A Tri of Firsts!

This past Saturday I did the RUSH Triathlon (sprint distance) in Rexburg Idaho.  I know, it is a long way from London!  But we were going on holiday to Jackson Wyoming, and as my DH had to pull from the London triathlon due to being sick, he found this alternative in Rexburg that happened to match our travel plans.Crazy?  Do a triathlon on holiday?  Or just a way to experiment and learn a few things?I chose to look at the RUSH Triathlon as an experiment.  Having finally decided to give training my all, the Rush Tri would be my chance to see:If I like triathlon in general, or am just a one-tri lover (London)What it feels like to exercise at altitude – Rexburg ranged from 4000 to 5300 feet!What it feels like to ride a road bike – I have a hybrid and just decided to get a road bike, after three years of doing the London sprint distance with Bertha the heavy hybridWhat it feels like to ride hills – and oh boy did Rexburg have hills! (London is in general very flat)We arrived in the US on Saturday the 8th, and basically used Sunday through Wednesday to try to adjust to altitude and also to get our time zones correct.  We are staying in Jackon, which is at about 6500 feet, so we felt the altitude from the first day we hit the pool.  Although our muscles felt ok, exercise left us panting like dogs!  On Monday we rented road bikes (from FitzGerald Cycles in Jackson – by far the best and most competent cycle shop in town) and took them for a spin on Tuesday in the Tetons. We road the cycle path at Teton National Park (the newly paved 8 mile path, with one giant hill) and again, I found myself panting like a dog at the top of the hill.  Attractive heavy breathing aside, this was my first time riding a road bike and I had a blast!  On Wednesday we decided to drive to Rexburg and check out the cycle course.  The drive to Rexburg took us through the Teton Pass, an incredibly beautiful drive which amazingly had a few cyclists climbing the mountains (this is not a ride for the faint of heart) and also through the wheat fields of Idaho.  We finally arrived at about noon, drove the course, and then hopped on our cycles.  Big error – we cycled in the noon sun, and the course started with a long continuous climb, followed by two hills (a total of 1000 ft in about 2 miles).  By the time I got to the top, I was once again panting.  Yes, like a dog.  And my legs asked me what on earth they were doing.Post-hills on Wednesday in Rexburg.  The hills are hard!Well, we learned a few things by Wednesday:Yes, I could ride a road bikeYes, I could ride hills (although they might make me hurt, it was a good kind of hurt)Yes, I could handle altitude (although it might make me pant like a dog – oh so attractive!)We headed to Rexburg on Friday, arriving around 5 pm for the race briefing for first-timers (both first time triathletes as well as first time course participants) at the Middle School.  From the second we walked in we were so impressed by the hospitality of the people as well as the race organisation.  The reception was warm, friendly, and encouraging.  The room was full of first time participants, but the briefing was conducted by previous participants and volunteers.  One thing rang clear – that everyone was 100% committed to ensuring that all racers finished and had a fun time.  To this end, the RUSH Triathlon is not USAT sanctioned as they want to be as first timer friendly as possible.  For example, they allow assistance in case of flats, the have no rules about backstroke and drafting/  There were over 400 participants registered, and we stayed around after the race briefing for the Potato Bake.  Potatoes are one of the main crops of Idaho, and all racers were invited to a baked potato pre-race meal:  potatoes served with chilli, cheese and salad. We woke up on Saturday at 5am to get our things racked and head to the race start at Rainbow Lake.  It was about 40F / 10C in the morning.  In our tri suits as we racked our bikes, we did question why on earth we were doing a triathlon on our holidays.  It was so cold outside!  We felt better once we put our wetsuits on.  Another first – we would be swimming in water warmer than the outside air!The race… The swim:I have been having trouble with my swims, with my heart rate racing for about the first 100m, and then not really getting into my stroke until the last 300m.  So in addition to looking forward to cycling on a road bike, I was also ready to see how my swim would feel.  My friend Elizabeth from university is a strong triathlete (I will do a little charity promo for her on Wednesday) and she sent me some email advice about the swim:  try to warm up before hitting the water with dry land arm stroking and some knee lifts / jogging in place. I did both while watching the men sprint start and before hitting the water, which relaxed me a bit.  Once I entered the water I also did about 50m to warm up.  With the 50m warm-up, my heart rate once again spiked to about 160, so I altered my race plan and decided that rather than killing the swim, I would just try to keep my heart rate under control and start slow and steady.The race started well for me – I did not feel out of breath or like my heart rate was going sky high as I took it slow.  But I did have a few problems.  First, my goggles fogged.  I couldn’t see well, and didn’t want to stop to fix them.  Next, I guided in error.  I was heading too right (not only due to bad sighting hampered by foggy goggles, but a sign that I was not pulling well as I go right when I get lazy) and did not correct in good time.  