For the most part, I train for triathlons year round. I usually do at least one swim a week during the “winter” months, a couple of bike or trainer rides and a few runs. I don’t start getting into “race” mode until April or May and usually do my first triathlon of the season in June at the Lake Pflugerville triathlon.
So, when I saw a friend post Wednesday night that she needed a cyclist for her relay team at The Rookie triathlon today (Sunday), I thought “what the heck”. I figured I could use it as a hard training day and go out as hard as I could. Despite the fact that the race is called “the Rookie”, the bike course is anything but. There are several decent rollers and some downhills that lead to sharp turns and a steep climb. I haven’t ridden outside much this year and definitely not on hills, but I figured if all I had to do was the bike, I could really push and see where my fitness is right now.
That’s the mentality I had for a few days. Saturday morning we went to packet pick-up and still had a team of three. Saturday afternoon was beautiful, so I took my SUP board out to our local lake. I wanted to paddle around it just to see if I could. While I didn’t hug the shoreline, I did go around the lake and probably went 2 miles or more. When I got back to the start, I did a little SUP yoga and then just lay on the board soaking in the sun for a while.
When I got home from the lake, I got a text from my friend letting me know our runner was now scheduled to work. Due to my friend having an Achilles injury at the moment, she asked if I could run, too. Sure, why not. Although I haven’t exactly been running a lot lately and definitely haven’t been doing any speedwork. But, I knew I could get it done.
This morning, I got to the race site and set up my transition area. We left transition when it closed for the pre-race meeting and national anthem. Then the race started. Since we still had an hour before the relay swim wave went off, I ate my second breakfast. A little while later, I headed back to transition to get all of my cycling gear on so I’d be ready when she came out of the water.
When she got to the relay exchange area, we got the chip off of her and onto me and I grabbed my bike and headed out. I knew other relay folks had left before me and I wanted to see if I could catch any of them. I have raced on the course before and drove it again on Friday, so I knew I could get some speed on the first few miles. It felt good to pass people.
Not too far into the course, there is a decent downhill into a 90-degree right turn that then leads to a fairly steep uphill. People that haven’t trained on hills (or at all) or people that aren’t clipped in or don’t have strong legs, usually have to get off and walk up the hill because they have no momentum going into it. I knew that being the last swim wave would have me in the back with some of the less experienced cyclists and I just hoped that no one would stop right in front of me.
As I turned the hill, the coach in me came out. I called out, “Use your gears, find an easy one and keep pedaling. Don’t stop.” I was trying to encourage everyone since your mind is usually the thing that tells you to stop. Most people just kept pedaling, but there were several that were walking.
There were some nice spots in the course where I was able to gain some more speed, going 25-30mph, but the climbs negated any of that. The final climb back to the start is another one that most people walk and by then, your legs are toast. I knew I wouldn’t need to walk it, but I could definitely feel my legs by then. I was glad to get to the top and finally get back to transition.
Since I was doing the running, too, there was no need for a chip swap this time. Two things slowed me down a little, though. In a short race, I don’t usually wear cycling gloves because it takes too long to get them on and off. Since I wasn’t swimming today, I decided to wear them, so I still had to take them off. Secondly, since my last triathlon, I’ve switched running shoes. Before, I could wear my shoes to the race site, slip them off still tied and then slip them on (still tied) before the run. The ones I’m in now have a stiffer back and I’m not able to do that. Since I wasn’t expecting to run today I hadn’t switched to triathlon style shoelaces, so I had to actually tie my shoes. Oh well.
I headed out on the run knowing that my legs were fatigued. As I said, I haven’t been doing any speedwork or anything lately, so I knew I wasn’t in “race” shape. The run is on all grass and dirt path (not my favorite), so a little tricky as well if you don’t want to twist an ankle. My goal as I headed out was to go as fast as I could without needing to stop and walk. Afterall, it was only for two miles. I also tried to stay in the shade of the trees as much as I could since it was getting warm by now.
When I hit the mile marker, I started counting my steps (a mental trick for me since I know about how many steps I take each mile). I just kept going and finally saw the finish line.
While we didn’t place, we did have fun and it was a good test of where my fitness is right now. I know what I need to work on before Lake Pflugerville. I’m a little bummed because the results didn’t catch me crossing the mat from T1 to the bike, so I have a combined time there, but from everything I can see, I had the 2nd or 3rd fastest bike of the relay teams. When I checked my computer after the race it looks like I averaged 16.7mph, which on that course with where I am in my training right now, I’ll take. I can’t say the same about my run. But, I know I’ll never run a 5:35min mile, which is what the first team did, so I’ll just do my thing and be happy.
I’m so glad I was able to step in and race with Cortney today. It was fun!