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My First Triathlon: Training Tips and More!

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Ready, Set, Go!

In my wetsuit and pink race-issued swim cap, I'm hard to pick out among the 661 other women being released one by one into 320-acre man-made Lake Las Vegas, just 17 miles from the Strip. Within the first five minutes, some are already backstroking, others cling to safety paddleboards to catch their breath, and the rest of us swim over, under, and on top of one another.

I rehearsed this inevitable collision course for months in the pool, but I'm not prepared for the swelling waves. During the first part of the half-mile course, I pop my head up for a look-see like a gopher every time I turn it for a breath. Except that this tactic breaks my flow and causes drag. I imagine my vigilant swim coach, Mike Galvan, yelling "Keep your head down!" at me and heed his advice at the halfway point. I begin passing people for the first time.

Coach's Tip: As you stroke, use your lats, or upper back muscles, not just your shoulders. Imagine stretching your arms to reach over something.

On the dash up the beach to the parking lot transition area, I peel off the top part of my wetsuit down to my next layer of spandex. When I reach my bike, I quickly kick off the bottom half. I put on my helmet and sunglasses and towel sand off my feet before I strap on my clip-in cycling shoes. The 30K (about 19 miles) bike course begins with a half mile uphill -- a sign that this will be no leisurely ride. I'm surrounded by almost every kind of bike imaginable: sleek tri racers, 1970s road bikes, mountain bikes, and cruisers with baskets. I overtake a girl half my age and then get passed by a woman more than twice my years. Recalling all the times Coach Galvan pushed the pace in practice to see if I could keep up, I shift to a higher gear and pedal behind her.

Coach's Tip: Make sure you buckle your helmet before mounting your bike in a race or you'll automatically be disqualified.

After nine miles of trailing her, something suddenly clicks in my head: I want to compete. "Go get her," I think. I feel an adrenaline rush I haven't experienced since I was on the straightaway to the finish line in college track, seven years ago. Coach Cook always said to empty the tank on the second half, and now I understand what that means. Instead of just pushing your pedals, push your limits. At mile 15, I pass her as I mentally high-five myself. I go hard for the last three miles, barely noticing the charming residential neighborhood around me. On the final mile downhill I fearlessly pedal and feather the brakes only when I come to 45-degree turns.

I pull into the transition area to drop off my bike and make a run for it on the concrete racecourse. The 5K starts with a mini hill, which proves to be an instant buzz kill. Though I trained for this very moment by practicing bike-to-run "bricks" in Central Park, my legs are shaky and miss the momentum of pedaling. I continue into the desert -- a stark contrast to the resort's emerald green trees and manicured lawns. A mile later I reach the turnaround point of the out-and-back course: a giant hard-packed sand hill. As I struggle to hold my pace on the way up, I focus on the downhill in my future, when gravity will give me a shove.

Coach's Tip: Nothing new on race day. That means food, socks, shoes -- everything -- should have been tested at least once during practice.

I'm weighing the bliss of walking (it's my first triathlon; I can do whatever I want!) when a group of three women, just now heading into the desert, wish me luck. I gasp out a "You, too!" and find the energy to power through the slight yet excruciating incline to the finish.

When I pass under the arching pink banner at the end, I'm happy, but oddly not Rocky-moment happy. No Breaking Away celebration. No Chariots of Fire sound track. I realize it's because my head is no longer in this race; it's already in the next one. I walk my bike back to my hotel and, unshowered, begin surfing the Web for race number two -- when I'll really be ready for a comeback!

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