11 Things I Learned From My 11th Triathlon

On Saturday I raced in the Patriots International Triathlon in Williamsburg. While I'm not exactly a seasoned pro, I am now in my 3rd season of triathlon. This was my 11th tri ever, my 4th at this distance, and my 3rd this season - you'd think I'd have this thing more or less figured out by now. But race day more often than not ends up being a learning experience, and I realized that I learned more at this one than I ever have.


1. I should put my timing chip on immediately.
So race mornings are a little crazy. When you arrive at the race site you have to pick up your bib, your race chip that goes onto an anklet that you wear, and you have to get your number Sharpied on your arms and legs, all while carrying your bag o' stuff and dragging your bike around. Let's also not forget the fact that this all occurs at 6am. So, in that chaos, somewhere in between picking up my chip and getting body marked (literally like 15 feet apart), I dropped my chip. At least I assume I did because I never saw it again. I combed through the grass where I walked at least 20 times and it was nowhere to be found. No one turned it in, either, so apparently it just vanished. I was eventually able to get a replacement so everything was fine, but I'm still sort of expecting a charge for it to show up on my credit card. From now on I'll slide it onto the anklet and put it on my ankle as soon as I get it.

2. I suck at sighting. 
The swim conditions were much rougher than anticipated and despite actually feeling like I swam strong and steady, I was all over the place. I suck at swimming in a straight line even in calm conditions so add in some current and I was zig zagging everywhere. I'm actually glad my Garmin can't accurately measure distance in the water because I don't even want to know how far I swam off course. I definitely could have scoped out the course better when I was standing on the beach, especially after the last turn to head back to the beach. I had no idea where I was going those last couple hundred yards because I really couldn't tell where I was supposed to end up. I've always known this is a weakness of mine but it became especially apparent at this race.

3. Training pays off.
I know, I know...who would have thought? This was my 3rd tri of the year and in all 3, the bike leg whas been my strongest. This is absolutely amazing to me because before this year, the bike leg was always my worst. Not coincidentally, before this year I trained 1-2 days a week on the bike, and this year I consistently train on the bike 3 times a week with a long ride every weekend 2.5-3 hours long (I also bike commute a total of 25-30 miles a week). I still don't feel like I cycle a substantial6 amount, but it's substantially more than I've ever ridden before and I've absolutely seen that reflected in my races.

4. People are rude.
I should preface this by saying that triathlon is an extremely welcoming sport full of friendly people. I should also tell you that when you pass someone on the bike, you should yell out, "On your left!". And usually I do, except when, like in the race on Saturday, the road is plenty wide and there is no one else around and I can pass without disturbing anyone. So I passed a lady, and I didn't say anything, and she got snippy with me. Maybe I wasn't exactly in the right, I can own up to that, but I wasn't in the wrong either. There must have been 20-30 people who passed me and literally ONE person alerted me of their existence before doing so. I imagine that lady must have had a long day giving people shit for passing her without saying anything.

5. Bricks are key. 
I do 2 bricks a week, one with a medium distance bike + medium distance run, and one with a long distance bike + short distance run. I've had so much practice with them over the last few months that I basically never even get jello legs anymore, and about half the time my legs feel better when I've just biked than when I haven't. I felt really good on the run on Saturday and felt confident that I could have kept going another 7 if I had had to.

6. Slow and steady wins the race.
I practiced running slower than I wanted to and, what do you know, I had the best run I've had in a while. It wasn't a fast time for a 10k by any means but it felt easy and was well under my goal pace for Beach2Battleship. 

7. Aid stations exist for a reason. 
I never used to stop at aid stations in races. I won't even lie: I thought I was too good for that. I told myself I didn't need or want to eat or drink anything while I was running, and I definitely didn't want my pace to drop at all by walking through water stops. Earlier this year I finally came to my senses and realized that that was stupid, that I somehow miraculously made it through distance events with that attitude but that my luck was running out. The Shamrock Marathon in March was the first time I ever made it a point to stop at the aid stations, and I had a great race that day. So now the volunteers at aid stations are my new best friends. You better believe I got water at every single one yesterday and my happy, hydrated body thanked me for it.

8. When one must, one can.
I ordered Chinese for dinner a few days before the race, and this was my fortune. For some reason, it stuck with me, and I found myself thinking about it a lot during the race. I almost always fall apart on the run in a tri - it's the end, I'm tired, and I just want to be done. This is my biggest fear about Beach2Battleship, that even if I do make it through a 1.2 mile swim and 56 mile bike, I'll still have to run a half marathon and my mind, not my body, will be like, "Awwww hell no." So practicing staying focused and engaged was huge for me in this race and I felt like I was mentally present the whole time. Giving up wasn't an option I entertained for even a second. There was only one way to make the finish line closer and that was to keep moving forward. I kept going because I had no other choice.

