Race Report – Spring Sprint Triathlon

59505248_454486265301083_7781147668402667520_nThings have been hectic. We moved from our Airbnb in Vegas to one near Redlands, CA that has been our base of operations for house hunting. (Quick Catch Up – 2 years ago our landlord got foreclosed on and we had to move at the holidays, then when our lease came up at the end of last year, the owner decided she wanted to sell. House hunting during the winter holidays totally sucks, and we didn’t want it to happen again so we decided to spend a couple of months in Vegas while the weather is nice, then find an Airbnb closer to home and househunt for a new place.) The househunting was successful and we’ve found our new place and are moving in this week, but it’s been hectic getting my training done (in new places!) as well as househunting and moving three times!

Right in the middle of this was my first triathlon of the season. A sprint triathlon (.25 mile swim, 10 mile bike, 5k run.) We traveled to San Diego for packet pickup/course talk on Saturday, triathlon on Sunday,  a talk at UCSD on Monday, and the move started yesterday. Weeeeeeeee!

To add another layer, several months ago, I was contacted to be part of a series of documentary shorts. They were hoping to film me at an event, as well as giving a talk. Since for this race, in the words of my coach, “The results have no bearing on pacing for IMAZ” we decided that this would be a good race to film, including doing interviews as I got out of the water, then in T1, then after I got off the bike, again in T2, and while I was on the run course. (I was kind of hoping that we could do all the interviews after I crossed the timing mats so that the time would be included in my transition and wouldn’t get “charged” to my swim, bike, and run, but I think the way we ended up doing it was best for the doc and since this race wasn’t about speed it was actually fine.) Plus I have a lot of practice being super slow so my ego was already primed for this experience!

Let’s get to the play by play (this will be extra-long so that I can recount the whole experience, feel free to scroll down to “The Race” to skip all the other stuff.)

We got into San Diego around 11:30am on Saturday. Julianne (who, as usual, deserves a medal for support and logistics) dropped me off and I met the film crew. They were amazing –  extremely professional and really fun, both of which would be a theme of the weekend. We got me mic’d up and then headed into the expo. I found my race number and got in line to get my packet. At that point one of the people behind the registration table pointed at me and said “I know you, I have your packet!”

I was a little freaked out until I learned that it was Bobbie, who is an amazing triathlete as well as a coach, official, and the person who had been coordinating with the film crew. Bobbie gave me my packet with a healthy dose of encouragement, and then it was off to get my goody bag. At the goody bag table they had some kind of stationary bike set up. A guy said to me “If you can do 15 calories on the bike and then 15 squats you’ll be registered to win [something I can’t remember.] I started to say no, but then I decided “why not” and put my stuff down.

It turns out that it was an assault bike. I’d been on one for a short time once a long time ago and only vaguely remembered the experience. It’s a bike that uses wind resistance, so the harder you work, the more difficult it becomes. There are also handles for your arms. I realized pretty quickly that I did not realize what I had gotten into. It was immediately…not easy (and made more difficult by the fact that I was wearing casual  sandals so my feet were slipping around with every pedal stroke – I recommend supportive footwear for assault biking) But people were awesome and were cheering, and it was over quick.  I got off the bike with jelly legs and knocked out the squats. So I’m registered to win…something.

As I collected my stuff to head to the course talk, someone in a red USAT (USA Triathlon) shirt called my name. It was the USAT rules official who welcomed me and gave me more encouragement. I am so grateful for how welcomed I was at this event.

The course talk (and in fact the entire event) was extremely well organized. The talk was informative and pretty hilarious. After the course talk, Bobbie gave us a personal tour of the course including great tips (like leaving shoes at swim out so that the path from swim out to T1 didn’t chew up my feet, and taking time the morning of the race to walk from my transition spot to bike out and run out to make sure I was clear exactly where I was going.) Thank you Bobbie for being so incredibly generous with your time and knowledge.

I left feeling pretty optimistic and not that nervous about the race which, I think I said to the film crew, felt a little concerning in and of itself.  There were three things I was worried about.

The first was that when I went to storage to get my wetsuit, I found that the movers had not put them where I asked them to, in fact I couldn’t find them anywhere. There is only one wetsuit in the world that we’ve found that fits me and even if I had the money to buy another one, I couldn’t get it in time. I would be swimming without a wetsuit. After the 70.3 fail  I started practicing open water swimming without a wetsuit A LOT so that wasn’t concerning, but I was hearing that the water was somewhere between 63 and 72. If it was at the lower end, that would be pretty chilly and I had never done a really cold water swim without the wetsuit followed by a bike (though trust and believe that I will be,) so I wasn’t sure how it would affect me.

