FIRST TRIATHLON RACE REPORT – OC International Triathlon

This is my race report for my first ever triathlon, the OC International Triathlon. It is an olympic distance triathlon at Lake Mission Viejo in Southern California. Here’s is the short version: I choked it, then I smoked it, then I poked along. Overall I’m really pleased, but man-oh-man there are some lessons for me to learn here and maybe it might help someone learn from a few observations and mistakes.

My “About Me” page will tell you a bit about me. I am 49 years old, and “ex”-competitive swimmer from HS and College. A freestyle sprinter. All fast-twitch muscle fiber and efficient in the water. I was an ocean lifeguard in Southern California. I thought I was pretty comfortable in the open water.

I’ve been cycling for about 4-5 years, pool swimming for the last several months on a reasonably regular basis, and running when I wasn’t injuring my ankle.

The OC International Triathlon was on May 20th, 2012. A perfect day. The water was 72-74 degrees (23 C) and although I didn’t sleep very well the night before, I awoke with plenty of time. I drank some Ensure, had some warmed mashed sweet potato, and drank a double shot Starbucks coffee drink. After setting up transitions and taking care of the bowels, I suited up out by the water.

It was not a mass start. Done in waves – youngest to oldest. I was with the older guys in our blue caps. There was maybe 150 in our start wave. I was calm and relaxed and felt pretty good. I was never worried about the swim. I can swim about a 1:10 for the 100 yd in training and a pretty smooth stroke as seen in one of my training videos (in slow motion, BTW). So our wave starts off and I take off like I remember from lifeguarding. I dolphin jump off the bottom the get out there quickly. Quick is the operative phrase. I went out too quick and got my heart rate up, then I realized that I could not catch my breath, then I realized how constrictive the wetsuit was around my chest. It was not a full on panic attack, but it was pretty close. I tried to keep moving forward with back stroke or breaststroke, or at time, just treading. It just did not make sense at the time as I never thought panic in the water could happen to me. I happens to novice swimmers only, right? So finally at about the halfway buoy, I finally settled down into a rhythm and began to pick it up. What a humbling experience. It gives my much more empathy for the new swimmers in the sport.

Must…get..these…constrictive items off me!

T1 and BIKE
Made it out of the water. Peeled off the wetsuit without a problem and found the bike. I draped a towel across the front of the bike to help me find it and allowed for a quick towel off. I sprinkled a bit of talcum powder on the feet and arms. The big dilemma I have been facing the week prior was “socks or no socks”. I had just bought a new pair of cycling shoes and wasn’t sure if they were fully broken in so I went with the socks. So my big luxury was socks and arm warmers. I thought I would be colder on the ride that I actually was. Both items took just a few seconds to put on and were nice to have. The talc helped with both. The bike mounting was quick even without much practice, and off I went.

The ride through Santiago Canyon is hilly and challenging. I felt great.

OC Triathlon Elevation map for cycle leg

Although many of the younger riders were already way ahead on the course, I was passed by only 3 or so riders, but I probably passed 80 or more. My average speed was 19.5mph and my maximum speed was 43mph on the descent near the end. I was riding with a much higher average heart rate than I am used to and I found it difficult to get down the fluids I had intended. I was to trying to empty at least 3/4 of my Cytomax in the water bottle, but actually downed less than 1/2. I consumed maybe half of one GU gel. I just didn’t think it would get digested. Mistake? Probably not. I took in enough low fiber, easily digestible calories pre-race. Probably didn’t need it after all.

Now I’ve caught my breath and feeling strong.

