Two weeks ago I was just coming off some good bike races, some good running races, and feeling a bit unstoppable. I decided I was going to race a triathlon a week later, despite not having been swimming in over two years (since before Will was born), and not even having assembled my time trial bike since we moved to St. Louis over a year ago. Oh, and I had an awful cold. What was the worst that could happen?
I signed up for a membership at the nearby WUSTL pool and went swimming four times that week. I didn't put in much distance (the race would only be 400 meters). I did just enough to reacquaint myself with the water, but not enough to be make myself sore. Frankly, I was shocked at how (reasonably) well I did. I assembled my TT bike and did a few (very) short rides on it. I got my first flat on my tubular race wheels, which was a pain in the butt to fix only a couple days before the race. But everything (sort of) came together.
I woke up at 4:45 am and drove to Lake Lou Yaeger near Litchfield, IL last Saturday morning. I hadn't raced a triathlon in 28 months, and only raced once in the last three years. I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to set up to ensure I didn't miss anything (like leaving a cleat cover on my bike shoes).
The air temperature was cool, in the high 50's. The water temperature was much warmer, but still a bit chilly. I debated for days about whether or not to wear my wetsuit during the swim. It would have kept me warmer, and I would have swam faster (thanks to the added buoyancy) but I opted against it at the last minute. My wetsuit is potentially tricky and time consuming to remove and I didn't want to take the chance of something going wrong with my very limited practice.
The swim was hard. Even though it was short it was still long compared to the 0 meters I've been swimming until the week before the race. There was another guy who was swimming the exact same speed who kept bumping into me, though I suppose it could have been me who was bumping into him. I exited the water with the 6th fastest swim of the 96 competitors in the sprint-distance race. Not bad.
I had a quick first transition, passing two people in the transition area. Then I got off to a good start on the bike, passing two additional riders who were fumbling to mount their bikes. This was pretty good evidence to support the stereotype that triathletes generally don't have the best bike handling skills.
The first half of the bike I couldn't see anybody ahead of me or behind me. I was actually in 2nd place at the time, but I didn't know this yet. I did know there was at least one person ahead of me, because I saw them riding away while I was in the transition area. I didn't know how many others there were. Just before the turnaround at the halfway point a rider passed me, but he wasn't going much faster. I stayed near him for a while. It was pretty clear, given his aero shoe covers, that he was on a relay team, so I didn't worry too much about it. In fact we leapfrogged each other for most of the second half of the bike leg.
My second transition didn't go quite as smoothly as the first. I tried to change shoes while balancing on one leg (like a flamingo), but my hypoxic body wasn't cooperating and I lost my balance a few times. I eventually got my shoes on and ran out. The timing chip on my left leg was a little too tight as I noticed pretty quickly my left foot was a little numb and tingly. This went away pretty quickly and I was able to pick up my pace quite a bit at that point. I missed the first mile split, but I was 5:58 and 5:59 for the next two miles. I easily passed the relay runner who started just before me. I made up over a minute on the first place guy during the run, but his lead was unassailable by that point. So I finished 2nd overall.
My swim was as good as I could have hoped, given my lack of training. My bike leg was the 2nd fastest, but it should have been a bit faster (and with more training on my TT bike it will be). My run was by far the fastest, with only one other runner covering the 3.1-ish mile course within three minutes of my time. So the race went well. Presumably next year I'll have more swim and TT bike training and I'll be able to do even better.