This weekend, I traveled up to Canton, NC for my first ever International/Olympic distance triathlon! I was really nervous leading up to this race since it was my longest triathlon ever and a sort of “halfway point” in my half ironman training. If I were to successfully finish this race without too much trouble, I would be on the right track to finish 70.3 in September.
The race is a little less than 2 hours away from Greenville, but I decided to save my pennies and drive up race morning instead of getting a hotel. It’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere, so even if I had gotten a hotel in Asheville, it would have been a 45 min drive out to the race. They also had dorms and cabins onsite, but you had to pay for 2 nights. There’s nothing quite like sleeping in your own bed before a race, so I didn’t mind.
Unfortunately, I did not sleep well at all on Friday night. I tossed and turned all night long, but I must have dozed off at some point because before I knew it, my 3:30 alarm was going off. SO EARLY. I packed up everything I needed the night before, so all I had to do was get dressed and grab breakfast and I was out the door by 3:45. I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to get there. Driving up to the mountains in the dark is creeeepy. It was foggy and Hwy 25 is not well lit…so it was dark and foggy. I didn’t have any problems getting there, thankfully, and was parked by 5:30.
It was so dark! I took the headlamp off my bike so I could go get my packet and chip and hit the port-a-potties before setting up my stuff. The temperature was much cooler than it was in Greenville, so I was really glad I wore a long-sleeved shirt! After I grabbed my race number, I went to go set-up my transition stuff. I got there early enough to get a good spot on the bike rack!
The transition was in a grassy area which had apparently just been mowed, so it didn’t take long before everything was covered in grass. I was happy to get an end spot on the rack so I could hang up my Camelback and helmet and have more room for the rest of my stuff. I had decided to only wear my swimsuit under my wetsuit, so I had to lay out my clothes so I could get them on quickly. After I got set-up, I went to go find the other members of my tri club that were at the race. We chatted for a while, until the lake was opened to go warm up.
The water was 66 degrees, which is chilly, even for me! I was a little nervous about the swim since I haven’t had a chance to practice open water swimming at all this summer (thank you afternoon storms) and I had never raced in the wetsuit before. While I have plenty of experience swimming open water, I wanted to get in and swim for a bit to make sure I could see the buoys and get acclimated to the water temp. Ooooh, it was so cold! I probably could have survived the swim without the wetsuit, but I would have been frozen solid at the end! I swam out a little ways, then floated around for a bit to let my breathing calm down as I got used to the water. This was probably the best thing I did for myself all day! After the race, some people who hadn’t warmed up said that it took them forever to get into a rhythm because they were so cold. When it was time for the race to start, I sprinted back in to get things moving.
Swim (1500 m):
The swim had an in-water wave start and most of the female age groupers were in wave 5. One interesting thing about this race is that they invite race winners from other local races to compete in the race. They went first, followed by the opens, then all of the men. The waves were 3 minutes apart, so I had to wait almost 15 minutes to go. I was excited to start at the same time as the other women in my age group; that way, I could actually race them rather than have no idea where they were on the course. When the gun went off, I took of fast to try and break away quickly from the main pack. I pulled off to the right for the first 200 m or so until it looked like I was out in front, then corrected my course to head straight for the first turnaround buoy. I felt awesome! Even though it’s been a long while since I’ve done an open water swim this long, I had no problems getting into a strong rhythm (and swimming straight)! The only bad thing was that my toes were totally numb within 500 m, which was pretty uncomfortable.
It didn’t take long before I started passing men from the wave before, so I had to pull up my head more often so I wouldn’t run into them. Before I knew it, I was at the first buoy. It got a little crowded around the second buoy where we turned around to head back towards the docks, but I managed to get through with minimal shoving. The last buoy was on the bridge above the lake which was a little hard to see, but I could see the creek that we were supposed to swim into, so I pointed myself in that direction and swam hard. I even passed a few people from the 2nd wave!
