That which does not kill us, makes us stronger. - Nietzsche

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cincinnati Triathlon - race report

Let me tell you why I did this race: this was me overcoming fear. I think I've mentioned before, I'm a little afraid of deep water. In my carefree college study abroad years, I had a bad experience with a riptide off a secluded beach when my friends and I were not exactly sober. Since then, water that's not in a pool and especially water that isn't still is not my friend. Don't even ask how I embarrassed myself snorkeling on my honeymoon.


So honestly, I chose this to be my first Oly because I figured there's nothing scarier to swim in than the Ohio River. (Not 100% true, but I seriously doubt I'll ever be mentally able to do a tri with an ocean swim. And there's no ocean for hundreds of miles anyway.) The downside of this race is that it was pricey pricey, and run by a company from Tuscon. Their lack of familiarity was obvious when they thought it was a good idea to have packet pickup (mandatory) the day before, at Sawyer Point, the day of a Reds game. First of all, finding it was difficult, and there was nowhere to park that didn't cost $10. Fortunately, my husband drove around while I got the pickup taken care of.

They had ONE other packet pickup time and location, but I couldn't make it because I was watching Megadeth/Godsmack/Disturbed with the husband. But anyway....

The event itself was really well organized and the crowd support was fantastic. I was pretty much terrified but I was happy to find others in the same boat while we set up our transition areas. Got marked with my number (95, good even number) and my age and an O on the other calf for Olympic, and made our way down to an unfamiliar part of the river for the swim start. We got to watch the men start, and then our wave wandered down some steps (and under branches) to get into the river.

People were really, really nice. Triathletes, at least the non-elite ones, are a friendly, supportive bunch, and our wave being mostly female, there was some bonding going on. I mentioned being a slow swimmer and another girl, Casey, was thrilled that she wasn't the only slow person there. I also warned everyone that I would probably pee as soon as I hit the water. (There was a line for the restrooms and I was terrified of missing my start!) We got in, where there were rocks that were shallow enough to stand on. This made me happy because I didn't want to expend any energy treading water. However, our wave was not just women but Clydesdale men, and I kept having to move because these big guys were right behind me. I ended up finding a pretty isolated spot behind everyone. THEN I got sweet relief for my bladder. (No, it's not gross; there are WAAAY grosser things than my pee in the river!) The guy counted minute. 45 seconds. 20 seconds. Crap, dude, I'm still peeing!!! Luckily I was done just before we started.

The swim started out smoothly. No trampling or scrambling, at least not in my spot. I followed the pack...and they got further and further ahead. There was one person beside me for a bit, but then they were gone, too. Now, I was intentionally taking the swim slow and steady, because I was afraid that if I got tired, I'd start panicking. But this was a little ridiculous. Open water swimming tends to feel like you're not going anywhere anyway, because it takes so long for scenery to get closer. I channeled Finding Nemo and told myself to just keep swimming. I counted strokes. The "I'm So Lonely" Kim Jong Il song from Team America got stuck in my head. Seriously?? I was swimming all by myself. I was a little worried, actually, because I didn't see any kayaks and I could only guess they were up with the majority of the swimmers. It was kinda fun swimming in the river but it got really boring. I almost seriously wondered if I was the victim of an elaborate prank and they were all going to see how long I'd swim in the Ohio River by myself.

The good news is that I'm pretty good at sighting with little practice. I stayed pretty close to the shore without straying off path. At one point, I was totally surprised that my hand brushed the bottom and I managed to cut my finger. All I could do was file a mental note to douse that thing in neosporin later. Finally, I got to a point where there were lifeguards along the shore. I asked one if I was last and he said yes, then he said something else that I couldn't hear through the water in my ears. I took my head out of the water to tell him not to let me drown. He walked with me. Then the water got pretty choppy. See my aforementioned issues with non-still water. I panicked a little and asked the guard why the water was so choppy. He said a boat had gone through earlier. I had to force myself to calm down and not be silly about it, the water wasn't going to kill me, although it made breathing a little harder.

FINALLY I got to the end. It felt like it took forever. It was a little bit of a struggle because the water got too shallow to swim, but the rocks were too sharp to walk on. They had multiple people there to help me out of the water and onto dry land, and then I looked around like a crazy person trying to figure out where to go. Someone asked me if I was ok and I responded that I was just disoriented as they pointed me to the transition area. There were LOTS of volunteers and spectators and they were all cheering, which was awesome, and I tried to look strong and athletic as I jogged toward my bike.

