January 3, 2020

Two Nights Before the Race: HITS Sarasota Olympic Triathlon

I’m really nervous. I’m on a plane to do my first triathlon on Sunday – the HITS Sarasota, Olympic distance. I feel reasonably prepared from a physical standpoint (well, mostly), but there is a lot lacking in my preparation. Namely, around all the stuff.

One big selling point for running is that all you really need is a well-fitting pair of sneakers , even if you’re doing a full marathon. A watch? Helpful but not necessary. Gels / fancy nutrition? They hand it out along the course (as long as you’re not too particular about what kind you eat). Special clothing? Honestly, even straight up cotton from Walmart is fine as long as you use enough Body Glide / vaseline to minimize chafing.

But with triathlons, you truly need a lot of gear, and it’s been pretty intimidating for me to try to figure out what’s required vs what’s just a nice to have. (This is a big part of why I’ve never done a triathlon before). I’ve done my best to try to sort out what I really need, and then buy basic versions of those items or find them used on Craigslist until I decide whether triathlon is for me. But even trying to limit my gear, it’s still a lot to haul to Sarasota!

I am even renting my bike in Sarasota so didn’t have to worry about bringing that… but this is still a lot of bulky stuff (helmet, wetsuit) that just wouldn’t fit in my carry-on with my work clothes for the week.

Beyond my childish annoyance at having to check a bag, I am rather nervous about how reliant on gear the sport of triathlon is. In various pre-race checklists, I saw that it was advised to bring two pairs of goggles, so that if one breaks right before the start, you’re not SOL. Unfortunately, I accidentally left my second pair of goggles in Vail last weekend – so now I’m debating whether I ought to go buy a third pair as a backup plan, or just take my chances.

And of course, goggles aren’t the only piece of gear that could fail. I suppose I could breaststroke my way through the mile swim if my goggles break, but what happens if my bike breaks during the ride? Nope, I don’t have the tools nor do I know how to fix it if I did have them… so my race could end right then and there. As someone who is always hyper-prepared with Plans A, B, and C, I don’t like that so much of this race is outside my control! (Yes, I know that bike tool thing could have been avoided with preparation on my part… but this is where I am now.)

As for what’s in my control? Well, I am not particularly well-trained for this race, and I know that – and honestly signed up for the race knowing that would be the case. With three different sports involved, I quickly learned that triathlons require a lot more training / discipline than running marathons – and frankly, I didn’t want to invest the time into seriously training until I had an inkling of whether I actually like doing the swim/bike/run thing. Sunday’s race isn’t meant to be a “race” so much as a test to see whether I like triathlons enough to train more for them.

But even though I know I am not in this to win it, I’m still now finding myself concerned that I am a bit short of where I should be for each sport. Ready for the rundown? Here come all my worries.

Swim – Although I haven’t been doing intervals to get faster, I’ve been going for a long swim (2-2.5 miles) nearly every week for three months. I feel good about my swimming distance ability… but that’s all been in the pool rather than in open water. I’ve heard so many times that open water swims are drastically different from pool swims, but in November / December, it just wasn’t possible for me to find someplace to open water swim in Colorado. I emailed the race director for Sunday and was told that there would be an opportunity for a practice swim the day before the race, but now the forecast looks like rain all day… so we’ll see if I can still make that happen. I’ve had no problem swimming in lakes before (as a kid doing long swims in Lake George, and this summer at least doing short laps in the lake at Experience Camp in Michigan), so that’s a help as far as open water goes. However, I’ve never swum in a wetsuit before – and I’m really nervous about how that may go, especially if I don’t have the chance to try it tomorrow before the race. Fingers crossed that the forecast clears up a bit!

T1 – I’ve tried putting my wetsuit on and taking it off… but only when I’m dry, not after a swim. And not while wearing the tri outfit under it that I will be wearing for the race. As far as my outfit goes, I bought these Pearl Izumi tri shorts (brand new on eBay for only $7!), and I’m currently torn between wearing just a sports bra under my wetsuit and throwing a shirt on top during T1, or wearing an Athleta tank top with a built in bra under the wetsuit and not adding anything after I wriggle out of the wetsuit. Probably need to figure that out soon, huh? As a broader concern, I haven’t really given any thought as to how exactly to set up my “transition area” – though I did bring a little bright yellow Boston Marathon hand towel, not a beach towel (which I’ve heard is the amateur move!) – or what I’ll actually do when I get there. I’ll probably just look around and copy everyone else… let’s hope I’m not next to another newbie.

