Monday, September 8, 2014

I'm an Aluminum Man!

(Yes, the name of the race and being able to say that was a significant factor in choosing this to be my first triathlon.)

I found out about Aluminum Man a couple years ago when I first started thinking about the possibility of doing a triathlon. I not only like the name (aluminum was chosen as the metal for the pun name because there used to be an aluminum factory there), but my sister lives in The Dalles, so my parents also visited for the weekend to spectate the race and make a family weekend of it. I took a half day off work on Friday, and Abe and I headed to The Dalles early enough to beat the worst of rush hour traffic leaving Portland.

When we arrived we immediately headed towards the race area and drove the bike course - a bit hilly, then checked into our motel. Abe put his aero bars on his bike and did a short ride and run; I stuck with an easy shakeout run with a few strides. 

After swinging by the park for packet pickup (super quick and easy!), we met my parents and sister for dinner at Baldwin Saloon, one of their favorite restaurants in The Dalles. They don't have a ton of vegetarian options, but the handful that are on the menu are good! I carbo loaded with fettuccine alfredo, followed by key lime pie. We then had a relaxing evening at my sister's, playing boggle and being entertained by the four cats (three kittens and a teenager) she's currently fostering. 

We were staying just a couple miles away from the race site, so Abe and I were able to "sleep in" (it's all relative on race day!) til 6:30, take our time eating breakfast and getting ready, and still be some of the first people to arrive about 7:30 (with the race starting at 9:00 for the Olympic distance and 9:30 for the sprint).

This is me heading in after the bike, but it
shows almost half of the entire transition area -
small enough to easily find your stuff!
It's a small race - this year less than 200 people total in Olympic, sprint, and relay races - so it was easy to walk right up to the registration table to get bodymarked, then start setting up our stuff in transition.

I basically set everything up just like planned. Bikes are hooked onto the rack bars - generally with the front of the seat hanging over it. Abe had to instead hook the handlebars on - his seat is too tall to fit under the bar, whereas my bike is so short that it was actually hanging from the bar - the front wheel angling down from the bar just barely grazed the grass, not actually touching the ground!

At about 8:45, they called an athlete's meeting, and everyone gathered around the timing tent while they briefly went over the courses and instructions for getting and out of each section. As that was wrapping up, Abe ran off to get his wetsuit on, then head down to the swim start. I wish I could have seen him off, but I then had to get ready myself! (Triathlons really have four legs - getting on a wetsuit is quite the workout itself!)

I finally managed to get my wetsuit on, and by 9:15 or 9:20 started heading out of transition with my cap and goggles in hand... and my glasses still on my face. Whoops! I've done that a couple times getting into the pool, too, seriously considering getting contacts to use for races and long workouts. Turned around, put my glasses in my helmet to put back on in T1, then headed to the swim start.

Race spectators and personal photographers extraordinaire!
Also, I suspect this is Dad's first selfie!

Swim: 500 meters - 15:55 (3:11/100 m), 79/89

The swim start had 4 waves total - separate waves for men and women for each distance. I had about 10 minutes to stand around, then watch the men go off for the sprint distance, then just a few minutes before we went off.

Within each wave it was a mass start from the shore. I'd heard horror stories of being kicked by other swimmers, but with only 43 women, and holding myself back as others quickly ran into the water after the horn went off, I was rarely even within touching distance of any other swimmers at all. 

As I walked into the water, there was some seaweed (riverweed?) that freaked me out, then when I finally got deep enough to start swimming, the wetsuit pressing against my chest started me into panic mode, just like at the practice swim on Thursday. I seriously considered for a moment that I could just walk right back onto the shore and not put myself through this. Fortunately, while pondering that option I kept walking forward, so eventually I was too far from the shore for it to truly seem like the better choice!

Finally in swimming-depth water, I couldn't make myself put my head in the water at first, so spent a couple minutes doing some sort of side stroke, then flipped onto my back (moving, but not actual backstroke, just moving my hands back and forth by my hips) for another little bit. Eventually I calmed down enough to try doing real freestyle strokes. Can't say my technique was any good - I kept my head up high to make sighting easy and make sure I didn't swallow too much water while breathing - but sort of got into a groove! There were a few kayaks on the course, and they seemed to be staying pretty close to the few of us at the back of the pack, so it was comforting to know that assistance was nearby if needed.

A few times I paused and treaded water, especially as I turned at each buoy to make sure I was heading in the right direction for the next segment. That's where wetsuits really provide a benefit, in my opinion (at least, in water temps like I've had for all my open water swims this summer, which were quite pleasantly warm) - you can basically be upright in the water and stay upright just from the wetsuit holding you up, you don't even really have to tread to stay there. 

I knew there were at least a couple women behind me, and hadn't seen anyone pass me. During the last segment of the triangular course, I realized I was catching up to another woman, and indeed passed and stayed ahead of her for the rest. With maybe 100 feet still to get to shore, the water was shallow enough to walk/run the rest of the way, then run up a short hill to transition.

T1: 4:30 

Unzipped the wetsuit as I headed in the transition area, and pulled it off. Wiped off my feet and arms a bit. Put on shirt, shoes, glasses, gloves, helmet, and took a drink of coconut water from my bike bottle. 

I suppose to be most efficient one should run throughout transition, but I was tired! I tried to run a few steps here and there, but mostly walked. Finally mounted on my bike and was off on the next leg!

Bike: 25k (15.5 miles) official/13.7 miles garmin - 57:12 (16.3 mph official/14.4 mph garmin), 81/89

Even though we drove the course the day before, it felt way hillier than it did in the car! Overall uphill on the way out and downhill on the back, but some rolling hills both directions. The Olympic course was a large loop heading east out of town; the sprint course was just an out and back along the southern part of that loop. From within the first couple miles I saw the first Olympic distance racers heading back in; I know they had a half hour head start, but damn that's still speedy!

