Columbia Triathlon

May 23rd, 2010

The Columbia Triathlon was my first olympic-distance triathlon; I ran a sprint triathlon in July 2009 to see if I liked the idea of a triathlon, and it was good enough an experience to sign up for two olympic tris in 2010. This was the first one, and I must say that I hope the second one is easier in all regards, because this was definitely a hard one. It didn’t help that there was heavy rain and thunderstorms all night before; I got maybe 3 hours of sleep, and from there it was a very early drive up to Columbia. Once there, I set up my gear as best I could (my bike was already there), met up with Moose, and then headed into the water at 7am for the start of my swim wave. The rain had fortunately stopped a few minutes earlier, and the weather in general only pushed back the start by 15 minutes.

The swim was the first open-water distance I’d done since Boy Scout Camp (and the mile swim) back in the 1980s. This meant I had to learn “sighting” (aka keeping your eyes on where you are supposed to be going) on the fly; the first turn ended up being a little wide, but after that it sorted itself out. (When I got to that turn and realized I should be making a much tighter turn, another swimmer next to me stopped, looked, and said, “I think we need to start turning a little tighter.” At least I was not alone.) On the bright side, I never did get kicked in the head, something I was expecting. On the down side, the water was disgusting and at the end you actually swam through weeds. Ugh. Still, I was happy with my finishing time for this leg; it was actually the one out of the three where I ended almost exactly where I had thought I would.

After a really slow transition (I was mentally in “all done!” mode for too much of it), I headed out onto the bike course, which is pure hill from start to finish. Biking is still my weakest part of a triathlon, and this was a struggle. It didn’t help matters that the road was still wet and slick from all of the rain. I did pass one person who had wiped out on the course, badly; adding to the experience was that just earlier on that very steep downhill stretch, I’d felt my own bike slide a tiny bit on the course, but I had regained control almost immediately. I spent the entire bike ride eating spray from other bikes as they passed me (ugh), hoping I wouldn’t wipe out, and wondering how far along the course I was. I hadn’t brought my Garmin GPS, which was a mistake; next time I’ll just switch watches and call it a day. (It can’t go in the water.) I’d convinced myself that I was barely more than halfway through (and inching through the course) when I suddenly made a turn and realized I had about three miles to go. Oh, what a wonderful moment that was. I came in on the bike about half an hour faster than I’d expected, which was a really nice surprise.

The one downside to doing better on the bike than expected was that I didn’t have as much energy left for the run as I needed. If the course was flatter I might’ve been all right, but just like the bike course, it had large and steep rolling hills, and I’ll admit that I ended up walking a few of them because I just didn’t have the power left to move any faster. It was a disappointment, and while it wasn’t a bad finish time, it was the part of the race where I came in slower than I’d wanted.

I’m looking forward to my next race (the Washington DC Triathlon on June 20th) being a much flatter course, though! Ask me in a month if I’m willing to do this race again. Right now sanity is telling me no, but we shall see.

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