Bike – I’ve been riding the Peloton bike (at hotels) and my own indoor bike (at home) quite a bit… but I never quite graduated to doing a road ride and clipping in. Oops! So I am going to be a complete amateur and ride the 26.2 miles of the tri in my running sneakers with pedal cages on my rented bike. It’s certainly not ideal, and I’m sure the other racers will laugh at me, but I figure it’s better than trying to quickly learn to clip in and crashing during the bike. Other issues here: what exactly will that rented bike be like? Will it fit me okay, and will there be a holder for the water bottles I brought? I will find out when I pick it up tomorrow at 9am. And finally, my biggest concern of the entire race: what happens if my bike breaks down / gets a flat / etc in the middle of the race? I am carrying no tools, nor would I know how to use them even if I had them. (This is something major I will need to learn if I enjoy the tri and decide to do more.) While I can probably swim without goggles, I can’t bike without, you know, a bike – so I am just crossing my fingers that nothing goes wrong here.

T2 – See previous note in T1 about how I haven’t really given much thought to what I’m supposed to be doing in transitions. On the bright side, my amateur cage pedals mean I won’t have to change shoes, so I think I can just run in here and drop my bike off and then go run? (And hopefully remember to leave my helmet behind so I don’t really look like an idiot at the finish.)

Run – Ah, the part you’d think would be easy for me! Alas, I have not stayed as diligent about my running routine ever since my PT gave me the all clear to do whatever I want (within reason), rather than a strict plan of what I should do each day and how much I can increase my pace / distance each week. I haven’t run more than five miles since September, and on Sunday, I’ll be running 6.2. (And that’s after all that other stuff.) Despite this woefully inadequate lack of training, the run is still the part that worries me least, probably because it doesn’t have any gear dependencies. I figure I can always walk the last few miles if something goes wrong.

So what else? Nutrition? I am planning to just wing that. My goal is to finish around / under 3 hours, which is short enough for me to do with absolutely no fuel if needed – though the Athlete’s Guide we were sent makes it sound like there will be tons of food / drinks along the course. For a few brick workouts, I practiced eating Clif Bars / RX Bars during the bike and the run, so I am hopeful that my iron stomach will get me through no matter what I do. But I threw a few Clif Bars into my bag, as well as some old Gus I found way deep in my closet (do Gus go bad??). I’m planning to keep the Clif Bars in transition to eat there or perhaps on the run, and then I read that I should tape the Gus to the frame of my bike to access those on the course if needed. (Cue me falling off my bike as I try to rip the Gus off and eat them while riding, I’m sure.)

Let’s hope I don’t look like this on Sunday.

Hmm. Honestly? After writing out all my worries… I actually feel a little bit better. Less panicky, and more just ready to laugh at myself for all the mistakes I will inevitably make. I think the only thing that will actually keep me from finishing (knock on wood) is if my bike breaks during the race and I can’t get anyone to help me fix it. My hope is that for only a 26 mile bike ride, the odds of that are low.

On the agenda for tomorrow: picking up my bike, attending the packet pickup / athlete’s briefing, figuring out how to use the triathlon function on my new Garmin (the Fenix 5S), and hopefully getting to try out my wetsuit for a swim. Wish me luck!


6 thoughts on “Two Nights Before the Race: HITS Sarasota Olympic Triathlon”

  1. Good luck! You’ll do great, you’ll get hooked and then you will be doing tri’s in every state by 35!

    Though I do agree with you…traveling with the kind of gear you need for these things is not fun! Always a hard choice to have *your* bike for an event vs renting..

  2. You’ve got this Laura! I borrowed a bike for my first triathlon too! I also didn’t have any of the bike fixing gear either BUT I did have spare goggles, lot of snacks, and a few different clothing options. It seems like you’ve thought is all through and I believe you are going to be a success! I can’t wait to read your race recap!

    1. Thanks so much, Lindsay! Looking like the spare clothing I packed is going to come in handy… I just went to put on my bike/run shirt and discovered the zipper is broken. Hopefully that’s my only surprise of the morning 🙂

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