This month I put about 260 miles on the bike, 62 miles on my shoes, and about 10 miles in the water. The focus has been the bike, I know the bike leg has the most room for easy improvement, plus I knew the big hill was coming up.
Picking up the packets was fine, it was in a bank which was sort of funny. They also had a little expo going on - which was kind of neat for this size race. The whole experience was pretty painless.
After packet pickup we took a quick spin by the course, I hadn't seen a international distance swim course all laid out - I was ... surprised by how long it looked. Then we just hit the hill. The hill is big, and the car didn't do it justice.
The night before, like ever night-before-the-race I had trouble falling asleep. I was putting the final touches on what my race plans were. I woke up without the alarm about five minutes early, got dressed, ate some cereal and popped out my door right at the same time my sister did.
My brother-in-law got out of bed at the crack of dawn to drive us down to the course, which was great. We made our way to the transition area - which was the most confusing transition area I've ever seen. At the entrance the guy asked if we knew how to use the bike timing chip.
Side bar: For this race they do special timing and contest to see how long it takes you to climb the big hill. In order to do that they give you two timing chips. One that you put on your leg, and another that you fasten to your bike. Here's the catch, they don't tell you how to fasten the second chip, they tell you it's in there and what it's for, but there are no instructions other than that. Apparently you need to already know, or just trust someone will eventually tell you. That was my bet, my sister didn't like that and used a zip tie to attach it to her handlebars. These particular chips actually attached to your wheel via the skewer.
Anyway, we got there with plenty of time, got our stuff set up, milled around for a bit, chatted with people about different stuff, and then made our way for the big meeting. The transition area closed at 7:00 and the mandatory group meeting started at the same time.
So - I'll frame the morning like this. It was about 50 degrees, we got to the race at 6:15ish, had to leave transition by 7 my wave went at 8:15 and my sister's left at 8:20.
|My sister and my kids|
before the swim.
She got in the water - I did not
The water was COLD. 68 was the official temp, and it wasn't by any stretch warm. I was wearing a full wetsuit, so really it didn't seem to that bad, but my hands and head felt the cold immediately. But, head down and away I went.
It's hard to figure the lengths of the three legs of the swim, it was probably 400 meters out - 700 across and another 400 back to the finish. The second leg looked very long, but didn't actually seem to take too long.
Interesting point on this lake - and maybe all lakes, I don't really know. But this lake gets mowed, and apparently they had tried to mow it before the race, but I can tell you they missed some spots. I'd be swimming along, and then suddenly be eating weeds for 10 or 15 meters. They were all the way to the surface, it got the point where I started to see them on the surface when I'd be sighting. At least I wasn't surprised about it then I guess :)
There were only about 30 people in my wave and over except for probably the first hundred meters was I never really near anyone. By the time I got to the first turn I could only see one or two guys ahead of me. Now I'm pretty sure I can swim straight and many people apparently cannot, so when I can't see anyone it usually means they are off to one side or the other and I will see them dip in right before a turn. About half way down the second leg I figured I was going too fast to sustain it, but I couldn't figure out how to slow myself down without feeling like I was taking it easy, so I stuck with it. When I was approaching the second and final turn I could see the lead boat, that meant that I was actually pretty close to the front, and perhaps meant that the reason I couldn't see anyone was because they were behind me.
Climbing out of the water I felt totally disoriented, I had taken the swim a little too hard and my body's response to that is to get dizzy. I did hear someone say that there were only 4 people in front of me, or maybe he was talking to someone else. The goal at that point was to get the wetsuit off and stop the spinning.
The bike course was a little out and back followed by a big hill and then 14 mile loop. They had warned us that the out and back would maybe be busy, but to try to not bunch up. Maybe because they started us 45 minutes after the first wave, or maybe because most people just pass me on the bike, it didn't seem congested to me.
The plan was to get up to a comfortable pace for the first out and back, take in some water and a couple of gu-chomps and then save some energy for the hill.
Side-bar: Hills - I'm still not used to hills, I swear it feels like I'm constantly climbing hills, big hills, little hills, false flats, whatever. Where are the downhill pieces :)
So the big deal with this race - the differentiator if you will - is that in the middle of the bike is a 1.1 mile climb with an average of 9.5% grade. I had underestimated this hill. I had figured at least I'd be able to just put it in the granny gear and eventually just grind my way to the top. Uhh, nope, that didn't work. This hill got immediately hard, in the first 30 seconds I was in the granny gear and going about as slow as I thought I could go maybe six or seven miles. There were times I had to stand up just to keep my legs moving. I finally had to get off and walk for a bit, my legs were shot, I stood up to crank a little and I kid you not I could not move my legs in the right direction. It made me feel a little better that there were at least two other people in front of me walking too. I didn't walk the whole way up, I actually have no idea how far I walked, but I did get back on and climb up the last little bit.
