When Triathlons Turn Into Duathlons (And So Can You!)
I was once told I have an expressive face. It only happened exactly once, but I remember this comment very well. I wear my emotions all over my face, neck, and even hands. I know, where am I going with this? Well, bodies of water are the same way. They wear the recent weather like the latest trend. Heavy rain can cause a faster current, leading to mucky water from erosion. Wind and tides generate rough waves and undertows. Outdated sewage systems cannot handle excessive precipitation, and sewage leaks into our waterways. And just like my face shows during a miscommunication, delayed reactions happen too when the effects of a large storm are not realized until the following day.
Sometimes there is no choice but to cancel the swim portion of a triathlon for safety reasons. While disappointing, that is what happened this past weekend at the Escape Philadelphia Olympic Distance Triathlon after heavy rainfall the prior day caused the Schuylkill River to fill with debris. Here is how I coped with the cancelled swim (and so can you!):
1. I gave myself 5 minutes to be disappointed.
As I watched the milk chocolate water flow by, I kept in mind that I wouldn’t have to wash sewage contents out of my wetsuit when I got home.
2. I unpacked my wetsuit, goggles, and cap.
And I set my alarm for 15 minutes later. Do you know how long it takes me to put on my wetsuit if I don’t want to tear it with my fingernails? Long enough to watch the TBS version of Sex and the City reruns (without commercials), which is about 15 minutes. Men (and women with short fingernails) – this is where you have a big advantage. But you can still come to me the next time you need to take keys off of a keyring.
3. I removed my bib from my belt and pinned it to my jersey.
Don’t get me wrong, I dig the midriff loin belt look, and if anyone has to worry about their tri top riding up and exposing their navel, it’s me. However, not having to worry about flipping a bib belt around to my back before the bike ride (or else having it get crunched up in my lap) was a relief. Pinning my bib to my jersey also meant one less thing to worry about! How’s that for a pointer? (No pin intended.)
4. I warmed up A LOT.
The Escape Philadelphia race changed the format to a “dry tri,” a run-bike-run, splitting the 10K run into a pre-bike 2 miles and a post-bike 4.2 miles. Starting the race with a two mile run required me to be warmed up as if I were running a conservative two mile race. My first mile ended up being 5:45 and my second, a 5:54. Mobility movements, strides, and getting my heart rate up before the race were not overlooked. My racewife and pro triathlete Cecilia had a similar warmup routine that you can read more about here.
5. I put on socks.
Sweet, sweet mittens of the feet. (I love the Feetures Elite!) I have yet to find a pair of fast shoes that don’t give me blisters, so I always appreciate not having to worry about the raw skin burn in my post-race shower.
6. I scouted the new T1.
A different course means a different T1! I got to know it like the schedule of my upstairs neighbor. Laurel Wassner, 5th pro at this race, made a great observation that the final ~200m of the run at Escape Philadelphia was like an XC course – I agree! Give me muddy grass over smooth pavement any day.
7. I kept my transition area neat.
Not that I throw my swim cap into the air like a graduation hat or fling my goggles and wetsuit at spectators, but when you do a run-bike-run, you want to know where the heck your running shoes went after the first run so you can find them for the second run.
8. I biked hard.
With legs already warmed up from a run, I was ready to start pedaling hard as soon as I got on the bike. The course was essentially two 12.4 mile flat loops around Fairmount Park but with 4 offshooting doohickies (sorry, there is no better word!) per loop that go up hills of 50-200 feet and make some kind of 180 degree turn. My first loop was 21.5 mph and I averaged 21.3 mph for the whole bike leg, so I was pleased with the consistent effort.
9. I was patient on run #2.
It seems obvious, but running after a run and a bike ride is harder than running after a swim and a bike ride. When I started the second run, I had to check to see if there were lead platforms on my running shoes. My pace was actually right where I wanted it to be – a 6:10 – but it didn’t feel so smooth. I waited for my legs to come to me, and eventually they did, with subsequent splits of 6:11, 6:20, 6:04, and 5:40 (final 0.2 miles), for a 6:08 average pace overall.
Run #2 was two out-and-backs, so there was a considerable amount of foot traffic. Between getting spilled on, the cheering, and the crowds of young men, I wasn't sure if I was at a frat party or a triathlon. Having played lots of video games growing up that required timing multiple obstacles at once, the dodging didn’t slow me down; in fact, finding a clean line gave me something else to think about.
10. I still celebrated.
I placed 1st amateur woman (including the barely advertised age group elite category) and 7th woman overall. Winning my age group secured me a paid entry to Escape From Alcatraz in 2018 – a $750 value!
Did the lack of a swim play to my favor? Certainly. There’s no denying that a higher percentage of the race was running – my best discipline – however, I signed up and traveled to Philadelphia (and all of my triathlons) to do a triathlon. This amazing sport that requires a large body of water makes it a fickle beast. So as long as weather is unpredictable, so is our water, and so is our sport. We just got to roll with the punches (or lack thereof when swims are canceled!) and make adjustments, not excuses!
Next race: NYC Triathlon on Sunday, July 16th