About two weeks ago, I competed in the Pasadena Triathlon. It was my first race of the year and got my juices flowing for triathlon season. The Pasadena Triathlon is actually a “reverse triathlon,” which means you run (5k) first, then bike (15k), and then swim (150 m). The run and bike circled the Rose Bowl and the swim took place in the Rose Bowl Aquatics Pool.
The race was sold out when I discovered it (about a week prior to race day), but the lovely folks at Generic Events let me in. Thank you so much!!
On Friday, I headed to the Rose Bowl for packet pickup and registration. I arrived a bit early, so I got a chance to get my bearings and scout the course. The registration process was quick and painless and inspiring. That’s because as I was signing up so was an 88-year-old gentleman. 88-YEARS-OLD! We got our bibs, race shirts, timing chips, and helmet/bike stickers, wished each other luck and headed home.
My alarm went off at 5:45 a.m. the next morning. I was not thrilled, but I hopped out of bed and was on the road by 6:15. Pro Tip: Always pack your transition bag and load up your car the night before. If you pack up on race morning, it can take too much time, cause anxiety, and your sleep-deprived mind is likely to forget something. At this point, I’d like to give a shout out to my wonderful mom who agreed to drive to the race with me even though she was sick.
I wasn’t hungry, but I sipped on coffee on the way to Pasadena. Since it was such a short race, I decided not to force down food (as I usually do before a race) and just listen to my body. There was no traffic (because all of the normal citizens of LA were still sleeping…) so we made it to the race with plenty of time to spare.
Transition set-up was quick and easy. I racked my bike, taped on my bike and helmet stickers, and grabbed a swim cap from the race organizers. While I was setting up, I met a 15-year-old girl who was also competing in the triathlon. Props to her for getting involved in the sport at such a young age! After a bathroom break and body marking, I headed over to the start to warmup.
I’ve been dealing with a knee injury lately (nagging IT band syndrome) so my warmup was quick. A half mile jog, some dynamic stretching and drills, and I was ready to go. My knee didn’t feel great and I was anxious about aggravating it. I had taken a week off from running per my physical therapist’s advice, aside from one 3 mile run two days prior to race day to “test out my knee.” Generally, running faster is easier on my knee, so I planned to race based on feel.
A 5k and a duathlon were taking place in conjunction with the triathlon. The first wave of racers would be 5k and duathlon participants only. After that, we would seed ourselves according to our projected finish time. Waves would go off every 3 minutes. I decided to seed myself in the first triathlon group because I hate getting caught in a crowd when I race. While waiting for my wave to go off, I met a few other girls who also happened to be in my age group! We chatted and wished each other good luck. Then the gun blared, and we were off!
The weather was perfect—around 60 to 65 degrees. My strategy was simple: have fun. I hadn’t competed in a triathlon since my Ironman 70.3, and I just wanted to start the new season. DEMPSEY DON’T KILL YOURSELF IN THE FIRST RACE.
I went out as I usually go out on runs…too fast. The adrenaline and excitement gets to me, and I sprint. Plus I didn’t want the girls in my age group to get a jump on me.
Racing a reverse triathlon requires some strategizing. The run is traditionally the last leg of a triathlon and I usually go all out. I leave nothing in the tank. But I couldn’t do that in this race, because I had a bike and swim afterward. And besides, and I was just racing for “fun.”
Once I slowed down after an initial sprint, I fell into a nice pace. A number of guys had pulled away from me, but I had also done my fair share of dropping people. Within a few minutes, I was catching some of the 5k and duathlon runners and continued to pass them throughout the race. My legs were a bit heavy, but considering my injury and lack of training I felt strong.
My unspoken goal (because I really didn’t know what condition my body was in) was to run 8:00 min/mi pace for the 5k. Fast enough that I was exerting myself, but slow enough that I wasn’t dying. I finished the first mile in 8:03.
During a 5k, I’m rarely comfortable or enjoy myself. I force myself to run at an unusually fast pace because it is a shorter distance than the traditional races that I run. This was no exception. I fought mentally the entire time. At times, brain wanted me to stop and walk or at least slow down). Instead, I picked up the pace and finished my second mile in 7:51.
I have NEVER run negative splits in any race. I go out at suicide pace and just pray to hold on. I think this reverse triathlon forced me to race smarter, and I felt strong going into the final mile. But gradually, my breathing got heavier and my heart raced faster. I focused on a girl in front of me who seemed to be running at my pace. My goal was to stick with her. (Initially I thought she was in my age group, but she was 17). I ran behind her, using her as a rabbit, as motivation, as distraction, for about a third of a mile before I realized that I actually had something left in the tank. I picked up my pace and caught her. We ran stride for stride for a bit. I heard her labored breathing (I’m sure she heard mine too) and then with a quarter mile or so left, I pulled ahead. My third mile clocked in at 7:27! A negative split!
