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Recap: Day at the Beach Triathlon

Race: Day at the Beach Triathlon (Hermosa Beach, CA)
Date: October 10, 2010
Start Time: 7:00AM
Location: Hermosa Beach Pier

I did it! I finished a Triathlon and am sane enough to say that I so want to do another one (or two, next year!) because this one ended up being somewhat of a comedy of errors.

Doing this Triathlon also made me more aware of how strong and determined triathletes (of any age) are! How powerful is their willpower and how resolute is their spirit! Most of all, I’m in awe of non-professional triathletes like my sister, Minel, my friend Dave, and Sue, a triathlete/mother/business owner I met this weekend. You guys rock!

Anyway, I thought I was ok with all three disciplines but when the first event started, I panicked and from there, made some silly errors*! Still, it hasn’t discouraged me from going at it again (next year) and for sure, I’ll focus more on the (ocean) swim training.

So, one race down, two to go. The madness of October is under way and so far, I’m surviving. ^_^

*I’ll go into more detail with what I did wrong, but first, let me start at the beginning:

I was 15 and my new Maths professor shared with the class on the first day of school that he was also a Triathlete. He explained what that meant and… Ok, this’ll take too long and is too far into the beginning; let me start last week. 😉

(Warning: This is going to be quite long. I won’t even read this after posting it, but I’m really noting as much as I could remember for posterity’s sake.) ^_^

Pre-Race Expo & Bib Pick up (Saturday)
Because this was a small event (it’s what they call a sprint distance triathlon: SWIM: 1/4 mile ocean swim, BIKE: 10 mile bike – “3 laps on a fun 3.3 mile rolling loop”, RUN: 3 mile run), the pre-race expo wasn’t like a marathon or even half-marathon expo. There were 3 booths (2 for vendors, 1 for the LA Tri Club) and was held on the parking lot of Triathlon Lab in Redondo Beach (it’s a store where one would purchase Triathlon gear :)). My sis, Annelle, and I got there around 1:20PM (it opened at 1PM) and there were already a handful of people picking up their packets. You then had to look up your bib/race number in a small booklet/print-out the race organizers had (there were volunteers to steer you in the right direction, too) and then once you found your race number, and signed the waiver, you’d go to another table (arranged by race number) to pick up your packet — basically, the usual packet pickup procedure ;).

Because this was a triathlon, the packet did not only contain your bib and timing chip (as I was used to seeing when I do the running events) but a latex swim cap (in the colour of your age group — mine was powder blue), your race number for your bike and a wristband to identify you as a triathlete on the day of the event (very effective against race bandits, btw!) It was also supposed to have a helmet sticker, but for some reason they omitted that this year, despite it being listed in the packet checklist. Oh, the timing chip came with an ankle strap and it should be worn during all 3 disciplines.

After picking up our packets, I had my first successful “Tweet-up” with a lady I had been conversing with via Twitter and who offered to share her experiences with me about the triathlon. I had tweeted that I was going to do the Hermosa Beach Tri (and that it was my first!) and Sue (@ballyhoosue) and I agreed to meet at the race expo where she answered my numerous newbie questions! It’s not like she was an employee/official volunteer of the race, just a really gracious gal and 4-time HB Tri veteran. She also shared some tips that first-timers needed and most of all explained that we should just have fun as it was a beginner’s race. It was during this conversation when my sis and I also learned that she was a mum (full-time = 4 kids!) and a business owner, as well, so that meant her training was really done when she could find free time. Amazing woman! (The next day, we found out she finished 2nd in her age group! Amazing triathlete!) After taking already too much of Sue’s time, we said our goodbyes and good lucks. Then I tried to process as much of the information imparted whilst my sis and I browsed inside the Tri Lab store. (Looking back, having our questions answered alleviated the anxiousness that I was feeling that day, which helped with my overall well-being [despite my tantrum below!] and allowed me to have a restful night’s sleep).

Anyway, whilst browsing the store, it was announced that the Triathlon 101 clinic would begin shortly (read: it was already 2pm!) I had originally thought that Annelle did not want to attend the clinics but that afternoon, sis changed her mind and decided to listen in anyway (later I found out, Annelle thought I wanted to stay >_<). Long story short: my sis and I ended up listening to both 30-minute sessions, whilst standing and roasted under the sun (there were seats but there weren’t enough and had already been taken). By the time the second session ended, I was hungry, felt dehydrated (forget to bring my SIGG bottle!), was hot, and naturally, was crabby. LOL.

My mood didn’t really improve until after having some soup from Macaroni Grill for our carbo-load. By the time I was eating my entrée (mmmm Mushroom Ravioli), I was a happy camper again. 🙂

Mushroom Ravioli (from Macaroni Grill)

That was actually the first time I had an early supper (around 4PM!) and it turned out to be great because our bedtime was way earlier than usual and with our hunger out of the way, we had enough time to prepare our race gear and pack it away in our transition bags.

