and High Five Events.  The whole shebang happens 10 miles east of my apartment in and around Walter E. Long Park right here in Austin.  Since this post might get a little long (it is my first tri after all), let’s dive right in.  (click the photos of me to enlarge)


The night before the race Ev (a.k.a. the superfan) helped get everything organized and packed up.  I used the race guide’s checklist to make sure I had everything like my swim cap, goggles, towels, etc.  A lot goes into tri planning compared to running (shorts, shoes, go).  In both you need a race number; it’s just three times more complicated in a tri.  First you need a race number while swimming, but more on that in a bit.  Then you need a race number on your bike, which involves wrapping a number around the bike and on your helmet.  Finally you have to wear one while running, which means pinning it to a race belt to put on in the transition area right before the run.

Race morning started off with a light breakfast, loading my bike onto my car, and getting on the road.  We pulled into the parking lot around 6:45am and there was a noticeable buzz in the air, similar to marathon mornings.  The transition area is open from 6am-7:30am to set up your “station” with everything you’ll need during the race.  Thanks to my superfan’s prep work the night before I already had everything planned out in my head, so getting set up was smooth.  As I entered the transition area a volunteer marked me from head to toe in permanent marker with #116: once on each arm and once on each knee.  Then she asked my age (27) as of 12/31/2011 and wrote that on my calf.  I guess they want to make sure you don’t forget what number you are for days to come.

I’ll take a quick moment to mention that this race is called the Rookie Tri because it separates the newbies from the been-there-done-thats.  For example, there’s a Men’s Veteran 25-29 division and a Men’s Rookie 25-29 division, targeted only for 25-29 year old first or second timers, which start at completely different times.  One perk for a small, newbie-focused race was the pre-race yoga / stretch session.  It definitely calmed the nerves and helped get the muscles warmed up.

Pre-race with my bike

The most interesting difference between marathons and triathlons (based on this one experience) is the strict wave start.  Everyone is given an age/gender-specific colored swim cap to know which start group they should be in (I was red).  Each group is then sent off every four minutes.  With the first group going off at 8:00am and mine not until 8:32am, Ev and I were able to watch the first swimmers go off, finish (really quickly), and run up to the transition area.  We then watched them head out on their bikes and really just spectate for a good 20 minutes or so.

As my 8:32am start time approached I got my swim cap, goggles, and game face on (see below).  We crossed the timing mat and waded into the water waiting for the clock to say 8:32:00am.  At that moment the airhorn blares to mark your official start time.  Pretty different compared to chip times in marathons that wait until you cross the start line whenever you happen to get there.  The airhorn went off and we rookies were splashing around to traverse 300 meters.  My group (Men 25-29 Rookies) was the first rookie group to go off, four minutes after the Veteran Women 40+ year olds.

Excited (too excited?) waiting to swim

I quickly learned the open-water swimming is a whole different beast from pool swimming.  It has little to do with the water and everything to do with effectively swimming with your eyes closed.  With a sandy floor getting kicked up you can’t see the person’s foot 2 feet in front of your face.  During the first third of the swim my head was out of the water looking straight ahead making sure I was going the right way.  By the time we turned left at the first buoy I tried to find a more traditional swimming form, but was pretty tired from the inefficiency of the first 100 meters.  With a little breaststroke tossed in for recovery I was able to make the left turn around the second buoy and head back towards home.  I even caught some of the Veteran 40+ women ahead.  Hey, little victories.  I pretty much hit my goal time for the swim in that 6:30 – 7:00 range with 6:38.

Running out of the water up the green carpet to the transition area was rough.  I did get to see my superfan jumping and cheering (much to the chagrin of the cameras she was holding).  As I entered the transition area I walked down the aisles trying to catch my breath as I mentally went through what I needed to do.  I reached my bike, sat on the ground to wipe my feet off with my strategically placed towels, and watched the battle between my small socks and wet feet take place.  Eventually I got my socks and bike shoes on, strapped on my helmet, and rushed out of the transition with my bike.  Unfortunately I left my energy waffle (yes, waffle) at the transition area, but I didn’t notice until I was a few minutes into the bike.

