first olympic triathlon : scoggins valley

Yesterday I was in Forest Grove Oregon, competing in the Scoggins Valley Triathlon, my first triathlon of Olympic distance (1.5KM swim, 40KM bike, 10KM run).  I finished in 2:49:23, good for 3rd (of 7) in the male 40-44 division (check out the results here).  Most importantly, it was an incredible learning experience.

The event is a small one, held on the same course used for the Hagg Lake Triathlon.  We swam two loops in the lake, then rode twice around the lake (with a short out and back to round out the distance), then a ‘quick’ out and back along the same road as the bike course.  There were 95 finishers in the Olympic tri, with about twice again as many sprint finishers.  However, for a pretty small event, it was very well-organized.

Although this was my first Olympic tri, I’d venture that the course is safely called Challenging.  According to mapmyrun.com, we did about 1400′ of climbing on the bike course, and about half of that on the run course.  These ascents are well within my capability as solo events.  Doing them in sequence was interesting

Shortly before the start, I ambled into the lake to warm up a bit.  I nearly cartwheeled in headfirst, as the bottom was very muddy, very slippery, with a quick dropoff.  The water was nice though – much warmer than expected.

I’d trained fairly well for the swim, logging a couple of good open-water swims and a good pool workout in the week before the race.  I’ve heard about people experiencing anxiety doing open water swimming, but I was surprised about how anxious I felt as I started to swim.  I could not calm down enough to breathe regularly while doing a freestyle stroke.  Instead I’d alternate backstroke, then roll over and try again.  It was bad enough that I wondered whether I’d be able to finish.  But then I reminded myself that if I stopped I’d have to think about this all winter before I got another shot. 

Fortunately I felt pretty good by the time I began the second swim loop.  By the time I finished, I was fine.  I don’t know what all of that was about, but hopefully I’ll be able to use this experience to relax more quickly next time.  I’d estimate that I lost perhaps one or two minutes in the swim to this little episode.

We came out of the water, scrambling up a pretty good hill into the transition area.  My transition skills were quite a bit smoother than during Beaver Lake, even if the time was pretty much the same (I think the run up out of the lake was a lot longer).  I felt pretty good as I headed out on the bike.

The bike course begins with a pretty good climb, which was an indicator of how the whole ride would go.  It seemed we were always going up or down, rarely level.  In the beginning miles I traded places several times with another guy on a Specialized bike, but I eventually fell back a little when I noticed my front brake rubbing.  I futzed with it and the noise went away.  Then a few minutes later it came back again.  Eventually I pulled over and took a look.  Fixing the brake was a simple matter of tightening it up, and probably only cost me a minute or so.  No telling how much of my brake pad I lost before finally pulling over.  Another lesson learned – I really should have checked my bike more closely when I set my stuff up.

As I mentioned, the bike course goes around the lake twice, with a short out and back added on for distance.  Well, the first time going out from the loop, I noticed a nasty climb of about a mile and a half coming back the other way.  I don’t know how much ascent it is, but it’s a grind. 

Even with the fatigue in my legs, it felt really nice to be out in the sun, getting a great workout, and enjoying the energy of the race.  As I pulled into the transition area again, it crossed my mind that I’d now need to run back along the same stretch as I’d just ridden.  And with the sun feeling much warmer, I kind of wondered how that would go.

Not very quickly – as things turned out.  I struggled with rubber legs coming back up to the road, and it took a good while before I felt like I caught my breath.  And then we slogged up the hills.  None of these hills were that challenging by themselves.  But the cumulative effect of maintaining nearly 18 mph on my bike (also on the hills, and counting my stop) had taken quite a bit of spring out of my strides.  I focused on a nice easy gait, a steady cadence, and tried to keep positive.

Here’s a good time to offer some thanks to the volunteers (particularly those on the run course).  There were plenty of them, and they were very helpful too, always having water and electrolyte drinks available.  Even better, their positive energy was contagious – and I needed all that I could get!

The cruelest twist of the day is that the final stretch on the road is a steady uphill.  You can see the turn into the chute for a while, but you’ve got to climb to get there.  I’d passed the five mile mark without feeling like I had much of a kick left, but did muster a bit more going up that last hill.  I made a vain attempt to catch a woman in front of me on the way in, but it wasn’t happening.  I finished tired, but still pretty satisfied that I’d worked hard.

I wandered over to get some food, and relaxed a bit.  Then I checked the posted results, and found that I’d placed in my age group (that’s the beauty of a small race!).  It was a kick getting to go up and pick up a medal – the first time I’d ever gotten to do that in any event!

Scoggins Valley marked the end of a (short) triathlon season for me.  Doing this Olympic tri also marks the achievement of a goal I’d set for myself several months back, while recovering from a persistent leg injury.

For years I’d sworn that I was too lazy to train for more than one event, and was convinced that my swimming was so lousy I’d be embarrassed.  It’s amazing what a little encouragement can do though.  My wife Kris (an experienced triathlete herself) helped me out a lot, with various training tips, advice on bikes, and with an well-timed referral to some coached swimming workouts.  And all of the cross-training has helped me train in lower-impact ways so that my leg healed to a significant degree.

As with running, I’ll never win one of these, but am looking forward to more fun next season!

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