T2 and RUN
The T2 transition was quick, and off on the run. I didn’t feel particularly odd starting the run like I had expected. I thought the legs would feel like wood. I just set a reasonable pace like the others and set out. I had not run for 3 weeks prior to this even as I had been nursing an atypical left medial malleolar ankle sprain. It was odd as inversion or eversion never hurt, but it was point tender right on the bony prominence. I felt more like a stress fracture. Odd too because there was never an actual injury. I did it running fast on the treadmill. Felt great at the time, but paid for it later. The ankle was 100% for the race, thank goodness. No complaints there. The course was hilly and like many others, I found myself walking parts of the very steep sections. I was watching my heart rate monitor and I wouldn’t let my heart rate go above 162-163 because of the concern that if I went to anaerobic, it would be difficult to recover from. I guess I did save a little for the end and was able to pick it up the last few hundred yards so I could finish looking good and strong.

Looking a little ragged, but doing OK

Overall time: 2:30:50.2
Place in Age Group (45-49): 7th
Place among Males: 53rd
Place overall: 60th
Swim: 27:18
Bike: 1:13:37 (19.5 mph)
Run: 48:38
Overall satisfaction with results: Very pleased. My goal was to break 2:30 and place in the top 1/3 of my age group. Definitely did that.


  • It doesn’t matter how many times you have rehearsed a part of the event in your head or what background you have (like me with swimming), you need to practice under similar conditions whenever possible prior to your first event.
  • I didn’t need as much nutrition as I thought I would. I don’t think it would be absorbed in enough time anyways.
  • A forced longer taper (ankle sprain) didn’t seem to hurt too much. Better to let it heal, than to force a run before it was ready.
  • The elliptical machine is a good running substitute when you have ankle problems.
  • When you don’t have time for long rides, do hills, hills, and more hills. Over the last few months I was doing 600 foot climbs at 4-9% grades and repeating 4-7 times. Awesome. I passed a lot of other riders on the climbs. That felt great.
  • I chose to preferable ride my road bike fitted with aerobars rather than my triathlon bike which still doesn’t quite feel right. Ride the bike you have the most power with and where feel more comfortable.
  • Coffee is good. Use it especially if you are not naturally a morning person. Don’t worry about the diuretic effects of caffeine.
  • Goggle straps should go on the outside of the swim cap. When you pull the goggles away fom your eyes to empty or rinse them, the friction of the cap will prevent the straps from fully pulling the goggles back toward the eye. Hard to explain, but try it out inside and outside the cap. See if you notice a difference.

Overall, I had a blast. Totally surprised by the difficulty I experienced with the swim, but that is not a physical issue and is completely manageable. Now I have to start looking at the calendar for event number 2!

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9 Responses to FIRST TRIATHLON RACE REPORT – OC International Triathlon

  1. Great Report! It’s always nice to reflect on the race that’s passed and see what lessons there are to be learned. I’m planning my first Olympic distance now and will be following your advice to get out for some open water swims prior to the race.

    • At first I didn’t quite understand the value of the race report. Personally, it is a chance to preserve the memory of the event you worked so hard for while it is fresh in your mind. It is also a way to learn from your own performance and hopefully use it to make improvements in the future. Also, it helps others learn some of the tricks and techniques when new to the sport.

  2. DannyCapp says:

    Congrats! That is a phenomenal effort. Boy am I jealous of your swim, even with your initial issues. Nicely done…

  3. Great result. 7th in such a competitive age group at your first attempt is fantastic.


  5. Kimberly / says:

    This was fun to read! My first tri is tomorrow morning. I’m doing a sprint distance this weekend and an Olympic distance next weekend. I’m sure I’ll be fine once I get there, but the anticipation is killing me!

    • Stay calm at first. Your adrenaline will already be flowing. Start out slower than you think you need to. Warm up in the water more than you think you need to. All lessons learned from my first Tri.

  6. luckytiff says:

    Wow! Awesome job for your first triathlon! I always have anxiety issues in the open water swimming during practice… big time anxiety. During my first tri with an OWS though, it was awesome and I was the most relaxed and calm as I have been ever in the water, pool or otherwise. Practice definitely helps, but mind over matter is what I have learned…. just hope that will pay off in my next race!

  7. Tahira says:

    Bravo to you! Congratulations!

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