Things I Think I Think: Triathlons

Color Guard poolside at the start.
Color Guard poolside at the start.

I’ve finally got my official race photos from the Quantico Sprint Triathlon and I’ve had a week to ponder the imponderables of my first-ever triathlon.  I’m certain you’re dying to learn exactly what I discovered so that you too can make a successful transition to a mediocre triathlete like me.  So please enjoy this illustrated version of Things I Think I Think.

Set Up

About another 20 minutes to wait.  Yippee!
About another 20 minutes to wait. Yippee!

I understand this can be a bit daunting if you’re participating in a large event.  You need to rack your bike (and in large events this can be done the night before and a guard is posted to the Transition Area), pick up your timing chip, get body marked, and lay out your cycling and running gear so you can quickly switch from one event to the other.  For me, this was much worrying about nothing.  With 250 racers, everything went very fast, despite the pouring rain.  My biggest challenge was finding a spot out of the rain to stand in for thirty minutes while I waited for the event to start.

Smartest Things I Did:

– Bring a hefty bag to stay warm in

– Put my stuff in a large ziplock bag to keep it dry

Things I Wish I Did:

– Bring some flip-flops to stand around in before the swim, or even use as I moved across the parking lot to my bike after the swim

– Some people put their gear in two “pickle buckets,” one for each event.  It was very easy for them to keep things sorted and dry.  You can also use one of the buckets as a seat when putting on shoes/socks.  Very nifty.

The Swim

I'm not in this shot.
I’m not in this shot.

Since I have never swum (swam?) competitively, this was the event I was most nervous about.  How hard would it be?  What should my swimwear be?  Could I pull it off with a pair of cycling shorts?  Typical triathlon gear has a smaller chamois pad than normal roadie cycling shorts, but I decided to use one of my existing shorts anyway.  I trained by swimming 1/2 mile routes in the local lake.  I found swimming in the pool to be MUCH easier, since you can stay on course by simply looking at the bottom.  But my open water swim times were much slower and therefore my estimate of how long this would take me was way off.  This put me much farther to the rear of the group than I should have been.

Smartest Things I Did:

– I wore cycling shorts.  They worked great with no issues.

– I didn’t bother with swim goggles.  It was only 8:30 in the water and they would have been just one more thing to keep track of that I really didn’t need.

Things I Wish I Did:

– I wish I got a better estimate of my swim time.  I should have gone to a local pool and done the event under similar conditions as the race.

The Bike Ride

Did I mention it was wet out there?
Did I mention it was wet out there?

Having ridden several thousand miles, I am sorry to report there was very little new to me on this nine mile sprint.  I wore my old shoes and my feet are now doing much much better.  I was one of the few cyclists who were cool enough to have clear lenses in my glasses which made riding in the rain much easier.  I pushed this pretty hard, but I am still wondering if I could have gone faster if I was with faster cyclists.  Instead, I contented myself with reeling in the slower racers who were around my (slow) swim estimate.

Smart Things I Did:

– I didn’t buy a fancy race singlet, which many triathletes use in the pool.  I found a sleeveless jersey with wicking material and that was easy enough to put on in the transition area (the reason why triathletes avoid shirts with sleeves is they are harder to put on when wet).

– I took my time in the transition area.  I invested a minute in putting on socks and didn’t rush myself.  With practice, I could shave some time here but for the first time out I think it was wise not to overly stress here.

Things I Wish I Did:

– I probably didn’t need to bring my water bottle on the ride.  A swig in the transition area before and after would have sufficed and it would have removed a few ounces from my bike.

The Run

Heading for the finish
Heading for the finish

Back in the transition area, I again took my time to make sure my stuff was on correctly.  Most importantly was remembering my  race belt, which displayed my bib number for the run.  My ziplock bag was still keeping everything nice and dry, which was a good thing.  I ran competitively for the first time wearing a visor, which was nice.  It kept the rain off my face without adding as much weight when wet as my hat would have (something I learned during the rain at a recent half marathon).  I was wondering just how comfortable my cycling shorts would be to run in after the swim and the bike ride.  They were just fine.

Smart Things I Did:

– I bought a race belt, meaning I didn’t need to attach my bib to my jersey with safety pins.  That would have been annoying on the bike ride and it would have made it slightly more difficult to get the jersey on (as I worried about ripping the bib).

– I took it easy for the first few hundred yards while my calf resigned itself to the task of running.  Had I pressed things, who knows what might have happened.

Things I Wish I Did:

– Honestly, everything worked out very well for me here and I wouldn’t have changed a thing!

So that’s what I learned on my first triathlon.  Probably the biggest thing I learned is not to be so concerned about all the little unknowns with the transition area, events, etc…  It’s just a race and people are there to assist you.  Don’t act like an Olympian on your first time out, take your time and you will have a lot of fun.  Sprint Triathlons (being shorter) are probably the way to go for a first timer.

The winner.  I was about 16 minutes behind this guy in race time, but about 45 minutes behind him in real time.
The winner. I was about 16 minutes behind this guy in race time, but about 45 minutes behind him in real time.
Showing off my finisher's coin
Showing off my finisher’s coin

I’m already looking forward to doing one or two of these in 2014!

9 thoughts on “Things I Think I Think: Triathlons

    1. That technique is pretty common in these parts. You see many people doing it prior to running events in the fall, when standing around in the runners corral is chilly but you don’t want to wear too much warmth for the run.

  1. Hi Steve, Off subject of this post, but I just read that the UCI world championships will be in Richmond in 2015. Maybe you’ll keep us all up to date as news circulates on the street before it hits the press…and find us all the best spots for watching.

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