Well – I survived my first Olympic distance triathlon! I went through a whole range of emotions on my first long distance venture and (thankfully) lived to tell about it.
This weekend was the Cleveland Triathlon taking place right in downtown Cleveland. The weather was sunny and about 80 degrees. (Perfect in my books.)
I was surprisingly very calm on race morning. I thought I’d be freaking out about the swim, but I kept telling myself that it was going to be OK and that I just had to take my time. At one point I told my fiancé “I’m just taking a little dip. I’m gonna relax in the water. Maybe even backstroke if the mood strikes me.”
After a few failed attempts at parking and roads being blocked off, we got there with about 45 minutes until my swim started. This was actually an ideal time to get set up and wait to start. The past couple of races I’ve done I’ve seriously been just standing on the beach for 1.5 to 2 hours before my swim started. With the Cleveland Triathlon, transition never officially “closed”, which was nice. Also race packet pickup was the day before, so there was no rushing around trying to get all that situated.
Olympic was the last distance to go, which is ironic because every other race I’ve done the Olympic distance has been the first to go. We walked out in a line onto the pier right at about 7:45AM. There were maybe 200 of us in the Olympic distance. The race director made a couple announcements and soon the line was moving forward to start. Your chip started when you crossed over the timing mats and then you jumped in and began your swim. In my head I had envisioned that moment as utterly terrifying, but when it was happening it wasn’t bad at all. I jumped in as far away from people as I could manage and plugged my nose and held onto my goggles. The water was 72 degrees and felt fine.
This was my first race swimming in a wet suit and I could feel the added buoyancy, which probably added to my confidence. Once in the water I swam away from a few people around me and tried to breathe very calmly. I also made sure my strokes were firm, but calm and together. A fellow swimmer at a recent swim clinic told me that she tells herself not to kick hard in the beginning because that’s when her panic sets in. So I took that advice and chugged along with firm, but steady and slow kicks.
I’m not sure how I did it, but I can honestly say my swim was the best leg of the triathlon that day. I felt strong and confident, especially on the down and back course headed back towards the dock. I didn’t have any moments of panic, nor did I even have to resort to backstroke. I was cool, calm and collected the entire time. Now don’t get me wrong, I still felt relieved when my hands hit the ladder to get out, but I had envisioned this swim to be completely terrifying and was surprised to find that it really wasn’t! I finished in 27 minutes.
I was excited to be able to ride on the Shoreway in Cleveland. This is the stretch of highway that goes along the lake from the muni lot almost into Lakewood. The course is four miles in each direction and is a giant loop. My excitement lasted about four miles one way…and then I was bored out of my mind! The course is significantly hilly too. You don’t really notice it from a car, but having to ride the loop three times – you definitely notice it. At mile 8 I started talking to an older guy who was really funny. In fact, he offered to hook me up with his son who is my age, but stopped offering when I told him I was getting married next month! I was laughing out loud talking to him and it was a welcoming distraction from the boredom of the course. Eventually I lost him and continued on by myself.
One thing I did notice – the Shoreway is incredibly dirty. In fact it’s straight up gross. I couldn’t even tell you how many dead animals I saw on the side of the road. It smelled bad too, almost unbearable in some spots. At one point I thought I saw a dead porcupine – which I THINK turned out to be a bent broom.
At mile 20 I was tired and annoyed and wanted to be done. I was at an hour and 25 minutes and ready to get off the bike. I was quickly approaching the last loop turn around and excited to be headed back out. For some stupid reason, I remained in my aero bars while approaching the turn. I realized too late that I had no access to my breaks to decrease my speed around the turn and instantly toppled over, knocking out a row of cones with me. My left knee slammed into the ground while my feet stayed glued into my pedals. I didn’t feel much pain and got up quick. Luckily I had crashed directly in front of a volunteer section. Everyone rushed over to me and helped get my bike off the course. Thankfully I had crashed without any other bikers around me. A few bikes passed after the volunteers helped me off the course, but I was grateful I hadn’t caused anyone else to fall.
My knees were both scraped up and looked way worse than they actually were with gravel and bike grease mixed into the mess. My chain had popped off and my handle bars were a little titled, but the volunteers were so awesome and helped get everything back situated. They offered to call someone to come get me too, but there was no way I was going to stop. Like I said, it looked way worse than it actually was. I was out for almost 10 minutes, but finally (with shaking hands and legs) got back on my bike. By this point my knees were both throbbing and I was aware of the pain, but there was no way I wasn’t going to finish. I finished in 1:36.
Anyone who has ever ran a marathon knows the deep, dark, despairing moments of miles 21 and 22. When you still have 5-6 miles left and are utterly exhausted beyond measure. Both marathons I’ve ran I’ve cried during miles 21 and 22.
The run on this course wasn’t AS BAD as marathon miles 21 and 22 – but it was a close second. My back and knees were absolutely killing me on the run, more than likely from my crash. I was openly moaning and whimpering on the course, not caring who heard me and what they thought. I’ve never had knee and back pain like that. My back hurt so bad at one point it hurt to breathe. I heard my watch beeping at every mile I passed and I made the mistake of looking down to see one mile I ran at a 10:30 pace and I wanted to die.
The Shoreway felt like a desert. No air, no shade, nothing to look at except for more highway in front of you. I was miserable. Somehow I made it off the Shoreway and onto East 9th. We ran past Mall B and around the Browns stadium and even through the back part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At about a half mile to go, I finally found some energy and ignored my stinging knee and back pain.
The finish line was SUCH a welcoming site and I sprinted in as fast as I could muster. The fiancé was waiting there for me with a giant smile on his face. I got my medal and zombie mood took over. I couldn’t stand or sit or function. Finally after about 5 minutes of being disoriented we ventured over to the food tent area and I was shocked to find there was basically NOTHING to eat. A half a banana, soggy water melon and dried out oranges. That was it. And the fruit clearly looked and tasted like they had been sitting out for hours. All I wanted was maybe a protein bar? Chocolate milk? Pretzels? Anything?! I couldn’t believe after all the money I spent on this race, there was practically nothing to eat at the finish line after racing for 3 hours and 18 minutes.
My other complain – the T-shirts. Most smaller races I completely opt out of the shirt. I have WAY too many medium cotton race shirts with local sponsors all over them. The only time I take the race shirt is when it’s a tech shirt or it has a cool design. The Cleveland Triathlon race shirts were terrible. Dark blue cotton with “Cleveland Triathlon” and the date on them. Another disappointment.
Overall the race was fun. It was a perfect swim venue and I really liked the down and back swim course, however…not worth the price you pay. AT ALL. I was excited to race downtown, but almost the entire race is on the Shoreway and it’s really not all that “downtown”. Also the “swag” bag – not good and the t-shirt really made me mad. Also where did all our money go if they provided very little food for us post-race?? Like I said, it was a fun race, but not worth the money!