Yep, I must've been last. My bike was all by its lonesome in the Olympic tri area. I made my way onto the course, mounted the bike, rode for a minute, and......crap. A hugely steep hill. I made it about halfway up and seriously doubted my ability to continue. I managed to get a foot unclipped and pulled over and just stood there, doubled over my bike. I pulled out a gel and sucked it down and decided that if I was going to be taking up time, I might as well be moving forward, so I walked up the hill. At the top, I stopped to catch my breath again. I've pretty much never felt so defeated in my life. A spectator asked me if I was ok, if I needed water, and I remembered I had some on my bike. I took a swig and, after I nearly threw up, I remembered that it was gatorade, not water. "It's SOOO HOT!" I heard myself saying. I managed to get back on the bike and move forward.

I'm not going to lie. At that moment, I was about to just head back to my car and go home. I thought about having to tell everyone that I DNF'd my first oly tri and I was surprised that the idea didn't bother me an iota. Then, out of nowhere, a thought crossed my mind. "If you can't effing hold your head up and do your best when you're in last place, then you don't deserve to ever be first." And with that, I kept moving.

The bike course was a lot of suck - mostly rolling hills. The Oly tri was two laps, so I was getting passed by some of the frontrunners on their second lap. My goal was just to survive. At one point, I passed a guy standing by a pickup truck. I later found out he was the race director. He asked me if I was on my first lap and then wrote down my number. Great, that confirmed it - I was in dead last place. Thankfully, I recalled something that had been posted on the beginner triathlete forum: DFL>DNF>DNS. So I kept going.

I tried to motivate myself by telling myself, over and over, that the next time around I was going to defeat that first hill (which was actually an exit ramp that we had to ride up to get to Columbia Parkway.) But really, I didn't believe it, and when I got to the hill I walked it again. I didn't stop this time, though, and did the course again. This time, the guy got in his truck after I passed him and was stopping to pick up cones. On the way back, he was actually coaching me. He was really nice and I appreciated the gesture, but part of me was also thinking, "JUST SHUT UP AND LET ME SURVIVE THIS!!" Before I reached the turnaround, I had seen Casey on her way back and truck man kept telling me I could catch her. "I see her! She's up there! She's going slow! You'll get her!" Toward the end of the bike leg, I did pass her. Then she caught me again and was trying to make conversation. I got a little nervous, as we were breaking the three bike length rule, then it hit me - who's going to penalize the two people in last place??? So we had a couple of miles to chat as we rode into transition.

She seemed pretty terrified of the run. I knew it was her first tri, and in the beginning I'd told her to keep moving, no matter what. She said her legs felt like jello. "Keep running! It'll get better!" In transition, I held up Speedy. "This is my good luck turtle! He'll give you good luck too!" Her husband was on the other side of the fence cheering her on too. I started out ahead of her on the run and I knew from our previous conversation that I was a faster runner, so I kept going.

Holy crap - the run. It was SO HOT. The course was an out and back through a park, then over a bridge and back, and twice for the Oly. So I got to see a lot of the other runners on their way back through the park, and a LOT of people were walking. I was even with a girl who was on her second lap and she was taking walk breaks. My garmin said I had a decent pace but soon I had to walk too. I stopped at a water stop - actually STOPPED moving - so I could inhale another gel and drink some water. The rest of the run was a lot of trying to get myself to a certain point - time or mileage wise - and taking little walk breaks, grabbing water at every water stop, pouring it over my head. I was afraid of dehydration but I drank too much water and my stomach felt sick and sloshy. I apparently got ahead of someone else and I don't know how, because I didn't remember passing her, but she was walking the whole thing and apparently favoring a hip. We cheered each other on every time we passed each other. I got through the park and ran away from it, but a spectator stopped me and said, "Wait, you've got to go that way. Up the hill." I swore. Then I apologized. Then I swore again. I ran up to the "hill" - the purple people bridge - and I realized that was just ridiculous. The sun was in full force right there and it was HOT. People ahead of me were walking. I asked a course monitor if anyone had ran up the bridge and he laughed and told me no. So I walked the hill, ran the bridge, took a walk break, ran back down the hill toward the finish line. The course got within eyeshot of the finish line before I had to turn around, although I won't lie, I thought about being really dishonest and just finishing!

I gave up on any hopes of a good time or pace and focused on surviving. Any running I did was because I knew the race would be over sooner. I stopped at a water stop and the water I poured on my head was pretty warm. I mentioned it to a volunteer and they apologized, so I quickly clarified that I knew it wasn't their fault!! I got to the water stop at the end of the park and the volunteers commiserated with me. "Just think, you paid to do this!" one of them told me. Since I was by myself, I had their full attention and got four cups of water to pour on myself.

