FIRST TRIATHLON EXPERIENCE
Note: This post is similar to the one about my first marathon experience in that it includes details about the decision, training, race, and post-race. There are some overlapping themes between the two because training for both races happened simultaneously.
The decision to commit to a triathlon was 100% influenced by a triathlete goddess, Nancy. She is a total beast and offered to let me train with her for a couple of summer races. I was super intrigued in the idea of racing a triathlon, so I thought training and racing with a super knowledgeable friend sounded like a dream!
I should note that both commitments to run a marathon and race a triathlon were made on the same car ride back in October. Obviously, that car ride had a big impact on my life!
The biggest challenge in training for a triathlon is scheduling. With training for 3 activities, it’s a constant juggle of fitting multiple training sessions into one day. Often times it’s doing more than one activity a day, so it sometimes feels like a jigsaw puzzle trying to accommodate work schedules, gym and pool hours, and the weather! The weather was totally bipolar this winter & spring as well, so a weekly plan could get ripped to shreds the next morning based on what was happening outside.
The biggest joy in triathlon training was incorporating new activities into training! While running was definitely the biggest focus because triathlon training overlapped with marathon training, it was so fun to have more activities. For example, I figured out I love biking! Specifically, biking outside through the cornfields of Northeast Missouri.
Also, I am super into endurance sports, so the process of incorporating three endurance sports together is basically a dream I didn’t realize I had. I really enjoy the time spent doing the same motions over and over, getting to a completely different head space, and feel super good. It’s hard to explain, but if you’re an endurance athlete, you probably know what I’m referring to.
We didn’t follow a true triathlon training program. We were following a marathon training program for most of the months leading up to this, and then tried to fit in two extra bikes and two extra swims during the week as well. I thought it was totally fine not following a specific program for this specific race and, like I mentioned, I was training with a triathlon queen.
Oh man, oh man. Time is one of the most crucial parts of triathlons because so much goes into training! Even if you just think you’re doing two activities a day, by the time you factor in getting ready, commuting, and showering after both activities, it adds up!
Here’s the deal: triathlons are a money sucker. Even if you borrow gear and find good deals, it is still an expensive sport! It makes sense because you’re combining 3 activities together, but wow. Since I already had a bunch of running gear I didn’t need anything for that sport, but the swimming and cycling is where it started to rack up! If you search “triathlon packing list” on google, you can get a quick view of how many things are needed.
Nutrition is a very important part of any kind of training, both for fueling for hard work outs and recovery! There was a lot of trial and error for learning what worked the best for my body during training runs (fried foods were not great, but sweet potatoes and veggies rocked). I honestly kept it simple and stuck to a lot of proteins (chicken, ground turkey, greek yogurt, cottage cheese), carbs (veggies, fruits, grains) healthy fats (avocados, nuts, seeds, oils), and other staples (ice cream, pretzels, waffles, protein shakes, etc.) I had to learn what my body needed for the bike and swim as well since those activities were new to me. Meal-prepping healthy meals and snacks was the most helpful part in making sure I could fuel my body with good foods and avoid hanger!
Specifically for longer training sessions, my staple meals were a toasted english muffin with nut butter and banana, protein oatmeal with but butter and banana, or waffles and nut butter and banana (I’m sure you can sense a trend.) During long runs, I used water and Clif Energy blocks. Clif blocks didn’t mess with my stomach, and the salted watermelon flavor was always a pick-me-up! During bike rides, I used water and nuun hydration and some sort of bar (Larabar, Clif bar, or Rxbar).
Because training for a triathlon was new to me, everything felt exciting! I loved trying new activities and had so much fun incorporating all of them into my week. With that, I gave myself grace during the learning and improvement stages (I’m still in those!) The balance of training for this kind of race is difficult because of the time requirement. I knew would it would take and was committed from the beginning!
NOTE: This race happened over a month ago and I am already having difficulty remembering all of the details!
ABOUT THE RACE
My first triathlon was the Trizou, a sprint triathlon race in Columbia, MO on the University of Missouri campus. This race also featured some other race options, but the sprint race was the perfect first triathlon distance to jump start into the season! The TriZou Sprint was a 400m swim, 14M bike, and then a 5K run.
