Anatomy of a Sprint Triathlon – Part 2

(Note:  If you haven’t read Part 1 of this post and would like to, read my previous post “Here’s What Happens Before the Race Begins.”)

Since this was my first triathlon – both ever and at this venue – two weeks before the race I participated in a clinic sponsored by the race organizers. Clinic attendees were introduced to the course and transition logistics, completing a small part of each leg of the course.

The clinic made a huge difference for me.  I now knew generally what to expect, so any stress from the uncertainty I felt (in that department) dissipated.

During the clinic I also learned that the vast majority of participants were going to be wearing wet suits for the swim.

Not me.

Having been in the water during the clinic without a wet suit, I realized I didn’t need one. For me, the water temperature this time of year in the Bay was just fine, and I’m a strong and frequent swimmer.

And yet…

Despite all my training and preparedness, I still felt nervous.


I was doing everything by myself (I am single), including getting to and from the race. Admittedly I chose this race precisely because of its proximity to my home only four miles away, but the prospect of doing everything solo was probably the most intimidating aspect of this undertaking as race day approached.

But when race day finally dawned – beautiful and clear, by the way –  I started to feel the benefits of doing everything on my own. I knew what to bring in the way of clothing, equipment, hydration, and nutrition. I put everything into my backpack, secured my helmet, hopped on my bike, and rode my way down to Jack London Square.

An easy, seamless exercise, precisely because it was only me.

And because it was 5:30 am on a Sunday morning.

When I arrived, I racked my bike and assembled all of my gear on a towel  for the transitions between each leg of the race. I made pleasant small talk with some of the other triathletes which eased pre-race tension.

As 7:00 am approached, it was time to assemble in the water for the first leg, the swim.

The triathletes wore different-colored swim caps depending on their age group. Each group began in a different wave, spaced four minutes apart. With my green cap, I was part of the fourth wave.

And as the horn sounded for my group to set off, I felt a rush of adrenaline as my my hands and arms suddenly cut into the water.

Open water swimming
Open water swimming Photo: Jorge Romero

It was awesome.

As I made my way stroking vigorously down the Oakland estuary, I was feeling “in the zone,” occasionally glancing up to keep properly directed and safely spaced from other swimmers.

About ten minutes into the swim, I found myself passing a couple of orange-capped swimmers. They had started four minutes ahead of our wave.

And as I passed these swimmers, something clicked.

Now my desire to simply “complete the race” shifted to “compete in the race.”

I tore into the water with greater intensity. I realized I had to take full advantage of my strength as a swimmer in this first leg since running – the last leg – was my weakest.

Soon the swim finish was in sight, 0.6 miles from its start. As racing assistants pulled me out of the water onto the dock, I quickly planted my feet on the ground and commenced running up the plank and a few hundred feet to where I had placed my running shoes. Not only did I have the advantage of not having to peel out of a wet suit, my triathlon suit was made for the entire race.  There was even a cushion sewn into the seat for biking.

Oakland Sprint Triathlon swimming venue - Jack London Square/Oakland Estuary
Oakland Sprint Triathlon swimming venue – Jack London Square/Oakland Estuary

No lost time there.

I ran about a quarter mile to my bike, donned my helmet, threw energy gels and a Clif bar into the pocket of my suit, and off I went.

I am very fond of my bike, but it is by no means a racing bike.  It’s a  21-speed, 10-year-old hybrid upright. I know it well, and it seems to know me.  And the bike course was wonderful; flat, traversing the wide streets around the Port of Oakland, no cars.

As I rode and got my bearings, I was heartened by the fact that the only people passing me occasionally were all much younger than me and mostly male. This awareness once again fueled my focus and determination to, well, kick ass.

After 13 miles without incident, I was back at transition, readying myself for the 3.1-mile run.

I could not have been better poised psychologically for this final feat.

Removing my helmet, I was off and – you guessed it – running.

And while the run was no less painful and challenging than it had ever been in my training runs, what was encouraging was that it wasn’t really any MORE painful and challenging. Plus, I had the benefit of adrenaline and a determined mindset to keep my pace as steady as it had ever been.

People running in Triathlon
Run portion of the triathlon. Photo: Martins Zemlicki

And when the home stretch came into view, I broke out into what I could muster of a sprint.

And as I crossed the finish line, I had a really good feeling.

The feeling that comes in a sweet instant after months of hard work.

The feeling that comes when fear has been conquered.

The feeling that comes when you know it has all turned out better than you had ever imagined.

And when all was said and done, out of about 800-1,000 racers, I came in 131st with a time of 1:50:53 and second in my age group.

And my run time? 31 minutes, which meant I had run 10-minute miles.

So what’s the takeaway from all this, you might ask?

Setting positive goals and working towards them brings a dynamic momentum to life.

Getting out of one’s comfort zone expands one’s life.

And remember, it’s all a journey. Make it as worthwhile as you can.

Sue with her bike at end of triathlon
The finish of my first sprint triathlon.






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