My First Triathlon Experience: The 2011 LA Triathlon

Ah, the LA Triathlon. My very first triathlon experience is under my belt. I’m glad that the anxiety is all over and now I can focus on bigger and better things (to be announced at the end of the post…don’t skip down!).

Despite having shown up at the expo later than I wanted to, I sat through all of the course talks and newbie clinics. I felt a little less nervous but little did I know that the panic would set in at the 11th hour.

After leaving the expo with my new iFitness race/hydration belt and a shuttle ticket, I ran some errands before getting things set up at home. My wetsuit had a few tears in it already and I needed to grab some energy gels. I also had to test out my bike one last time before the race so I took it for a spin to the bike shop — who knew that bike patch glue works well for wetsuit repair? — and then to a friend’s house.

On my way back from her place, I began noticing a grinding sound. Something was amiss and my sanity was about to unravel for an hour. As I started inspecting my bike, my chain decided to jigger itself loose. Then I noticed that the gear was grinding near the deraileur. I took my allen wrench and went to town on my bike. I also looked up about 10 different YouTube videos to figure out how to fix the darn thing. By the end of an hour — and about a dozen expletives later — things were back to normal. I packed my T1 bag, double checked the glue on my wetsuit, laid out my trisuit and armwamers. I ate dinner and tried to go to bed.

Usually the night before a race is nervewrecking. I get nervous. I start overanalyzing whether or not I’ve trained enough or properly. I took solace in knowing that there were probably many hundreds of other newbie triathletes up at that very moment thinking the exact same thing. By the time I fell asleep it was 10pm (quite early on a pre-race night) and I awoke at 2:30am, 3:30am, 3:45am, and then again at 4:15am.

I got up and threw my clothes on. I packed my breakfast and headed out the door with all of my gear in one go. I’ve always been a fairly light packer. I sped to Downtown LA via 6th Street, which has always been my little secret. Very little traffic the morning of the race. I was pleasantly surprised. I couldn’t find a parking lot with an attendant so I went to the same one I parked at for the expo, put a $10 in an envelope, marked it with my license plate number, and tossed it into the kiosk hoping that I’d see my car again come that afternoon.

I rode down Figueroa to 12th Street, where the shuttles were lined up and ready to take athletes to Venice Beach. As I boarded the shuttle with about 50 or so more triathletes, it was slightly comforting. Nervous energy was in the air. Everyone was pretty quiet and focused. Some people put on headphones, others gazed out windows, and no one fell asleep. The energy was a little intense but I felt strangely at home. I was finally with my people — the Type A’er, the planning and rehearsing and thinking and reflecting types — and it felt nice. Our driver got lost a few times but we finally made it to Venice Beach. The guy next to me chucked and said that we probably could’ve biked there faster. (I kind of agree!)

T1 wasn’t too hectic. By the time I got there some of the other athletes were already set. I took awhile to get everything set up — bike on the stand, appropriately placed towels, socks, shoes, etc. When everything was done, I decided that it was finally time for breakfast. I was pretty nervous and I rarely have an appetite on race morning, but nonetheless I inhaled 6 or so bite sized brownies and a packet of PowerBar energy blasts. I downed some water and headed to the volunteer station to get myself marked up for the race ahead.

As the transition area closed, everyone was called out to the water for the morning remarks and the national anthem. They began to call the waves — all 16 of them — and it started off with the elites and pros first. It was inspirational seeing how laser focused they were and how they entered the water with such strength and purpose. Right at about that time I remembered that my open water swim coach had mentioned that it was best to get into the water prior to the start of the event to acclimate to the temperature. Even though the water was actually warmer than air temperature, it was probably a good idea anyways so I left the race area to join the other athletes who were doing the same thing.

I practiced a few dolphin dives as the waves began to pick up. I was feeling strong about my training at that time and ready to just get started. I still had about an hour to go before my wave would be called, so I did my best to stay warm. I jogged up and down the beach in my wetsuit, dunked myself into the water, swam a little bit, chatted with some of the other age groupers. It was fun connecting with others who had been training for months leading up to the event, just like me.

Before I knew it, we were up to the start line. We ran down the beach, into the water, and dove right in. Even though I had warmed up prior to this, the water temperature just sucked the air out of me. I was only completing the sprint distance (1/2 mile swim, 14 mile bike, 3.1 mile run) but about 0.1 mile in to the swim I was already panicking. It was partially because I had only truly been in the ocean once before. Another reason was that the wetsuit had settled into me a sense of claustrophobia. The people around me didn’t freak me out as much as I had anticipated, and there were lifeguards everywhere. It almost felt like the number of lifeguards outnumbered the number of athletes. One quickly paddled up to me to see if I needed help, but I turned it down and kept going. I tried to get into a rhythm and to put myself into a calmer mindset. I told myself that I had trained hard for this section. I tried to remember the words of encouragement I got from everyone. I told myself that I had finally committed to a goal and was in the process of achieving it if I could keep my bearing. My endurance needed some work so I flipped between freestyle and backstroke. I made it to buoy 1 just fine and had two more and a coastline to go. My Coney Island Crawl ended up leaving me with pretty bad chafing on my neck, days of neck cramps, a lot of spent energy, and bout so breathlessness. Having to switch to backstroke for about half of the swim meant that I ended up swimming in zig zags around the remaining two buoys and back towards the ocean. I honestly probably ended up swimming more like 0.6 miles.

