By now I'm sure you all know that Keegan and I competed in some races this weekend in Tongyeong, just across the bridge from Geoje Island. I'd like to share a little bit about what it was like.
Saturday morning we got up early so that we could make the drive to Tongyeong in time to be there about an hour before the 8:00 start. I got very nervous as we crawled along through traffic in the city, reliving all of my many anxiety dreams about being late for the start. Finally, we made it to the race area, and I was able to dispel my anxiety with some stretches and the arduous process of squeezing my unwilling body into an extremely tight neoprene casing (otherwise known as a "wetsuit"). By the time I did that and donned my bright yellow race swim cap, it was time to line up on the starting platform.
Ready to race
I have to hand it to the race organizers - there was no messing around at the start, so I didn't have too much time to be nervous before the starting siren went off. It was my first open water swim in competition. For those of you who haven't done one either, you should take a minute to understand why many beginning triathletes find the swim leg particularly daunting. It involves:
a - plunging into the water with a crowd of other people who are dead set on getting back out of the water faster than you while
b - wearing a very tight wetsuit that fills with a layer of water that is
c - often very cold or filled with scary fish and usually very murky which means that
d - you can't really see any of the other competitors or the scary things that might be in the water and
e - you have to put your head under the water, exert yourself athletically, and somehow manage to breathe lots of air and not lots of water. Oh, and
f - you better hope your goggles don't get knocked off by all the commotion.
Fortunately for me, the aquathon field was very small, so the number of other people jostling for position in the water was much less daunting than it could have been.
The small aquathon field
Also, since it is August, the water was a very comfortable temperature. It wasn't hard to get going, and when I did jostle other people, the extra buoyancy of the wetsuit made it easy to poke my head up and chart a better course. Also, when jostling occurred it was easy for the other swimmers to get out of the way. The only problem I had on the swim was that my goggles got some water in them, which was annoying. I took a second to quickly empty out the offending goggle (is that what you call it?) and then resumed swimming. I also noticed that I had a little trouble breathing in my normal three stroke rhythm, but that has happened to me in every tri I've competed in. I think it's the adrenaline. I might have been able to swim faster if I could have relaxed a little. I also have to admit that I had a little trouble staying close to the buoy line that marked the course, especially after making a turn. But all in all, it was a successful swim, and I know I'll be much more confident approaching the next one.
After the swim was over (my time was 18:36 for 1k), I ran out of the water and into the tiny transition area, shedding goggles, swim cap, and most of my wetsuit on the way. As I fumbled with my shoelaces, I silently cursed my lack of "speed laces" which allow you to tighten your laces with just a little plastic slider rather than tying them with clumsy, waterlogged fingers. I also fumbled with my new race belt, which is supposed to be a quick and easy way to put on your race number after you get out of the water. I tried to buckle it behind my back, which was dumb. Next time I'll mess with the buckle in front of me and then turn the number around. These are the silly logistical things that make tris (and aquathons) fun. I think I spent about two minutes in the transition, including the run from the water to the transition area.
The unprofessional race-belt fumble
The first part of the run was just around the parking lot, and I didn't see many other competitors. After about eight minutes, we left the parking area and headed out on a long, beautiful trail next to the water. A member of the Geoje Tri Club named Oscar ran with me for a while, and his heart rate monitor provided a rhythmic beep-beep-beep for me to set my pace to. Just before the turnaround, I passed a female competitor. At the turnaround, Oscar pulled ahead, and a race official told me that I was the third place woman. I was thrilled, but also worried because I had just passed the fourth place woman and knew that she was not far behind me. I spent the whole way back to the parking lot worrying that she would overtake me, especially when I started to slow and got a shoulder cramp about 45 minutes into the run. But fortunately, I got a second wind when I got back to the parking area, and was able to finish with a kick. My time was about 53 minutes for the run, just over 8:30 per mile. I ended up three minutes ahead of the fourth place woman, but I was glad that I felt her breathing down my neck the whole way home because it helped me keep my pace up.
After the race there was a nice awards ceremony with medals, certificates, and a podium. Jacki, our friend and super-athlete whose husband works with Keegan, won the race, and I maintained my third-place spot to the finish. There were eight women in the race, so it was a small field, but I was still happy about my success and motivated to do better in the next race, whenever that may be.
On the podium
(I am not trying to steal Jacki's spotlight. They told us to get close.)
On Sunday, we were back to Tongyeong very, very early for the 6 a.m. start of the triathlon. Several friends and acquaintances from Geoje competed in the race, including Jacki's husband Matt, Keegan's co-worker David, and another guy who works at the Samsung Shipyard, Charlie, who I hadn't met before. Jacki and her kids, David's wife Joanne, and I all watched the race together. The swim course and the bike course involved three laps apiece, so we had lots of opportunities to cheer our men on. Jacki's two beautiful blond kids got a lot of attention from Korean women who were also watching the race. In fact, they got so much attention that I started getting angry. Numerous women completely ignored the little girl's frown and angry gestures and touched her face and hair, and one woman even picked up Jacki's son and held him, without saying anything to me or Jacki. How can you not know that it is totally inappropriate to touch other people's kids, especially when they CLEARLY don't want to be touched? I was really shocked.
Matt finished fourth among the elite age-group athletes, and Keegan was ninth out of twenty-nine in his age group. Everyone except for Matt, for whom this was the seventh triathlon of the year, said that the run was pretty tough, and I think both Keegan and David got some nasty cramps on the run. But everyone also was motivated to train harder for the next one and was happy to have competed.
Keegan finishes his first Olympic distance triathlon.