I was exhausted as I propelled myself uphill for what I thought was the end of the run course. But the course wasn’t 3.1 miles, it was 3.28 (according to my Garmin). I reminded myself that I was close. Less than two minutes of pain left! (On the run at least…)
I turned a corner and ran towards the transition area. I saw my mom on my right and waved, but she was focused on taking pictures. She takes her job very seriously. I sprinted the final straightaway.
Run Time: 25:39
Garmin Run Stats: 3.28 mi // 25:41 // 7:49 min/mi
Running shoes off. Cycling shoes on. Helmet on. Move watch from wrist to handlebar. And I jogged out of transition. Probably could have moved faster, but the run took a lot out of me.
Transition 1 Time: 1:41
I started to have a bit of anxiety. I had cycled exactly two times (both in the week leading up to the race) since October. When I pulled my bike out of the garage to bring it to the bike shop for a tune up, it still had all of my unused Ironman nutrition on it. Yummmm.
The 15k bike course consisted of three loops around the Rose Bowl. It was relatively flat. The first part of the loop was slightly uphill and the second part was slightly downhill with a short climb towards the end. Pretty simple, except that a three loop course meant it would inevitably get crowded.
I worked on getting my legs loose on the first half of the first loop. I kept my resistance low and my rpm. I felt slow and my knees were not happy with me. It’s a totally different game coming from the run to the bike vs. the bike to run. I finally started to find my groove on the second half of loop one. My legs felt lighter and my pace sped up.
The second loop was WAY more crowded than the first. And a lot of cyclists didn’t seem to understand basic cycling etiquette (slower riders on the right, etc). I had to slow down in order to stay safe. It was frustrating at first, but I realized many of the competitors were new to the sport. It was great to welcome the newcomers and see so many people getting involved in triathlon!
Towards the end of the second loop, my bike started making this weird clicking noise, and I started to get paranoid—my wheel is going to go flying off or something! I told myself that I was being dramatic and not to think about it. This plan could have seriously backfired. Luckily, it didn’t.
The third loop was INSANELY CROWDED. I think 90% of the entire triathlon field was on the bike course. I did my best to avoid people. I took it slow and cautious, which was kind of frustrating because it usually takes me about six miles to feel strong and warmed up on the bike. But that didn’t matter on this crowded course. SAFETY FIRST, GUYS!
I was nervous coming into transition, because it was narrow and crowded. Volunteers were telling everyone to slow down. I slowed, then dismounted, and ran my bike into transition.
Official Bike Time: 35:22
Garmin Bike Stats: 9.55 mi // 34:41 // 16.5 mph
(Note: In case you were wondering…my “official” bike time is a little longer than my Garmin time because the “mount/dismount” line was a little ways from the timing mat and I waited to start my watch until I started moving.)
I threw off my shoes and helmet, grabbed my earplugs, goggles, and swim cap, and started jogging towards the pool. It took longer than expected. Part of the trail was concrete and running barefoot was NOT fun. I walked at certain points. I didn’t want to risk injury.
Transition 2 Time: 3:21
The swim was insanely short — 150 m. It took place in the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center pool. Basically, swimmers jumped in, swam down the length of the pool, dunked under the lane lines, swam back up in another lane, dunked under lane lines, swam back down in a third lane, and then came up a ramp and across a timing mat.
In a normal situation, this swim would have taken me less than 3 minutes, but the pool was crowded and the swim was chaotic. It was also so short I couldn’t get in a rhythm. I won’t complain because I’m not the biggest fan of open water (Note — I was pulled out of turbulent surf in the Malibu Triathlon…). The water was SUPER warm and not refreshing. I powered through, and before I knew it I was making my way up the ramp and across the “finish line.”
Official Swim Time: 4:01
Finish Time: 1:10:07
3rd out of 13 in my Age Group // 39th out of 342 Females // 206 out of 740 Overall
I felt great. I had exerted myself but was not exhausted by any means. The finish was a bit anti-climactic (sprinting across a finish line with nothing left in your tank is more exciting than walking up a ramp and across a timing mat). But the reverse triathlon was a fun, unique, and rewarding experience. The initial results reported that I finished 2nd in age group. But an updated version placed me 3rd, by ONE SECOND! Still rewarding!
The post-race atmosphere was wonderful. There was free coffee, a beer garden, burgers, massages, and a bunch of fun tents. I hung around and talked to some girls in my age group. I love meeting fellow triathletes. Overall, the race was well-organized and a terrific experience. I will definitely return next year!