I've been a triathlete for over a year now. I have been swimming, biking, and running consistently, training to be stronger, to be faster, to endure longer, to just be a better me and a better athlete, races or no races. Over a year ago, I did my first virtual event. At the time, pools were still closed, so Ironman virtual races were run-bike-run events. Then this past March, I did my virtual 70.3. It wasn't planned, but I had been training hard for so long that my coach, Lisa, and I decided it was time for me to test out my training - and it happened to match up with a weekend Ironman had a virtual 70.3. (My race report for that is here - http://mamaisarunner.com/2021/04/24/race-report-virtual-70-3/.)
I've been registered for North Carolina 70.3 since registration opened in November, but I had not registered for any other races. Recently, I compiled a list of local-ish races and their dates and had a call with Lisa. This year, I am focused on my big goal - my first in-person 70.3, and we are making decisions based on that goal and my training for that. Initially, we didn't find any races that hit what we were looking for - open water swim, 2 hours or less from home (although I was willing to consider farther for an Olympic distance event), and on my recovery weekends. Then, I found a race series on Wednesday nights that has an open water swim. They're short sprints, but they're nearby and can fit into my training schedule. I was in shock with Lisa said to register for all 4 coming up - one a month starting in June because that meant my first race would be in only 2 weeks!
Recently, I joined a couple new Facebook groups to find out about local open water swim meet-ups and hopefully some bike meet-ups at some point. In one of those groups, someone posted on Thursday asking about who was going to be at the Triangle Triathlon. I was curious and looked it up. It was an open water swim sprint only 45 minutes from my house and on Saturday - the end of my recovery week! I wasn't sure how I missed it in all my searching for local triathlons. I emailed Lisa about it. We went back and forth, but it was clear from the start I'd be doing it. That night, I talked to my husband about the logistics because there was an athlete meeting and/or packet pickup on Friday, both a bit of a drive and not near each other and then there was race morning.
On Friday morning, I hadn't registered yet, but I got on a call with Lisa. We talked about race strategy and nutrition, we talked through my questions, and she told me to get registered! I hung up and immediately registered for my first in-person triathlon, which I would be finishing in about 24 hours! One of the questions Lisa and I chatted about was which division to register for because there were three that I fit. First option was novice. Lisa commented that although this would be my first in-person triathlon, she doesn't consider me a novice. After all, I've completed a 70.3 on my own. Second option was age group. This is the standard division where you compete against others the same age as you. The third option was Athena. For those who don't race, some races have an Athena (women) and Clydesdale (men) division based on weight. I had mixed feelings about identifying as an Athena. I have raced in that division before as a runner. For my virtual 70.3, I would not have qualified as I had lost so much weight after having my baby and getting into triathlon. However, since tapering, racing, and recovering, I managed to put back on some of that weight and was definitely in the weight range to qualify. I ultimately decided to register as Athena. Lisa really helped me through my thinking on what it means to identify as an Athena triathlete. I decided I may still be working on nutrition and wanting to lose the weight I gained because I feel better without it and race better without it, but ultimately, this is where I am now. And this body, regardless of its weight, is STRONG and FIT. This body has grown, birthed, and fed three children. And I am a triathlete no matter my weight.
Friday was a busy day. I had to take my older daughter to school to drop off her laptop and say good-bye to her teacher she's had for remote first grade all year. Then I had to take my son to drop off his laptop and say good-bye to his teacher he's had for remote third grade all year. When my friend and fellow Coeur ambassador Natalia saw my Facebook post about my race the next morning, she had texted me, and we chatted back and forth. After I got the kids settled for lunch, Natalia and I got on Facetime, and we walked through transitions. She showed me her set-up and gave me advice, and mostly just gave me peace-of-mind to have literally visualized everything and come up with a plan. After I hung up with her, it was time to practice what we talked about during my bike and run. I chose my TCB (The Collective Beat) team kit because I wanted a tri kit so I wouldn't need to change between bike and run and because I knew the team kit would help calm my nerves. I got everything set and, for the first time ever, tried the "triathlon" activity setting on my watch. I started it up, immediately lapped to indicate my swim was "done" and quickly put on my helmet, sunglasses, and shoes and got on the bike. I made sure to turn my bike computer on before walking out to my "mount line" (end of the driveway) thinking about how I would need to turn it on early in transition the next day. I had a great, easy ride. I always have fun on my outdoor "ride as you feel" easy rides. Then I did a very quick transition - no stopping in to go to the bathroom or changing shirts or anything else like I sometimes do. Helmet and bike shoes off, visor and run shoes on (yay for no-tie laces!), grabbed my water bottle, and off I went. It was SO hot, and I just kept it slow and easy knowing the next day I'd be pushing hard. That hour and a half of working out was the calmest I felt all day!
