I finished an Olympic distance triathlon in 2011, but it was kind of a disaster and I was in tears by the end. I set a goal for myself to finish an Olympic in 2012 with a big smile on my face, and I picked the Rattlesnake Triathlon at the Aurora Reservoir to get the job done.
I was up early Saturday morning! (I love Saturday races and prefer them times ten million to Sunday races.) We left around 5 am, when it was still dark. Sipped a smoothie and a little gatorade in the car. Ate a peanut butter sandwich.
This is my 5 am face.
We got to the Aurora Reservoir around 6. I was happy that parking was so close to transition. The sun was just rising, and everyone was hanging out by the water taking pictures of the pretty sunrise.
Packet pickup was easy enough and then I went in to set up transition. For some reason setting up transition always reminds me of moving into a new dorm room. I guess because it feels so important that you set everything up just so, but it’s still just a tiny patch of the world for all your junk. Since Chris wasn’t racing, he wasn’t allowed into the transition area, so I picked a spot near the rail. So, you know, we could hang out through the bars. Like he was dating someone in prison.
I think I was literally in the worst corner of the transition area (farthest from the bike out) but at least it wasn’t crowded. Plus it was on the edge, so little chance I’d get lost on my way back.
Another sexy facial expression.
Once everything was set up, we headed down to the water. It was such a luxury to be able to carry my hoodie, sunscreen, and flip flops to the edge of the reservoir but then to be able to hand them off to Chris. (Usually we do the same races, but he injured his back, so he didn’t do this one.)
The water could not have felt more perfect. It was like exactly the same temperature as the air or something. I normally take a while to acclimate to the water. It’s usually really hard for me to put my face in and I need a long time to warm up. This was just…hop in, start swimming, no big deal. I guess this is the one perk we get from the hottest summer ever, because the Aurora reservoir is notoriously cold.
The swim was a time trial start. They let someone into the water every three or four seconds. The order was elites first, then women then men, oldest to youngest. This put me about half way through the line. I was happy about that because the last time trial start I did I was almost the last person in the water and I ended up standing around in the sun in my wetsuit forever.
Big wave and smile to Chris before getting in. Swimming is my favorite leg of a triathlon, so I’m always feeling awesome at this point. The gal right in front of me is actually my next door neighbor! So we are neighbors at home and at this race.
Hi, I’m Mel! I’m ready for swimming, thank you!
One more turn around to wave and smile. I really only do races because I love smiling and waving to cameras, and the famous actress gig didn’t work out.
There was a rope along the first 3/4 of the swim, and I felt like I could move along pretty quickly since I didn’t have to sight at all, just kept looking at the rope to my right. That part was pretty sweet. The downside was that because people were trying to stick pretty close to the rope, the swim felt more congested than I have experienced before. I got kicked and punched more than normal. I usually describe open water swims as feeling more like bumper cars than anything else. You bump up against another swimmer and then you both sort of drift away from each other. Not for this swim. Someone would bump into me and then keep stroking their arms into my back and head.
Coming out from the first lap.
Headed into the second lap.
The second lap finished on another part of the shore. I tried to really swim as fast as I could, but in the last quarter I had to sight, too. It’s funny; I think I practice open water swimming a lot. Probably more than most casual triathletes, but no matter how much time I spend swimming even strokes in Bowles Reservoir, I always feel a little bit like a flopping, flailing mess in a race.
Coming out of the water, looking at my watch.
Never stop waving and smiling!!
I came out of the water feeling great! I got a tiny side stitch half way through the swim, but I knew my swim was the best I could do, and I was having a great time. This is also the part of the race where I was around the most people. With my pace, I’m not generally surrounded by a lot of other racers during the bike or the run, so I like having company.
I would like some major authenticity points for posting these extremely unflattering photos of volunteers helping to strip off my wetsuit. I think I probably could have gotten it off faster myself, but wetsuit strippers are just…I don’t know. They are such a funny and amazing thing, I just can’t pass them up. When else does anything like this ever happen to you?
