This past Sunday I had my first triathlon race of the year, which was also my first triathlon race ever! With four months of training under my belt, I was anxious to get into an actual race situation relatively early in the season. The Lindau race seemed a perfect venue for a first time: the field was relatively small (around 140 participants split between the middle- and Olympic-distance races, and then another 200 in relays and shorter sprint distances), it offered an Olympic-distance course, and it was one of the few races in Germany in May that promised an open water swim. Lindau is also a beautiful place to visit, situated as it is on Lake Constance (Bodensee) at the point where Germany, Switzerland, and Austria meet. In the post-race photo above, you can see the Bodensee behind me with the rising hills in the background, a nice backdrop while racing. A friend from Katja Schumacher’s Triathlonakademie was also doing the race, so we drove down together on Saturday evening and came back Sunday afternoon.
I should say upfront that the race was a lot of fun (!), and I learned several important lessons about racing a triathlon from just this one experience. I came away feeling that I could have bettered my times (especially on the run), but overall I’m pleased with the race as a first experience (my overall time was 2:14:24). One lesson I learned was in the area of preparation. Driving down late on Saturday, although it saved a lot of time, perhaps wasn’t the best idea for race preparation. For one thing, I had a day off from training on Friday and was scheduled on Saturday to do a light spin on the bike and then a quick swim in the lake on Saturday, but going down later on Saturday meant that I didn’t get any light training in at all that day: two days of inactivity at the end of a tapering week perhaps left my body a bit sluggish going into the race. Arriving late also meant that I slept terribly on Saturday night – maybe just four good hours of sleep. I didn’t feel terrible when the race started, but a bit more sleep would certainly have helped.
We awoke on Sunday morning to a beautiful day in Lindau, a bit cool with a chilly breeze, but sunny with the promise of 12 degrees Celsius as the day went on. We were down to breakfast at seven and then off to the race venue, where the Olympic-distance event was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. The temperatures in southern Germany in the week leading up to the race had been much warmer (25-30 degrees in some places), and the event coordinators had sent an email around just a few days prior to say that it looked like we would definitely be swimming in the Bodensee: the rule was that as long as the water was above 15 degrees Celsius, we could swim in the lake with wetsuits.
It was, then, a major disappointment to arrive at the venue to the news that the lake temperature was only 11 degrees Celsius, and that the swim would therefore happen in a 50m outdoor pool just along the beach. The added bad news was that, in order to accommodate the number of racers in the pool, they cut the swim distance in half to 750m and sent us off in groups. I really wanted to swim in the Bodensee and get the full swim distance in, and frankly I would have been up to give the 11-degree water a go, but I can understand their decision. I readjusted mentally and got ready to swim in the second group at 10:30.
As the gun fired, the five swimmers in my lane set off in a pack – there was a bit of a tussle in the first 15m, but we quickly separated out. There was one quicker swimmer who finished about a lap ahead of me, but he and I were soon far ahead of the others in our lane. Generally, my background in swimming (even though I have a lot to improve upon) is an advantage for me. I always feel comfortable in the water and my time of 13:10 for the 750m (including some running to the first timing mat before the transition zone) turned out to be a respectable time on the day. I would have been happier if I had been down around the 12:00 mark, which I know I can do from training, but I did have a few moments of jostling while passing slower swimmers.
Coming out of the pool I ran to the first timing mat (we had to pass our wrists over a number of timing mats on tables throughout the race, which was a bit more complicated than having the chip around the ankle and passing over a mat on the ground) and into the first transition. I had perhaps upped the tempo of my kick a bit too high in the last 50m in the pool, which meant that my legs weren’t feeling particularly fresh, but as I’d never gone directly from the pool onto the bike, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
My first transition went well: I swam in my tri-suit and had everything laid out in a transition zone with generous space. It would undoubtedly have been more complicated if I had needed to take off a wetsuit, but that is experience I’ll have to gain next time. Out of the pool I had no rocks on my feet and I was quickly in my cycling shoes, helmet, and sunglasses. I picked up my nutrition and was off on the 200m run out of transition to the bike-mount line.
The bike course consisted of five laps of a pretty flat course, with two sharp turns at each end and just one small hill in the middle. Due to street construction, they had reduced the distance on the bike to 37.5kms, instead of 40kms, which was again a bit disappointing. The bike section was okay for me once I got going, but I didn’t feel great in the first lap – there was quite a wind up, which felt especially cool as it blew through my wet tri-suit, and my legs just felt sluggish, but once I got going and my suit dried off (pretty quickly), I started to feel better.
My overall time for the bike was 1:15:45, although this includes the time for both the transition from swim to bike and then from bike to swim. On the second transition, I also lost about 2 minutes due to a ridiculous official who stopped me just as I was set to rack my bike: on the 200m run in from bike-dismount line (over grass), I had undone the strap on my helmet (it still sat on my head), and as I passed the official with about 5m to go to the rack, he grabbed my bike and informed me that there would be a brief pause until I did up my helmet. At first, I couldn’t make out exactly what he wanted – engaged as I was in the triathlon race, and knowing that my helmet was on my head, I wasn’t sure what I had done wrong. With some discussion and yelling, we finally sorted this out – apparently, the strap officially needs to be done up until the bike is racked (something I now know for the future). Realistically, of course, this official just wanted to tell someone else what to do (=was a wanker on a power-trip): the dangers of having my helmet strap undone 5m from racking while running on grass remain unclear to me.
With the second transition out of the way, I was off on the run. This was the most picturesque section of the course, as we ran along the road beside the beach and through a city garden, with the lake and mountains in the background. This scenery was appreciated, especially as I was pretty unhappy with how I felt off the bike: I didn’t think I’d pushed too hard on the bike, but my legs just didn’t have a lot of energy, and I had a small cramp/stitch in my right side. My plan going into the race was to go off the bike at a 4min./km pace. I was at that pace in my last 10km race in Hemsbach and had been feeling good with quicker bursts off the bike in training. It was upsetting, therefore, not to be able to get myself up to the speed I wanted – my legs (and cramp) just wouldn’t let me do it, and I felt like I was crawling around the course. In the end, my time for the run wasn’t terrible at 45:29, but this is one area that I’ll really be looking to improve on in the next race in June.
Overall, this was a good first race for me and a lot of fun. I am always a perfectionist and expect a lot out of myself, but I also know that I’ve been making good progress with my training. With these modest results, I finished 27th overall and 9th in my age category, which is nothing to sniff at for a first triathlon ever, and I’ve now set myself times on which to improve as the season goes on. I also gained a lot of valuable experience in areas such as preparation and transitions, so that I should feel more confident with these next time.
After a hearty post-race lunch, my friend and I set out on the drive back home. Sitting in a car for several hours after racing made for a stiff body upon arrival, but my muscles actually felt fine, if a bit sore, the day after the race. I’m now looking forward from today to getting back into some hard training for my next race (Olympic-distance 1.5, 40, 10) in Kaiserslautern on June 24! The report for that race will include action picks, as KT and NP join me as official photographer and cheering section!