My First Triathlon – Ogden, Pineview Reservoir

This photo was taken last night before the race. I should have taken a photo before I ever started training, but I didn’t. But I think this is fairly close to what I looked like a month or two ago anyway. Not exactly easy on the eyes. If you’re just getting started I’d recommend taking a “before” picture just so you can compare a year later. Hopefully you’ll look a lot better.

This first triathlon was a “sprint” distance. Smaller triathlons tend to vary slightly in distance, as opposed to the Ironman which they keep exact. In this case a 750 meter swim, 15 mile bike ride, and a 5k run. It was held at Pineview Reservoir in Hunstville, Utah, up Ogden Canyon.

We arrived the night before and stayed in a small bed and breakfast called the Atomic Chalet. It was very nice and I’d highly recommend the place, although if you use the outdoor hot tub late at night you run the risk of the owner locking all the doors and you having to bang on another guest’s window until they come and unlock the door for you.

I had some yogurt and granola for breakfast the next morning, and I’m not sure if that was a bad idea or not. I did end up needing to go to the bathroom during the race, but I’m not sure whether it had anything to do with what I ate or not. Maybe it was the huge hamburger I had at 9pm the night before. That probably wasn’t the best idea. I’ve heard you aren’t supposed to eat any major solids after 4-5 pm the day before a race.

Going to your first triathlon can be a bit scary, but I think I went with the right attitude, which was that I didn’t care about my time, I just wanted to get the hang of it and of course I wanted to finish. Just the same, I made sure we showed up early that morning to the race area.

The race area or “transition area” as it is more commonly called, for those of you who are new to this as I was that day, is an area with a bunch of metal poles that you hang your bike on, and then underneath or to the side of your bike you put all your other race gear. You try to organize your gear so that as you come out of the swim all your bike stuff is sitting right there and you can grab it, put it on, and go without your running gear getting in the way. It’s also important to remember everything you’re going to need on the bike portion so that you don’t run halfway out of the transition area and then have to run all the way back to grab something you forgot. But I figure that’s what your first triathlon is for is to make those kind of mistakes.

Part of why it’s important to get their early is to check-in, make sure you have everything, and get body marked. Everyone has a race number, and they write it on your arms and legs. IMPORTANT: Do not put sunblock lotion before getting body marked, or the marking will just rub off. Put your lotion on AFTER you get marked, as I so expertly demonstrate here.

Also, if your skin hasn’t seen the light of day for as long as my hadn’t, you’re probably going to get a sunburn, even if you do put on lotion, because your wetsuit is going to rub it off.

So we got there in the morning, I checked in, got marked, and then hung around for a little while. I’d rather get there early and have everything ready to go as opposed to scrambling, even if it means I lose some sleep.

In the case of this triathlon the water was pretty low at the reservoir, and so there was a 1/4 mile distance between the swim area and the transition area, which isn’t ideal, because that means you have to get out of the water and then run that 1/4 mile in your wetsuit. In this case they let us bring shoes down to the water so that we could at least put shoes on to run up the hill (yes, a full-blown hill with a dirt trail and bunch of plants). They put carpeting over some of the more rough areas of the trail that had a lot of plants with thorns which was nice.

In this photo you can just make out a red triangular buoy in the water. They had three of these out there and we swam a single triangle shaped lap around them to make up the 750 meters.

Now here’s the thing. I just had lasik surgery on my eyes two weeks ago, and so I haven’t been able to swim for the past two weeks, and I highly recommend you don’t put off swimming for two weeks before a triathlon. I thought I was going to drown and I’m not sure how I made it. However, even though lasik is not cheap I will say that if you wear glasses and can’t function without them, getting lasik is a must if you’re going to do triathlons. I don’t know how I would have done this race if I had to deal with glasses. It would have been a nightmare.

One note about wetsuits–if you can wear a wetsuit then wear one. A wetsuit has the same buoyancy as a life jacket, which means less of your body is in the water and you’re going to be able to swim faster. Each triathlon has rules about whether you can wear one or not, and it depends on the water temperature. There are some races, such as in Florida, where you would overheat in the water if you were wearing one.

Here I am, along with my trainer who got me into this and his wife, and some other random guy back there. Wetsuits are not flattering if you’re in the kind of shape I am. Hopefully that will get better with time.

Swimming in open water like this reservoir is completely different from swimming in a pool. You can feel pretty good about swimming in a pool and feel like you’re in shape, and then you dive into open water and you feel as though you’ve never swam before in your life. I ended up doing backstroke more than half of the way because I couldn’t breathe any other way. Seriously, I was dying out there. My arms were killing, I couldn’t breathe, and I’m amazed I finished at all, let alone in under 20 minutes. I think part of my problem was that I was trying to swim too fast. It’s hard not to try and swim fast when you’ve got a bunch of other people around you swimming fast.

One of my primary concerns was that I’d get kicked in the face or hand and have a finger get jammed or something. But it didn’t happen.

When I came out of the water I could barely walk, let alone run up the hill. I was already exhausted. But I made it up the hill, dried my feet off next to my bike with my towel I had laid out, and then got my bike and ran out of the transition area with it. You don’t get on your bike inside the transition area–there are too many people running around. You walk (or run) it outside the transition area, and then they have a designated spot where you get on it and start riding.

The bike was the easy part for me. I seemed to pass a lot of people while not many people passed me, and it seemed like a welcome rest after the exhaustion of the swim. It was also a good time to eat some Clif Shots and drink some liquids, although I wasn’t even able to finish eating what I had planned on eating before it was over. 15 miles really isn’t that far.

At this point I had already used up a bit of energy in the swim and the bike, and when I parked my bike, changed into my running shoes, and then took off I didn’t feel ready to run at all. My legs were already tired. Plus the exit of the transition area was uphill, which didn’t help.

I took off running and that was definitely the killer for me. At least on a bike you can cruise and you’ve got downhill areas, but with running there’s no resting, no breaks. I knew I couldn’t walk or else I’d walk too much, so I tried to keep running no matter what. However, after I turned around the run went onto a dirt trail that had a lot of steep ups and downs and there were some ups where I just could not keep running and had to walk up them. But as soon as I got on level ground again I would start running.

When I crossed the finish line it was a great feeling, even though I hurt and was tired as all get out. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically, and I was feeling it. They had a bunch of booths set up with fruit, bagels, drinks, and all sorts of nice, cold things, which was great.

Here are my final times:

Name Time Cumulative Overall Place Gender Place Class Place Pace
Swim 00:18:21.970 00:18:21.970 250 181 42 00:02:26.9
T1 00:07:31.170 00:25:53.140 450 261 56
Bike 00:48:11.330 01:14:04.470 213 169 39 19.1
T2 00:02:49.600 01:16:54.070 432 251 55
Run 00:34:24.100 01:51:18.170 351 230 51 00:11:05.8

As you can see, I had a little trouble with my first transition and it took me 7 and a half minutes to get out of the transition area, whereas it only took me 3 minutes on the second one. If I could have swum a little faster, and shaved that transition down a bit I could have easily cut at least five minutes off my time. But hey, I finished, and that’s what I care about the most.