18 September 2008

The 2008 Triathlon Season

This is going to be an interesting entry for me to write because I think I'm still processing my races and I'm also kinda sad that the season is over. One year ago, I had completed one sprint distance triathlon. I fell in love with the sport and decided that I wanted to be a triathlete. I had some things happen last fall that derailed my training, but in January, I decided to sign up for a 1/2 Ironman. I started doing some training and decided to attend the C&C Triathlete Factory camp in April. That was the beginning of my tri season and I feel like I need to take some time to reflect back over the past year, remember the highlights and celebrate how far I've come.

Last June, I started swimming in a pool. I could only swim one length freestyle and alternate it with breast stroking. Eventually, over the next few weeks, I built up my endurance and I felt like I was ready for a triathlon. In July, I bought a road bike, as well as cycling shoes and clipless pedals. I road it a few times (maybe 5) and wrecked a few times before my race. Last year was a great running year, so I wasn't concerned about that part of triathlon at all.

My first race was an interesting experience in many ways. I was completely freaked out during the swim because it was my first open water swim EVER. I actually got out in the water and seriously considered turning around. I barely made it to the first buoy before I finally calmed down. The bike ride was painful to say the least. My seat was too low. I dropped my chain. I couldn't drink and ride at the same time. My saddle was really uncomfortable. The run was fine except for the the first wobbly legged mile. The race was definitely a learning experience and hooked me to the sport, but it also made me realize that I had a very, very long way to go.

Over the winter, I worked on my swimming and bought a trainer so I could ride my bike indoors. I tried out some Spinervals dvds, ran some races, and just tried to maintain some level of overall fitness. In February, I got an e-mail that a couple of guys from my tri-club (both of whom are going to race in Kona this year) were putting on a tri-camp here in IL for a very reasonable price, so I decided to register and go.

Tri-camp was an incredible experience. I wrote about it earlier, so I won't go into too much detail; however, there were a few things that happened there that made a difference in my season. First, I learned that I can actually swim very well. My stroke is fundamentally sound and while I'm not super fast, I swim pretty well. Second, I learned alot about nutrition and how to use nutrition to have successful events and training. I discovered the benefits of Pop Tarts for breakfast and how many calories to take in during events. Finally, I put my big girl pedals back on my bike, got my bike fitted to me, and learned that I have a very long way to go on my cycling.

I also had some mental confidence building while I was there. When I arrived at the camp, I almost didn't go in. I felt like I had no business being at a triathlon camp. However, over the course of the weekend, I realized that I can be a triathlete. I learned that I have the skills and determination to be a triathlete. At the end of the camp, I received an award from Chris S. and Chris D. They gave me the award for "Most Potential" which added to my confidence and helped me through many workouts and races. When I left the camp, I felt ready and excited for tri season to begin.

My race season had its ups and downs. I won first place in my age group in my first race of the season, fell apart during the run of my second race, and watched a man die in my third race. I lost some motivation during the last two months of training. I missed the 1/2 IM signed up for back in January. I spent some time riding around Cache Valley with my dad and practiced some open water swimming in Hawaii. I raced in hot, humid, nasty weather on poorly marked courses and I completed a 1/2 IM. It's been an eventful season and I've learned alot.

I learned that when I consistently train, I race well. I was frustrated with my performance in my last two races and the hard part for me was knowing that it was my own fault. I blew off alot of my training and my race performance suffered because of that. While I didn't enjoy learning this lesson, it was definitely an important one to learn and I think it will make a difference next season.

Also related to training in general is that I realized that I need to find a training program that suits me, or build up my fitness so that I can complete my workouts without feeling completely wiped out. I struggled a bit with burnout this season and I want to find a way to avoid that in the future. I haven't figured out a way to handle this one yet, but I do have all winter to think about it.

I finally bonded with my bike this season. It took me almost a year and there were some mighty big bumps to get over. I also finally came up with a name for my bike (Oscar) and I've learned to love riding. I graduated from my toe strap pedals to my big girl pedals. I learned to gear properly to make it up hills and I've learned that I love riding hills. In one year, I went from hating my bike to looking forward to the bike portion of the race. That's probably one of the best parts of the past year. I do think switching my saddle had alot to do with this.

Over the winter, I had the opportunity to work on my swimming endurance. Tri camp helped me realize that my swimming is fine and that I need to focus on speed. I knew going in to the season that swimming in open water would be an issue. I made plans to practice in the open water, but that turned into a fiasco. My second open water swim ever didn't go well. My first race in open water was really really cold (56 degrees) and I had some serious freak out moments. My next race was the following week and I finally had an okay open water swim, but coming out of the water, I saw a man getting CPR, who ended up dying. So, at the end of June, I was still feeling very nervous and uneasy about the whole open water swimming thing.