After the big hill the hills got significantly smaller, but it still seemed like a steady climb for the next seven or so miles, and then the fun part. A huge downhill - this hill alone probably brought my average speed up .3 miles/hour. I was going 30 mph+ for at least two miles.
When I got to transition - again I was a little disoriented - not like after the swim, but I just found the entire transition area confusing.
A word about this transition area. There were two openings like any transition I've ever seen. One was for bike-in/out the other for swim-in/run out. They were right next to each other separated by maybe 20 feet. The racks went all the way from the entrances to the back, so if you had your bike near the swim entrance, you had to run your bike all the way to the back of transition, around a turn and back to the bike out. It was basically horseshoe shaped - and sort of silly.
The run was basically uneventful, I felt OK for most of it. But I did stop a couple of times because of some weird pain in my back. It's hard to describe, it felt like a cramping muscle - sort of - except I couldn't figure out what muscle it might be. Not in my lower back, and not in my shoulders, just below my shoulder blades. It was annoying, and I thought if I could get rid of it I would be happier. Eventually it did go away, and I ran probably all but 45 seconds of it.
|The smile doesn't do much for the |
death warmed over look
A neat little thing this group did was that they would restring the finish line tape and let people run through it. I'm sure not everyone got to run through it, but I did and it was cool.
I grabbed a teeny cup of water, got my medal, and went and got my splits. Eventually I helped myself to a pulled pork sandwich and some salad. I was expecting bagels, fruit and pastries, so it took me a while to get used to the idea of eating basically a meal. It was good though, so while I think I would have preferred something a little less heavy, I'll take what I can get :)
The swim – I have no real feel for how good or bad this time is. Clearly I beat my goal, 23:11 puts me around 1:25/hundred meters which is very fast for me these days, and to sustain it for 1500 meters would be surprising. I'll say that swimming in a wetsuit feels like cheating, you feel like you're cutting through the water with hardly any effort. Having said all of that, that time put me 19th overall and 5th in my age group, so I'm going to say that all my recent swimming has paid off.
The bike – Again I came in under my goal time. I missed the goal of making it up the hill on the wheels the entire time, but 17.8 mph is pretty decent considering I walked some of it and the fastes ANYONE went up that hill was 10 mph average. Again I'll chalk this up to the bike training I've been doing.
The run – My goal was nine minute miles, and I missed that. My pace was roughly 9:18. I know I started out too fast, and had to slow myself down, and then I threw some walks in there to help figure out what was going on with my back, but when you look at the splits I basically accelerated throughout the leg, finishing the last mile under nine minutes.
Overall I'm happy with my results. This was my first international distance, and I probably didn't choose to easiest course to break myself in on, but I knew the hill would be hard, and it was and the rest was just trusting in the training. At no time did I wonder if I would know what to do next, I just kept swimming, kept pedeling and kept running and the rest just happened. Of course I would love to be placing better, my time puts me just on the slow side of the average time, and both the run and the bike are contributing to that. I will continue to focus on the bike leg, my goal is going to be to hopefully get to 20mph average by the end of the season.
The event organizers for this race are pretty good at hype, they have cool videos, they have schwag you can buy, they have neat awards, and givaways. Overall though, I don't think it lives up to the hype. It's the little things like, not telling you how to put your chip on, or not communicating at all. Seriously, if you're not a fan of thier facebook page you would basically show up clueless. The cool giveaways are really sort of games, so it's not like the HED wheels they were giving away were available to everyone, apparently there was some sort of game involved, and unless you finished faster than me you didn't know what the game was. Of course those are little things, and if that's all I can complain about, then I think I'm in good shape. Would I do this race again, the hill is a big draw. It beat me this year, and that means that I still have a lot of work to do on hills and stamina. Perhaps next year I will be ready, and will want another run at it. We'll see :)
A special thanks to my sister and her family for making the trip. It's great to see them, and I really like racing with my sister. While our times aren't the same, I think we're roughly the same skill level and it's fun to see that. I also get a kick out of seeing people I know on the course.
A much more special thanks to my wife, she's a great supporter and honestly without that support I would not be able to race. It's also great fun to hear her and the kids yelling at me at transition and the finish.