After my workout, I quickly had a recovery drink and protein bar and then had to run my big kids to swim team practice. After a very fast shower, I drove 45 minutes to the race site for the athlete meeting. They pointed out where the swim, bike, and run each would start and end. They talked through some race day logistics. There was confusion about the swim start - the website said and race company assumed a time trial start, but a pdf said a wave start so that was TBD. I stayed after the meeting and just listened to some of the individual questions people were asking, taking it all in. I scouted out the port-o-potty situation - there were not very many. The closest ones to transition were a good distance away, and only 2. Not ideal, but at least I knew what the situation was. Then it was back in the car to drive home - I was going to get home in time for a late dinner and then still had to organize all my stuff and get ready for a very early morning!
We had my usual pre-long run or race dinner: chicken, green beans, roasted potatoes. I drank a bottle of Skratch after dinner while getting all my gear ready. I made a smoothie for when I woke up and one for 1-1.5 hours before the race. I made a bottle of Skratch for 30-60 minutes before the race. I made a bottle of Skratch and a bottle of water for the bike. I packed my Skratch bars and Skratch chews for the bike and my Skratch chews for the run. I filled a handheld of water for the run and another bottle of water for in transition to drink or pour on my feet if needed. I filled a bottle of water for drinking in the morning. (See, husband, all those water bottles I'm collecting really are needed!) I packed three towels - my IronmanVR finisher towel to use for my transition space, my Coeur Velo towel to use to wipe my face or feet or whatever as needed in transition, and another smaller one just in case. I packed my ID, credit card, $10 (hoping to buy an event shirt there since I missed the cut-off when I registered), van key, and inhaler. Then to my event-specific gear: goggles, extra goggles, extra swim cap for the swim; bike shoes with cadence sensor on them, sunglasses, socks, and powder for inside the socks for the bike; shoes with no-tie laces, visor, and race belt for the run. I packed everything up in my BOCO gear ambassador backpack. Then, I got out my Coeur team kit, my sports bra, my Wahoo Tickr heartrate monitor, my TCB hoodie, my Zealios Betwixt and sunscreen, and my Oofos sandals for the morning and sprayed my Got Spit into my goggles to sit overnight. Time to charge my watch, my ELEMNT, and my shifter batteries and get to sleep!
Despite feeling a little hectic like I was throwing everything together the night before, the morning went smoothly. I got up, drank my smoothie, got dressed, put my bike and bag in the van, and headed out the door.
The parking lot for the race was about 3/4 mile from the race, so I got to take my bike and transition bag with me as I walked. I thought about riding my bike, but ultimately, I'm glad I didn't. First person I saw when walking out of the parking lot onto the road was a fellow TCB member! It was nice to see a friendly face and to chat a few minutes. Then as I was walking, I recognized the guy just ahead of me from the athlete meeting. I was walking faster than him, and as I caught up, we started talking. He is a college student doing his first triathlon. We had a great conversation as we walked. Then we split up as he went to transition and I went to packet pickup since I opted not to drive out the extra 30 minutes for that the day before given how much I had going on. I picked up my number (321) and then when I got my timing chip, I met Candace, one of my Coeur teammates, who wrote my number on my hands. I went to transition, found my space, and got everything set up.
I was ready early and got to really just relax and talk with the people around me. I chatted with quite a few people in transition, especially those who said it was their first triathlon.
I spotted another Coeur teammate, Lilly, and went to meet her, visited the port-a-potty a couple times, texted with Lisa, and just took it all in.
We also found Alexis and took a photo of the three teammates together and ready to race.
I headed down to the water so I could get in and warm up a bit. I was worried about the water temp - someone in the Facebook group I mentioned before said it would be about 70 and in transition someone initially said 68 degrees. It ended up being 76 degrees, so plenty warm! I still got in to do a few strokes. I swam for about 3 minutes and came up and heard, "Mama!" I immediately looked up and spotted my friend Barb, the one who talked and talked about triathlon and the triathlon community when we were running together during my third trimester and who inspired me to become a triathlete. I got out of the water and went o see her. She had seen me post about racing my first triathlon, she figured my husband and kids wouldn't make it (which they didn't), and she had come to cheer me on! It was so awesome to have her there with me!
