My sister Debbie is an accountant with a birthday on Apri 14th, so every year she travels down to Dallas after tax season is over to see the family and celebrate her birthday. This year, we both registered for the King Tut Sprint Triathlon in McKinney so that we could race together for the first time.
Debbie rented a bike and brought it over to my house the day before the race. On race morning I woke up and ate my normal pre-race breakfast of Honey-Nut Cheerios, skim milk, and a banana. My mom drove Debbie over to my house and we all drove together in my car to McKinney.
When we arrived, the first thing Debbie noticed was the level of competition at the race. There’s a fair amount of money in McKinney, and it definitely showed in the equipment on display in transition. I saw more $5,000+ tri bikes at this race than at the two I’ve done before, and there were a number of athletes who definitely looked the part.
Now, although I’m a slightly better swimmer than Debbie, she and I are equal cyclists and she is a much better runner than I am. So we were joking as we headed into transition about who would “win” the race. I knew she would beat me but it was fun to be there together and be competitive.
We quickly set up our transition areas and Debbie made a critical error that ruined the rest of her race day. She was borrowing my mom’s bike helmet for the day and she forgot to try it on! More on this point later…
Swim (10 minutes 26 seconds, 160 out of 370)
The swim was a short 500 meters in a man-made, neighborhood lake. The water was surprisingly clean, and although the race director had predicted around 70-degree water, the unusual cold and storms during the weeks prior dropped the water temperature to 62 degrees—frickin’ COLD! Last year I swam a half-mile in the Pacific Ocean in water even colder than that, so I knew that it would suck getting in but that I’d warm up after the first 100 meters, so I didn’t wear a wetsuit for the swim. But when I lined up for the swim start with my age group, almost every single one of the 25+ athletes between 30-39 years of age wore a wetsuit. In fact, I’d say over 80% of the racers had wetsuits that day—a big rarity for Texas triathlons.
My age group started when Debbie was in the water, so I didn’t really get a chance to watch her swim or exit the water, but later she told me that when she jumped in she couldn’t catch her breath and had to swim with her head above water for the first third of the swim. If you’ve never jumped in to really cold water, you probably don’t know what she explained, but when you first jump in your heart races and your body begins to “force” you to breathe at about double the pace that you normally do. It’s quite unnerving to feel your body out of control, especially when you are trying to stay calm so you pace yourself during the first leg of the race.
Once my age group jumped in, we treaded water for a minute or so while we all got into position, and then someone yelled “Go!” and we all started swimming. The tangle of arms and legs thrashing in cold, murky water was something I’d never experienced, as this was my first open-water triathon. As long as you don’t mind a sense of mild panic in the water or a bunch of same-sex strangers groping you as they jockey for position, it’s a really fun experience. I’m a decent swimmer so although I started towards the back of my wave, I slowly passed people and ended up near the front by the end.
T1 (3 minutes 41 seconds)
One negative of the course set-up is that this neighborhood lake actually has a dam along its far edge that forms a big hill overlooking the water. Unfortunately, the transition area was on the other side of this hill, which meant that when we exited the water we had to run up a dirt hill and then back down the other side into transition. My age group was one of the last, and so the dirt had become mud, and I had to run fairly slow to avoid slipping down the hill. That probably explains my lengthy transition, because I actually moved fairly quickly on to my bike.
Bike (40 minutes 8 seconds, 168 out of 370)
The bike course was was made up of two 6-mile loops, and besides one big hill and one small one, it was flat and fast. It was really windy too, blowing at 15-20 mph that morning, which not only made my wet toes freeze inside my vented bike shoes, but made for a tough bike ride without my bike set up for me to ride in the “aero” position (draped over the bike with my hands forward on aerobars). I managed to pass quite a few people, but I was passed a lot as well, and most of the people who passed me were riding in the aero position. I think the next triathlon purchase I’ll make will be aerobars for my bike. Overall, it was a fast and fun ride, averaging 18 miles per hour.
Not so much for my sister Debbie, though! She exited transition, hammered up the first hill passing folks left and right, and then… her helmet slipped off her head and started choking her! The rest of her ride was spent trying to angle her head to either keep the helmet on or keep it from restricting her air intake. She had to stop and unclip from the bike at least three times, and was screaming profanities for the entire 12 miles. It was her first triathlon on a real road bike, so hopefully she exorcized all of the demons and will do great in the Door County Half in July.
T2 (2 minutes 7 seconds)
By the time I got back to the transition area, my toes were completely numb but the rest of me felt fine. I yanked off my helmet, pulled on my socks and shoes, put on my race-number belt, and jogged out on to the run course. My legs felt especially stiff since I have not run many bricks this year. I’ll definitely have to squeeze in one or two before my next race.
Run (31 minutes 15 seconds, 242 out of 370)
The run course was much more difficult than I had mentally prepared myself. First of all, the path passed underneath the street at least twice, which meant running down and then back up a steep incline and through a dark tunnel. Second, it was generally hilly, with long stretches of “false flat” hills—not steep enough to wake me up that a big hill was coming, but not flat enough to keep me from feeling the burn in my thighs and lungs. And third, running into the wind after swimming and biking is really just a kick in the pants. The end result was a 10-minute run pace, a fairly average showing for me and definitely slower than I would have liked.
For those of you who were wondering about my sister, her run was great: a blistering 8:40 pace driven by her desire to make up time and the frustration of such a bad bike leg. I can’t wait until I can break a 9-minute pace in a triathlon like she did!
Final Result: 1 hour 27 minutes 40 seconds, 201 out of 370
The final route was approximately 15.41 miles of Sprint-triathlon goodness. I finished in a respectable top 43% in the swim and top 45% on the bike, but top 65% (ugh!) on the run. Overall I finished in the top 54%, which still makes me a proud MOP’er (midde-of-the-pack). And even though Debbie had a terrible morning, it was a blast racing with her and I hope to do it again soon.
My next race is the TexasMan Olympic Triathlon on May 18th starting in Lake Ray Roberts north of Denton. Hopefully doubling the distance will double the fun!