I finished strong, and felt good. Biking was definitely my strength - I kept a good pace, and passed folks on the short steep hills (where I was in the right gear, and they weren't). Running was definitely my weakness, but I ran at the pace I targeted, and felt good during the run. I surprised myself that I ran in my Vibran Five Fingers (TrekSport). I also surprised myself that I swam a few minutes faster than I expected - even though my strategy was to swim as slow and smooth as I could. Following is the story in more detail:
The day before the race, we went to Bishop Lake State Park to pick up packets, and attend the "newbie" session. We walked down to the lake and saw the orange buoys marking out the 1/4 mile swim course, and the yellow buoys marking out the 1/2 mile swim course. Wow! The 1/2 mile swim looked like a long way to swim.
I decided to do a practice swim to the 1st buoy and back - most of 1/4 mile. As I made the turn at the buoy, swimming out there all alone, thoughts like "gee: it wouldn't be good if I gulped some water all alone out here", and struggled through a hundred yards or so of strokes. I had a brief thought that maybe I should have signed up for a pool event for my first race...
Seeing the setup of the transition area, listening to the "newbie session" (even though they explain what is explained lots of places), really helped. When the swim started I set out to swim as slow as I could. Just taking 3-5 slow strokes, taking a breath (or up to 3 while gliding on my back). As I rounded the first buoy, I started catching people. Just a few, but it felt good.
When I rounded the second buoy, I thought "I bet it's weedy on this side", and sure enough it was. I swam sloppy through the weeds - a few strokes with my face out of the water. A few strokes breathing every other stroke, and then my feet touched. Out I ran - I noted a few people behind me...
In the transition area, I saw a lot of people that I know got out of the water minutes before me. I didn't practice transitions a lot - of course I've practiced putting on a shirt and shoes, and I gave some thought to making things efficient, like skipping socks - but otherwise, I just quickly threw on jersey, helmet and shoes, and hit the bike trail.
On the bike trail, I did well. I rode at a good pace. Passed a few people on hills, mainly by being in the right gear and being a reasonable bike handler. The biking felt good.
The weather was supposed to be warmer, so my strategy was to dump a bottle of ice water on myself as I set out for the run. It was cooler, but I did it anyway... As I trudged along at my meager pace, several runners offered me salt tabs, or their bottles. I finally realized, it was because I was soaked - they mistook my evaporative cooling strategy for obscene amounts of sweat, and assumed anyone this sweaty and slow must be just about to keel over... I kept trudging along, and even had the energy to pick up the pace at the end. Felt really good.