I had been warned that the creek water was much colder than the lake water, so I knew it was coming, but it still caught my by surprise. The creek was downright frigid! As soon as I hit the cold water, I took off into a sprint because I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. The swim finish was a dock that we had to climb onto and the timing mat was at the end of the dock rather than at the transition area. I was expecting to finish the swim in around 25 mins since it had been so long since I last swam open water, so I was surprised to see my swim time of 21:32 and the third fastest swim time (for women) overall! A solid swim time!
T1 (5:15): What a slowpoke I was! I had trouble getting to the transition area because some guy was hogging the lane and I couldn’t get around him. I even shouted, “excuse me” a few times but he would not let me by. I had a hard time getting my wetsuit over my feet, so I finally sat down to tug it off, then I still had to get my clothes and shoes on. I also chose to ride with my Camelback for this race.
The run out to the bike mount line was really long. I was breathing really hard at the end of this run, so I had to take the first mile or so of the bike slow to catch my breath. This was fine since there was a great big downhill at mile 2 (which would come back to haunt us later).
Overall, the course was surprisingly flat! This is probably the easiest course I’ve done this summer, which is ridiculous considering this race is in the mountains. The scenery on the course is amazing. It is such a beautiful area.
The hardest part about this bike was my stupid dripping nose! My face turned into a snot machine for the entire bike course, which made it really hard to breathe (and eat). I eventually gave up and (FYI: GROSS) started blowing my nose into my glove and wiping it on my shorts. Nasty, I know, but it was better than the alternative of gasping for air the whole time. If you have any better idea for controlling my snot machine of a face, please tell me! It’s getting old.
The first half of the course was a lot of flat road and downhill and was very fast. The roads are very windy, but that makes for a fun ride! The course headed back into Canton and looped around onto a road for a for a looong uphill climb. The grade was not steep so it was still fast, but I was definitely feeling near the end. Around mile 20, I shifted into a lower gear to let my legs rest before the inevitable HUGE hill at mile 22.
When I came around the corner to start climbing the hill, I glanced up to see a guy who had stopped off right in the middle of the road! I was in the middle of passing someone, and there was another woman trying to pass me at the same time, and we nearly ran into the guy because he was all over the road trying to get going again. Not cool, guy! It was a mess and no one could pull away since we were going so slow up the hill. We finally reached the top and were able to spread out again. Luckily, the race official was no where to be seen, otherwise she probably would have handed out some penalties!
I finished the bike in 1:20:32, which is pretty strong for me.
T2 (2:35): Another slowpoke transition. I have no idea what took so long because I didn’t really do anything different during this transition vs. other races. I guess I was just taking my time? I ditched my camelback, grabbed my handheld bottle and took off on the run.
This run was killer. The entire first half of the run was uphill. All of it. Thankfully, it was mostly shady, but three miles of uphill running and I was dead. I had planned to take 1 min walk breaks every mile, but this quickly changed to every half mile as I realized I would be running uphill for a while. This slowed me down, but I was diligent about keeping my walk breaks to 1 minute every half mile or more. I wanted to switch to breaks every mile on the way back since it was all downhill, but I just couldn’t do it. I felt so frustrated because I think that I can do better, but I was struggling so much during the run. I got my butt totally kicked by the other girls in my age group during the run as well. I was 2nd at the end of the bike (the girl in first passed me at the beginning of the bike), but 3 other girls passed me during the run. Their splits were all faster than my best 10k, but I still think I could have been 3rd if I had pulled it together during the second half of the run.
My time was 1:05:11, which is not the worst run ever, but I know I can do better than that. I will definitely need to push myself when I run if I want to improve on this!
My final finish time was 2:55:02, so I’m really pleased with my first olympic tri overall. I didn’t have too many expectations since it was my first so I’m glad that it generally went well. The strong swim and bike were a huge confidence booster, and even though my run was not the best, I know exactly what I need to do to improve.
And the race itself? I would definitely recommend it! The area was beautiful, the course was fun and challenging and the weather was great. Definitely a race I would want to do again.