The Steelman Triathlon was almost two weeks ago, and I haven’t had the opportunity to finish writing about my experience. Teacher in-service days began, meaning the 2013-2014 school year officially began for me. Participating in Steelman was a wonderful experience, and I had such a blast. Steelman is the only triathlon I’ve done, and this was my third time participating.
I signed up for it months ago when I was sidelined from running with an injury. I bummed about being injured and had to cross train to keep up my endurance for the marathon in Alaska. Once the injury was behind me, I spent much of the summer running and biking. I put in some good time on my bike with my friend Emily, who also competed in the race on Sunday. I didn’t swim quite as much as I should have but it was enough to get me through the triathlon.
So rewind to the week prior to Steelman. I wasn’t tapering for the triathlon, so I’d already run 57 miles that week, with a 10K left to go on Sunday. I knew that I wasn’t going to set any earth-shattering goals. My expectation was just to finish, and hopefully wrap it up in just under three hours. I’d predicted that if I swam comfortably, I could finish the swim in about 30 minutes. As for the bike, I’d estimated that I would be riding the 24.6 mile course for about an hour and a half. That would put me at 2 hours, leaving an hour for my transitions and the 10K run. I could run an easy nine minute pace, and make it with time to spare. I realize I’d been training a lot this summer, but I was focused on my marathon training – not necessarily for the triathlon.
The day couldn’t have gone any better. The weather was outstanding. As the sun rose over the lake, there was a little chill in the air but perfect weather for the race. My friends were all present, and everyone was in good spirits. As the gun went off for the swim, I felt a bit apprehensive. I’d practiced open water swimming at Lake Babcock but I was intimidated by the other swimmers around me. I’m comfortable in the water and I’m a relatively strong swimmer, just not very fast. There is always the fear that I’m going to get kicked in the head and knocked out, so it took me about 200 yards to begin to feel comfortable. Once I got into a rhythm, I began to feel good and enjoy the open water portion of the race. As we approached the last stretch of the swim, I was almost disappointed that it was over. I had a feeling that this was a good indication that the rest of the race would be a success.
I got out of the water, ran to my transition area got ready for the bike with no problems. My transition time was a little bit slower than I’d anticipated but I wasn’t overly concerned. As I came out of the transition area and clipped in to my bike, I began the first climb of the bike course to get out to the main road. For the Olympic distance, it’s two loops of the same course. I wouldn’t say the course is extremely hilly, but there are a few noteworthy climbs along the route. As someone who isn’t the most skilled on the bike, it’s certainly a challenge. Much to my surprise, I actually felt that the bike portion was the most fun leg of the entire race. I was still feeling strong and I found myself passing more people than being passed, and I kept a consistent pace. I glanced down at my watch as I entered back into the transition area and was pleasantly surprised to find I completed the bike portion in an hour and 24 minutes, about 17.5 miles per hour and six minutes faster than my goal. I’d finished the swim in 28 minutes and two minutes faster than my goal, so I had about eight minutes in the bank towards my goal of finishing the race in under three hours. I hopped off my bike, laced up my running shoes and hit the trail.
For me, the hardest part of a triathlon is running off of the bike. This bothers me because running is the one leg of the race I feel comfortable and prepared for. I decided that I’d run comfortably. I couldn’t really monitor my pace because of the way I had my watch programmed for the race. I’d set it for “Auto Multi-Sport”, so I knew my overall time during the race and knew that I could review each leg in more detail at the end of the race. The only information I could see was my overall time, overall distance, and which leg I was currently on. Every so often, I’d get a notification of my pace throughout the race, but I didn’t really know what it meant. Was it my pace for the mile? Or my current overall pace for that leg? I still don’t really know.
As I began to run, I was doing some math. I felt great, so If I could run a solid eight minute pace for the 10K, I would finish well under my three hour goal. I felt confident that this would be a possibility. I didn’t realize that it was a 5K loop that the Olympic distance participants had to run twice. I’m not sure how I don’t remember that from previous years. I didn’t mind not knowing my pace during the swim and the bike, but I always run with a watch and monitor my pace. I felt unprepared and had no idea how fast or slow I was running. As I ran, the pace notifications popped up four times during the 10K. I was completely surprised by what I saw. The first notification said 7:20. Huh? I felt like I was barely moving. The second one said 7:08, and then 7:03. The final notification I received said I was running a 7:00 mile. Overall, my pace ended up being a 7:08 for the run. I still have no idea where that came from.
I finished the run and just about 43 minutes (also a PR for me in the 10K!), and I crossed the finish line for the triathlon in 2:41:14. That took me by complete surprise. It was enough for me to win second place in my age group, which was even more shocking. I expected my friends to do well and walk away with some awards – and they did (Emily, Jon, and Cassie all took first place in their respective age groups!) – but I didn’t expect that for myself. Sure, I enjoy biking and swimming, but I’m a runner at heart. When I go to a road race or trail race, most times I go to try and win, regardless of the field. That was not the case at Steelman, but it was such a great day.