The 11.2 mile ride had some pretty uninspiring scenery.  It did have considerable hills that caused a few participants to hop off their bikes and walk up.  Not yours truly, though.  I powered passed them, leaving them in my dust.  From what I remember I was only passed by about 4 cyclists the whole ride.  My goal going in was 18mph (about 37:20).  With relatively light winds and some pretty fast downhills I was able to beat that by a good bit: 18.8mph (35:50).

I finished up the bike and entered the transition area again to the much-needed cheers of the superfan.  Rack bike: check.  Remove helmet: check.  Change shoes: check.  Go: check.  I grabbed my running water bottle and the energy waffle and headed off to the 2 mile run.  It took nearly a full mile (yes, half of the run) to get my legs under me.  I really wasn’t concerned with pacing.  This was a race after all, and all throughout training I had told myself “don’t worry about the run; it’s 2 miles; you can run 2 miles in your sleep”.

My goal for the run was 15 minutes.  I figured after a nonstop swim and bike, 7:30min/mi would be the sweet spot.  I missed my watch’s split alert because I was focused on “dude in yellow” ahead of me.  He passed me at the beginning of the run and I worked hard to reel him back in.  Spoiler: I never did catch him.  The run course zig-zagged on dirt and trails, but was a decent course overall.  As I crossed the finish line I was breathing too hard (see below) to notice how I actually did on the run.  When I did check my time I thought something was wrong.  13:23 didn’t make sense.  It wasn’t until I checked the unofficial official results that I saw it was correct.  A 6:42 min/mi is pretty amazing, way better than I could have hoped.  I suppose I owe a bit of thanks to the last 4.5 years of my running career.

Struggling to stand after the race

And with that, I’m now a triathlete, or at least I think I am.  I’m already checking out what other local tris Austin has to offer.  My biggest concern learning opportunity is the swim.  I got through the 300 meters this time, but 2.5x that for just a sprint triathlon is intimidating.  Looking back I think I enjoyed the bike portion of the race the most.  The swim was hard because, well, I’m terrible at it.  And the run was hard because I pushed it.  My next big move is to get swim lessons to (re)learn how to move through the water.  That’s ok though!  Where I consider marathons as a personal challenge, almost like business that needs to be handled, I just had fun during the triathlon.  I’m as excited as you are to see what’s in store next.

Observations:

People try to save time by clipping their bike shoes onto their peddles and then pedaling with their feet on top of their shoes until they get going, then slip their feet in.  While watching this before my swim, lots of people had major problems, either with shoes falling off or not being able to get their foot on.  It just didn’t seem like it was worth the trouble.

Everyone wears blue.  To help out superfans all around the world, I’ll try to wear a more unique color.

 2011 Rookie Triathlon
Event Distance Time (m:s) Pace Rank
Swim 300 meters 6:38 1.67 mph 99
Transition 1 3:47 155
Bike 11.2 miles 35:50 18.8 mph 32
Transition 2 1:09 61
Run 2 miles 13:23 6:42 min/mi 8
Total Time 1:00:49
 Placement
Class Position (Men 25-29 Rookie) 2 / 28 (7.1%)
Gender Position (Men Rookie) 9 / 224 (4.0%)
Overall Position (Rookie) 10 / 399 (2.5%)
Overall Position (All) 111 / 811 (13.7%)

Based on some Twitter feedback from Frayed Laces, the rankings in the right-most column are how I fared in my division for that particular event, independent of the other events. For example, of all rookies, I had the 8th fastest run and 95th fastest swim. That does not mean I was in 95th place after swimming and 8th place after running.

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    • Colin
    • April 19th, 2011

    You are awesome!

      • Mike
      • April 19th, 2011

      I know, right? 🙂

  1. Congrats on your first tri! If you ever want to chat about swimming, let’s do lunch sometime.

    http://oakhillflyer.blogspot.com/2005/07/fish-out-of-water.html
    http://oakhillflyer.blogspot.com/2005/08/immersion.html

    p.s. love the blog.

      • Mike
      • April 25th, 2011

      Thanks Rich! I’ll definitely want to touch base about swimming tips. For now I’ll read some tips from the dead sea scrolls (i.e. your blog from 2005).

  1. May 13th, 2011
  2. May 24th, 2011
  3. June 1st, 2011

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