I truly don’t know where to begin with my recap of this weekend’s New Jersey State Triathlon. Personally, emotionally, and physically it was such an intensely incredible experience that only one thought comes to mind when I sit here to write about it: holy cow, guys…I DID IT.
I DID IT! I set out to make 2015 the year of the big, crazy, scary goal of completing my first triathlon in nearly seven years. And I stand here before you with the exciting news that I can cross that goal off my list and move on to the next one because I freaking did it.
Cue jazz hands. Huge sigh of relief. Tears of pride. Laughter. Elation. Downright amazement. And an unreal case of delayed onset muscle soreness.
In an attempt to organize my adrenaline-laced memories into coherent thoughts, I’ll chop this recap into a few defined sections. Feel free to skip ahead to the one you’re most interested into or heck, read all of them and enjoy the ride!
The backstory // In a nutshell, the past year has been a tornado of challenge and change and in the midst of feeling totally tossed about, I decided to do something about it. So at the start of the new year I set a goal for myself: rekindle the strength, determination, and competitive fire needed to get back out there and complete a triathlon. Something I used to really enjoy but for one reason or another haven’t done since college.
I signed up for one of my favorite races, the New Jersey State Triathlon, and spent the next seven months swimming, biking, and running all over New York City in preparation. In case you missed it, this post discusses the details of training plan and race-day strategy.
Getting to the race // My parents, the fit crasher significant other, and I rented an enormous SUV and piled in for the hour and a half trip down to Princeton, NJ. We arrived just in time for packet pickup at Mercer County Park, a gorgeous rolling expanse just a few minutes away from town. The sprint triathlon scheduled for that morning had been cancelled due to severe storms, which is a total bummer, and by time we arrived the clouds had given way to hot, swampy humidity – a weather pattern that unfortunately would stick around for race morning. I collected my bib number, my timing chip, and my swim cap and took quick stroll through the expo tents.
Things I forgot and had to buy at the expo // I had to add this section because, you guys, I forgot I needed so many things! I guess that’s what happens when you try really hard not to stress out about the race – a side effect is being a tad underprepared. Things I purchased the day before the triathlon included: a race belt to hold my bib, energy gel, body glide, electrolyte drink mix, and bungie laces for my shoes.
Race day morning // We arrived to the misty + humid park around 6:30 a.m. and I followed the long line of triathletes to the transition area where I would rack my bike. This is also one of those things I was totally out of practice doing – I had to sneak a glance or two at the ladies around me to make sure I was laying out my gear correctly. By the time I had everything situated, checked and rechecked my tires, they were already calling for athletes to make their way to the swim start. No time to do my pre-race stretches or foam rolling, it was time to go!
Swim // As a former competitive swimmer, the swim is always my favorite part. The water temperature in the lake that morning was 83 degrees so I opted out of wearing a wet suit. But after all of the muggy sweatiness involved in setting up in transition, stepping into the lake was a little slice of heaven. I watched two waves start ahead of mine and and then made my way out to the starting buoys as part of the purple caps in wave three.
My family was right there with a few final pre-race cheers as I walked down the ramp and into the water. I turned around and gave them a thumbs up and a “I’m okay!” wave (can you find me below?). It seemed like we were treading water forever before the starting gun went off. I shared a few nervous comments and jokes with the ladies around me and generally tried to keep myself distracted.
By the time the gun went off, we were all ready to get going. My strategy involved keeping my left side as close to the orange course markers as possible so that I found the most efficient way around the course without any zigzagging or drifting. Naturally, this is much easier when you aren’t in a flailing pile of splashing arms and legs, but you get the idea.
Overall I felt very strong on the swim except for a few areas when I got kicked in the face or accidentally swam on top of another racer (sorry!). As I turned into the straightaway and headed toward the shore, I tried my best to keep my head down and spotting to a minimum. No time for that! I felt the water getting shallow beneath me and eventually put my feet down to gain traction for the exit up the ramp.
