Monday, April 18, 2011

Miles of Smiles: Albany Sprint Triathlon Race Report

I couldn't have picked a more beginner-friendly event.  255 participants turned out on an uncharacteristically dry spring day in Albany, Oregon to participate in this annual fundraiser for Albany Aquatics.  My family and I drove the bike course to get a feel for it.  I was very pleased with how well it was marked.  Next I reported to the swim center to pick up my packet and get my markings.  I enjoyed chatting with people in line and on the bleachers that day.  I was happy to discover how down-to-earth and friendly everyone was.  We asked and answered each other's questions, shared stories, experiences and joked around while waiting in line and waiting on the bleachers for our waves to start.  Triathletes for this event came in all shapes, sizes and levels of experience.  There were mountain bikes, road bikes, tri bikes and even cruisers with baskets and racks.  This event was open and welcome to all.  It was my kind of event!  All my nervous energy and looming thoughts of having some kind of swim, bike, or run mishap vanished.  I felt at ease, completely competent and excited.

In packet pick-up line

Lots of chatting in line with fellow participants

Wahoo! For some reason, I was especially looking forward to getting my "markings"

#173 written on my arm

As well as on my leg and hand

Finally it was time to set up my transition area.  What appeared to to be "prime real estate" near the bike mount and dismount line, was full.  I have since learned that bikes can be put very close to each other and I could have easily squeezed in.  I found an vacant place on a rack nearest the swim center door and run start and began setting up.  I fashioned my transition area in the manner recommended by the bevy of resources I've been pouring over for the last several weeks.
  • Bike was hung from the rack by its seat.  Water bottle sat in its holder and Gu was attached to the handlebars with a band.  Long-sleeved jersey and bright colored towel were draped over my bike.
  • On the ground near by bike sat my helmet upside down with straps spread open and sunglasses and cycling gloves nested inside in the order they would go on.
  • Cycling shoes awaited with straps wide open (No socks for me!)
  • Sitting on top of my running shoes were my running cap and race belt affixed with bib number. (Again, I do fine without socks so rather than waste precious time putting them on damp feet, I skip them.)
Pushing my bike to her perch. Paper bag "packet" in one hand and race kit on my back.

Notice the variety of bikes and people in the background as I set up

Originally I had my helmet on the handle bars, but after seeing bikes get bumped and fall over, I decided to set it on the ground instead
I looked for landmarks that would help me remember which rack my bike was at and where in the rack my bike hung.  My bright purple towel would help me find my transition area during T1 and T2.  Once I was confident that I was set-up properly, I went to check out the bike mount and dismount area in T1.  This was all new to me.  There was a line of cones followed by a white line on the road that indicated where we were allowed to get on and/or off the bike.  The race volunteers were very helpful.  They answered all my questions with clarity and patience.  I walked around the area to make sure I knew what I would do at both transitions. So many details!  Once I was confident that I knew exactly what to do, I retreated to the warmth of the swim center.

Since I was in the third wave, I was able to hang out, visit with others, grab a bite to eat and most importantly, watch the first wave.  It was exciting!  I couldn't wait for it to be my turn!  There were all sorts of swimmers out there, swimming in their own unique way and at their own pace.  Some were having to work real hard to get through and the shorter folks had difficulty getting out of the pool due to the high slippery wall.  I was SO glad that I was in lane one near a concrete wall and a side ladder that I could use if necessary.  My husband, daughters, father-in-law and mother-in-law were there to cheer me on.  It was around this time that we discovered that our camera's battery was completely dead.  I was bummed, but wasn't going to let it get me down.  Steve used his cell phone camera as back up.  This explains the lack of pictures and the quality of pictures that will follow.

My daughters got lots of smiles and compliments on their triathlon t-shirts
As wave two was wrapping up, the intercom announced that wave three was going to start.  They read our names and lane assignments and allowed us to make our way to the pool.  I shared a lane with four other swimmers.  Each of us had a lane position by which we would be sent out at five second intervals.  Once we were in the pool, in our positions and I was sure I had a nice firm fit on my goggles, my excitement, nerves and/or bossy teacher/momma nature took over.  "Go lane ONE!" I hooted.  "Don't got out to fast!  Steady, even, tap on the foot, pass at the wall."  We had noted earlier some reckless unlawful passing in the previous waves.  I didn't want that kind of mayhem in our lane.  I was PUMPED!  Here I was, ME, in the pool ready to start my first freakin' TRIATHLON! Let's get this party started already!  

