By the Numbers
I’ve gotten to be a part of many people’s first triathlons this year, but haven’t actually been at any of their events. Being a part of the Fleet Feet Tri 101 mentor team, I had the opportunity to coach, workout with, and answer questions from numerous first timers, but their first race fell on my sis-in-law’s wedding weekend. I’ve also given pointers, offered training tips, and answered questions from one of my best friends from college who now lives in Maryland and a friend of a friend whose first race was the Raleigh 70.3 – again I wasn’t able to be at either of these races. All that changed with Tri! Ballantyne – I searched my calendar for a good beginner race (preferably with a pool swim) to be the first race for one of my best childhood, summer swim team friends, Paige, and this race fit perfectly into each of our schedules.
Pre-Race & The Swim
When I picked this tri, I forgot to look at a map which would have told me that Ballantyne is on the south side of Charlotte, taking about 30 more minutes to get there than I expected. Whoops! As a result, we left the house at 4:30am with the aim to get to the race site about 15 minutes before the close of packet/chip pick-up and body-marking. As we parked, I was getting a bit antsy and was thankful to find the pick-up deadline extended to 6:45 with transition closing at 6:55 – plenty of time. With all of the pre-race details squared away and transition set-up, I headed to the pool to find Paige and her husband, Zach.
Paige was scheduled to start the race about 12 minutes ahead of me and Jason’s start time was about 6 minutes after mine. I watched Paige breeze through the swim, passing by a few swimmer bottlenecks (I guess some people would rather lie about their times and get trampled in the pool than start the race after 8am… don’t be that guy, come on!), then I headed to line up.
I was in line behind a woman who was competing as a relay with her husband on the bike and her 8-year-old son running (he told his mom “not to mess it up!”). In front of her was a young girl, probably no older than 10 – I knew that might cause a few hiccups. I was also three people in front of Fleet Feet coach, Mike – it’s always nice to have a friendly face before the start of a race!
The first 50 went swimmingly (ha!) and the woman in front of me and I passed the young girl at the turn for the first 100. The woman in front of me allowed me to pass around the 150 mark, then the next 100 was obstacle free. I passed two or three more people during the final 50 and was glad to be out of the pool. I can honestly say I’m starting to prefer open water!
I had hyped myself up for two specific aspects of this race during the drive on the way down – I wanted to do two minute or less transitions, and I really wanted to push it on the bike. I achieved a quick, 59 second, T1 and was off in search of a 19mph+ average on the bike course.
It was a perfect course for this goal, largely flat with no significant uphills. After the first 4 miles, Mike hadn’t passed me yet, so I figured I was doing pretty well. Of course, as soon as those thoughts entered my mind, there he was, zipping past me. As he flew by I looked at my cyclo-computer which read 21.4mph – dang! How fast was he going?! 24? 25? I guess carbon fiber and disk wheels really do help!
I kept Mike in my sights for as long as possible, but no one else passed me who I couldn’t hang with. By the end, there were about 6 of us constantly trading positions – some of the bigger guys had a definite advantage on the downhills, while myself and another tiny girl had a definite uphill advantage. Now this other girl, let me tell you, she was quite a daredevil and performed one of the scariest, most unsafe maneuvers I’ve ever witnessed on a bike. When we got held up by a car, who was being held up by a slower group of riders in front of us, she opted to cross the yellow line, into oncoming traffic to pass the car – folks, please don’t do this! It’s scary, dangerous, and also against USAT rules… it also put a little additional fire into my muscles as I told myself I wouldn’t let her beat me on the bike! I motioned for the car to go for it and get out of the way, caught back up with her, held her off and finished with a 19.6 average!
I knew it would be hot and humid, but I was trusting that my legs would somehow carry me through with a great run time. Well, they didn’t quite live up to that! This might be a trade off of really going for it on the bike, but could also have more to do with the 85% humidity that had set it (I can see why some people might feel it’s better to falsify a swim time than to start the run later in the day). The run course sent us out for about a mile, on an open, unshaded road, into a nicely treed neighborhood for about a mile, then back on the same open road. On the way out, it was still mostly overcast, but the way back was brutal! I kept my legs running except for during one water stop and one hill in the neighborhood. But, I had a feeling that even when I was running, I wasn’t keeping my usual pace. I just couldn’t seem to get up to speed, or get a satisfying breath in the heat!
I caught up to Paige with about a half mile to go (I wasn’t sure I’d be able to catch her, but I hoped that if I did, it would be right at the finish line). She was also struggling in the heat and told me, “this is hard!” but also said she was having fun – hey, that’s all I can ask for! I ended up finished about a minute in front of her and was challenged by a 12 year-old-boy at the finish. I tried my darndest, but couldn’t hold him off. That final surge must have taken a lot out of me because I had at least 3 people ask if I was OK after finishing. I was OK, I just needed the support of the tent pole as I turned around to see Paige finish!
“Congrats girl! You are a triathlete!” I told her – it’s pretty cool to be the first person to say that to someone! We hung around the finish line with Zach and his parents for a few more minutes until Jason came through the line. He must have been looking rough after the finish as well, because he actually got pulled aside by the medic. We hung around the race fest for a bit, eating and drinking just about anything available to us (which was a lot!). After checking the results, it was pretty certain that I’d won my age group and there was a chance that Paige had placed as well. Jason’s age group was more competitive that ever and, even though he beat me by about 3 minutes, he place 9th in his age group. In fact, he was 72nd overall, meaning that 9 or the first 72 finishers were men age 25-29 – that’s pretty crazy!
We hung out for a few more hours, waiting for the awards (I always hate this part – how long it takes for the award ceremonies at a pool swim! I wish more races would follow the 36 North model and start the slowest 10% of swim times first, this moves up the end of the race by at least an hour and probably cuts down on the falsification of times… just my two cents!). After an extremely painful drawing for door prizes, I receive my very cool medal, or should I say ceramic!
There’s always things to proud of and things to work on at each race. For this race, I would say I’m most proud of my bike leg, and also of placing at such a large event. First by over 5 minutes in my age group of 17 athletes and I was actually the 13th woman out of 164 to cross the line! On the flip side, I definitely need to work on my run!
What’s up next?
At this point, I don’t have a tri on the calendar until August 23rd, so if anyone knows of a good race on August 3rd, 9th, 10th, 16th, or 17th, I’d be interested in hearing about it!
Tonight kicks off the Tri 102/201 training programs with Fleet Feet, which I’ll help mentor. These groups move beyond the pool to open water swimming for the Belews Lake Sprint on September 13th and work on longer distances for the the Pinehurst International Tri on October 4th. Come train with us!