My First Triathlon: Flat Tires and Lessons Learned

Tomorrow I’m doing the Issaquah sprint triathlon. Fun fact: the Issaquah sprint was my first-ever triathlon three years ago. In typical Mediocre Athlete fashion, my first race didn’t go so well. Basically, I should be able to PR tomorrow by about 45 minutes unless my leg falls off or I get abducted. I thought I’d offer up an exceptionally belated race report so you have an idea of how my first-ever triathlon went way back in 2008 — enjoy!

Back in 2008, I was training for my first half Ironman, the not-quite-half-Ironman-distance New Balance race in Victoria. I was a sorry sight, riding on a borrowed road bike with mountain bike pedals and swimming even more terribly than I do now. I was basically the Tai to Teresa’s Cher if this were the movie Clueless.

"Rollin' on a road bike..."

Teresa urged me and Jason to do the Issaquah sprint triathlon so we’d have a little bit of race experience going into the Victoria half Ironman. Since it was my first tri, I was ridiculously nervous.

Swim Summary

The swim was a teeny tiny 400 meters — it would take you longer to get your wetsuit on and off than it would to actually swim that distance. Of course, I was convinced I was going to drown. I swam with a handful of other girls in my age group, stopping at every buoy to gasp for air and gaze longingly at the shore.

Swim time: 10:29 (2:37/100 meters)

As embarrassingly crappy as my swim was, it marked the only time I’ve beaten Jas during the swim portion of a race. Since this was his first ever open water swim, he panicked and flailed in the water and I ended up edging him out by a minute or so. (Check out the only Mediocre Athlete post my lazy boyfriend has ever written for a recap of his swim from that race.)

Transition 1

My transitions have always been decent, even from the get-go, and my first race’s T1 was a respectable 2:14. I think I’m just anxious to get out of my stupid wetsuit as quickly as possible. No matter the reason, my transitions aren’t that bad.

Bike Summary

I hopped on my borrowed bike and made my way along the 15-mile course. It’s an out and back and I just puttered along with all the other racers. I didn’t have a bike computer at the time, so I had no idea how fast I was going or what my cadence was (it was probably pretty shitty). I momentarily went the wrong way when I followed some schmohawk who took a wrong turn, but thankfully the race volunteers quickly corrected us.

When I was a few miles from transition, I was descending a hill when I noticed an odd noise coming from behind me. “That doesn’t sound normal,” I thought, so once I got to the bottom, I got off the bike and checked my rear tire. It was dead flat. Great, I’d gotten a flat tire during my first triathlon and not only did I not know how to change a flat, I didn’t have any tools or spares with me so I couldn’t even attempt to figure it out. I kind of stood there for a while, not knowing what to do, before eventually click-clacking down the road while pushing my neutered bike.

Eventually my teammate Beth came along and, bless her heart, stopped to try and help me. She had a spare tire and tools, but the only problem was she didn’t know how to change a flat, either. We both fumbled around for a bit and got as far as taking the rear tire off before looking at each other, stumped and covered in sweat and bike grease. Jason rolled up and stopped, but since he didn’t know how to change a tire either, he resorted to staring at us quietly before offering up an extra spare just in case and taking off.

I felt so helpless and frustrated. I should have been done with this stupid race by now, but instead I was stranded on the side of the road with a shitty bike with one flat tire that I didn’t know how to fix. My mood kept switching from anger to embarrassment to amusement. As Beth and I continued to fumble, I looked up and saw a tiny middle-aged woman running across the street with a pump in her hand. She pulled a Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy on us and commanded us to “MOVE!” before taking over and expertly changing the flat. I stood there and watched her in awe. This lady knew her shit. (She informed us she cycles and that we indeed did not know what the hell we were doing.) With my tire now fixed (it was a good thing Jas stopped to give us a spare spare, because we broke the valve on Beth’s and ended up needing a backup) and feeling eternally grateful to both this Good Samaritan and to Beth, I took off and finished the rest of this godforsaken bike ride.

Bike time: 1:26:23 (a whopping 10.4 mph)

When I rolled into transition, it looked like a ghost town. Most everyone had been finished with their race for quite some time now while I still had to run three miles. Because of my ridiculous stubbornness (thanks to both my Korean mom and my Kelley genes), however, I soldiered on, intent on finishing this fucking race. I can’t quit my first triathlon! No matter how terrible my finish time, I needed to cross that finish line.

Transition 2

Because my transitions have always been halfway decent and since I was fueled by “my bike totally sucked” rage, I practically hurled my bike at the rack, grabbed my shoes, and was in and out of there in 1:29.

Run Summary

My legs were relatively fresh thanks to the excruciatingly long rest I had on the bike leg, so I blazed through the run course, passing the handful of people who were still racing. Most of them looked miserable, but a couple of people looked as pissed as me, which led me to believe that they also had some bike issues. The run course was pretty crappy — I ran through sprinklers, an industrial business park, and through a wet and grass clipping-filled soccer field before heading back to the finish. My shoes got destroyed but I didn’t care, I just wanted to put this whole damn thing behind me.

Run Time: 24:31 (8:10 min/mile, which was pretty fast for me at the time)

Overall time: 2:05:07

I came in dead last in my age group, but I did manage to beat a few people overall.

Even though my first ever triathlon was a spectacular failure, I did manage to learn quite a few things:

  1. No, you won’t drown during the swim portion of the race — just stay calm and focused and you’ll be fine
  2. Know how to change a freakin’ tire; you will be tested at some point, whether it’s during a race or just during a training ride (that season I ended up getting five flats, so by the end of 2008, I became a pro at changing tires)
  3. Don’t expect the race to go perfectly, because something can (and oftentimes will) go wrong
  4. How your race goes depends on your attitude and how you react in the face of adversity
  5. Don’t ever give up on yourself

So yeah, my first triathlon was a big clustercuss. Oh well, they can’t all go great, right? I’ve gotten a lot better since then and have learned even more about myself and about the sport, so barring some sort of catastrophic incident tomorrow, I should be able to post a huge course PR. Of course, if I get another flat tire, I’m going to assume it’s the Triathlon Powers That Be’s way of telling me I shouldn’t do the Issaquah sprint ever again…but at least now I know how to change a flat, so even if I go in expecting the worse, I can still come out on top.

5 Responses to “ “My First Triathlon: Flat Tires and Lessons Learned”

  1. Mary Moltman says:

    So, where’s the race report for this year? Spectacular finish, I’m sure! Inquiring minds want to know…

  2. stella says:

    loved this. thank you for the story. i’m freaking about my next race in two weeks…

    • Rebecca says:

      I do the same thing — just try to be confident in yourself and trust that you’ll do the best you can. (I often forget to tell myself this. It’s sound advice, damnit! Listen to yourself, Rebecca!)

  3. Vern L says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    Come to Thailand and do my newly created event… the mile vertical climb. Not on a bike, just climbing stairs outside. AWESOME location – Krabi, Thailand. Climb 1,237 steps in 90+ degree heat with 90%+ humidity… six times. Fun stuff, I’m sure I don’t need to explain.

    If you ever get a wild hair up your ass… it’s an awesome experience. Cheers, Vern

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