Friday, July 31, 2015

Racing My First Tri - Learnings

You may have noticed I had an interesting sub title for my tri recap on Wednesday.  If you didn't notice, here it is again for your perusal:

Chase the Police Triathlon 2015 (Mistakes & Bonuses)

Yes, yes.  Just as the title hints, I wrote that recap with the intention of rehashing my learnings from my first tri.  Why?  Well, quite honestly, I'm a little irritated with myself that I preformed so poorly and I need to find ways to improve for the future.

But also, I'm doing this because I want to share my learnings with future potential tri racers.  Plus, you can't learn if you don't review mistakes ... even if it means reviewing someone else's!

So, with that note, let's start with a review of the mistakes.


Mistake #1 - Lack of Rest

Mistake #1 is one of those things that can and cannot be prevented all at the same time. 

On the can side, there are the obvious controllable things such as: go to bed early on race eve, avoid caffeine and other stimulants hours before bedtime, eat several hours before your planned bedtime and limit fluids shortly thereafter eating, try to sleep in your own bed, etc. 

On the cannot side, there are uncontrollable factors like: not being able to sleep due to nerves, ending up in a strange bed due to traveling to the race site, not being able to sleep due to nerves ... and did I mention not being able to sleep due to nerves?

For some reason, I still haven't mastered a good night's sleep on race eve.  I think part of it is just my anticipatory nature, and the other part is that - duh, I'm human, and humans get nervous sometimes.  At the end of the day, I'm working on trying to improve my pre-race quality of sleep, and sometimes I have better luck at this than others.  Unfortunately, for this particular tri eve, it was an "other" kind of night.

Mistake #2 - Not Enough Fuel

Fueling is one of those things that I simply should have known better on.  So yes, chide me all you want.  Though, to be fair, if you take into consideration it's been well over a year and a half since I've had to fuel up for a longer, endurance style race, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that I forgot how to play the game. 

Plus, we arrived into town so late on race night that I didn't really have time to go get breakfast groceries, so it's not like I had a ton of options.  Thankfully, I had somewhat anticipated this and prior to taking off on our drive I had stolen a few apples off my desk at work, packing them into my purse.  And I guess I should be grateful that the folks at the cabin check in offered me a Ziploc bag of free coffee grounds to make myself a pot of coffee Saturday morning.  But, obviously an apple and a cup of black coffee were not enough to last me from 6am until noon while competing at a tri.

Thinking back after the fact, I realized that my typical pre-half marathon fuel routine usually would entail: a banana or apple, a slice of whole wheat toast with peanut butter, and a generous cup of coffee with sugar and cream.  Note to self on that for my upcoming 10 mile races ...

Oh, and note to self regarding getting up on race morning: allow plenty of time to eat and digest the above ... if you know what I mean.  *wink*

Mistake #3 - Seeding Incorrectly


Mistake #3, for me at this specific race, applies to seeding at the swim start. 

As I mentioned in my race recap, though I am a nervous swimmer, I discovered on race day that I am much more skilled than I gave myself credit for in regards to speed.  Obviously, I am not fast ... but at the same time, I am definitely not a back of the pack swimmer.  So, self seeding at the very back of the group was a huge mistake for me.  At the time, it seemed like the right decision, due to my anxiety issues and so on.  But like I mentioned in the recap, it actually backfired as it forced me to expend unnecessary energy and focus on getting around a large pack of slow swimmers. 

Knowing what I do now, I think in my next tri I'll still start towards the back but really wide on the outside edge of the group (furthest from the first buoy).  That way I can swim around the slower swimmers who hang at the back of the group and cut in once the pack shakes out and I find a spot that fits my pace.  It may take me a little more energy to cover that additional distance swimming, but it will save me a lot more energy and frustration not being stuck behind a pack of swimmers that are way too slow for my pace.

Mistake #4 - Never Having Practiced a Real Transition Out of Water

During my open water swim training, I forced myself to learn to deal with a lot of things.  Weeds.  Choppy waters.  The loch ness monster.  You know, the usual stuff.

One thing I had only a brief encounter with was the dizzy feeling you get coming out of cold water after a swim.  The one time it happened, I only had a very mild dizzy spell.  Plus, it happened very early in my open water swim training, so I had somewhat forgotten about the reaction.  Not to mention, the reaction I had was pretty mild: I had already allowed my heart rate to settle via a swim cool down, and I used the ladder at the end of a dock to climb out of the lake, so I had something to hang on to and stabilize myself with during the spell.

On race day, I swam as fast as I could to the shore, pulled until my hand hit sand, immediately stood up ... and then, I just about face planted.  I was super dizzy.  And, I was extremely disoriented.

Had I thought a little more about the fact that on race day, I was going to basically run out of the lake and into transition, I guess I would have practiced doing that a few times in my training swims.  Oh well - lesson learned!!

Mistake #5 - Relying on Others for Fuel Mid Race

Ugh.  This one actually kind of irks me a little.  Here's why (per the official race rules):

Plus, I swear I read other places that energy drink would be available at the bike and run turn around points.  But either way - ok, seriously!!  If you are going to mention "other hydration drinks" in your official rule book, people are going to expect energy drinks on course.  Offering water only is NOT cool.

I hate to complain about this too much, since the race was so well done, but I know I was not the only one bummed by this let down.  There were several people at the finish line I heard discussing it, the girls ahead of me on the bike were talking about it, and when I asked the staff at the bike water stop for energy drink they said "why do people keep asking us for that?!"