9. It's not over until it's over.
A few days before the race I looked at my time from last year, and calculated that to do better this year, my best shot would come from improving on the swim. During the swim I felt strong and confident and even though it felt like it was taking forever, I kept the faith that I was steadily getting to the end and that my effort would be worth it when I had beat last year's time. But when I finally made it out of the choppy water and could see my Garmin for the first time, I was instantly deflated. I was 5 minutes slower than I was expecting. At that point I let go of any hope of PRing and just hoped I could at least maintain last year's results on the bike and run. I was determined to do my best, but I was still shocked when I got on the bike and was averaging way faster than I'm used to, even when I got to the turnaround and the tailwind became a headwind. And my run, while not super fast, was calm and comfortable and ended up being my best multisport 10k by about 15 seconds. In the end, I finished the race 7 minutes under the 3-hour goal I've been chasing for 2 years, and 10 minutes under my PR time. Like I said...it's not over until it's over.

10. Anyone who can complete a half marathon could complete a triathlon.
Technically I kind of figured this out the day after the race when I ran 11 miles. The race took just under 3 hours and the run took just under 2 hours but the former was infinitely easier. In a sprint or olympic distance triathlon, you never have to do any one activity for more than an hour and a half, and you never have to run more than 10k. So even though, time-wise, it might take longer to do a tri than a just-running race, it feels like less and is way easier.

11. It takes a village. 
I'm not a member of a triathlon club or anything, and I don't even know more than handful of people who even care about this sport, but man am I glad to have the ones I do. My dad raced on Saturday and so did another couple and a guy we are friends with. We all started and finished at different times, but the race itself isn't when I benefit from having these people. It's the 3-hour training rides that I'd never make it through on my own. It's having someone to stand on the beach with while waiting for my wave, talking out our nerves. It's being cheered on at the finish by those who have finished before me, and then heading straight from the finishers chute back to the fence to watch for those who are still out on the course. I don't really mind when I have to train and race alone, but it's better together.

12 comments :

  1. CONGRATULATIONS! You're a boss. Like, seriously.

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  2. CONGRATS ON THE PR! That's seriously incredible. It's amazing to see how much GOOD training really can pay off.

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  3. congrats!!!!
    my husband is a huge cyclist and he's been training so hard for his next 5 races and you're 100000% right - training does pay off!

    a tri..wow, not even sure if i could even do a half marathon let alone a tri!

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  4. Congratulations on your PR and amazing showing at this tri! You are incredible, always!
    I'm so glad you're seeing all your hard work on the bike pay off and are feeling stronger up there! The lady in #4 sounds like a real gem, the kind of person who's not happy unless she's miserable. People like that need a wide berth, in life and in racing. Ugh. I definitely used to think I was "too good" to bring water with me too, but my tune totally changed on that this summer. I started bringing 10 ounces with me every run, even as little as 4 miles. No shame, and I'm glad you changed your mind on that too—definitely better for you in the long run! (No pun intended.) #8 is something I think to myself a LOT, in a lot of different settings, and I do wholeheartedly believe it. And number 11 <3 I prefer training alone most of the time, but on race day, I love that village so much—and I love being a part of it. Can't wait to be part of your village at B2B and Richmond! xoxo

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  5. Great job!! I'm glad all your training is paying off and its great that you had a chance to learn all these things before the big day! I love aid stations, if its hot out I'll pour the cup on me instead of drinking it and I instantly feel better.

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  6. Girl congrats on your third tri this year!!! That is SO AWESOME!!! Is it said that I don't even know what a brick is? My first thought is obviously a brick you build a house with lol! So far removed from the lingo I am! That lady was probably rude because she has people passing her. Maybe if she spent more energy on riding and left on being snarky with everyone else, she wouldn't be getting passed in the first place!

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    1. Oh and also...that fortune is pure genius right there! So freaking true!!!

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  7. Go on with your bad self!!!!
    #4 lady needs a punch to the throat.

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  8. I loved reading all about this and the things you learned. You are such an inspiration and always share so much wisdom with us wannabe's ;) I really love reading about this- you are a beast!!!

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  9. Congrats on the PR!! I wanna Tri Tri Tri Tri :) I love your lessons learned.

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  10. congrats girl!
    thoughts:
    1. people ARE rude. whatever. you are not in the wrong. it's the same with walking / running / being in public. i say excuse me or cough or do something to alert people, but if there is plenty of room and i am confident they are suddenly going to be swerving all over the place and hitting me, i don't say anything. the other day my friend and i were running and someone was coming towards us on OUR side of the track and he did not move and ran straight into me. I was like WTF dude and he was like 'i was here first, you're on the wrong side' i was like 'this is effing america and i am in the right you absolute tosser'. ugh it made me so mad.
    2. yay for being badass on the bike! you go girl.
    3. i want chinese food.

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  11. So this has nothing to do with a triathalon, but #4 made me laugh because whenever we bike on the trails people get so crazy about passing! I imagine it's even more dangerous when you have people walking, little kids zig zagging all over, dogs, and people come zipping by so fast without saying anything! I totally get that people might be training or trying to improve a time, but it always makes me so mad because it's not safe when you're narrowly speeding by people and they don't even realize you're behind them. Anyway, it definitely does sound like that lady was just mad you were passing her! But huge congrats on your time!!! I'm so glad you didn't let the slower than expected swim get you down and you so easily made up the time elsewhere in the race. #11 made me so happy to read, what a special thing to get to share with your dad! And lastly, what are bricks?

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