So I added distance to my swim for sure.  Finally, I don’t really think I relaxed into the swim until once again at about 300m from the end.  But that was ok – I didn’t have heart rate panics, the water was warm, and I overall I had fun.The bike:Since we cycled the course on Wednesday, I knew what to expect.  I had visualised getting up the hills, and knew my aim was to keep pedalling, hard on the flat stretches and using my gears to help me out.  It was a learning race, and a challenge. I know after London that my legs don’t always feel strong so this is one of my goals for the coming year (leg strength), so I was fine with the goal of just doing the triathlon, seeing how I felt, and having fun.I took my time in transition – it was cold and I wanted to be calm starting the bike.  I slipped into my shoes, cycling jacket and headed onto the roads.  The air temperature was perfect for the ride – nice and cool.  I started up the incline, knowing the hills which waited for me around the corner.  I think this was the best preparation possible – knowing what waited for me.  I grinded up the hill, and, yes, I panted like a dog. When I rounded the corner at the top I knew I had faced my biggest demon (fear of that first hill) and I had won!  I relaxed into the next 15km, probably a bit too relaxed and touristy, as I looked out over the wheat fields, with the sun peaking through clouds and the mountains in the distance.  All I could think was “Wow.  This really *is* God’s Country!” The ride was excellent and I loved the rest of the rolling hills.  I figured out how to use my gears while going downhill, and loved gaining speed and making up ground on the folks who had passed me on the early part of the ride.  When we arrived at T2 at Madison High School, I suddenly wondered if my legs were too knackered for the run (on the same hills) but I was too elated from the ride to care too much!The Run:I knew T2 would be long, as once again I was putting on both left knee and left ankle splints.  I took my time making sure everything was correct before heading out (in London I was soaked from the rain so my knee splint was a bit off, making the run a bit uncomfortable, in retrospect).  My legs felt a bit wobbly so I decided to walk a bit at the start.  I walked for about 3 minutes, then started doing my plan: alternating just like London, one minute run, one minute walk.  My knee felt ok, and although the course was uphill through neighbourhoods, I thought I would be just fine on the run.Then, all the sudden, the course veered onto a trail.  One mile uphill!  I had read this on the race site, but didn’t realise it was really one mile uphill on a dirt trail (Lesson: always believe the course description).  Another first!  I ran about 25% of this with my strategy, but eventually opted to stop the run and walk (hike) the remaining 75%.  My right ankle was feeling a bit weak.  I walked up at a good clip, reached the top, and headed downhill – the rest of the race was downhill.Going downhill felt good and I jogged for about 7 or 8 minutes with a lovely woman named Lou Wanda.  We had a nice chat, and I know that this lifted my spirit (she told me after the race it lifted hers). Another first as well – this was the first time I ever ran and chatted with someone!  Ever!  Eventually I told Lou Wanda to continue without me, as I did not want to push my knee too hard.  I walked another minute, then alternated about two minutes run, one minute walk, until the finish.  The race finished on the track, and it was fun to cross a finish line with a crowd in the stands.Me, crossing the finish line, in 2:39 (slow as mud, but I still finished!)What I learned…Well, the RUSH Triathlon was a race of firsts for me!  I learned that:If I can put together all elements of a race strategy (warm up, guiding, pace, and stroke form) and practice a bit more, my swim will be under control.  I did not have a great swim time at the RUSH Tri, but it was a good confidence builder for me.I really enjoy riding on a road bike.  And I really enjoy riding hills, even though they are hard.  I suspect I need to learn more about road bikes and some strategy, but this is something I can work on!I need to play less tourist and more racer on races.  I have a feeling (actually, I know) I could have pushed harder on the cycle (the same feeling I had in London).  But the view of the wheat fields in the morning sun was so seductive!  Perhaps cycling holidays are in my future!I need to do more work on my ankle stability.  I do not wear an orthotic on my right ankle, only my left, but I felt my right ankle instability on the hills.  The exercises are simple, and I NEED to do them regularly, if not daily.  Joint stability will be hugely important as I seek to string together a full 10k over the next year.Regular racing will be a fun part of my training plan.  And travelling to races (including hiring bikes to race on) is totally possible, and fun.I do indeed like triathlon.  Another confirmation but an important one.I thank all of the volunteers (I thanked them all as I went by on the course too!), the organisers of the RUSH Triathlon, and Ben Eaton, the Recreation Director of the City of Rexburg, for putting on such a great race.  The course was hard, and we would thoroughly recommend it to folks.  And your hospitality and welcome was super!Note:  I once again wore my Breast Cancer Campaign running top while doing the RUSH Triathlon.  It is not too late to donate and show your support:  www.justgiving.com/donna_de

