Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pine Bush Sprint Triathlon Race Recap

Since moving away from Albany, a couple of my friends I have actually probably talked to even more via Messenger and Chat than when I did live there, due to my new and stronger interest in triathlon. My friends Jeremy and Katie I used to see all the time at sprint triathlons, but I always went to those solo and didn't really talk to many people at the races. I wasn't involved in any sort of triathlon group, didn't particularly train for the sprints, and was always the "loser on the hybrid bike" in my mind.

I remember the summer before moving away talking with Katie about running and having her say, "I wish that we had begun hanging out sooner, we could have run together!" And now that I'm into triathlon more, we could have swum and biked together I'm sure! Timing can be such a challenging thing and there's always a few people that you wish you'd been able to spend more time with or been better friends with or hung out with more when you lived in a certain place (Hi Lauren! Two blog cameos in one week!)

Anyways, when I mentioned I was coming up, Jeremy suggested I do the Pine Bush Sprint Triathlon while in town, which is a race I had never done and is right in Albany! He offered to loan me his road bike, which he rode for two of his full Ironman races and happened to be the right fit to me. After checking with my coach to see about fitting it into my training schedule, I took him up on the offer and signed up a couple weeks before. I was excited as this was going to be my first Sprint Triathlon (and likely only one) this season.

The day before the race I was given a little advice on the course and also was suggested to do packet pickup the day before. However, I had already missed the deadline to do the early pickup, so it was morning registration for me!

Online said that I needed to go to the Pine Bush Preserve Rensselear Lake for the packet pickup, start of the race, and T1. This was a point-to-point race, which made morning of a bit complicated. For those who aren't as familiar with triathlons, usually there is a "transition area" for athletes where everyone is assigned or claims a location where they leave their bike and everything that they need for when they transition from swimming to biking, then later biking to running. The race uses that transition area as a steady location and the start and finish of all three sports are from this main transition location. However, in point-to-point races, you are essentially doing the whole thing in one straight line. So you need to set up two transition areas in different locations with just what you'll need for that exact transition.

I arrived in the morning, checked in, got marked, and dropped off my bike and bike supplies at T1. The volunteers were not marking ages for this race since it was a NOT a USA Triathlon certified race. Which also means that I got to race as a 29 year old. My 30th birthday isn't for another couple of weeks, but in USAT races, you compete in the age that you will be at the end of the year. So for example, when I raced in Chattanooga, I was already 30 years old according to Ironman, which follows USAT rules. So, no ages on my legs (which I sort of like so I can check out the competition) and my marking on my arm was originally written wrong by the girl, so she then had to cross out one of the numbers by scribbling it out in big black sharpie. Awesome.

It had rained the night before, and the little lake area was calm and peaceful but the ground around was muddy and gross and I immediately felt bad getting my loaned bike covered in dirt.

When I was setting up in T1, I felt incredibly unprepared. I didn't have a towel to lay anything down on the ground, I didn't have any water to leave for myself at T1. I really just had the bare essentials for riding, my bike and helmet and shoes and socks (also sunglasses and gloves, but who is counting.) The bike racks were too short and it was really awkward to rack your bike. And without a towel, I just threw my items down on the wet ground next to my bike. As I was doing that I made a mental note to myself to think these things through the next time I travel for a race -- which will be for Half Ironman Sunshine Coast in Australia!!

After setting up, I had an awesome surprise of running into an old coworker of mine who I have run with many times before. Most recently was when I was in NYC in November for business and we ended up on The Today Show before our morning meetings. We chatted for a bit until I remembered that I actually had to drive over to T2 and leave my items there. He made me super nervous with his reaction of "What?! You haven't been over there yet?!? You're supposed to do that first!" and ushered me off, saying that he would set up my transition area. I wasn't sure exactly what he was going to do... since my area was pretty set up to my standards, but just said okay.

I hopped over in my car the 10 minute ride to the Guilderland YMCA where the finish of the race was set up and the T2 area. The transition area for T2 was a longggggg shoot. It was essentially just a portion of the road and there was only one timing mat that I saw for transition. Not having done the course before, I wasn't sure which end you biked into and which end you ran out from and wanted this information to know where to set my sneakers. Usually, it is nice to be as close to the "Bike In" area as possible since you are generally forced to dismount your bike and the closer you are to your transition area, the less time you have to run in clunky bike shoes and with your bike. There were people set up at both ends of the long transition area, which confused me, but after receiving confirmation of where we biked in, I set my sneakers down as close as possible. Again, it felt a little odd because I was basically just leaving a pair of sneakers and my race bib sitting on the side of the road.