In the end, though, this is also my fault.  Just as I was feeling bonky on the bike course, I thought about the random flavor assortment of Gu gels I had sitting on my towel in transition.  I had originally planned to eat a gel after the swim before getting on the bike, and in my swim induced haze, I had forgotten to. 

Oh well.  It was a hard lesson to learn, but I managed.


OK - so mistakes aside, what went well on race day?!

Hidden Bonus #1 - Have a Seasoned Racer With You on Race Day

Pretty much any major first race I've done, I've gone at it alone.  While it's true often my husband has been in the vicinity for the start, usually when it's time for the gun to fire he's either back in the car or off in the sidelines spectating.  This lone wolf experience has changed some since I started networking to find race buddies through my local run club, but usually that network isn't around when I race outside the twin cities metro.  So, it was a rare treat to have some company at the start line of a race 200+ miles away from home.

As an added benefit, the person keeping me company at the start line was an experienced tri racer.  That meant any time I didn't know what the heck to do, I could look at her and be like ... uh, derp?!  I'm sure she thought I was an extreme idiot by the end of race day.  But oh well.  I'm willing to accept my crown.  The loss of face was worth having someone who knew how to have a successful race start.  And, being able to know I was doing the right things helped keep the anxiety down pre-gun.

Hidden Bonus #2 - Experience in Less than Ideal Conditions

As I mentioned in mistake #4 above, I made a huge effort to get into the water and train several times before race day.  I did NOT want to be one of those people you hear about that tries something new on race day and fails spectacularly as a result.  That meant I swam several times, in my wet suit, in variable conditions ... prior to showing up in Walker.

In fact, my last "training" swim before race day was in 10-15mph winds, with chop that rolled over my head when I tried to breathe.  The experience that day was actually quite demoralizing, because in addition to not being able to breathe through the waves, the weeds were grabbing me all over and I had a mild panic attack.  I came out of the water after about 10 minutes of swimming seriously questioning if I would make it through on race day.

Though I didn't particularly enjoy my training swims, the hidden bonus in all those weed entangled laps was that I learned how to deal with the least desirable swims possible.  This meant that I was elated when I discovered in Walker we were swimming just off the public beach, which was entirely weed free and extremely clear water.  And as luck would have it, the water was almost glassy on race day due to extremely calm winds.  I actually felt like I was pool swimming, the waters were so ideal.

All these factors helped my confidence on race day - a ton.  So despite not enjoying my training swims, they were totally worth it.

Oh, and as an interesting aside ... prior to race day, I had never swam barefoot in open water.  You may recall, I mentioned swim socks in my open water gear review.  Due to the constant weed battle during training, I never had the confidence to swim barefoot despite hating those stupid socks.  Not wanting to look like a nerd on race day, I intentionally left my swim socks at the cabin on my last training swim.  Thankfully, with the clear waters in Walker, I never even missed the socks.  (And in fact, I could have probably dumped my wetsuit too.  But I wanted to go through the entire experience of changing in transition, so I stuck with it for the day.)

Hidden Bonus # 3 - Experience Swimming in a Group

Ah, this makes me recall my early days of attending swim class, back when I was afraid to even share a lane with a single swimmer ... let alone multiple.  I think I even told the instructor that I didn't think I'd want to come to class if I couldn't have my own lane.  LOL!  Good times.

To be honest, usually the pool where I swim is pretty empty and it's typical for me to get my own lane.  However, twice per year the pool fills up to 3+ per lane due to the Lazyman Ironman

Ah, Lazyman.  My swim nemesis.  Prior to race day, I hated the entire Lazyman phenomenon - I hated knowing that our usually relaxing and enjoyable weekly swim sessions would devolve into a mass attended event where I'd have to share a lane with a bunch of other swimmers.  Who might touch me.  Or who might get mad at me because I touched them.

But just as I was stewing in the misery that was my last pool swim prior to race day (which I mentioned in my race recap), I read an article about avoiding tri swim panic.  In the article, it compared a mass tri start to that of a really busy day of shared the lanes at the pool.  With maybe a hair more punching and kicking.  That comparison for some reason resonated with me, and I finally began to be able to cope with the panic I was feeling regarding a large group swim.  I guess that makes the Lazyman pool rush acceptable to me now ... ?

And yes, a mass tri start is still more scary than sharing a lane.  But at least I expierenced a few times what it was like to be crowded 4+ in a swim lane, so I had some sort of baseline to help me cope.


So, after reading the above, I hope I've given you some perspective in potentially completing a tri yourself. 

And, as for me ... long story short, after we put all the above aside - what is my plan for preforming better in a future tri?

(1) Train better overall, but specifically: be sure to practice transitions.
(2) Pre race, try to get more sleep.
(3) Fuel better on race day, and don't expect fuel from others on course.
(4) Pick a better start point on the swim.

Yeah, that should about do it.  I think. 


So you tell me - what are some of your best race day learnings, tri or otherwise?  Share in the comments below!!


  1. Great lessons learned!!! I've definitely learned the hard way how tough it is to fight through lack of fuel, and to rely on others for on-course fuel.

    The most painful (literally) race-day learning I underwent was the time I forgot to use BodyGlide. No further details necessary. You better believe I have never made that mistake again, ever!!!

    1. OH NO! Chafing is the WORST! I can only imagine what that shower was like afterwards ... yikes!!!!!!!