Ran up to transition. It felt like the swim finish was about 9 million miles away from the swim finish. It took me about three minutes to get there. I’m generally a pretty modest girl, so running in shorts and a sports bra is my least favorite part of a triathlon.
Got to transition. Put on my shirt, cycling gloves, helmet, sunglasses, sunscreen, and shoes and socks. Please note the man leaning over here, trying to get his cycling jersey on.
So, Chris is taking these photos, standing just on the other side of the partition/barricade outlining the transition area. This guy ended up asking him for help pulling his jersey down because, dudes, it’s really hard to pull down your shirt when you’re all wet.
The yellow flags here are the bike out. I had really positioned myself poorly with a ton of stuff to maneuver through on my way out, but oh well. I left the “good” spots for people who cared about time.
Off to the bike! SMILE! And WAVE!
The bike is consistently the toughest part of a triathlon for me. Too bad since it’s the longest part.
The course started out on this really bumpy road within the park. I think it’s called chip seal? It didn’t feel good, and since I’m basically terrified of flying off my bike at any moment, I didn’t not enjoy all the bouncing. I felt a lot better once we got on Quincy Road. But though the road was much smoother, there was basically zero flat road on this bike course. Look at this elevation profile! It was all terrifying steep downhills and excruciating uphills.
Even though I have ridden this road several times to practice, it was still tough. And very shortly I was feeling pretty lonely on the course. I sang some songs (Can you pay my hills, can’t pay my telephone hills, can’t pay my auto-mo-hills, then maybe baby we can chill!) and gave myself little pep talks (“Mel! You are going to go up this hill! You are going to keep pedaling! And you are going to friggin ROCK this!”)
The last few miles were tough both because they were uphill but also because I couldn’t remember exactly how long the course was. Iwas like…23? 24? 26? I couldn’t remember the total mileage so I wasn’t sure how long I had left.
Through the magic of race recaps, I come back into transition after just a few lines of text! But it was really two hours.
The bike was long, and it was hard. I was happy to be done, and I was happy to be running. Of the three legs of a triathlon the run is just the most simple. There’s not really any special equipment, you’re not jostling amongst other people. You just run.
I was happy there was an aid station at each mile marker. I grabbed some water and Gatorade at each one, and it was nice to break up the six miles into six short chunks.
I used my phone’s RunKeeper app to prompt me to run/walk on 5/1 minute intervals. I can do anything for five minutes if I know I get a walk break. There were a few times when I heard the beep for the walk break and I couldn’t help but exclaim “Oh thank god.” It was hot. I was kind of by myself for the last three miles. I had to pee, and I was getting sunburned, despite applying sunscreen before the race and at both transitions. There is just not shade out there, and it’s draining.
The way the path snakes around the reservoir, it looked like you were very close to the finish line when you still had more than a mile to go. That was such a bummer.
But as I approached the finish line there were these young girls in pink with pom poms. I don’t know if they were local high school cheerleaders or what, but they made me so happy. And come to find out, Chris had enlisted their help along with the spectators and volunteers at the finish line. He told them my name and asked for a little extra cheering and spectator love.
I was so confused as I approached the finish and heard people yelling “GO MEL! Bring it home to a strong finish, Mel! You can do it, Mel!” I teared up a little and ran as fast as I could to the finish line. I felt so good, and knew I had done my very best. I gave someone a high five and did my best to smile and get a good finish line photo for the race photographer.
I gave Chris a huge hug, raised my eyebrows a little at the medal (a bottle opener on a chain) and devoured some of the awesome post-race food. I ate a bagel with cheese, mini carrots, grapes, and watermelon. I was super impressed by the fresh produce, not something you see at every race.
Overall I felt great about this race. I had fun, I worked hard, and I felt like I did my best. I would definitely recommend it (if you love hills on the bike) and I’m a little tempted to sign up to do it again next summer and see if I can beat my time, or do the “Back to Back” option. There’s an Olympic on Saturday plus a Sprint on Sunday. One summer I will do both. Maybe. Probably. (Definitely.)