Geneva Sprint Triathlon Recap

by ashleyd on July 21, 2014

Participating in my first triathlon was an incredible experience!

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Luckily, I was not alone yesterday as I headed to the starting line. Bo and I headed down from our house together as he and our friend Ranald were doing the sprint relay as Team Scotch. Bo signed up for the swim and the bike portion while Ranald elected to bring it home with the run.

Bo and I woke up around 5:30 in order to have a breakfast of banana, peanut butter and oatmeal along with a cup of coffee. Our gear was already organized in piles as many people had recommended, for each leg of the triathlon. After applying some Body Glide around my neck, under-arms, wrists, thighs, ankles and feet I put on my tri-suit. I opted for French braid pigtails yesterday as I knew I needed a hairstyle that would stay in place and was low enough for the swim and cycle in which I’d be wearing a cap and a helmet. I joined the two French braid pigtails in back with a third rubber band to ensure they would stay in place.

We left the house earlier than originally planned as we had a bit of a SNAFU Friday evening.  We accidentally mixed up our timing ankle bracelets and so needed to stop at the data center first thing to sort it out. At 6:15, after one final review of the packing list we put all the gear into our backpacks and hopped on our bikes. The start is three miles from our house which made getting there very easy. 

Neither of us could stop remarking how lucky we were with the weather. As we approached the lake, we could see that it was smooth as glass and the sun was just rising over the mountains. The temperature was warm but not hot.

302 The triathlon village was already alive with energy when we arrived. Many local athletes chose to pick up their bibs the morning of which meant many people arrived earlier than normal. We quickly found the DataSport van and sorted out the ankle bracelet issue before heading over to the transition area. Before entering the transition area a volunteer marked our right biceps with our number. Unlike other triathlons there was no age marking, just our numbers.

The transition area was easy to navigate with multiple racks set up and numbered, coinciding to the last three numbers on each participant’s bib. I followed the directions I’d read on many blogs and in my book and quickly but carefully set up my transition area. Bo and I opted to bring our own towels versus the Geneva Triathlon towels which were given out to participants in hopes it would help us find our bikes easier. 303

As you can see from the below picture, I hung my helmet on my bike handlebar along with my tri-belt. I also attached my Garmin to the handlebars in hopes that I could set it up on the bike in order to see my pace. My Gu pack was taped to the bike for easy access, and my water bottle was filled with Nuun to hydrate during the ride portion. On the towel, I put my cycle shoes first, unbuckled for easy access. I knew I wasn’t going to wear socks for the ride as I had ridden home from both my open water swim practices without socks and had no issues. I figured this would give my feet a chance to dry out a bit and save some time. Behind my shoes I organized my run gear including my unlaced and loosened shoes, socks that were rolled down and my visor. Since the run was a 5k I didn’t plan to run with music, instead just enjoying the energy.

301I grabbed my wetsuit, goggles, and swim cap before walking down to the start area with Bo. Even though it was warm enough to swim in the lake without a wetsuit, I opted to swim in my suit since my four open water swims were all in the wetsuit. I wasn’t alone either. About half the participants were in wetsuits.  Within minutes of getting to the start area, they announced that they’d be putting us in staging corrals, organized by our swim cap color.There were two cap colors, orange and yellow. Earlier in the day someone told us the yellow caps were the long distance and the orange were the sprint. Bo nor I knew what the “long distance” was since the Olympic triathlon took place on Sunday but assumed it meant it was a hybrid distance.  Just as we were entering the corral we found Emily, our official cheerleader and photographer.

IMG_7125 We exchanged cameras along with a bib for Ranald in case we couldn’t find him before the start. Within minutes, our youngest cheerleader showed up along with his mom.

IMG_7130IMG_7129It was so fun to see Sarah and Ugo before the race and his baby high five was the positive energy I needed to distract me from my nerves.

At 8:00 the first wave, yellow caps, made their way down towards the water for their start. We watched as minutes later a gun went off, and they excitedly started the swim. Boy were they fast! IMG_7138 At 8:10, 10 minutes before our start time, they allowed our wave to walk into Bains des Paquis and down to the pebble beach for a warm-up swim. IMG_7141The warm-up swim helped ease my nerves a bit as I was able to ensure my goggles were leak proof and my wet-suit and swim cap were in place. I also ran into my friend Lauriane, who is also on the P&G swim team with me. We talked strategy for a few minutes with Bo since we each knew we would not be the fastest swimmers and had fears of getting swum over or kicked in the face. We decided to start on the left side and do our best to keep moving forward. Bo recommended not getting in the back, even though we thought we might be slower as it would be hard to make our way forward. IMG_7148Five minutes later they called us out of the water, and our group of 200 or so swimmers lined up on the pebbles, ready to start the triathlon. I was all nerves at this point and told myself that I only had two goals for the swim leg: keep breathing and keep swimming.