I stopped twice - at about mile 4-ish and 8-ish to eat some gummy candies and drink coconut water. I passed a few people during the first half, but one of them re-passed me on my second fuel stop, and another one came speeding past me on some of the downhills and stayed ahead. 

On some of the flat and not-too-steep hills I felt like I was keeping up some decent speed (but didn't have my Garmin visible to check like I usually do during rides - I didn't want to put it on my handlebars and then forget to put it back on my wrist for the run), but was definitely dragging on some of the uphills. I was also still fairly nervous about crashing, and made myself slow down more than necessary on some downhills. 

I was keeping an eye on my total race time and distance, and knew what time I needed to hit the turnaround point to stay on track, but it came at a much earlier distance than expected! I know Garmins aren't 100% accurate, but I mapped out the course afterward and it was indeed closer to 13.5 than 15.5. For comparison to future races, I'm going to use the pace per my garmin - I definitely wasn't cruising along at 16+ mph! 

T2: 1:33

Re-racked my bike, took of my helmet and gloves, put on race belt with bib, and headed back out. There had been one aid station on the sprint bike course, but I knew I couldn't grab water and drink it while moving, so I just skipped it. I did grab a cup on the way out of transition, though. It was starting to get hot! 

Run: 5k (3.1 miles) - 39:10 (12:36 pace), 82/89

Heading out on the run.
I knew it was important to not go too hard on the bike, to save some leg energy for the run, but I'm not sure I successfully did that. 

The run course was on a bike path along the river, heading west from the park. Fairly pretty, but very little shade! I had put a handheld water bottle in my transition stuff, but when heading out on the run had decided it wasn't worth the bother of carrying - I quickly regretted that. I was very grateful when I got to the aid station at the turnaround point and was able to grab a cup of water! 

I walked a lot more than I would liked, especially on the out of the out-and-back (more uphill out than back). I was being passed a lot by Olympic distance racers, and seeing many sprint distance racers on their way back in. It was a bit demoralizing, but I knew I was almost done! 

About a mile from the end I finally passed Abe, on his way out on the 10k run course. I was surprised I hadn't crossed paths with him on the run - he ended up finishing about 15 minutes behind his expected time.

I had enough left in me to sprint the last little downhill into the finish line, and in just under two hours, I'd completed my first triathlon!

Overall: 1:58:20, 83/89

Triathlon finishers! 
Now, I mentioned last week that my goal was to finish in under 2 hours. That was my A goal, but I also had a couple other goals:
          B goal: Not be the last person on the course.
          C goal: Not die.

Fortunately, I met all those goals! I really was worried about the first two while on the swim, but once I survived that, even being a bit behind on the bike, I felt ok and knew I could finish it. 

I'm very glad I'd already decided not to go through with an Olympic distance tri this summer; knowing that I only had to hold myself together for a relatively short time in the water or on the bike was one of the aspects that made it possible for me to finish. I know it's possible for me to get there, but it wasn't possible right now. 

Overall I really enjoyed the triathlon! It's a bit of a different experience, a different kind of challenge than a running race, but a fun challenge! 


  1. Congratulations on your tri!! I am so impressed. My mom and brother are triathletes, and while I like running and biking, I'm not much of a swimmer.

    I dropped my mom in the Dalles on Saturday for Cycle Oregon and noticed some triathletes--didn't realize there was a race there that weekend! Very scenic area, and a lovely (but hot!!) day for it.

    1. Thanks! Yep, there seemed to be a lot going on in The Dalles this weekend! Lovely area but I wouldn't have minded starting a little earlier in the morning to avoid some of the sun. :)

  2. Congrats! I really like the pic of you heading out on the run, you look really happy!

    I think I'd like to do a duathlon someday (swimming and running). I'm terrible on the bike because I lack balance. I really admire you for getting through the swim portion despite your reservations!

    1. Thanks! I probably looked happy because I realized I only had about 40 minutes or less left before I was done. :) You should definitely do a duathlon at some point!

  3. Congrats! I am happy to hear you enjoyed it! And way to power through the scary parts of the swim!

  4. Very nice! That sounds like a really fun race--I like that it was small! Were wetsuits required or just a good idea?

    1. Just a good idea! I'm sure there is a point with low water temps where races would require them for safety, but this was nowhere near that. It was actually pretty warm, aside from wanting the buoyancy I probably could have done without it just fine. Most of the racers had wetsuits, but maybe 10% didn't.

      There's also a point in triathlons that if temperatures are high enough, that wetsuits aren't allowed, or are allowed but you can't qualify for awards, though I doubt races often have that issue in the PNW.

  5. Well done! I get those same panic attacks in water. I hear that they go away with time. Here's hoping!

    1. Thanks! Yeah, hopefully it goes away with more practice!

  6. Love the recap! I'm so impressed by triathletes because I don't know how to swim properly - I can keep myself alive but don't know strokes or sighting, etc. Way to go!! You're an Aluminum Man!

    1. Thanks! Well, I'm not sure I swim properly either (especially sighting! it's so anti-stay-alive-instinct), but at least I kept myself alive. :)

  7. So I'm sitting on my laptop, catching up on blogs (since I appear able to comment from here, and clearly suck at using my phone to do it). I had an actual, old-time "V8" moment when I remembered your Tri, and sure enough, here's your race report! Great work, you did it, and nice report too! I lost my mind during my first OWS Tri, and barely kept it together (I did it sans-wetsuit, which was a huge error, because I'd trained simulating one). But you kept it together, and even met your A Goal on top of everything else! Congrats!


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