I committed to this race to see if I liked triathlons. It wasn’t long into training that I realized I was super into triathlons, and committed to more. You might be thinking “Can you really be hooked on something before you even do the race to know if you like it?” and I say, “Yes, absolutely.” I enjoyed everything about training! So throughout the process, I thought about how regardless of race outcome, I enjoyed the experience.
- THE WEEK BEFORE: The race happened right in the middle of prime race season so there wasn’t much of a taper or recovery time. The week leading up to the race served as just a typical training week. The weekend before the race I ran a half marathon (and set a PR of 1:47:07!) and still felt like my legs were a little tired going into the race. Since this was my very first triathlon, and the one of shortest distance, it was mostly used as a “training race” for later triathlons. I went into this race hoping to learn and have a fun experience!
- SATURDAY: The race was in Columbia, MO, which is only a 90-minute drive from Kirksville. With such a quick commute, we left early afternoon on Saturday to allow for plenty of time for pre-race activities. We went by packet pick-up, got some coffee, and checked out the course. We walked around the start/finish and transition areas to get a feel for race-day — doing this helped to alleviate pre-race jitters! For dinner we went to Ingredient True Eatery, and it was perfect. I ordered my lucky pre-race meal of chicken/bacon/cheese/veggie sandwich with sweet potato fries, and it was delicious! Dinner was followed by a pint of ice cream too, because it just sounded good, and I can eat what I want. A dear friend, Meagan, hosted us in her home so we stayed up late chatting and enjoying good company!
THE MORNING OF THE RACE
- OUTFIT DECISION: During training, I learned that triathlons require special clothes. There are “tri kits” that come in either a one or two-piece set that athletes typically wear during a race. The kit is waterproof, fitted, and meant to be worn throughout the entire race to avoid an outfit-change. I invested in a pair of Sugio shorts that I biked/ran in a few times before the race. Nancy let me borrow one of her Zoot tri tops, which I wore for the first time on race day. Other than the tri shorts and tri top, I used running socks, running shoes, and a helmet.
- MEAL: Soon after waking up the morning of the race, I ate a toasted english muffin with peanut butter and banana. We arrived at the race a few hours before it started to allow time to get our bikes ready and set up our transition areas. Right before the race actually started, I had a mini Kind bar!
- HYPE: This race required a lot of extra hype because of the extra amount of time to kill in the morning. For running races, I usually show up 10 minutes before the race starts and it’s totally fine. However, you can’t mess around at a triathlon because you have to set up your transition area before it closes, get all of your gear organized, and then go to the actual starting point for the swim. All of that extra time meant I had to intentionally listen to more music and talk positive to myself!
- SWIM: The event featured a pool start, which is super rare for triathlons. This meant that before the race started, all of the athletes just sat in the bleachers. When the race actually “started” it was anti-climatic because it was just a rolling start. Basically, athletes lined up in order of expected swim time. So I got to chat to people while I waited in line for the swim. I made friends with a couple of athletes next to me, two of which were also racing their first triathlon! The pool swim was as I expected and there was nothing surprising to me about it. All athletes swam snake style throughout the pool. I was terrified of getting passed for self-seeding incorrectly so I just swam as fast as I possibly could. That might not have been the best strategy, BUT, I didn’t get passed and I finished in my goal time!
- TRANSITION 1: As soon as I got out of the pool, I made the trek towards Transition 1! Basically, I had to get out of the pool, run across the deck, follow the sidewalks, and run towards the opposite end of the outdoor track. I would guess it was maybe about a .3ish miles? This is a long way without any shoes and in cool air! Once I made it to my bike, I dried off, put on socks and shoes, and snapped on my helmet. I drank some water, grabbed my bike and ran it out of the transition area. I hopped on a little too early (I thought I crossed the timing line) and got yelled out (whoops), which made things a bit awkward. However, it was my first race and there were a lot of fellow beginners so they didn’t penalize me like they could have!