Second, I was a little worried about the 2 technical (less than 90 degree) turns on the course. I practice technical turns, but don’t get to do them a lot on a really crowded course so I felt a little nervous.

Finally was my constant worry  that I would screw up the race course. While this course would be extremely well marked, and there were volunteers everywhere, athletes are (rightfully) responsible for knowing the course, and the fact remains that I am someone who can get lost in a tiny town WITH my GPS and phone. I once literally screwed up a 5k course, so I just did what I always do which is study the course, write out turn by turn directions and pray to the gods and goddesses of staying on the freaking course.

We said goodbye to the crew, got an early dinner and headed back to the hotel to try to sleep. As is often the case, while I was tired the sleep did not come. All told I got about 3 hours of off and on sleeping. Coach Steve assures me that as long as I’m not in sleep debt a lack of sleep the night before won’t affect the race too much so I just reminded myself of that.

The Race

We arrived at 5:20am (Saint Julianne having awakened at 4am with me to get ready and make the 20 minute drive to the race site to drop me and Ace off.) We met the film crew and headed into the transition area. The race had very kindly given me a spot at the end of the bike rack so that we could film without interfering with any other athletes. As I set up my transition area and got my body markings they interviewed me about what was going on and how I was feeling.

People noticed the film crew and asked what was going on. They were, to a person, incredibly encouraging, which would also be a theme.

I’ve still been completely unsuccessful in finding a kit that fits me – even the largest that are made are a bit too small – so even though it was a short distance where one would typically just where the same clothes throughout, I would be wearing my tri shorts (from Aerotech Designs) and I would be changing shirts as well as shoes and socks for the bike and the run.

At 6:45 they kicked us all out of transition and it was time to head to the swim start.

The Swim

It was a floating, wave start, which means that they started a few athletes at a time and the athletes started by swimming out to a buoy and waiting for them to call start. I was in the 10th wave so I went to the warmup area to get wet. I heard that the water was 67 degrees, which isn’t exactly bathwater, but also isn’t super cold so the first fear was assuaged.

They called my wave on deck. It was the Athena wave (female athletes over 160 pounds) and we chatted and laughed nervously. They called our start and I took a few strokes with my head out of the water, just to get a sense of how cold it was. I felt pretty calm. There was a lot of seaweed, so much so that as I pulled my arm out of the water there was seaweed hanging off of it. That was unpleasant, but I didn’t have any panic or freakout.

As I started to swim in earnest something weird happened – I became really short of breath all of a sudden. It was totally odd –  I didn’t feel panicked at all, I didn’t feel very cold, but as I tried to blow out with my head in the water my body would involuntarily breathe in leaving me coughing up ocean water. Not awesome. In good news, I still didn’t panic. I did a few more stroke with my head out of the water and then got into a decent groove. At that point, the wave of dudes who went off after us caught up with my wave. I got kicked a little and bumped a lot and still didn’t panic so I felt pretty good about that. I was still struggling with feeling like I couldn’t quite catch my breath, but I was doing pretty well.

I got through it and soon enough I was walking out of the water. The film crew was there and we did an interview about how the swim had gone and how I was feeling.


I put on the shoes that Bobbie had wisely suggested (the area is usually used to back boats into the water and so the pavement is pretty chewed up) and headed to transition. The film crew met me and we did a check in about transition and how I was feeling about the bike. Then I could no longer delay the inevitable and so I grabbed Ace and we headed for the mount line.

The Bike

The bike started out fine, I was moving along at a decent clip. I still felt more out of breath than normal (I train longer rides than this, and I train more intense rides than this and I’m not out of breath like this) but I just decided that worrying about it was unlikely to solve the problem – and I didn’t have any other symptoms that would make me concerned (dizziness etc.) so I decided to accept that this was the situation and not worry about it unless things got worse.

It was a two loop course and the first loop was going fine until I got to the “curly-q” It’s basically loop takes cars around and dumps them out at the end of the loop. It is definitely an incline but not a major one, thanks to being out in the hills riding I had been training hills bigger than this.  Except that I made a technical mistake – I turned too sharply as I came around to the start, ending up with my wheel almost perpendicular to the road and killing all my momentum. There were a decent number of people on the course and I felt in the way and worried that I would not be able to hold a line and would have to stop without warning, so when there was nobody behind me I called out and stopped the bike, got off and started up it on foot. People were very kind, yelling encouragement, telling me it had happened to them etc. It seemed like the hill would last forever but I finally got to a place where I felt like I could start safely (without interfering with other athletes) and I waited for an opening and got going again.