The buzzer sounded and intercom sent the first person out.  This continued every five seconds until all of us were swimming.  The adrenalin pumping through my body caused me to take off like a bat out of hell.  I don't think I've ever swum a lap that fast!  I knew I was going too fast, so I tried to settle down and find my rhythm and race pace.  My lap mates were still going really fast.   We were bunched up.  I wanted some breathing room so I could swim my own race rather than hang on for dear life with them.  I lost track of how many laps I had swum and relied on the lap counter sitting at the end of the lane.  It felt like I was swimming in an endless pool or trying to swim upstream.  It took more effort that I'm accustomed to.  Once I let a couple people pass, I finally fell into a rhythm.  I got tired really quickly as a result of going out too fast.  Each time I made it to the end of the lane, I hoped like heck that the lap counter would submerge the kick board under the water to indicate that I had one length left.  When she finally did, I hightailed it to the other end of the pool, jumped up and out of the pool in one fail swoop, removed and tossed my goggles and swim cap to my hubby and grabbed a towel he was holding.  I ran barefoot outside into the cold in my tri suit while drying myself.  I was so thankful that my weakest discipline was over.

T1 went really well.  It took me 2:47 from the time I got out of the pool to the time I mounted my bike.  Not too shabby for a newbie.  The bike course was super flat so it was just a matter of spinning, hydrating and fueling for the next section.  What I didn't anticipate was the headwind that made me wish I had sprung for the aerobars on my bike.  I tucked myself into as compact and aerodynamic a unit as I could.  My crew van drove by and cheered me on several times along the course.  It always riled me up and kept me going at a decent clip.  I grinned like a fool, whooped and pumped my fist whenever I saw them.  Dang, this was fun!  I was really proud of my strong riding.  With it being so wet and rainy this spring, I just haven't been doing the cycling that I should be doing.  I didn't have the long ride endurance-building mileage nor did I have the strength building hill work under my belt.  Despite that, I maintained an average of 15 MPH.  

The course took us through neighborhoods and along country roads alongside lush green pastures with grazing horses and sheep.  Even with the headwind, I was having a great time out there.  I kept my arms and shoulders relaxed, pedaled at a high cadence, was cautious at the two railroad crossings/trafficked streets and went as fast as I could safely go.  Steve yelled that I was rockin' the bike ride so I felt good and tried to maintain it or pick it up.  I took several swigs of water and sucked down a Gu during my 20K ride.  I LOVE riding!  I can't wait to be able to really throw myself into training, learn more and improve my cycling skills.  My ride was coming to an end and I still had plenty of energy and my legs felt great.  I was eager to get going on the run portion.  I am a runner and could do this without worrying about my form, safety or fear of bonking.

As I entered the busy transition area.  Due to excitement and unclear directions from a volunteer, I dismounted my bike too soon, had to remount then ride a few yards until I was near the line where I dismounted again.  I lost a few seconds and a lot of momentum there.  I ran in my cycling shoes with my bike to the rack where I thought my stuff was, only my stuff wasn't there.  This was the one and only time that I panicked.  The racks were full and cluttered with towels, clothing and bikes.  I couldn't spot my bright purple towel anywhere.  It turned out I was in the wrong row! When I finally found my row, I still couldn't find my stuff!  I stood there desperate, wondering what to do and talking to myself.  I kept searching and finally spotted the corner of my pack peeking out from a pile of stuff.  My towel, running shoes, and cap had been completely covered by someone else's clothing.  I was pissed!  Damn that clunky mountain bike that wasn't properly racked and fell over on me twice while I was setting up.  It's rider had committed another offense by hiding my stuff with their hastily discarded clothes and towel.  It cost me what felt like a ton of time.  I racked my bike, pulled off my cycling shoes and pulled on my running shoes.  I took off my helmet and pulled on my cap and was out of there as fast as my legs could carry me.  Despite my worries, I was able to get through T2 in only 2:03!  Imagine how quick I'd have been if I'd been able to find my spot!

