I arrived at the transition area with all my gear with plenty of time to set up. I was directed towards the body marking at the entrance to transition, where volunteers wrote my bib number on my leg and my hand. This was to identify me as race participant and identification on the course, as well as showing me as authorized in the transition area. I found my designated spot on the bike racks and set up my things to expedite switching from swim gear to bike gear and from bike to run. I attached the timing chip to my ankle, put on my shorty wetsuit, and stacked my dry clothing ready to go. I then made my way to the swimming beach to be ready to race.
The first wave of swimmers was scheduled to start at 8am, but due to a traffic backup driving into the park it was delayed by about 20 minutes. Race participants had a chance to test the water before the start, and I was pleasantly surprised at the warm 71* water. Many people splashed their faces and swam back and forth a bit before race MC Brian Davis asked all participants to gather on the beach. He explained the starting procedure and swim course, and advised First Tri participants to watch closely. It was a water start, and the next wave of swimmers would be in knee-deep water, while the on-deck wave would enter the starting corral on the beach to be counted. Beginning with a group of elite athletes, the sprint triathlon was started in 12 waves (designated with different color swim caps) spaced two minutes apart. As always during racing events, I was interested to watch the variety of people who participate, and was impressed by the 12 year old boy and other teenagers.
As the Sprint swimmers were taking the longer course around the red buoys, it was now time for the First Tri swimmers to start, taking the shorter course around the green buoys. I was in wave 3 with other women in my age group. When the air horn signaled our group’s start, I waded into the deeper water, keeping in mind my friend’s advice about the start: Keep you head up and your legs still, until swimmers spread out a little.
I grew up near lakes very similar to Blue Lake, and I learned to swim in them, so I wasn’t afraid of open water swimming. It surprised me how my lungs felt like I had the air knocked out of them while I was trying to find my rhythm in swim strokes. I talked myself through strong exhales to keep from hyperventilating, and was feeling more confident before I rounded the first buoy. The second buoy was a ways out, and I found a tree on the shoreline behind the buoy to focus on, since soon my goggles fogged up and I couldn’t see the green float on the water anymore. Wave 4 was starting to catch up with me well before I reached the turnaround at buoy 2, but I still saw some other pale blue swim caps from my wave next to me. The final stretch of the swim lead from buoy 2 back towards the beach to exit the water between two orange buoys. Running towards the beach I was very pleased to see carpet leading from the water to the grass, which meant that I would not have sand between my toes for the remainder of the race.
I jogged up the hill, following the well-marked path towards the transition area. I took of wetsuit, swim cap, and goggles and toweled off a little before putting on my running gear and bike helmet. Biking is the weakest of the three sports for me, and while the fact that I bike in running shoes would speed up the second transition, it also meant that the biking part of the race was harder for me than it had to be.
I pushed my bike out the transition area making sure that I wouldn’t mount before the designated line. The course was very well marked leaving Blue Lake Park towards Marine Drive. On Marine Drive it was a very easy out and back course along the Columbia River with the turnaround near the eastern end of the runway at PDX. On the second half of the course I had a gorgeous view of Mt Hood the entire way.
I was expecting mile markers like during running races, and when there weren’t any I was wishing that I had studied the map a little more closely, or that I had taken the time to put on my GPS. Race officials and police were patrolling the bike course to make sure nobody got stranded. At Mile 9 or 10 I started to struggle both physically and mentally when a very nice policeman on a motorcycle came alongside me and encouraged me with conversation for a few minutes.
My legs were hurting and my spirit was low when I came back to transition. I had never been this close to a DNF in all my running races (including several half marathons). I parked my bike, took my helmet off, and walked toward the “run out” sign that marked the start of the running course. An aid station offered water, which I gladly took before crossing the timing mat to the 5k.
The running course was again very well marked to lead out of the transition to Blue Lake Road, turning onto a walking path heading east, and joining Marine Drive. The turnaround and aid station was just over an overpass, and very cheerful volunteers from the Portland Triathlon Club handed me water and Heed. By now my body had slightly recovered from the biking and was happy to be doing what it’s most used to, and I was able to speed up a little and encourage other participants as I was passing them. Course monitors kept cheering me on and pointing me in the right direction, and with less than half a mile left and a final water station the course lead onto running paths along the beautiful lake. A few curves and turns later I was able to see the finish line, and I crossed it feeling strong, confident and proud. I received my First Tri finisher’s medal, and found myself a well-deserved pint of Deschutes Inversion IPA and a plate of food.
Overall I was very impressed with the quality of the event, I liked the atmosphere of encouraging athletes all around the first-timers, and I would recommend Blue Lake to anybody who is thinking about trying a triathlon. I met my goal of finishing, I met my secondary goal of not being last on the course, and maybe after I spend a lot more time on my bike, I can see myself enjoying another triathlon!