IMG_7156 At 8:20, a gun signaled that the fun had begun. IMG_7173 The swim course was an L, which meant we swam straight forward for 300 meters before making a left turn at a large buoy and swimming the final 200 meters to shore.  I had no concept of my speed but just tried to keep moving forward. I was hit in the face once by someone’s foot as they swam breast stroke. But, I soon realized that I was passing people. I was only breathing to the left side due to the angle of the sun on our right and did my best to stick with breathing every three strokes. I counted in my head to stay calm and take my mind off of everything else. There was a pretty strong current which kept pulling me towards the left, pushing me a bit off course. Sighting every ten strokes helped me notice and fix this versus wasting too much time and energy. Before I knew it, we reached the bouy, made the turn, and I had my sight set on the blue exit ramp 200 meters ahead of me. I picked up speed considerably the last 200 meters as the crowd thinned out a bit, and I hit my stride. Before I knew it, I felt one, two strokes of pebbles and stood up to run up the ramp. That turned to a walk as I was a bit light headed. I heard Emily scream my name as I exited and saw she and Ranald waving.

SWIM: 12 minutes 54 seconds, Rank: 15th out of 54th for women 20-34

IMG_7188 I was ecstatic to finish the swim and notice that there were still a number of people in the water. I had not finished the swim portion last! I ran towards my bike as I stripped off my wetsuit. I couldn’t remember my number and was a bit disoriented so ended up running past my bike. Oops! Next time I’ll write my number on my hand as well since I couldn’t read my biceps as I was running and taking off my wetsuit. IMG_7189IMG_7198I tried to move as quickly as possible, putting on my shoes, strapping on my tri belt and helmet. I had to run with my bike through the transition area, which was a bit of a mess, before mounting it on the street 100 meters away. I’m not sure what that guy was doing with his hands on his hips? Taking in the nice view?

Transition 1: 2 minutes 18 seconds

IMG_7203 I ran over a mat tracker and quickly clipped into my bike, happy to have the wind drying me off and starting the bike. The bike course was a 7k loop which we had to complete 3 times. My co-worker stressed to me to ensure I did three loops as last year he fell short and did 2, not realizing he had to do 3. Since the first kilometer or two were pretty flat, I used this time to take a bit of water and try to set my Garmin. As I tried to fumble with my Garmin, I lost balance a bit and quickly decided that I was not coordinated enough to start and set my Garmin while cycling clipped in. Instead of worrying about pace or time I focused on those people around me and decided just to pedal as hard as I could. I focused on making full circles and engaging my gears properly. Before we hit the turn leading into the hill portion, I was passed by probably 20 people. This triathlon was not your average crowd. These bikers flew by on gorgeous, technical bikes, and I noticed that almost everyone was clipped in; a big difference versus triathlons I’ve spectated in the states. We hit the hill at the 2.5km mark. Holy hell! They weren’t joking when they said this course featured an “undulating hill.”  The climb, which is 1.5km in distance, ranged from a 6-10% grade. In fact, it was such a hill that 50 meters ahead of me two bikers collided as one person lost balance due to being clipped in at too slow of a speed. I shifted into the easiest gear so I could keep pedaling and made my way up, slowly but surely. This was the steepest climb I’ve done to date, and my only goal was to not get off and walk, as many people around me opted for that option. image I reached the top, out of breath and cursing the fact that I had to do it two more times. The rest of the loop was downhill and fast, sending us through 5 different turns. I haven’t practiced turns at any speed so just focused on doing what the person in front of me did, moving my feet to ensure nothing would hit the ground and turning into the curve. I reached the turn around spot and passed Emily, who was screaming and waving. I took my Salted Caramel Gu on the 2nd km of the 2nd loop, knowing I’d need the energy for the next two climbs.

IMG_7207 IMG_7206 Each loop left me a bit more devastated as that hill did a number on my quad, especially my left quad as I finally decided, on the second climb, to unclip my right leg. I had a fear of falling after seeing another accident and would rather be slower versus fall. To make matters worse, there was a motorcycle behind me which had a broom on it. The guy kept screaming “allez” so I thought he was the sweeper, picking up the back of the pack athletes. I cursed myself for not biking more hills and continued pushing forward. I had a momentary burst of energy when I saw Ranald running up the hill, crushing his run! We exchanged hellos and good luck before I cycled past him. In what seemed like forever, I finally finished the third climb and focused on going as fast as possible towards the transition area. I did my best to pass a few people, worried that I was in last place.

BIKE: 58 minutes 1 seconds, Rank: 29th out of 54th for women 20-34

I sped into the transition area, passing Emily one last time, before slowing down to unclip and ride my bike through the tracking mat.

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I had to go back through the tracking mat as we were told we had to walk through it, not ride through it. Come on Geneva, how about a sign, even in French, to tell us this. Emily said she saw multiple wrecks during the day as athletes ran into each other due to confusion. None of us knew the red flag signaled get off and walk versus slow down.