I shook off my frustrations and got my head back into the game.  My family was right there and cheered me on.  I loved having them there and am sure it helped my performance.  I had swum my heart out, pedaled my heart out and now it was time to run my heart out.  Running isn't nearly as new as swimming and cycling to me, so I was feeling pretty confident.  While I had looked at the run course on paper and on-line maps, I hadn't driven or checked it out ahead of time on foot or bike.  I was confident that if they marked the bike course as well they did, that the run course would be equally clear.  The run portion took us through residential areas and along a pretty bike path along a canal.  It was nice and peaceful to be away from cars after the bike ride.  Three miles is hardly anything to me.  Doing speed work has made me realize that I can be pretty uncomfortable for many miles and still continue to find additional gears in me.  I put the pedal to the metal and ran as fast as my legs could carry me without getting too painful of a side stitch.  I opted to run by perceived exertion rather than relying on my Garmin for pace.  My legs still felt great, strong and fast.  Nonetheless, I was glad that this race was coming to an end.  I spotted the high school track where the race would end.  Steve was waiting for me at the fence and telling me what a good job I was doing.  He's the best!  I dug a little deeper, strided out, pumped my arms and gave the last 300 meters my all.  

The home stretch!
I will never get tired of hearing my name being announced over the loud speaker as I come down the finish chute.  This time it was especially sweet.  It had been a year since my last bittersweet race.  Shortly thereafter, I suffered an injury, was forced to hang up my running shoes for several months, went through countless sessions with my chiropractor, acupuncturist, herbalist, and sports doc, wore a cast and/or night splint for months on end and had my first DNS for a 50K for which I had trained so hard.  At one point, I feared that I might not ever run again, certainly not for any significant distance.  It was a tough year living without running and then later with a much modified running program.  Initially I hated being forced into other sports but later I came to love swimming and cycling.  Perhaps the universe had something other than distance running in store for me.  Maybe the only way I would be open to other possibilities was by enduring and overcoming this injury.  Some how, the injury and healing process that followed, turned me into a triathlete.  36 hours after my triathlon debut, I am still experiencing a glorious "tri high".  As I look over my pictures, I notice something.  In every single one, I am grinning from ear to ear.  Be it swimming, biking or running, the day brought miles of smiles.  

Forgot to take off my cycling gloves at T2 and wound up running in them
Official time for the whole triathlon:  1:37:39

Official Splits:
  • 750 M swim: 17:02
  • T1:  2:17
  • 20 K bike:  47:53
  • T2: 2:03
  • 5K run: 28:24 
More often than a racer cares to know, courses are inaccurately measured. When I first learned my results, I was slightly disappointed in how slow my 5K time was.  Recently I found out that the course is actually 3.3 miles rather than 3.1 miles. This explains why my perceived exertion and actual race pace didn't jive.  I feel better about my 5K time knowing that and that my perceived exertion was right on even without my fancy Garmin on my wrist.  

I was ravenous after the race.  My in-laws treated us to a yummy breakfast. I have since declared huevos rancheros my recovery food of choice.  I am so used to running distance events and being totally depleted afterwards.  I am pleased to say that after the event and into the following day, I've had tons of energy, no soreness or residual pain.  I did soccer mom duty and cheered for my daughters as they played their first game.  Today we all went roller skating together.  It was fabulous to not be so wiped out by my athletic endeavors and to have energy to be there for my family.

I am going to keep on tri-ing!  In six short weeks, I'll participate in my second triathlon, another sprint.  This time, I'll race with a friend on a more challenging bike course.  I am also hoping to do my first open water triathlon in ten weeks, but am still trying to figure out if I want to stick with the sprint distance or challenge myself even more with the Olympic distance.  

Love the tide, the ride and the stride.  Congrats to all the AASprint Triathlon finishers. It was a pleasure racing with you.

Official results with splits just in!  I was the 142nd finisher.  If you like numbers, ranking and age division placing, you can check it out the stats at:


  1. Inspiring! My heart rate is way up just reading your excellent account of the race. Way to go Leah!

  2. Thanks Gary! I think you'd love triathlons too.

  3. AWESOME! I loved reading your race report. You did really well and your transitions were outstanding for a first timer (esp. one whose transition area got buried). Congrats, and I kinda think you might keep smiling through even more triathlons in the future :-)