By 9PM, the bikes were already loaded in my sister’s truck, our transition bags were ready, we weren’t hungry (as we still snacked earlier in the evening) and were ready for bed. My alarm clock was set at 4AM with another backup alarm to go off at 4:30AM, just in case! I was also surprised that it didn’t take long for me to fall asleep — again, my nerves had already been calmed earlier in the day, rather than having thoughts racing in my head about, er, the race!

Race Day – Part 1: Brekkers and Transition Preparation
I actually woke up at the sound of my main alarm (4AM) but stayed in bed for another 10 minutes, attempting to get over the fact that the day had finally arrived: I was to do a triathlon in a few hours. I didn’t want my mind to wander too much into the race, so I focused on what I had to do: eat (oatmeal + coffee), get dressed (underpants, tri-suit, pre-race sweats — in that order ;)), and empty my bladder + bowels (ewww TMI! soz! LOL).

We knew Mum wanted to come along and was surprised to find out that she had been up since 2AM! LOL. Anyway, as usual, sisy took the longest to get ready (she won’t leave the house until she’s gone to the bathroom, twice!) and so we finally took off for Hermosa Beach around 5:20ish (I originally wanted to be @ Hermosa when they opened the transition area @ 5:15AM). But whatever, I wasn’t too bothered because I knew the mandatory pre-race meeting (for all participants) would be around 6:45AM so that would still give us plenty of time to get set up for the race.

I must’ve been zooming down the streets as we arrived @ the Hermosa Beach Pier in no time, and I was able to find parking (there were loads!) at the parking structure on Hermosa Ave. As we were unloading our gear, I told my sis that I should’ve packed my torch since it was still dark and we mightn’t be able to see much in the transition area. It turned out ok, despite the transition area being dimly lit — it was enough to find our bike rack number, set up our gear, and so on.

Oh, all the photos below were diligently taken by my mum! 🙂

HB Tri - Transition Area (5:46AM)
HB Tri – Transition Area (5:46AM)
My spot @ transition area (5:49AM)
My spot @ transition area (5:49AM)

I ran into Sue inside the transition area and had some last minute questions which she answered (THANKS SO MUCH AGAIN!) then my sis and I had our last minute bathroom break @ The Coffee Bean on Hermosa Avenue (thanks for being open that early, Coffee Bean, and for allowing us to use your restroom facilities).

We then got into our wetsuits and finally headed for the main stage on beach where they had the pre-race orientation.

Squeezing into wetsuit (6:25am)
Moi, squeezing into wetsuit (6:25am)
This thing's tiiiight, yo! (6:26am)
This thing’s tiiiight… yo! (6:26am)
Wetsuit finally on! w00t! (6:37am)
Wetsuit finally on! w00t! (6:37am)

Race Day: Part 2: Itza race!
After the mandatory orientation, sis, mum and I, made our way to the swim start. Although the race officially started at 7AM, my age group didn’t start until around a quarter ’til 8AM, or thereabouts (there were around 7 groups before mine, and they started around 6 minutes apart). This meant my sis and I had enough time to get acquainted with the water temperature (it was cold!) and build up our confidence tackling that morning’s waves (which, by the way, seemed as if they were at least 2.5ft – 3ft tall!

During my practise, as I headed back I didn’t swim fast enough. I caught the wave incorrectly and wiped out! This did NOT do well for my nerves but I tried to keep it in check, laughing it off with my sis as I told her that “I totally ate it!” +_+

We made our way back to the start area, and had another photo op (We Asian! We take many photos!) with my sis and then one with my mum, before my sis and I finally entered our respective waves (groups).

Sis and I
Sis and I
Sis, Mum and Me
Sis, Mum and Me

Mum caught more snapshots of us as we waited with our fellow triathletes.

Standing in our wave
Standing in our wave
Smile or nervous grin?
Smile or nervous grin?

ze Swim
I think it still hadn’t really sunk in that I was doing a Triathlon as I stood on the sand, waiting for the gun to go off. Finally, there was a loud “POP!” and my wave was finally underway. I attempted to remain calm and didn’t want to get trampled by the triathletes going for the ocean, so I hung back a bit (see below) until I was free to run without jostling with anyone. I caught a glimpse of my mum taking my photo and when my foot finally hit the water, that’s when panic set in.

...and we're off! (7:37am)
…and we’re off! (7:37am)
Me. Dead. Last. (7:37am)
Me. Dead. Last. (7:37am)

“AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!” was the only thing I could remember for the first few seconds as I attempted to go over the waves any way I knew how. In hindsight, had I remained calm (and maybe, if I practised or even trained more for the technique) I believe I would’ve been able to handle the situation better than just flapping my arms about attempting to do 3 different strokes in one breath (breaststroke, front-crawl, and on my side!).