In Hawaii, after about a week of looking at the ocean, I finally got in and had several positive swims in the ocean. I learned not to freak out when I saw fish and I realized again that I'm a good swimmer, so I don't need to freak out. When I got back to IL, I had the opportunity to go to WOWS (Wednesday Open Water Swims) with my tri club. The first time I was totally nervous and freaked out. I had my heart rate monitor on and as soon as I drove into the parking lot, my heart rate jumped way up. With the help of a friend, I approached the lake and decided to just relax and swim. (Also, it's easier to be brave when there's lots of people watching and you don't want to look like an idiot.) The water was disgusting and I couldn't see my hands, but I was able to swim 1200 yards in the nasty Miller Park Lake with no freaking out. I continued to go and it REALLY paid off in my level of confidence in the open water. I even watched Jaws the night before a race and was able to swim in the lake with no freak outs. I believe that the open water swim practice was incredibly helpful because I was able to swim in my last two races well, with no worries about drowning or fish attacks or anything.

Running this year didn't go well at all. I started the year off with the Goofy Challenge, a really intense sinus infection that required 6 weeks of antibiotics, and a little bit of burnout. Also, the winter was long, cold, wet, and icy, so getting outside to run wasn't high on the list of fun things to do. My first 1/2 marathon didn't go well (or went surprisingly well, depending on how you look at it). My second and third 1/2 marathons didn't go well. I skipped alot of run training because I didn't feel like running. I gained some weight. My hamstring and IT band were bothering me. I had all sorts of excuses for not running. I also felt like I've been running for awhile and I need to focus on my cycling and swimming, which I did and which helped tremendously in those areas. In spite of being disappointed about my running, I learned a very important lesson. I learned and remembered that training is vital for success and when you skip your training, you can slide by a bit, but it will catch up to you in the the day of a 1/2 IM triathlon.

I finally nailed down a nutrition foundation that I'm pleased with. I feel like I've found a pre-race dinner (grilled meat, baked potato or chicken burrito with lots of guac), as well as my breakfast of champions (2 not frosted strawberry pop tarts). I'm very pleased with my Heed and Clif ShotBlocks on the bike. I still need to tinker with my run nutrition, but I feel much better prepared nutritionally than I ever have. I'm sure that I'll keep tweaking it, but it was very nice to have a solid nutritional foundation.

This season I had the opportunity to win my age group twice and to come in very close to bottom. I completed 6 triathlons; 3 sprint distances, 2 Olympic type distances and 1 half ironman. I learned to love my swimming workouts and the relaxation that goes along with being in the water. I developed a love for riding Oscar. Riding with my dad this summer was awesome and I can't wait to do a couple of century rides with him next summer. I'm not sure there are many things better than flying down a canyon road, down in the aerobars, going super fast. I learned to appreciate the feeling of jumping off the bike and heading out of transition on wobbly legs. I remembered how fun it is to cross the finish line and learned that crossing the finish line after a triathlon is much more fun than after a running race.

I have to say that this was a fun, rewarding season. I learned so much, not only about the sport of triathlon, but also about myself and others. I'm sad that I don't have any more triathlons this year. I am looking forward to next year and have already started making plans for races and goals. I also want to thank all of the people who helped make this season fabulous. (I feel like I'm making an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards.)

Chris S. and Chris D. - Tri camp was awesome and definitely set the tone for my season. Thanks SO SO much for taking time out of your busy schedules to put that on with such class! I hope we can do it again next year!

Sherry - Thank you for helping me to start on the path to living my dreams. Thank you for your listening ear and for helping me take away some very valuable experiences from my races. Thanks for all of the training runs and rides and for helping me to "show up" when it would have been easier to stay home.

Eric - Thanks for taking your boat out to the lake and letting me swim and for not laughing when I was freaking out.

- Thank you for being such an awesome cheerleader at my races this summer. Someday you'll be doing a triathlon and I'll be cheering!

Brooke - Thanks for going swimming in the ocean with me an for making sure that I didn't drown.

Mom - Thanks for going to races with me, for waking up super early, and for sitting out in the cold. Thanks for believing in me and for bringing Simon along to make me smile.

Dad - Thanks for all of the long rides, especially the hilly ones. Thank you for telling me to get over my fears and to just swim, even when the water is really really cold.

So, there's the story of my triathlon season. I'm hoping to do more races next year and to continue to add to my knowledge and experience. Someday, all of this will lead me down Ali'i Drive!


See You at the Finish Line said...

Great post AJ, I love that you've included both accomplishments & disappointments, wins & losses, mistakes & lessons, growth and areas for continued growth - this will only make you a stronger athlete. Just point your bike in the direction of your intention (Kona) and you will find yourself running on Alii Drive towards the finish line. I'd love to be there!

Barb said...

I'm so proud of you AJ! You've had a great summer. You are indeed an inspiration....not that I will soon be triathlon-ing, but I do enjoy reading about it! LOL
Love from your Canadian bud, BARB