My shoes were squishy. I stopped at the warm water stop again, about 4 3/4 miles in, and OMG. THEY HAD ICE!! They had PILES of ice in the cups and I swear, it was like Jesus Christ himself had come down and put it there. "I LOVE YOU!!" I yelled at them as I dumped a cup over myself. "You want more? Come here!" The woman who said it was standing next to an open water jug full of ice. I ran to it, grabbed as much as I could hold in two hands, and shoved it down my bra. I took two more cups and thanked them profusely as I walked off drinking my cold water. When I finished the water, I dumped most of the ice down the back of my shorts and stuffed a few cubes in my headband.

The ice on my head actually started to give me a headache so I shook it out, but the rest of the ice felt AMAZING. It gave me a new boost of energy. I was able to run a bit more and passed someone ahead of me. She told me she was just trying to survive and I agreed. I told her I was rattling because I had a bra full of ice. Innocent passersby were giving me strange looks as I kept running, sounding a bit like a well-shaken martini.

One more time across the bridge! As I was taking a walk break, a pedestrian asked me what the race was all about. I told them the distances, feeling pretty proud of myself. I high-fived Casey, who was on her way across. I cheered on the walking/limping woman. Over the bridge, hit the 6 mile mark. Casey's husband and kids were there cheering for me and I told them their mom was still in it. Just .2 to go! I can run .2 miles!! Those .2 were about all I could manage to run at one time. By the time I hit the finish line, I felt extremely hot, but I was getting chills at the same time and I knew I had hit my physical limit. The ice in my shorts had only taken a half mile to melt. By the time I hit the finish line, I was down to maybe one or two cubes left in my bra. That's hot, people!!

I was greeted at the finish line with not a medal....but a bottle of cold water in a finisher koozie. I drank the water in no time. They were going through the list of winners. I grabbed some food and made sure I cheered on the three women who finished behind me. The first thing I did when I got to my phone was to check the weather: heat index 109. Hoooooly crap.

That was mentally the TOUGHEST race I'd ever done. The one thing that disappointed me was the swim. I absolutely know I'm a slow swimmer, but I've NEVER finished last. I'm still a bit perturbed by that and I'm thinking there must be something terribly off about my form, even though a swimmer friend told me it's not half bad. This winter, I think I'm going to take a few lessons. The bike and run were just destined to be tough in th heat and I'm not bemoaning my times from them at all. The run, especially, was WAY off my running pace and not at all reflective of my ability. It was just freaking hot.

The official results may have some errors. They say I beat four people (including two of the men who were ahead of me because their swim had started earlier - I knew I had beat one, though, because he was barely ahead of me on the run) but the one woman behind me is missing from the results. Oh well. They also have a slower swim time for Casey, which makes no sense because she definitely started the bike ahead of me. I can't figure out exactly what happened....but my bike and run times match my garmin more or less, so I think my time's about right.

My results:

Swim: 30:28 (faster than two people)
T1: 2:13 (looks to be somewhere in the middle)
Bike: 1:44:36 (faster than 5, tied with 1)
T2: 2:01 (one second more than FTF, haha)
Run: 1:17:42 (yup, for a 10k!!!) <--still faster than 15 people
Total: 3:37:02

Not exactly the 3 hour goal I had for myself, but these weren't exactly ideal conditions, either!! And honestly, I've been really neglecting the bike lately because I don't want it to cause me any issues while running. My goal was to finish....and that's what I did. So ultimately, I'm happy with myself. The end!


  1. WAY TO GO, WOMAN!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. What an awesome recap! Congratulations.

    I'm jealous that runners don't have a way to just piss themselves when they need relief. I mean, I suppose we COULD, but then we'd have to run in it....

  3. Well, technically this is the first tri that I've done with an open water swim, so peeing during the swim would've been frowned upon in the other two. :) Although you can't tell me I'd be the first to pee in the pool at Coney Island!!

    I've heard of runners eliminating out both ends while running; of course, those are the ones who actually are competing for awards. Myself, I think I'd just hit up a porto-potty, bush, whatever!! :) Although I never ever have to pee while running. I think I sweat it all out. Running makes my husband have to pee, but he's a guy so he has more options for that!

  4. I just found you from Jene at The Original Bean...and I, too, am a slow runner. I look forward to reading more of your stuf~