Swim time: 24 minutes 37 seconds
Bike // I hate biking. Hate it. This is always the leg of the race that I dread most. I dreaded it most especially this year because I felt like I hadn’t had the opportunity to really do some solid rides in New York City. You know, the ones where you can actually crank in a high gear, work on speed, and get your legs race ready. I was also riding a too-small-for-me bike that was ten years old and had definitely seen better days. No aero bars. No bells and whistles. Just a slick coat of bright teal paint. It got the job done but I definitely had bike envy after seeing all of the fancy racing machines out there.
That said, the course was extremely flat with a lot of long straightaways – perfect for speediness and generally bike-hater friendly. I enjoyed watching the farmland and adorable neighborhoods whiz by, and even gave a wave and a “thank you!” to a few spectators who came out to cheer. What champs!
The course was cut short by 2 or 3 miles (yay!) due to a road accident (boo!), so we turned into the park a bit early. As I coasted down the straightaway I took my feet out of my bike shoes so I didn’t have to run with them after transition. I’m glad I did that because this transition is always the hardest. I remember getting off the bike, finding my mom in the cheering section, and screaming, “My legs! They’re jello!” I’m pretty certain I heard The Original Fit Crasher scream back, “Shake it off – keep going!”
Bike time: 1 hour 4 minutes 28 seconds
Run // This is where things got beastly. By this point in the morning, the temperature had cranked up to the high 80s and the humidity was close behind. There was zero cloud cover. And any breeze that blew felt like it was coming out a hair dryer. It was the kind of weather that you wouldn’t run in unless you had to, because the conditions were miserable and even a bit dangerous if not approached carefully. You always have to be extra cautious and keep your body temperature in check when the degrees and humidity are high.
I racked my bike, slipped on my running shoes (thank goodness for those bungie laces!), and threw on a hat to keep the sun off my face. I should have started running right then and there but my legs were wobbly and I was trying to mentally accept the fact that six miles of hot pavement stood between me and the finish line.
The course had a few shady spots during brief trail portions, but the majority of the run was on exposed concrete. Between the sun beating down from above and the pavement radiating heat from below, it literally felt like I was stuck in an oven.
There were water stops almost every half mile and I walked through every single one. Twice on the course we were handed washcloths dunked in ice water – whoever had that idea deserves a hug and a raise. Let’s just say it was really, really brutal out there. I run-walked the six miles and took one mini break to catch my breath. It was definitely not my strongest run ever, but considering the conditions I was just trying to get to the finish line as safely as possible.
Run time: 56 minutes 57 seconds
Finish line // After six miles through what felt like a preview of the fires of hell I finally locked eyes on the finish line. Nothing can describe the feeling of relief and excitement that washed over me as I barreled toward the timing pads. The crowd was loud. The announcer was booming. My support crew was electric. I threw my hands in the air and with an audible “I DID IT!” – the race was over.
The next few moments are a blur but I’m certain they involved grabbing an ice water and making a beeline for the cooling tent, which was basically a huge cold shower and the best thing ever. Again, whoever came up with that idea deserves a raise.
I met my crew at the other end and gave everyone a big, sweaty, elated hug. They earned it after nearly two hours of first-rate cheering. These guys are everything.
After months of physical training, mental nerves, pep talks, and more than a few “is this really a good idea?” moments…I had completed my goal. What a wild, beautiful ride. I am so, so thankful for the entire humbling, character building, and exciting experience. And I am so, so very thankful for all who supported me along the way. You guys are the best.
Race time: 2 hours, 31 minutes, 31 seconds.
Will I do another triathlon? You bet. The fire has been lit. But first I’m going to ride this post-race endorphin high for as far as it will take me. Oh, and make really good friends with the nearest foam roller.
Up next // A performance review of my awesome triathlon kit from Coeur Sports + a look at what’s next on my big crazy fit crash list!
PS…How awesome is this? A photo of me from the swim start at the NJ Triathlon in 2008 and the same photo taken from this past weekend. Photo credit to my brother and my mom – total race documentation rockstars. It gives me goosebumps. Seven years in the making!