My First OLY – self-coached


Angie Barnes bought an off-the-shelf plan from my Training Peaks store and programmed it to race day. This is how it went.

So, how did I get to this day?—the RAK Olympic distance triathlon.  Months ago, when we made the decision that I would quit my teaching job in order to help my daughter settle into university in the US and be more available for my son in his last year of high school studies, I knew that I would need something to keep me motivated each day—to get me up in the morning because I now did not have the structure of a job.  So….  I decided I would like to do a triathlon. 

I had been a swimmer in high school (not great, but fine) and had kept in shape through the years (kind of the minimum recommended 3 times a week type exercise).  I regularly swam and a few years ago had gotten myself up to running 5k.  (Then I stopped running because I hate it!)  I had done a spin class for a year before the instructor moved on to other things, and had cycled to and from work as a teen and so I knew that I could cycle.  I looked at distances and decided that the limiting factor would be the run and thought that the 10k of the Olympic distance would be a good challenge – in reach, but still a challenge.  The 1500m swim I regularly did and the 40k bike I was confident I could get to.  So, I started telling people my goal (and this was very intentional, because it meant that I couldn’t chicken out when the training started to get boring/hard/ etc.  😊).  They would ask me about it!

The week before the big event, I was really starting to dread it.  I had done the math quite a few times (my paces, the distances, etc.) and had seen that the race had a cut-off time of 3 hours, 45 min.  I was going to be very close to that cut-off time, if I could make it at all. 

So, I was worried that I wouldn’t get the finisher medal—wouldn’t get the T-shirt.  I ran numbers again and again (I’m a math teacher by profession!) and thought of all the possible things that could happen.  What if the water was choppy? what if there was a strong cross-wind? what if I got a flat? what if…? what if…? what if…?  My faith as a Christian is important to me and part of the reason I had trained for this was to help me rest in God’s love for me rather than trying to do good things to please him.  It was supposed to be a joyful experience and had been so far.  So, as I remembered this and as my friends and family (that I had told earlier on about my goals for doing the triathlon) were encouraging me in the final week, I realized that instead of seeing the race as a ‘final exam;’ (Did I pass?  Did I do enough?) I wanted and NEEDED to see it as a celebration.  A celebration of everything that I had accomplished.  I had trained hard for more than 3 months.  I had cycled more than I had ever cycled before, run further than I had ever run before and this race was the acknowledgment of that, not the test to see if I had done enough.

It also occurred to me that all the ‘what if’s’ were things that I could not control.  I had done all that I could do—training, practicing transitions, changing flats, trying out my nutrition, getting the gear that I thought was appropriate.  And I couldn’t change anything now, so what was left was to enjoy the race and celebrate all that I had accomplished.

As a result of my changed mindset, I decided that I wouldn’t use my watch to keep track of my pace.  I would push myself as much as I felt I could sustain, but I wouldn’t crunch numbers.  [I considered not using my watch at all, but decided I needed to use it so that I wouldn’t lose track of my laps of the cycle 😊 (it was 4 laps of a 10k course).]

Practically, a few days before the race I started making lists and lists and lists.  Nutrition:  what do I need, how much, when, how will I carry it.  What kit do I need:  for the swim, at each transition, for the bike, the run.  And then packing the day before going to the hotel, putting transition stuff in a bag with a list for T1 and T2 (in the order that I would need to put them on), putting extra stuff in another bag (with a note saying ‘extra’). 

And then the day came.  We were staying about 1.5km from the race, so I packed my backpack with all my kit and the track bike pump sticking out the top, and cycled to the transition area to set up.  I set out my gear as I had practiced and checked my lists that were in the bag.  I mentally pictured doing each transition and made sure things were in the right order.  And then headed to the beach.

It was a great atmosphere and even though I didn’t know anyone there, I chatted with several competitors and even met a fellow SBR member who recognized my kit and came to say hello!  That was a real boost and having Fatima take a picture and know she was posting it to the group was definitely a happy thing.

And before long it was time to run across the line and into the water.  I had never experienced the melee at the beginning of an open water swim—or around the buoys and was thankful that I was confident in the water.  I had decided that I would try to find someone to draft and although I wasn’t able to for the whole time, I was able to draft off a couple of people at different times and felt the difference.  I was tempted to just plod along on my own steam, but remembered the difference in energy that drafting had made when I tried it at tri-camp, so I put out a little bit extra energy to get to someone that I could stay with for a while…. As we came into the beach, the woman I was drafting was going left (I was still sighting for myself—another thing I learned from tri-camp!) so I struck out on my own and out of the water to T1.

T1 was uneventful, but as I was running out of transition I realized I hadn’t put my pedals in the correct position, so I leaned down and quickly adjusted them before I got to the mount line.  I was really glad I had done that—I got on and going with no problem.  Then I knew I needed my first gel.  I had taped them to my bike and so I pulled off the first one.  But in the process, instead of just the top coming off, the whole side ripped.  So I ended up with a gel that was torn down the side with gel coming out all over.  So, I ended up keeping it in my hand and licking it until it was mostly finished.  As a result, I had caked gel on my lips and around my mouth for the rest of the race!  LOL  At that point, I knew I had put extra on the bike and would be okay.  It was a little annoying, but gave me a laugh.  Not much else to say about the bike—though numbers of people passed me and the only people I passed were those doing the Sprint distance.  Just kept going and only looked at the distance on my watch to check laps, and occasionally the time to make sure I was taking my nutrition when I had planned.

Job done

Then it was into T2 and the run.  The run—my dreaded part.  My weakest part and by far the slowest as well.  I knew I just had to get it done.  So, I ran out of T2 knowing I was already near the back of the pack, although I did see a few cyclists finishing up their laps.  So, it was one foot in front of the other.  A few times I walked to get my heart rate a bit lower, but pretty soon I realized that it was easier to keep my cadence the same by using the ‘Ironman shuffle’ and then pick up my pace when I could—rather than changing between walking and running.  It was getting harder and harder to start running after a walk break.  People continued to pass me, and by this point, everyone was very friendly and all very encouraging as they passed me.  The water station attendants and race marshals encouraged and smiled and clapped even though I know I wasn’t at all impressive looking. 

I listened very intently for my 1km beeps from my watch and counted up to the halfway mark and then counted down to the end.  I looked at the time for my nutrition, but had to keep telling myself “Don’t do the math. Don’t do the math. Don’t do the math”—I didn’t want to figure out my pace and psych myself out. 

About 500m from the end my husband (a runner) and my son met me and ran me in.  Though not many people were around by the time I crossed the line, the officials and race volunteers all cheered and I looked up and saw my time:  3 hours 37 minutes and some.  I had made the cut-off.  I couldn’t bend down to get the timing chip off my leg, but when I tried, a volunteer put the medal around my neck as another volunteer unstrapped the timing chip. 

I had made it!  I had done it! Following the plan was easy enough, I learned so much and it was very informative. I went from practically zero to OLY in 12 weeks, and I am super proud!

-Angela Barnes – 2022