At some point I heard someone yell my name. It was the USAT official. I immediately panicked – am I drafting? Do I have my helmet on? Am I off course? What did I do wrong? It turns out he just wanted to cheer me on which was super sweet of him.

Things were going fine until I heard a clang, and pushed down with my left foot and felt – open air. My crank and pedal had fallen off. It happened once before when I first got the bike, it has to be adjusted very specifically. I had recently gotten new pedals put on and I suspect that was the problem, but at that point I was more focused on the fact that I was down one pedal.

I thought to myself “don’t scream and don’t panic, but definitely stop the bike.” I stopped the bike, went back and found the crank and pedal and, lacking the tools I would need to fix it (I had the tools to fix a flat, but had not anticipated this!) I started walking. After a few minutes another athlete stopped. He had, like, a mechanic shop of tools on the back of his bike and he fixed it for me. I asked for his name or number to give him credit and he said that he didn’t want any thanks, he just wanted me to pay it forward. If you’re reading this, thank you! You saved me from a long walk in uncomfortable shoes!

In good news the technical turns went fine both times and the course was so well marked and staffed with volunteers that even I couldn’t screw it up. Back on the bike I (finally) finished the course, I was feeling tired and frustrated and definitely ready to be done. The film crew was at the dismount line and we did another interview about how the bike went and how I was feeling. Then it was time to get ready to run.


The film crew followed me into transition. I changed my shirt, shoes and socks and got my running hat on. I answered a few questions about what was happening, and how things were going (everything hurts and I’m dying so…not very well.)  I was supposed to fuel at this point but I completely spaced it so I headed out onto the run course still powered by the packet of oatmeal I had eaten at 4:30am.

I also had to pee but the bathrooms were slighly off course and there were lines.  I just  wanted to get going so that I could get done, so I thought I would just find a port-a-potty on the course. This was just me not thinking – on short courses like this there often aren’t port-a-potties so that was a big mistake on my part.

The Walk/Run

I had my plan to walk for the first few minutes, then do walk/run intervals. But as I started walking the right side of my back started seizing up, plus I was still having that weird out of breath/wheezing situation.  The pain in my back was pretty intense and I was worried that I might not be able to finish to I decided that since speed wasn’t an issue on this race I would just slow walk it. It didn’t make the pain better, but it stopped getting worse. I looked down at my watch expecting to see that I had been walking for 25 or 30 minutes. It said “6:27” Less than 7 minutes. WT actual F? At this point I was hot, tired and hurting and I had only been on the course for 7 minutes and at the rate I was going it was going to take an hour to finish and that wasn’t taking into account that I kept having to stop and stretch my back.

It was a two-loop course. I usually prefer a looped course but in this case I was not feeling great about having to do all of this again. The film crew caught up with me in their pedi-cab and I smiled at the thought that watching me slow walk this course would be like watching a particularly boring shade of paint dry. I would have laughed but at this point I really had to pee so it seemed ill-advised. As I got to the back half of the first loop we did another interview. I joked that I would give my left eye for a bathroom and the shoot director joked back that he was right there with me. We talked for a while and he left to find a bathroom and I continued my walk, as the shrubbery beside the trail looked better and better to me. But my mom did not raise me to pee on the side of a public trail during a 5k!

As I was trudging along the people passing me continued to be supportive and awesome. I chose this event because there was an Olympic distance event (which is twice as long) at the same time. That way even if I’m slow people aren’t waiting for me. I kept repeating the (now familiar) refrain in my mind that if I kept moving forward at some point I would cross the finish line. Though every Sprint athlete finished before me, as well as many, many Olympic distance athletes, I heard that there were still Olympic folks with a couple loops to go on the run course and I felt better that I wasn’t holding anyone up at the finish line.

Finally I reached the turn to the finish and headed for home. I crossed the finish line, they said my name, Julianne was right there for a hug and kiss, and the film crew was there to capture the moment. Then I saw Bobbie who wrapped me in the most amazing hug. I finally got to go to the bathroom and after standing around for a couple of minutes the weird breathing stuff stopped and I felt totally normal again.

If you’re new to the blog and aren’t familiar with my motto, it’s “Cross finish line, get medal.” And I did.