- BIKE: As soon as I started biking I was chilly. The air was still very cool and I was soaking wet, which didn’t feel great. This was only uncomfortable for the first 10 minutes until I warmed up. The beginning of the bike course had a lot of twists and turns to get off of campus and onto the main roads. Some of the turns I took a little too quick for comfort, but all was well. After getting off campus, it was basically HILL CITY. Really though, the course had some killer hills. My goal was just to keep pedaling, so I definitely had a lot of gear shifting throughout the course. The entire bike was two laps, so the second lap went a lot smoother because I knew exactly what to expect. The only thing I didn’t really like about the bike course was the fact that the roads were not completely closed. That meant that we were riding on the shoulders or in one lane while cars could get pretty close. There were plenty of volunteers and people directing traffic so I never felt unsafe — it just wasn’t what I was used to riding through up here in Kirksville. The bike section of the race required the most mental strength for me. I knew going into the race that the bike would be my weakest leg of the race, and I tried to prepare for that. The challenge was that I knew I was going to be slower than other athletes and expected to get passed. I really had to focus on winning my own race instead of thinking about other athletes. The very last thing about the bike is that I prayed I wouldn’t get a flat tire! I didn’t carry any equipment for a tire change (nor do I have any knowledge how to change a flat), so a flat tire meant I was donezo. The Lord is good though because there were no flats for me and I made it through the course and into transition 2!
- TRANSITION 2: In my opinion, this is the harder of the two transitions because my legs felt like jelly as soon as I got off the bike. I hopped off the bike and ran it towards my transition area. I apparently forgot how to rack my bike because I struggled to get it to stay on the rack, I eventually figured out I was putting it on backwards…. BUT, once it was racked, I was good to continue on with my transition. I didn’t need to change my shoes (most triathletes have bike shoes, but I just used my running shoes) so my feet were good to go. I took off my helmet, snapped on my race belt, and threw my hair up in a messy bun. After a few drinks of water and waving hi to my supporters (Alan and Meagan were right by the transition area), I was making my down the track towards the running course.
- RUN: I have the most experience with this activity so I felt the most confident going into the run. I hadn’t run less than 5 miles in weeks, so the thought of 3.1 miles felt like no big deal! I had only practiced a brick workout of a bike-swim once prior to the race, so I knew my legs would feel like jelly. The course provided a lot of hills and there were one or two water stops along the way. The course also felt very random as I was running — some parts were on little sidewalks or through parking lots. If it weren’t for the fact that there was an occasional arrow or person I would catch up to, I would have doubted I was even on the course. People were also pretty spaced out because of rolling start so most of the run I was by myself. Though I didn’t feel worried about the run, I did not really practice pacing. I’m more of a long-distance runner so I am comfortable with going slower to conserve energy. Since it was only 3.1 miles, I picked up the pace and kind of went for it. I never checked my watch or attempted to pace, so I went off of how I felt, which essentially means I moved as quick as I could!
- PLANNED PACE: I didn’t have any planned paces for the race. I had estimates of how long I thought each activity and the total race might take me, but my ultimate goal was to finish. I wanted to use this as a learning opportunity and chance to practice, to have fun and see if I even liked doing triathlons (I did!)
- ACTUAL PACE: My paces were faster than I expected. This could have been caused by the fact that I experience adrenaline and race faster than I practice (this is typical of runs) or because I set the bar lower than I should so I can exceed the goals I set for myself. My swim time was what I expected, but my bike and run were faster. I ran a lot faster than I thought — in fact, this race was the fastest mile I have clocked since 7th grade! (This is a side note that I never sprint. I could probably set a 5K personal record right now since I can run faster than I think, but running fast miles is not very enjoyable to me). Because this was a “sprint” race, I truly felt like I was sprinting the whole time! I was winded most of the race, which wasn’t my favorite feeling, but it probably meant I was working hard and pushing myself. Regardless of the reasons and why, I raced great and was stoked for my times.
- THE RESULTS: To my surprise, I placed in my age group! I was not expecting to place AT ALL, but was certainty hyped to find out the news. The immediate thing I realized about triathlons once I received my results is that there are endless opportunities of ways to improve. Every opportunity and transition provides strategies to speed up rates and cut back on time. It’s easy to see how people spend their whole lives racing, trying different strategies, and improving! After analyzing my results, I want to speed up my transitions for the next race. I definitely took my time because I didn’t want to forget anything. Also, I looked at the results of the girl who placed above me in the race, and all of my activities were faster than her, BUT, my transitions were slower, which is why she came out on top (I find that fascinating!) Honestly, I don’t expect to have these rates at my upcoming triathlons because of the longer distances, but I will take them for now!