IMG_7249I think I’m saying “f*** that hill” at this point as my wobbly legs felt weak and tired. Emily and Bo quickly cheered saying how strong I looked and told me to hurry up and run. I asked Bo how his swim and bike went, and he excitedly told me they were great but to keep moving! I knew the run was my strongest leg, so was happy to get started. I moved as quickly as possible, grabbing a quick sip of water after putting my shoes and socks on my now almost dry feet. I ran through the transition area one last time, back towards the road, where the run portion took place on the sidewalk, next to the bikers.

Transition 2: 2 minutes 21 seconds

IMG_7264I had no clue how long I’d been moving as I never got my Garmin going and since my goal was to finish the triathlon and enjoy it; I didn’t even consider taking it off my bike for the run. I just started running, following the three people in front of me. One of them, a female, was in a triathlon team suit and the other was a man who looked quite athletic. I decided that my goal would be to stick with them as long as possible, eventually passing them. The run course included some slight hills, but nothing compared to the hill we’d just climbed. My legs were tired but happy to be running versus pedaling. We crossed a tracker mat before turning into the park where I welcomed the shady course as the temperature was already in the mid-80s. Realizing that I’d only drank a few sips from my bottle during the ride, I grabbed two cups of water when we passed the water station. I drank one and poured the other on my head and wrists to cool down. I remembered the portion of the park from the half marathon course and figured we’d go up one more hill before turning around to loop back down the lake, towards the finish line.

I hit my groove on the straight away, knowing this area of the lake very well since it’s where I do a number of my morning runs. I briefly saw a volunteer holding a sign which said finish and loop, thinking the loop must have been for the longer distance group or “yellow cap”. I knew that since we’d turned back towards the finish I had less than a mile left so started to push my body. I wasn’t sprinting but I started passing people, including the man and woman I’d followed initially.

There was so much energy coming at the finish that I could hear it before I saw the finish line and blue finishing mat. I started crying, knowing I’d just finished my first triathlon! I heard Ranald, Emily and Bo screaming and cheering as I crossed the finish line, out of breath but feeling strong.  IMG_7280IMG_7285High fives all around, we’d just finished the Geneva Sprint triathlon and I was already thinking about what I’d change for the race next year! I loved it, even the challenging bike portion.

IMG_7291 IMG_7293 IMG_7295 What an incredible feeling! I love running but there was something so empowering and gratifying about the triathlon. It took three sports, only one of which I was comfortable with a few months ago, and merged them into one event. As we all parted ways we were talking about the next Team Scotch relay and triathlon in our future.

Bo and I headed back to the transition area to get our stuff before riding back home, ready to shower and finish packing before heading down to the Wake Sport Center for another afternoon triathlon: swimming, sun and toasting our friends who are moving back to the US this week.

Bo excitedly sat down at the computer to find out their time, finding that they came in 6th place and Bo finished the swim in less than 10 minutes, placing 6th and Ranald’s sub 7 minute miles placed him 3rd for the run. I hadn’t even thought about time but figured I’d check. The site organized the results by legs, ranking you for each one. I squealed in delight when I saw my swim time put me in 15th place for my age group, out of more than 50 women! The bike was tough, as I expected, but I certainly wasn’t last. Instead I was 29th place. I expected to see around a 28 minute 5k but instead saw the letters DSQ. My throat clenched and my heart stopped. DSQ? I’d crossed the finish line. There were pictures to prove it. There must be an issue. I screamed, cried, and quickly started looking for help numbers. There must be some mistake. Bo called the info line for the triathlon only to find out we needed to head back down to the DataSport van again. Thirty minutes later, filled with tears and aggravation, I was standing in the van trying to understand why they disqualified me. I even brought the camera to prove I’d run. The guy explained that my run time was so fast that it would have put me in second place for all the females, ahead of some elites. His only explanation is I must not have done the second loop which was around 3/4 mile in distance. I stood there, turning around in embarrassment, and fell into Bo’s arms crying. At that moment, every emotion was going through my body. The past four hours had been a complete emotional roller coaster from moments: beginner nerves, elation, strength, defeat, strength, excitement to finish, celebration, confusion, denial, and now utter disappointment.

I didn’t train and focus on this triathlon just to disqualify. I had no idea there was another loop. In hindsight, I should have asked the guy when I saw the sign but at that point I had no idea and was just excited to have passed the people I’d followed for the first half of the run.

At this point, thanks to many wise words from friends, family members, and social media followers I’ve reached acceptance and returned to pride. I finished my first triathlon yesterday, though a mile or so short, I did in fact swim, bike and run. I did something I never thought possible a few months ago. Soon enough I will have an official time next to my name for a triathlon as I know there will be many more in my future. But for now, I’m going to turn my focus to the Berlin Marathon, which is September 28th and focus on the great accomplishments which Ranald, Bo and I each enjoyed yesterday.

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