Triathlons are 50% physical, 50% mental, 50% nutrition & hydration. My last couple races I’ve had one thing or another go wrong, but today I finally had
the race that I’ve been hoping for where everything clicked. I honestly felt stronger and faster than any previous race at any distance. It was the third in a series of three races in my first step toward long distances. My first race I struggled with the swim, being unfamiliar with a river point-to-point swim I had a little bit of anxiety at the start and fought against the current to stay on course. My second race I dealt with some stomach issues and ran out of gas in the run. My third was the culmination of trial & error and I put together a strong race in all three disciplines and landed myself a 36th place finish in a field of 107, not setting any records but given the competition it’s a success. Unfortunately the top three overall finishers were in my age group so I ended up 7th out of 13, but on the bright side when I turn 40 I’m going to look a lot faster! To cap off the series, I placed 2nd in my age group for cumulative time, proving that you don’t have to be lightning fast in one discipline or another as long as you’re consistent. Now to the details…
The first race in the series had a river current of 2-3 knots so the swim was quick. The second race the current was about 1 knot, not too fast but we had some help. This race there was virtually no current so unfortunately I had to actually swim the 1 mile that I signed up for, total bummer. I just prepared myself by sticking to navigation and steady pace to make up for my lack of speed. My path was as straight as can be and before I knew it I was climbing the ladder to transition.
Nothing really changed for me on the bike portion, that’s where I’m strongest and most consistent. Knowing that my running hasn’t been the best lately, and my bike segments have been strong, I used that in my plan of attack. I saved some energy for the run by dialing it back from 90-95% to about 80-85% unless I was passing or felt like I was holding back a little too much. The difference in effort only affected my pace by about half a mile an hour and I still made good time, plus I was able to concentrate a little more on hydrating and getting some calories into my system (remembering my last race when I finished malnourished and dehydrated). I’ve been experimenting with nutrition and hydration in my training now that it’s more prevalent in my races because of the duration. I’ve found that I respond very well to good old fashioned Gatorade (powder mixed about 1.5x to 2x strength “Kool-Aid” style) and some electrolyte added energy gel packs. Being an EXTREMELY heavy sweater, I err on the side of over-hydration & nutrition and it has paid dividends. I’d rather get the burps because of a full stomach than light headed and dizzy.
A couple lessons learned really paid off on the run, referring back to my theory of triathlons being 50% physical, 50% mental, 50% hydration & nutrition. My nutrition and hydration paid off. I took advantage of being on the bike to hydrate and get calories early, taking it in well before I needed it. Because of that, I only needed sips every mile or so to keep something on my pallet to take off the edge. Also, I’ve been experimenting with gear on runs. Something I’ve learned with longer distances is that tiny irritations really add up and become big deals for me mentally. I’ve settled on running without anything on my head and running without my top because I hate the sensation on my head and chest. I also bought a comfortable hydration belt so I don’t have to hand-carry a water bottle or rely on the hydration stations. With those irritations out of the equation and plenty of energy in my system I put together a 10k pace that was right on par with some of my best 5k paces. I was able to speed up when I felt I was holding back too much and even passed some people in my age group (without tripping them!). Plus, since I didn’t need the aid stations, I found out there’s a little bit of comic relief by telling the volunteers “just throw the water at me” as I run by. I get a cool shower, they get to throw water at me, we all get a laugh and it’s a nice refreshing mental break.
As this series went on, the river current slowed down to a dead stop. The first race had a fast current which was tough to navigate for a first timer. The second race was a mild current which didn’t cause too much trouble but still helped a bit. The third was basically swimming in a long straight lake. Much easier to navigate a straight line but took about 8 extra minutes. Make sure you get to know the current at the time of the race. On a more positive note, as the series progresses it gets into NFL practice season, and if you time it just right you can get a little blast of air conditioning from the Jaguars practice facility when you run by.