5 responses to “A Tri of Firsts!”

  1. Congrats Donna!  Sounds like a great race, and I love the potato bake before hand (obsessed with food).  Glad you like a road bike!  Will you be investing then?  Have a great trip back to London.Best, Emily

  2. Hi Emily! Thanks so much for your comment, and ALL of your support!I am not sure the potato bake was the way I would have eaten at home, before a race, but it was a nice Idaho touch.  Like I said, the hospitality was simply amazing.As for investing in a bike, in the UK companies can participate in a scheme called “Ride to Work” which my company just joined.  Basically, you can choose a bike of value up to £1000 (anything above you pick up the difference), the company “buys” the bike, and you lease it back from them over a 12 month period.  If you max out and with the way the tax incentive works, a £1000 bike winds up costing the employee about £500.  It is a great deal, so yes, I will be investing.  I have my eye on the Specialized Ruby.  Yummy!  But my coach gave me a list of recommendations, so when I get home on Sunday a trip to my neighbourhood bike shop will see me trying out a variety of bikes.  I can’t wait!

  3. Thanks MIchael for all of your support!

    I forgot to thank everyone on the blog entry – if I get a chance I plan to go back and add a thanks list.  I really appreciate all of the support – I tri because I can, and it helps to feel like folks are on my side when I may have the occassional moment of self doubt!Oh – I also forgot to mention that my ears popped on the bike ride due to the climb!  Crazy!  I guess I am really not used to altitude!

  4. Donna, I love this post. Love the pictures (both of them!). And so proud of you that you persevered on the run leg. You did dang good! And at altitude, too. I have been hesitant to do any events at altitude. Afraid of the “dog panting” as you put it, and decreased performance. lol. Oh well, at some point I will just have to bite the bullet and go for it!

  5. I was so scared before this tri!  I posted that I was nervous on Twitter (to @BrennanAnnie) and Doug (@IronmanLongRunr) wrote back and told me to treat the hills and altitude as a learning experience.  I think by changing my frame of mind to “learning mode” really helped – even though I felt really out of breath (and not muscle sore) the whole thing wound up being a great experience.  Definitely do it Sheila!  I have no regrets, even though my times stank it was so much fun!

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