Posted by: Shannon @ A Dash of Sparkle | October 24, 2011

My First Triathlon – Part II – The Experience

My weekend was quite the adventure.

It all began on Friday.

I was on a serious mission Friday afternoon.

I had until 7pm to drive from Naples to St Pete (usually a 2.5 hour drive) to pick up my race packet (which contains my timing chip, a map of the course, rules for the race, my number and all the various tags and stickers I’d need to wear).

I also had to stop at Big Momma’s Bicycles in Naples before leaving the area to get a quick lesson on how to shift my new bike. (‘Cause, yes, that is important.)

Somehow, I made it to Bill Jackson’s in Pinellas Park with 20 minutes to spare, which was great, because this place is really cool.

Honestly it felt like I was driving into a campground with a heavily wooded entrance drive which led to campsite-like parking spots hidden amidst the bushes. The actually building looked pretty plain on the outside, but a walk inside revealed room after room of outdoor adventure themed areas. There was even an indoor pool for kayaking and paddle-boarding lessons, and a ski hill for ski and boarding lessons!


I was a woman on a mission though, so I followed the signs to a far back area to pick up my packet, yellow swim cap, and t-shirt.

Luckily once I got to Tampa, Nick had a yummy and nutritious meal waiting for me. The nerves were definitely alive that night as we packed our bags for the following morning, going through our mental checklists to make sure we didn’t forget anything.

Somehow I managed to get to sleep.

Not too long after I fell asleep though, it seemed it was time to wake up at 4:30 a.m. (on a Saturday) to eat breakfast, grab our stuff and hit the road.

The funny thing was that the roads were empty except for cars and trucks with bikes mounted on them. As we got closer to Fort Desoto, it was nothing but bike-mounted vehicles. Hundreds of them!

Clearly we weren’t the only ones heading to the 2011 Suncoast Triathlon.

It was about 55 degrees and pitch black when we first parked at 6:00 a.m. and headed over to the main area with all our gear. Having never done a triathlon before, I just went with the flow, or rather the mass of people with bikes.


After putting all our bands and tags and numbers on, and getting grease-painted with our number and age, we were finally allowed to go into the transition area where Nick and I split up  and went to our corresponding numbered areas.


I was #82 (how cool is it that my number was the inverse of my age – 28?) so I headed off to my rack and set up.


Honestly, the wait was the worst part.

After you’re set up and make the inevitable port-a-potty visit, all you have to do is to  to watch everyone else.

And let me tell you, most of these people are HARDCORE athletes.

They have their special triathlon gadgets – race belts, special shoe laces, wet suits, special shoes, gloves, etc – and greet each other like this is a weekly thing for them (which it probably is for a lot of them).

Once we were shooed out of the transition area and sent to the beach where the race would begin, the sky was just beginning to get a tad bit brighter.

By the start of the first wave of swimmers, the sky was getting blue and the sun was just thinking about peaking over the horizon.

I was in the fourth wave, Nick was the sixth, so getting in the queue with a bunch of random women jumping up and down trying to warm up was a bit nerve racking.

The adrenaline starts the moment you hit the water. Luckily the water was much warmer than the air (79 degrees or so) so I didn’t experience that chest-tightening shock like when you run into cold water.

I knew to expect strong swimmers blowing past me, but not quite the people swimming over me. It was 16 minutes and 660 yards of swimming and shoving/being shoved, but the moment you touch bottom at the end all you think about is getting back to the transition area and preparing for the bike ride.

It doesn’t matter you’re tired already.

I had some… issues with my shirt number, which insisted on ripping off my shirt a couple times as I got dressed for the bike ride, but I finally got up and out on the road for the bike. The transition, however, took me over 8 minutes (ouch).

One on the road, I felt good as I pedaled hard on my new wheels, even despite the wind trying to force me backwards.

This was the event when I really noticed the TRUE triathletes though.

They FLEW by me like I was parked.

I spent a good amount of time passing people in front of me, but the rest of the time I was just trying not to get run over by these amazing bikers that are riding like they have jet packs attached to their butts. (Wind, what wind?)

I made decent time on the 10-mile bike ride though finishing in just under 35 minutes, and then it was the 5K run, which I wasn’t looking forward to that much to be honest.

My shoelaces came untied twice in the first five minutes, but once I hit the second mile, I settled into a slow, but comfortable run and was finally able to admire the beautiful course that ran parallel to the beach.

Surprisingly, that was my favorite part of the entire race, just running along enjoying the scenery.


As I rounded the final corner, Nick was standing there waiting (clearly having finished a while ago) and he jogged the last minute or so before the finish line.

I crossed the finish line with a run time of 29 minutes and a smile on my face. My total official race time was 1 hour and 31.39 minutes, which put me at right almost exactly my goal finish time.

I was beyond thrilled.

What made me happier than finishing was that I wasn’t completely exhausted. I could still walk and talk and I didn’t even feel as though I needed to sit. Thank goodness for adrenaline.

Nick and I shared a couple celebratory beers post-race and then walked the park checking out finish times and texting friends and family our final times on the race.


Nick finished in 1:13, which put my 1:31 to shame, but given the fact it was my first race, I still feel pretty darn proud.

Just as a point of reference, the winning male of the triathlon finished in 52 minutes, and the winning female finished in just over 59 minutes.

Holy cow.

Yup, still proud of my 1:31.

We both recounted our favorite and most awkward parts of the race (including my really-gots-to-pee moment as I was about to start the 5k run) all the way to get our reward – our favorite pizza in Tampa.


After that, we had every intention of napping and then hitting the town that night.

Our bodies, however, had different plans. Plans that included us being so completely exhausted that all we could do for the rest of that day was lay around and try to nap (which never happened).

We took turns using the ice-pack to ice down sore knees and attempted to watch movies that we could barely keep our eyes open to see, for hours. Despite the exhaustion, no naps occurred.

Sunday morning though, we were good as new.

Now, I’m just ridiculously proud of myself.

Proud and looking forward to maybe making this an annual thing.


I don’t think I’ll ever be a hardcore triathlete who races each month or week, but I’d love to improve my time.

Because in the end, the only person you’re racing for is yourself, which means the only time you really need to beat is your own.

So next year, I’ll learn from my mistakes and challenges and hopefully set a new record in what I hope to be a new tradition in completing my next triathlon.


  1. […] I will probably not be looking to complete a marathon – though I did complete a 5K run in my sprint triathlon last […]

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