Barb introduced me to some of her friends, including fellow BOCO gear ambassador Alexis. We found out the swim would definitely be a wave start. We watched as the first group of men got in the water and went. I knew right away I was going to start towards the back. I am not a fast swimmer, and I didn't want to be in the throws of the front of the group. We watched as the second group of men got in the water. Then they called the women in white caps - that was me! I saw several familiar faces in my wave - Candace, Lilly, Alexis, a woman I met in transition who was doing her first race, a woman I met in line for the port-a-potty who was doing her first race, another friend of Barb's. It really helped the nerves to be talking with others and not focused on what was ahead of me.
They had us line up and walk across the timing mat that they had set up for a time trial start and then get in the water. As planned, I hung out near the back. They counted us down, and then off we went. We would swim past a buoy and then around one, a long straight past a buoy and around another, and then towards the shore past a buoy. My swim went great. I got into a rhythm pretty quickly. It was 750 meters, shorter than any of my open water swims, so I knew I could do the distance. When I hit the middle buoy on the long straight, I started picking up my pace. Throughout the swim, I would occasionally catch glimpses of another Coeur team kit, and it was comforting to see out there! A couple times I had someone pass over my legs or right in front of me, but I didn't have any issues getting kicked or anything. The open water swim clinic I went to was SO helpful. I felt confident not only in sighting buoys but also just in my awareness of where other swimmers w1374ere. I even did a little drafting at one point but not for long just because it was crowded and I wanted my space. As I made my final turn, I pushed harder knowing I wasn't going to get to swim much more. In the end, my swim was great. My last 1/3 was faster. After the race, people were saying the swim was long and sharing the distance they had. The course was supposed to be 750 meters. My distance was 758 meters! When we looked at our maps, I could see why mine was shorter than others' - check out how straight I was! Again, that swim clinic really was worth the price I paid!
I got out of the water and started walking/jogging up the bank. I took a second to catch my breath and then started running. I remembered my teammate Jessica's advice to me to PR in fun and soaked it all in, smiling as I went. I heard cheering for me, and of course it was Barb! I couldn't stop smiling. I was having fun. The swim went great, and I was headed to T1 (the first transition).
It was over a tenth of a mile to transition. I got there with goggles and cap in hand and decided to sit on my Coeur Velo towel. I quickly squirted the dirt and grass off my feet and wiped them with the other towel, slipped on my socks (which went on easily thanks to being rolled down and having powder in them) and bike shoes, put on my glasses and helmet, grabbed my bike and went. I turned on my bike computer as I walked the bike out of transition, over the muddy ditch, and to the parking lot where the mounting line was. I didn't quite get clipped in and my foot slipped, almost causing me to fall, but then I righted myself, clipped in, and off I went.
The first half mile was a little tricky because it was a narrow, single lane. There were two people I caught up to quickly. I hung behind them until a guy came up and made space to pass them, so I followed behind him. Then the cones were gone and road opened up and I passed that guy. My bike computer was showing gobbly-gook, or at least that's what it looked like to me (my bike and running sunglasses are not prescription, and I don't wear contacts). I couldn't figure out what was going on. About 3 times I shut it off and tried to restart it with no luck. I decided to just shut it down. I had my watch going. I could ride by feel without seeing my heartrate and cadence. I had ridden enough miles to know what it felt like.
I pushed hard. The nice thing about being a sprint is I knew I would be riding out there about an hour - I had pushed hard for that long plenty of times before. No need to conserve a lot for later in the ride or for a long run afterwards. I went hard, although I tried not to go so hard I'd burn out. I heard Coach Jess from the Couer Virtual Training Camps in my head on the hills. She talked about being smart going up and that you might get passed by guys just powering up it but then you'd be passing them on the downhill while you had power to push and they were recovering. That is exactly what happened. One guy got irritated late in the race passing me saying, "You're going to pass me again soon." And sure enough, I passed him again and then never saw him again. There were a couple out-and-back segments, so I got to see lots of other racers and cheer for them. I saw the college student from that morning, I saw Candace (who was so impressive and strong on her bike!) and Lilly and Alexis, I saw the women I met who were doing their first tris, I saw the 14-year-old girl whose mother was at the athlete meeting concerned because she'd be out there on the course "alone." I cheered for them all. I cheered for the people I passed and for the people who passed me. I was smiling and cheering and having a blast. But I also was pushing hard. I kept going. I pushed aside the thought that popped into my head at one point about having to go more than 40 miles farther in October. I focused on the race I was in and on pushing. If I started recovering, I made sure to push harder again. After the 10-mile mark, I really pushed hard, with my last 1/3 being my fastest. I came to the dismount line and into transition with a big smile on my face, having so much fun. More than once on the bike leg I thought to myself, "I am so grateful I get to do this!" I was definitely making the most of my first triathlon!