Then, BACK over to the start area, where I met up with my coworker and chatted some more before staring the race. This race had 8 different waves, which was a lot I felt, and they were each spaced 4 minutes apart. The first wave was relays and triathletes under 20. Then I was in the 2nd wave of all male and female 20-29 triathlets.

It was a point to point swim, keeping buoys on your left, which is a little awkward for me since I am most comfortable breathing to my right, but whatever. It was listed as a 325 meter swim, which is rather short so I knew it wouldn't last long.

Swim portion (325 yards) - 5:06 (1:43 per 100/meter)

I started in the front of the pack of swimmers, four people to my left, who I had a pretty strong hunch would be really strong, with one girl in the group. This was my competition.

We started and I went out strong, wanting to just swim hard with such a short swim. The small group of swimmers took off like rockets, as anticipated, and I separated myself from the rest of the pack pretty easily and had an uneventful swim of just me out swimming on my own. I didn't run into anyone outside of the first few feet and nobody was by me. I felt fine for the most part but I could tell I could tell I was kicking too hard but I just couldn't get my arms to feel powerful. The only other point of note was that I misjudged when I would be able to stand too soon when leaving the water. I was close to the shore and there were weeds hitting my face so I went to put my feet down and couldn't touch. There was no bottom yet but now my whole body was wrapped up in those weeds. EW all around.

T1: I felt awkward in T1. It was in the grass/muddy dirt and I had no towel to dry my feet off or anything. My friend had put a shirt down on the ground and lay my things on top of them, which was really nice. I sat on the ground to put my shoes and socks on over soaking wet and sandy feet, threw on my bike gloves, glasses, and helmet and turned to look for the bike exit and couldn't find one. I had run over a timing mat when getting off the beach area and onto pavement but I didn't see another one so I wasn't sure where to head and the transition wasn't roped off or anything. I took a best guess and wheeled over and eventually just hopped on my bike and road down the street. There was no direction given, with all volunteers and spectators being immediately by the swim exit. Being one of the first waves and one of the first out of the water, there weren't a ton of people in transition. It was SUPER awkward to me.

Bike (11.5 miles) - 40:49 (16.9 mph)

The first mile or so, I actually was not sure if I was in the right place. Did I just bike away from the race? How long should I bike before I turn around and figure out actually where I was supposed to go? I was riding on a bike path and there was nobody in front of me, no signs, and no volunteers. It was quiet and very strange.

Eventually I caught up to a couple of the relay riders in front of me so I knew I was on the right track. When we got off of the bike path, there were tons of volunteers throughout the course, which was actually amazing. At every intersection, even small neighborhood ones, they had people patrolling cars and cheering along the riders. I said thank you to everyone and just kept grinding.

My legs felt heavy at the beginning of the bike which I thought might have to do with going to hard on the swim and kicking too much. But I just told myself, this is a SPRINT triathlon, so no need to hold anything back and forced my legs to keep moving.  At one point I tried to stand on the bike to pick up some speed but I immediately realized that I was not used to the weight of this bike and trying to ride out of the saddle takes some practice to get used to how a bike feels (for me at least) so I decided to try and avoid that this race. It also was a little hard for me to manage the gears on the borrowed bike, since the way they click through gears and the effort for each gear is slightly different per bike.

My TomTom Watch completely died recently so I was doing this race completely blind essentially. I had left my phone in my car and I had no way to tell how far I had gone or how long I was riding. There were no mile markers, and that made it a little tough to me. I just kept telling myself to keep going hard. Usually I use the miles to break it up for me a bit mentally, and it was hard to just tell myself to go hard for what felt like an unknown and indefinite period of time.

I caught as many people as they could, but knowing that they were relay people, it wasn't super motivating. Most of the time I was on the road by myself and had one male rider pass me towards the end. There were a few tight corners to turn on the ride, a few inclines, but a pretty uneventful and boring bike. There was one portion that we had to ride within the cones and the shoulder area they gave us was SO small. That was a bit frustrating. As was the fact that my water bottle fell out of my water bottle cage pretty early in the race!

My plan had been to take some Gu or Salt midway on the bike, but without water I couldn't do that. Eventually I made it to the T2 area and again, had no idea how I did, but just kept moving.

