What’s This Triathlon Thing, Anyway?

I’m doing my first triathlon in 2 weeks. So, what is a triathlon, exactly?

It’s a race in which you swim, then bike, then run. In other words, it’s all sorts of fun and exertion rolled up into one big ball of insanity.  SIGN ME UP.

I’m doing what’s typically the shortest version of a “tri”, called a sprint triathlon, though I there’s usually no sprinting involved, at least not by me. I ain’t no Bolt.  For the sprint distance, I will swim 1/2 mile, then bike about 12 miles, then run 3.1 miles. Notice I am using the future tense here –  I will. I’m psyching myself up while I’m writing this. Mind over matter, people. There are longer races, like an Olympic, Half Ironman, and Ironman distances, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

So, here’s my Triathlon 101 with both what’s supposed to happen, and what I’m afraid will happen to me. I’m getting all my fears out on this post now. If I put ’em out there, maybe they won’t come true.

Part 1: SWIM

What Should Happen: This race will be in open water at a nearby lake. It will be a beach start, with participants (most donning wetsuits) running into the water, swimming whatever stroke they want (mostly front crawl), going around some buoys, then back up onto the beach. Racers enter in “waves” so that we’re all spread out. We have a timing chip anklet that we wear for the whole race, which records our net time. I think I’m in the last wave (age 40+ women – WOOT for old ladies, folks).

triathlon wetsuit

OK, this doesn’t look so scary. OK, yes, it does. (Photo Credit: TriRidgefield)

What I’m Afraid Will Happen: I will swallow water. I will sputter. I will get kicked in the head. My goggles will fog. My wetsuit will chafe in a hideous spot. *sigh* The swim portion is by far the scariest event for me. I’m a decent, if rusty, swimmer, and I paid for a lot of beer textbooks in college by lifeguarding. HOWEVER, swimming in open water with 50+ other swimmers is the biggest mental hurdle of this whole dang race for me. At least I can get it over with early.

Part 2: Transition #1

What Should Happen: I will run out of the water and into the Transition Area, where my bike and other race sundry are parked in a designated spot (no one but racers allowed inside). I will peel off my wetsuit (there’s a “tri kit” – a quick-drying all-purpose outfit underneath), put on socks and shoes, grab my helmet, sunglasses and bike, and jam out into the bike course.

What I’m Afraid Will Happen: I’ll be so thankful the swim is over, I really don’t care how this transition goes. I just can’t forget my helmet, as they won’t let you ride without it.

Part 3: Bike

What Should Happen: I will ride a 12 mile semi-closed course around the northern part of Ridgefield, CT, my hometown. I know the roads well and I’ve been able to train on them. There are some big hills, of course, and one giant curvy downhill. I do love downhills. My husband doesn’t call me “No Brakes Nancy” for nothing.

What I’m Afraid Will Happen: I fear I will further stereotype my gender by being unable to change a flat tire should one happen during the race. I will hit one of the million potholes in the road and fly over the handlebars. I will get my foot stuck in my pedal harness and tip over at a low speed. My zeal for downhills will get me into trouble and I will wipeout. That’s about it. Piece of cake, right?

Part 4: Transition #2

What Should Happen: I will ride back into transition, rack my bike, switch my helmet for my Hard-Work Hat (note how I don’t call it my “lucky” hat), and take off on jelly legs for my favorite portion, the run!

What I’m Afraid Will Happen: This one doesn’t worry me much, as I don’t have bike shoes to change out of  and I can just wear the same ones for the bike and the run. I’m just hoping the jelly-legs that one gets from switching from bike to run will not last long, or make me do a faceplant in front of the spectators.

Part 5: RUN!

What Should Happen: Hopefully, I will run a hilly 5k (3.1 miles) and sail gracefully into the finish line.

What I’m Afraid Will Happen: I’m hoping I don’t run out of steam – at this point I calculate I will have been racing for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, and fueling is tricky (gotta think about that one some more). I don’t want to faceplant, and I’m hoping to keep my eyes open this time for any race photos.

Well, that’s about it. Fears, schmears. I just need to put on some big girls pants and get on with it. It will be amazing, right?

5 thoughts on “What’s This Triathlon Thing, Anyway?

  1. You will do AWESOME! I set up a small pan with water in the transition to dip my feet after running through the sand. Since I only had one pair of sneaks for bike/run also, I didn’t want to run with sand in my socks. 😀 It didn’t add time and I was comfy. I laid everything out in order (there’s not much space, at least in the transitions I’ve been in) but it was do-able! You’ll be so proud of yourself!!! Xxoo

    • Jax, great minds think alike…Dan just picked up a rubbermaid basin to fill with water with the idea that we would set up next to each other and share the bin. Isn’t he a gem? Yes, I’m picturing the layout in my head. I may even do some practice transitions in the driveway, just to calm my nerves a bit.

  2. Piece of Cake!!!!!! That was my tri-Mantra!!!! Last wave is terrific . . . no one will be swimming over you . . . . HAVE FUN!!!!! And keep your feet DRY after the swim . . . I am sure Dan is the best coach . . . . . There is nothing cooler than doing something for the first time!!!!!
    You will feel like a million!!!!

    • Dan IS a great coach. We’ve been able to have a few “tri-dates” and he’s much faster than me but just lets me do my thing. I’m psyched!

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