School of Triathletes (7:38am)
School of Triathletes   (7:38am)
I'm somewhere in this (7:38am)
I’m somewhere in this (7:38am)

I literally felt like a fish in a pail, trying to get free whilst the other fishies (i.e., triathletes) around me attempted to do the same thing. I got hit, was pushed, I unintentionally hit someone, accidentally pushed someone (btw, we all had the presence of mind to say “Sorry” to one another! :)), and then I had my first big gulp of (fresh & salty) ocean water. Loverly (but not really). +_+ It’s not like I hadn’t swam in the ocean before or tackled a wave, either. I had at least a few Bayshore swim clinics under my belt and two swims @ La Jolla Cove (which had waves, too, but not as rough as the one in Hermosa Beach).

It took me FOREVER to get to the first buoy. It felt as if someone had tied my legs back and I wasn’t making any progress swimming towards it. A few more gulps of the Pacific Ocean’s finest later, I had finally rounded the first buoy and realised there were only a few of us (in my powder blue capped group) left at the back. By this point, several negative thoughts had gone through my head (including the idea of just giving up and wanting to be rescued). I was able to find some way to overcome that and gave myself mini-goals — if I can at least swim for 3 strokes at a time, then I’ll be ok.

One-Two-Three. I had moved forward. It worked. Maybe I can do six strokes now and then rest? 1-2-3-4-5-6. Yes, I’m moving. Can I make it up to 9? And so I went. I got into my stroke rhythm and bilateral breathing and got as far as swimming 21 strokes at a time, briefly resting and checking to see if I was still going in the right direction (and not veering further into the Pacific!) and then back into the 21 strokes. Forget about good form! Since my arms were fatigued at this point, I did what I could to lift them and attempt what looked like a front-crawl. Still, I finally made the 2nd and last buoy and was now heading back. Then panic slightly set in again. I thought back to earlier in the morning when I wiped out and I knew I didn’t want it to happen again. My goggles were also nearly fogged up but I had a lifeguard on a surfboard floating by and the Hermosa Beach Pier to guide me.

I don’t exactly remember how I made it but I was finally back on firm ground (rather, on uneven sand ;)). I thought I could run up the sand, but was just spent! I ended up walking a few meters whilst I unzipped my wetsuit. I finally broke into a slow jog (thanks to spotting a race photographer!) and soon was under the portable “showers” at the edge of the sand and right before the Strand.

Transition: Part Une
The jog to transition was a slippery one. They had “traction” tape (the kind one would put on your skateboard deck) on the Strand but they were few and far between. I made it to my spot in transition (thanks to marking the entrance to my lane with some powder!) and was soon slipping out of the wetsuit. I was still reeling from swim and was exhausted but I managed to have a short chat with some fellow Triathletes who were in my section and who looked just as worse for wear. Can’t really remember what we talked about, though but whilst chatting, I somehow managed to get my wetsuit off, wash my feet with some water, dry them on my towel, put my socks on, slip my feet into running shoes and put my helmet on! YAY for multi-tasking! Soon I was walking my bike out of the area. I spotted another race photog and had the presence of mind to pose just before stepping on the mat and onto the “Bike mounting” area.

Three Loops (ze Bike Ride)
Thanks to Sue’s tips, I had already set my bike’s gear for climbing because the first part of the bike ride was an incline up Pier Avenue. It didn’t take me long to cut a left onto Valley Drive and begin the first of three loops before heading back down. I was excited because I was passing a LOT of riders, and often calling out “passing” or “on your left” during the first two rounds.

On the third and supposedly final loop, I somehow managed to confuse myself (don’t ask) and went for another lap +_+. By the time I realised that I was doing an extra loop, I didn’t really know if I could turn around so I continued riding. I did manage to hydrate during the fourth lap (took some sips from my water bottle), so it didn’t end up being too much of wasted time. Again, I’m not surprised I did another lap because as I was riding and counting the amount of laps I had done, I kept over-thinking what I needed to do and decided that a third lap means going around a fourth time. LOL but >_<

Transition: Part Deux
I was finally back in the transition area, I was initially walking my bike back to my space when I noticed that others had already finished the race. This motivated me to break into a slow jog and find my transition spot. I quickly got my bike helmet off, gloves and took a quick swig out of my water bottle (filled with Nuun) and went on my way.

ze Run
I’ve never been so happy to finally reach the run portion — it was like a veil was lifted off me and I was just glad that the last part of the race was one that I felt SUPER comfortable in. After leaving the transition area and breaking into my jog, the usual wobbly legs were felt. I know I was running funny, too, but I didn’t care. I needed to redeem myself somehow in the run. I managed to pass a few runners and ended up running behind this Asian girl who was a few years younger than me (I think the marking on her calf said “29”) I said to myself as I ran behind her for at least70% of the race that I would NOT be beat by this younger person in front of me! LOL If felt the surge towards the end when I heard the spectators saying that the finish was not too far ahead and literally sped up and passed her! I found out later that she wasn’t in my age group anyway! Hahahaha..

Overall, I finished with a huge smile on my face, despite being defeated by the swim and my stupidity on the bike. 🙂 Next year, I’m working on my basic arithmetic. Hahahah.

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