T2: So remember how I mentioned it was a really long shoot and I set my sneakers right by the bike in area? Well, I realized that just as there had been no mat to mark the bike out from the first transition, there was also no  mat here. Which meant that our transition times would be included in our bike time. Additionally, some people were BIKING THROUGH THE TRANSITION. This is a huge huge no-no in USAT races. You get disqualified for biking into the transition and there are set, marked dismount areas. The people who had set their sneakers up by the Run Out area had clearly done this race before and knew the advantage they'd get from being able to bike the abnormally long shoot area. It's a small advantage, but in a sprint race, every little thing counts. I racked my bike, again, on the super short bike racks, and changed into my sneakers, put on my bib and visor, and ran out. People were biking by me as I ran. Which was super annoying. And my glasses fell off somehow at one point so I had to stop and back track a few feet and pick them up before even exiting the transition.

Run (3.25 mile run) - 27:35 (8:29 pace)

As I began the run, I again, was not sure which way to go when I left the transition and ran over the mat. I asked a volunteer and she pointed me in the right direction and I also grabbed some water from her. A female runner came up beside me and said, "I am glad you asked because I didn't know which way to go either!" She was not the same age group as me so must have caught up to me during the bike (probably one of the people who rode past me in transition!) The first half mile was downhill and she got a little ahead of me, as I was trying to pace myself, but I caught up on the flat and we ran next to each other for a bit. At what I am guessing is around a mile she said to me, "I guess we might be stuck with each other." I said it was fine by me and we chatted a little. She said she had a baby last year and was just getting back out there and that she used to do longer races like Half Ironmans, etc.

We bobbed back and forth for the next mile, staying together. I drank some water from a couple aid stations, and we passed the few other relay runners who were out on the course. One or two fast guys caught us. I tried to estimate our pace but really was not sure - my guess was high 8s/9s. It seemed like it was an out-and-back course and it felt like it was going on forever. It turns out it had one little loop in the course and when we turned to start to head back, the woman got ahead of me. I knew she was already at least 4 minutes ahead of me time wise since she was in a different swim wave, but I tried to keep up as motivation even though I knew I couldn't beat her place wise.

In the last mile she got a bit further ahead and one other woman in a different age group passed me too and there was nothing I could do to stick with them. I was cramping and was mad at myself that I had lost that water back during the bike. The last half mile was up the same hill we had run down at the beginning and it was challenging. The finish felt like it was forever away, but the good thing about the last hill is that there were tons of people cheering. I also was passing so many people just going out on the run and I was so happy I was not them!

Overall - 1:13:29 (35/152 athletes; 4/67 females; 1st in 20-29F AG awards)

I knew the whole time that my competition would be that one girl that was out in front of me during the swim. I never caught her (and didn't really expect to) so I knew I would be 2nd in my age group when I finished. What I wasn't expecting was to be the 4th overall female! The two woman who passed me on the run, and the other female in my age group took the overall 1-3 spots in the race, which left me with the 1st in Age Group medal! At first I was a little annoyed that I didn't run harder to try and stay with the two women, but I had to keep reminding myself that they had already beaten me since they were in a later wave.

When I immediately finished, I was excited about the 2nd AG but also felt a little disappointed when I saw my times. I had been thinking the bike was a 10 mile bike and that the run was a 5K so when I saw my times posted I was a bit  bummed to be honest. I feel like there are a number of things I executed on poorly in the race, and my transitions especially were rather sloppy. I also thought I would be better at running that hill than I was, so it made me feel like I need to get more hill work in me. And train more on flats during the bike. There is always something to improve I guess.

I actually biked back from the T2 area to the start and finish with my coworker, hoping to avoid the shuttles and having to drive back to pick up bikes. It was nice to get some cool down miles in and chat more, but as soon as I got back to the start area, I realized that I was missing the awards ceremony. For some reason I had in my head that it would be taking place by the start. Which I realized as soon as I got there and saw how dead it was, that the thought didn't make any sense.

But oh well, we got to catch up more, which was fun.

I did go back over to the Guilderland YMCA to pick up my medal. Or plastic and ribbon. Whatever. A win is a win and I wanted the bling!

Plus, I think is probably my last race racing as a 29 year old. In a few weeks I will "officially" age up in all races, as I'll be entering my thirties. It was fitting to me that this race wasn't even broken into two different twenty-something age group, but that I raced my last race in the 20-29s and came out #1. Racing in Albany, NY where I first started this fitness journey, learned to run a 5K, and competed in my first sprint triathlon. It's fitting and means so much to me. I can't wait to get home and hang this first place medal on my wall. 

Overall time: 1:13:29
Swim (325 yard): 5:06 (1:43 per 100 m)
Bike (11.5 mile bike): 40:49 (16.9 mph)
Run (3.25 run): 27:35 (8:29 pace)

P.S. Serious special thank you to Jeremy for letting me borrow his bike and encouraging me to sign up for the race. I am so, so glad that I did and appreciate your help!

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