- PHYSICAL RECAP: Physically, this race didn’t seem to take a big toll on my body. Though I exerted a lot of energy, mostly experienced through breathing heavy from all the sprinting, I didn’t feel completely empty. I pushed myself, but there wasn’t a time when I thought I couldn’t finish. Other than my legs feeling like jello for a bit, I didn’t notice anything unusual. I didn’t feel sore post-race, either later that day or the next day (which is maybe a sign I could have pushed myself more….or that I was well-trained!)
- MENTAL RECAP: Mentally, triathlons are challenging. For me, it’s a constant stream of pep talks and positivity. There is always the little voice of “keep moving” or “you got this” to get me from one activity to the next. The encouraging thing about triathlons are that there are several checkpoints along the way to serve as mini accomplishments to get towards the big goal! I get nervous when I’m trying new things, so for me, this race was a huge self-confidence booster. Every time I finished an activity or made it into transition, I would cheer myself on! Marathon training was when I got to build my mental endurance so much, which really helped shifting gears towards triathlons. It was great to continue to build mental endurance, which I will help me down the road.
- WHAT I LEARNED: Triathlons are a big deal! There’s so much that goes into training and race day. You could spend months training and preparing, all to have something completely throw off the race experience (a flat tire, broken goggles, wet socks, etc.) Because of all the variability, there’s so much room for improvement! There are things to learn, strategies to try, and new ways to train. It’s certainly never boring with all of the juggling that training and race day requires! Also, you sleep really well during training and after a big race.
These pictures below are from the finish line. I don’t really like them because I think I look like a crazy nut, BUT, for the sake of being real on the internet, they are included.
OTHER THINGS ABOUT THE RACE:
- TRAINING PLAN: Like I mentioned earlier, I didn’t follow a specific training plan for this particular race. I was training for a marathon most of the weeks leading up to this race, so just incorporated some bikes and swims along the way.
- SUPPORT: I am thankful to have people that will show up to cheer me on! For this race, my husband, Alan, and dear friend, Meagan, were along the course. I got to see them going into transition two and at the end of the race. It was encouraging knowing they were there and to have them cheering for me along the way! There are also plenty of other people who supported me throughout the triathlon journey who didn’t get to be there on race day, and I’m thankful for them too!
- THE BEST PART: My favorite part of the race was getting to race with Nancy! She was my inspiration for this race and with me every step of the way (not on the course, but through training). It was so very fun to get to do this together!
- THE START: The start of the race was very chill. Because it was a rolling start, it was pretty anti-climatic. I just stood in line waiting for my turn to start the swim, watching faster swimmers get onto the course before me. It actually made me pretty anxious watching other people because I just wanted to start! However, I enjoyed getting to chat with people and learn as I waited for my turn to begin.
- THE FINISH: The finish line came sooner than I thought! I basically turned a corner and saw the flags and arch. There was loud music and people cheering, which helped me kick up the gear to cross the line! Whooopy and hooray!
- ORGANIZATION: The overall race organization was pretty decent. The organizers were great about sending information before the race to answer all questions and provide necessary details. The course was well marked and provided plenty of volunteers to give directions. There wasn’t much crowd support on the course because of the busy streets and how the layout of the course, but I think it was the best for the location. There weren’t any big challenges or confusion from my perspective.
- FINAL THOUGHTS: From a fellow beginner, I think this is a great beginner race! The “sprint” distance is the perfect way to ease into triathlons and learn throughout the experience. The race attracts a lot of beginners so the atmosphere is welcoming and supportive! There are a lot of experience triathletes who do the race as well, mostly to kick-off the season. The entire triathlon community coming together is great to be a part of! Also, the pool swim is a game changer if you have the scaries about an open water swim. The course is in Columbia so you there’s a lot you can do in the area to make a weekend out of it! I give this race my recommendation and would definitely do it again!
AFTER THE RACE
So, what’s next? I’m sure you can guess, but it’s another triathlon! I have two big races coming up this summer and I am PUMPED. Subscribe to stay up to date on all things Jordo’s World!