I got my bike back over the ditch and back into transition. I racked my bike, traded my helmet for my visor, traded my bike shoes for my run shoes, grabbed my race belt with my number, and grabbed my water bottle and headed out to the run start. Less than 90 seconds wasn't bad. As I started across the grass, I heard Barb cheering for me. It was so awesome seeing her at each transition of the race!
I knew to just run that first half mile - to just do what my body could do and settle in. I knew that it would feel different once I got my run legs under me. I felt like I was running slower than my watch said I was. During that first stretch, I was sharing the road with cyclists coming in, so again, I got to keep cheering for other people. Then we turned off the road and went onto a packed dirt path. The run course also had some out-and-back segments, so I got to cheer for other runners there as well, although not as much. I didn't have any pace goals and didn't worry about my heartrate since it was only a 5k. My goal was just to push hard and to increase pace as I went. My watched beeped. Mile 1 was done. It was a decent pace, and I was feeling pretty good at that point. Time to keep pushing. I was still smiling and having fun. Mile 2 felt the longest. It just kept going, especially looking for the turnaround. My pace was 6 seconds faster than the first mile, so doing okay. I was feeling pretty good too. Time to push harder for that last mile. I picked up pace a little and then when I hit 2.5 miles and picked it up more. My plan was to have enough to really push the last quarter mile. I started speeding up, but the finish line came faster than expected - at just over the 3-mile mark! I turned the corner and saw it and really turned on my kick, running with everything I had left. My third mile was 43 seconds faster than the second mile, and the final kick was about a 6:07 pace!
I stayed at the finish line with Barb, catching my breath after my wicked kick, and chatting with her. I also got to meet a woman who follows Mama is a Runner on Facebook but whom I had never met before.
Barb asked me if I needed to let my husband know I was done. I told her eventually I would go to transition and get my phone and let him know. She commented that he had complete faith in me, and she's right. Before heading to transition, I did take this photo to show him that I finished:
And I was right - he had complete faith in me, as did my 2 year old. On my phone I found a video of her saying "Woohoo!" and a video of her saying "Go, Mommy, go!" I also found this text from my husband:
Me: Emma, what do you want to wear today? Do you want to stay in jammies?
And here she is in her "workout" shirt, her Coeur shirt!
After sending him the photo of me at the finish line, I went off in search of a shirt since this was my first in-person triathlon. I was drinking my protein shake and grabbing a banana from the post-race goodies when a guy walked up to me to tell me he saw my finish and how amazing and strong I was coming across the finish line. That definitely made me smile since the finish line kick is something I really enjoy and take pride in.
On my way to go pack up my gear, I found Lilly again, and we got a quick photo together now that we had finished the race.
I went back to transition and packed up all my gear. I then decided to spend a little time stretching before I went. While stretching, I saw Alexis, Candace, and Lilly again and decided to hang out with them. We chatted while waiting for awards, hoping to see Alexis podium in Athena and Candace podium in Aquabike.
The awards finally started and the first name they called was Jill Adelson, Bib 321. I was in shock. That was completely unexpected. I got up there expecting it was Athena and then saw the other two podium winners. They were not Athena athletes. I checked the award in my hand (a gift certificate to a local tri shop), and it was the Advanced category. The announcer, who is a friend of Barb's and whom I met after my finish, was surprised to see me up there and made a comment about it being my first triathlon. I am not sure how their system ended up putting me in Advanced (I later found out it put Alexis in Advanced too, but she saw it beforehand and got it corrected). But there I was, on the podium for Advanced. (I later checked the online results - I just missed the Athena podium and was actually 2nd in Advanced.)
After awards, during which Alexis was on the podium for Athena and Candace was on the podium for AquaBike, it was time for the long walk back to the parking lot with my gear and bike. When I got home, I was greeted by one adorable girl who stole my visor and announced, "I wanna race! I wanna race!"
When my husband showed Zoe, my 6-year-old daughter, the photo of me finishing, she exclaimed, "Yay! She looks so happy!" The comments from these two girls were the icing on the cake of an amazing race day. I raced strong. I had fun. And my girls are learning a lot about being an athlete, about finding what makes you happy, and more.