Try Tri Again

It was through the fine sport(s) of triathlon that I came to be a cyclist. I often tell people it was kind of like dating someone and asking them to hook you up with their hot friend. In my case that hot friend kind of put the boots to me last year when I crashed (see Hitting the Road), but I guess I must be the kind of girl that likes it rough, because I’ve never really looked back.

Except recently I suffered a brief relapse and competed in the St. Malo sprint triathlon. A sprint is comprised of a 750 meter swim, followed by a 20 km bike and 5 km run. I have been biking… um, quite a bit, swimming a couple of times a week, and not running at all. Except maybe to get to the beer vendor before they lock the door.

In order to prepare for a race, conventional wisdom says that you should kind of take it easy for a day or two before (sometimes a week depending on the length or intensity of the race). So of course when the email came out on Thursday about a vigorous 100 km ride the day before, I was all over it. This would make an excellent excuse in the likely event I should totally suck at the race. My bike started making terrible noises on the ride, so when I got home I called my brother for an emergency repair. Unfortunately, being halfway to Victoria Beach, he refused and clearly does not love me at all. He did, however, offer his rear wheel. So I went to pick up said wheel and as I opened the garage door and saw his bike I remembered that he has super nice freaking expensive carbon fiber deep dish HED race wheels. So naturally I took them both.

My sister and I drove out to our cabin, conveniently located in St. Malo, and spent the night. In the morning we drove over to the race site to register and set up. I had forgotten the nightmarish logistics that are involved in triathlons. Enough gear to fill a small shopping cart, sign ins, cut-offs, rules, mazes of gates that lead in from swim, out to bike, in from bike, out to run… there are a million mistakes to be made, a million things that can go wrong. Something as small as missing swim goggles or a wrong turn and you are screwed. You have to be organized and attentive. I am neither.

I have always been delusional about my swim in a race. I figure there are a handful of people in from of me, and that I am making spectacular time, having somehow finally found my swimming mojo over the course of an otherwise unremarkable swim leg. This race was no different, and I emerged from the water sure I was quite near the front of the pack. I think this misplaced feeling of aquatic excellence comes from how ridiculously hard I work in the water, which is in reality the telltale sign of a crap swimmer. In fact, my swim time in this particular race was three and a half minutes slower than my best. Apparently swimming three times a week all winter long has been a real detriment to my swimming. However, the worst part about the swim was the warm water temperature (about 22 degrees C) which is above the allowed temperature for wetsuits. Wetsuits offer buoyancy in the water, which is an advantage to those of us less “natural” in the water. It also has the added advantage of being a full body girdle in slimming black rubber, and makes me (in my humble opinion) look like a super hero.

Coming out of the water is always an enormous relief (compounded by the false impression of having just kicked ass). Having emerged alive, I now get to get on my bike, which is of course the best part. I have always taken some pride in my speedy transitions, so having found my bike just where I left it, complete with fancy race wheels, I exchange swim cap and goggles for helmet and sunglasses and stuff my damp and sandy feet painfully into cute ankle socks (marked left and right) and bike shoes. There is always a bit of an awkward run to the bike mount line, waddling oddly in bike shoes and dragging bike along. I guess if they allowed bikes in the fenced transition area things could get a bit chaotic, sort of like a WalMart parking lot on a Saturday.

I hopped on my bike and headed out on the 20km bike course and took enormous pleasure in passing LOTS of people. It was probably at this point I should have clued in to the fact that all of those people had just royally kicked my ass on the swim. The hardest thing about the bike for me is knowing how much to hold back for the run. Sort of like not knowing how much room you should leave for desert, when desert is chocolate-covered chicken turds.

I came off my bike and began the most dreaded part of the race, the 5km run. As a recovering runner, I have completed quite a number of half marathons (21 km), but nothing compared to the fear I had of running this measly 5k. Generally off the bike your legs feel like tree trunks. Stiff and slow, and you feel like you have knee braces on which limit your ability to bend your knees. Eventually this feeling goes away, like around 4k in. The run was painful, but I soldiered through it, too proud to walk. I was nearing the end of my very short rope when a volunteer cheered me on by saying “nice outfit” as I limped past. (The volunteer was a man in his early sixties). I suspect this was an intervention by the Glorious Angel of Fashion who helps fashionistas in their times of spiritual peril. I was instantly cheered and bounded through the final kilometer, confident in my natural ability to select a cute tri outfit.

I somehow managed to pass a girl I had been running with for much of the run, feeling good enough to sprint (ie. shuffle slightly faster) past her to the finish line. Unfortunately said girl was not who I though she was, and not even in my age group. Bummer. But nonetheless I was thrilled to be finished and even more so to find out I was second fastest girl on the bike (first fastest was Sarah Anne Brault, who I’m pretty sure is a robot and therefore does not count). I was also thrilled to see that my friends Esther and Ruth had taken top spots in our age group, respectively. Both are incredible athletes with the rare quality of talent and strength in all three disciplines.

It was awesome to see my sister not only take second in her age group in the Olympic distance (twice the length of sprint), get the third fastest overall female in the olympic distance, AND win a totally sweet Specialized Globe commuter bike as a door prize. Her new bike is a lovely shade of green, similar to the colour I turned when she won it.

So being briefly unfaithful to my sport of choice was fun, no question. But my true love is cycling, and my little tryst did nothing more than show me that I have made the right choice. (But I sure wouldn’t say no to another roll with those fancy HED wheels).