I was swimming with all the energy I had. I felt pretty spent in the water. As much as I was reaching for the shoreline I felt like I was moving inches at a time. I kept trying to remember what my swim instructor told me — reach as far as you can with your fingers, push back with your arms, repeat — but each time it felt like the shoreline was barely moving. A lifeguard paddled to me and coached me back to the shoreline to keep me from zigzagging back towards buoy 3. I was incredibly grateful for them. I kept swimming and swimming as far as I could until someone told me to just stand and run out. (I had remembered hearing advice that I should swim until my fingers can hit the ground before getting up, since you swim faster than you walk. I suppose for me that was pretty arguable!)

I got out of the water and was pretty dizzy. From the race pictures my cheeks were rosy and I was looking down most of the time. Sounds about right. It was difficult getting my bearing, getting my wetsuit off, and getting my shoes on. My transition time was four and a half minutes long, which is a pretty long time. I walked my bike out of transition and got on to it and started enjoying the experience.

As I rode down Venice Blvd. I couldn’t help but think to myself that the hard part of the triathlon was over. Just a few short months before I was absolutely terrified of the water and signed up for lessons. Did I really just finish an ocean swim and NOT get plucked out by lifeguards or deemed unfit for participation? I guess in this case, you really need to fake it until you make it. If you had even looked like you were doubting yourself they’d pluck you out of the water. I was glad that they didn’t do that to me.

I kept riding, being very mindful of any sort of clicking in my bike. I was a bit scared that things were going to fall apart since I don’t really deem myself a bike handyman. I tried to shift gears but things felt awry, so I loosened them up and just rode on the 1-1. As the race director had said the day before, biking isn’t so much about the equipment as it was about the engine. I pedaled as hard as I could up the hills I never anticipated, tried to rest my numbing hands every mile or so, and kept focus on Downtown LA. The bike portion was definitely the most exhilarating part of the entire event, equipment withstanding. I rode through familiar parts of my city and hoped to see a few familiar faces out there but it wasn’t in the cards that day.

T2 was a piece of cake, mainly because I had nothing to change. I parked my bike, grabbed a drink, got my GU on, and started running. I had practiced this transition often at the gym, so the rubber legs were completely expected. Even though I am not a particularly fast runner I deemed this segment to be my strongest. I had been running the longest, after all, and it was the thing that got me into training for the triathlon in the first place. I enjoyed seeing all of the other athletes make the climb up to the Disney Concert Hall. On the way back down the hill, I was enjoying myself so much that I tried to crack a joke with an older man also running. He seemed like he was struggling and as I cracked my very silly joke, he seemed to just get angry with me, so I wished him a good run and kept pushing. By the time I made it down the hill the 3rd mile marker welcomed me home and it was a fairly strong finish. I tried not to sprint all the way down to the finish, only picking up my stride just a little bit. I had learned from my Disneyland Half Marathon that you definitely shouldn’t gun it at the end, especially if you had not trained at those speeds…it only leads to injury, something that I am unfortunately still dealing with to this day.

All in all, the LA Triathlon was a great experience. I learned a lot about myself in the process. I was kind of sad that it was all over! I tried to look at it like this: my training was the journey, and the event was the celebration of said journey. When I convinced myself of that, and the fact that training is never really over until you say it is, I felt a lot better.

My final times were pretty decent. I finished on 2:05:39. My swim took 28:39. My bike took 1:01:57. My run only took 27:48.

The night before, I had been eyeing a few different races…one was another local sprint triathlon in October, and one was a half/70.3 late next year (1.2 mile swim/56 mile bike/13.1 run). In the 7 days after the LA Triathlon I ended up treating myself and registering for both. I’m very excited about the prospect of doing the half. It’ll require lots of training. Lots and lots and lots of training!

I chose the HITS Half Triathlon in Lake Havasu for a number of reasons. It’s close enough to home that I could take vacation time and just drive myself out there (much cheaper than shipping my bike). I’ve also been to Lake Havasu City before so I know what to expect. Plus, I think it’s close enough where my family and friends can come out for it if they choose to. I’m excited about the adventure ahead. Partially terrified, but mostly excited. Reminds me of when I first decided to register for the LA Triathlon.

See you at the next finish line!


One thought on “My First Triathlon Experience: The 2011 LA Triathlon

  1. Yay!!!! Congrats missy!! I’m so proud of you for accomplishing your LA Tri goal!! Especially bc you had to conquer your fear of the water to do it! Cheers to you! xoxoxox


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