My First Triathlon

By Ashleigh Handzus

ashleighI signed up for the Pioneer Sprint Triathlon in Petersburg, IL on April 18th. It consisted of a 300 yd pool swim, 13 mi bike, and a 3.2 mi run. This seemed manageable to me. I was going into this triathlon figuring on something going wrong, just because I was a newbie.

Most people have “day before a race” traditions, like eating a certain meal, getting a certain amount of sleep, laying everything out. I had to work the midnight shift the night before the race. So I packed all my gear up the evening before and hoped I didn’t forget anything.  I got home by 7 am, slept for 2 hrs, then had to get up and go to the race. I wanted to get there early to help calm the nerves and get a feel for the race before it started.

I arrived at 11 am and left all my stuff in the car while I went to pick up my packet and get body marked. This was the first time I got my body marked for a race, and it made me feel like an Olympian. The only other triathlon I’ve seen was the Olympic Tri in China on TV last August! I came out and saw that other people were already setting up their transition areas. I figured I’d better get my stuff out now and ‘mark my territory’ as I was taught in a triathlon swim class that I took. On my way to the transition area, I saw Lance and his son. That calmed me down a lot because I was walking in with someone that I knew!

I mounted my bike by the seat on the railing just like I was taught (do it on the handlebars and you may damage the brakes). I put down my bright orange and pink towel and folded into the smallest square possible that would fit all my other stuff. I don’t have a tri-suit yet, so I was stuck wearing my swimsuit. I do have a road bike, but I haven’t bought any accessories yet, so no clipless peddles. I planned on putting on my running shoes (complete with new yanks shoe laces) during T1 and using them for both the bike and run portions. So my transition had my shorts, socks, shoes, helmet, running visor, water bottle, and race number belt. I prayed that I didn’t forget anything.

When I got all done with that, I was surprised not to feel more nervous than I was. I think it was mostly that I only had 2 hours sleep and I was denying my fatigue. I hung out for a bit and talked to Nancy and Lance and watched all the other people set up their areas. For being such a newbie type race, as I was taught that the sprint distance mostly attracts, there was a lot of high tech gear! This made me feel a little intimidated, but Nancy and Lance assured me that I’d do fine.

I then went in to check out the pool area so that I could visualize the race. I saw the mats that led from the pool out the door so I followed them back outside and walked back to my transition because I wanted to see exactly how many rows to walk down to get to my bike. I stood there a second and looked at my stuff and imagined putting on my shorts, then my socks, shoes, race number belt, and finally my helmet. I then walked over to the bike out area and saw the mounting line where I would be able to start riding. The dismount line was at the same spot, so I imagined coming back in and walked again back over to my transition area. I looked down and saw my running visor and imagined taking off my helmet and grabbing the visor. Then I walked over to the run out area and saw the start/finish for the run portion. Ok, I think I’m ready.

iheartsmokingAs I was walking inside to use the restroom, I saw GerriAnne from my tri swim class! I totally forgot that she was signed up for this race! I ended up sticking to her like glue the whole time since she was a veteran triathlete. I watched her set up her transition area and saw her pull out food. Oh crap! I didn’t eat anything today! I completely forgot to eat! She kindly offered me a protein bar and I gladly accepted! Disaster averted! We chowed as we were being ushered out of the transition so that the mini race could start. This was very cool to see, it made visualizing my race that much easier! I loved cheering on the kids, who absolutely amazed me with their triathlon talents! This is where I saw Dan from Hardybreed and I proudly showed off my new Hardybreed shirt! Lots of people came up to read my shirt because they couldn’t understand why I was so proudly wearing a shirt that said ‘I heart smoking’ to a triathlon (‘the competition’ of course).

Now it was time for me to get ready to start. They called all the sprint distance folks into the pool area for the prerace meeting. I took off my extra clothes and threw them in my bag, grabbed my swim cap and goggles, and headed inside. This is where they gave us our timing chips. GerriAnne reminded me and those around us to put it on our left leg, so that it didn’t get caught in the chain on our bike. Smart thinking! I seeded myself towards the back because I know my talents in the pool, or lack there of. I can swim without overexerting myself, but I cannot swim fast by any means. I was able to cheer on Dan and GerriAnne as they swam.

As I got up there toward the start line the nerves had really built up in me, but as soon as I got in the water, everything went calm again. Ahh, this I can do. I can swim 300 nice and easy. I finished the swim in 6:17. I trotted out to T1 and did everything in the order that I practiced. It went very smooth for my first one.

My goal for the bike was to just keep an even cadence and never stop peddling. I don’t know much about cycling, so this is all that made sense to me. I was having a blast! I was smiling, and cheering people on that were on their way back already. I saw GerriAnne and she was doing great! I started to notice that my feet were going numb, but just kept going. The hills started to hurt a little on the way back, but it went flat again just in time. My feet were very numb by the time I was heading into T2 and I just prayed that I didn’t fall down when I got off my bike. I wasn’t sure what caused it, but I loosened my shoe laces during T2 and hoped for the best. The bike portion took me 46:05.

I started running out of transition and notice that weird feeling that everyone talks about when you go from biking to running. I had practiced this a couple of times, but never had numb feet while doing it. It was a little awkward. I was not out to set a PR in the 5K portion, so I just trotted out. This was definitely my favorite part of the race because there were people to encourage us along the way! I caught up with GerriAnne and talked for a second, and before I knew it my feet were not numb anymore. I ended up talking to an older gentleman for a little bit. He was very encouraging! I was starting to get very fatigued as I was about to head up the last hill. Then I saw Lance and his son again! That was perfect timing! They cheered me on and Lance told me to just focus on the guy in front of me, and that’s all! I could do that! I picked up the pace and passed him on the hill with a huge smile on my face. Then I entered back into the high school parking lot and came into a sprinting finish!

Wow, what a blast! That was the most fun I’ve ever had during a race! Everything went so smooth for a first timer! I couldn’t believe it. I did it!

GerriAnne and I got massages and some food afterward. Then I was getting ready to leave and I saw they had posted the results per age group, so I went to check it out. Holy crap, I got second in my age group! No way! I actually won something! Unbelievable! Well, I HAD to stay for the awards now!

I planned on scooting out of there to get home and get a couple more hours sleep before having to go back into work that night, but I couldn’t pass up an award! This entire triathlon was put on so well! It was so organized and well thought out! I couldn’t give it more praise. And, maybe that doesn’t mean much to some because this was my first one and I don’t have anything to compare it to, but as a newbie, I felt very comfortable, encouraged, and well aware of what was expected of me as a racer. My hats off to the directors and volunteers! Thanks for a great first race!

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