The best way to complete a triathlon: Share it with your friends.
By that, I literally mean, “get two friends to do the parts of the triathlon you’d rather skip,” which is exactly what I did on Saturday at the Luray International Triathlon, which starts and finishes at the stunningly gorgeous Lake Arrowhead. Two runner-friends handled the run and cycling legs of the relay—yes, one of my runner-friends bravely made this her first-ever bike race—while I did the 1,500 meter swim. This post reflects my experience in the lake (the Cliff’s Notes version of their race reviews: Courses are pretty but hilly. Reeeally hilly).
First, I’d like to note that at least as far as the swim goes, this would be a *great* race for a first-ever triathlon. The lake was calm and lovely, and the start is split up into several small waves, which reduces almost any chance of getting stuck in a “Cuisinart start,” in which you feel like you’re getting chopped up by other swimmers’ arms and legs. And yet, you’re always an arm’s length away from another swimmer during the race, reducing the anxiety of being alone on the course.
My goal was to swim this race, much shorter than my usual open-water swims, as quickly as possible, in something like 25 minutes. I swim roughly 30-minute miles with waves and tides (which would equate to 27 minutes for a 1,500), and completed a 1,500-meter time trial in the pool in 24 minutes flat, so that seemed like a challenging but reasonable goal. It took me 25:37 to finish the swim leg Saturday morning. Time-wise, I’m pleased, as it shows I can train for speed—not my strong suit with freestyle. I came in second among female relay swimmers, and wasn’t far from the top overall female swim time of 23 and change.
But I’m also a bit disappointed in my race planning, and in the effort I expended as a result. Like a marathoner who flubs a 5K, I felt like I took too long to get warmed up, and didn’t realize until the finish was in sight that I needed to turn up the heat.
This was in part because the course seemed weird and confusing from the shore—race organizers described it as PacMan-shaped, and I, along with many other swimmers, spent my time before the start trying to wrap my brain around it. Of course, unless you’re the first one out of the water (that guy finished in about 20 minutes—ha!), it’s unlikely you’ll get lost. My concern was that my confusion led me to plan my race all wrong, saving too much for a finish that came up more quickly than I expected (I kept waiting to finish the other part of the PacMan mouth).
The upside: I learned a lesson that in the future, if the course seems the least bit confusing, I should set my watch to beep every five or 10 minutes, to give me non-visual cues about how much of the course I’ve finished. Simple fix.
Other lessons from the race:
- I am even more convinced that I have no desire to train for and complete a triathlon right now. I’m not saying never—if I ever take up cycling again, I might really enjoy one. But for now, watching the bike leg made me think: No. I don’t like it. No, thank you. I have huge fears of crashing, and of feeling claustrophobic around so many other cyclists. I also have no desire to spend any money at all to upgrade my current ride, a “rescue” bike (rescued from a Dumpster). It does just fine for puttering around town or going on relaxed rides on paved trails, but it would get laughed off the tri course. The only downside to doing this as a team: Stares from other athletes trying to figure out why there are three people with bodymarkings and only one bike.
- The swim leg of the triathlon is even more of a paradox than I’d previously realized. From a swimmer’s perspective, it is SO SHORT! When my teammates and I figured out how long each of our legs would be, I almost felt embarrassed that my contribution was a piddly 25-minute swim. Other swimmers at the start agreed, and we joked about how lazy and/or brilliant we were for choosing the short, easy part. But if you’re not a swimmer, a 1,500-meter swim through a lake can be truly terrifying. The only solution I can see: If any triathletes out there would like to outsource that portion of the race, I’m available for those services …
- Signing up for a race is motivational. Signing up for a race in which your friends are depending on you is even more so. Of course, we were just doing this for fun, and I know my friends would be just as proud of me for a 40-minute finish as they were of my 25-minute finish. But thinking about letting them down with a slow swim inspired me to add a few extra sprint workouts to my training plan.
The flipside is also true: I was so totally proud of my buddies, especially my aforementioned cyclist friend! As a result, I felt it was time to pass along the traveling trophy I received for completing the Great Bay Bridge Swim, the Golden Pig of Awesomeness.
We weren’t recognized for any official race awards after the finish. But a) the pig was waaay better than any trophy, and b) we were recognized in an even more meaningful way: When the announcer called out that the Killer Honey Badgers triathlon relay team has crossed the finish line, he added: “They’re so NASTY.” (for an explanation of why he said that, and what the name is all about, check out this work-inappropriate YouTube video at this link). Awesome.