After the race

All told, it took me almost 3 hours to complete the triathlon. For reference, if I did my IRONMAN at this pace it would take me 24 hours to get it done, which is just a wee bit over the cutoff of 17 hours. Lots of stuff contributed to this being extra especially slow (and obviously I won’t be doing interviews on the course and in transition!) and I wasn’t supposed to worry about speed, but I still wasn’t as fast as I would have liked to be. I’m also frustrated and worried that I keep racing so much more slowly than I train. That will be the topic of a conversation with Coach Steve very soon. In good news I’m feeling extra motivated to get quality workouts in.

In the meantime, huge thanks go out to Julianne, Bobbie, all the race staff and volunteers, Rachel and everyone at UCSD who put the talk together and everyone who showed up to listen, and the incredible film crew for an unforgettable long weekend!


The race was over, but there was still plenty to do. We took a four-hour break, and then got back together to shoot some of me training which included me riding a bike and the film crew on a surrey, as well as some shots of me hanging out on a beautiful spot on the beach with Ace.

The next afternoon we got together to shoot a master interview (it’s the interview in a documentary where the person is dresssed well, seated, well lit and answering questions.) Then we headed over to UCSD where the incredible Rachel Fox had coordinated my talk – Athletes At Every Size – in a beautiful auditorium with an amazing crowd – I was pretty happy that the film crew got to shoot me doing what I’m most passionate about. A bunch of us went to dinner (massive thanks to everyone who came out to the talk, especially people who drove for hours!) and then Julianne and I drove back to our Airbnb so that we could get up at 8am and start moving (Coach Steve was nice enough to give me the day off of workouts!) 


In the words of the West Wing Weekly Podcast: Ok. Ok. What’s next?


About Ragen Chastain

Hi, I’m Ragen Chastain. Speaker, Writer, Dancer, Choreographer, Marathoner, Soon to be Iron-distance triathlete, Activist, Fat Person.
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12 Responses to Race Report – Spring Sprint Triathlon

  1. lsstrout says:

    Whatever the weird breathing thing was, I’m glad it got no worse! Sounds like a great experience with the filming and the talk. I look forward to the documentary when it is ready.

    *crosses fingers* that you don’t have to move again until you want to.


    • Thanks so much for the support with the IM and with moving, hopefully we are good to stay put for a while (also, our new place is literally a block from a hike and bike trail. Especially after having to drive almost an hour 1 way for every bike ride I’m pretty excited about just walking out my door with Ace!


  2. Angela says:

    Looking forward to seeing the documentary! Congratulations on crossing the line and getting the medal! You are so inspirational… thank you for taking this journey and for sharing it with us.


  3. Moniqa Aylin says:

    Great story! Thank you for sharing all the details!


  4. Melissa Chubbuck says:

    Hi! FYI the breathing trouble you’re describing may be paradoxical vocal fold motion. I’ve had this problem (only) during races; I think that extra edge of anxiety triggers it. The fix is speech therapy from somebody who is familiar with the condition. An ENT doc should be able to hook you up.

    Youre amazing, keep going!



  5. Marilyn Wann says:

    Woohoo for you!!!


  6. I love the finisher’s race bling! Good job – way to persevere with all the many hiccups. I think I would have properly freaked out if my pedal fell off. A few years back, I had a race when I rode my (then) brand-new TT bike, which looked super fast, and I forgot to do a bike check beforehand. The first pothole I hit, my gear cable disconnected from the shifter and I was spinning wildly and going NOWHERE. I was clipped in, so I just spun, going very slowly and looking like I should be fast but moving in slow motion…and finished disappointingly late. Taught me to do a proper bike check beforehand, tho’! Good on you, and hooray for the unknown athlete who fixed your pedal!


  7. Maggie says:

    Congratulations! I have had a similar experience of having a hard time catching my breath while racing triathlon, especially during the swim, T1, and the beginning of the bike. For me I think it’s a combination of mild anxiety and the cold of the water that triggers it. Not sure if you are doing brick workouts, but practicing open water swimming immediately followed by biking and biking immediately followed by running can help your body get used to it. My coach would have my training group do mini mini practice triathlons, where we did each discipline for a very short amount of time but the point was to get used to the transitions and doing all three disciplines in the race order. If you haven’t been, you might want to talk to your coach about it! Even if it doesn’t completely go away, being used to that sensation has made it less concerning for me. I can just tell myself, “I know what this is, it’ll get better as I keep moving.” Good luck!


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