One of these days I’m going to have one of “those” races. The ones where you come in to it in great shape, well trained, get good weather and give a good effort.
…but not today.
I chose Tinman in Topeka, KS as my first Olympic race. It is run by a race company that I know and trust and I thought it would be a good start. What I failed to take into consideration was that NOTHING about this race was Olympic. I even missed an INSANE start time of 8:ooam AND I failed to do the mental math (a challenge for me) to figure out that MY wave wouldn’t be going off until after 8:30… All on a day with a low of 74 and a predicted high of over 90, with lovely midwest humidity to go along with it. All of these things did not change and the race went of just as planned. Ouch.
With a swim that was a bit long, a slightly short ride and a long run, I was pretty intimidated. No matter. I paid my money so it was time to get it on. I guess I should add what my goal was. This being my first long course, I just wanted to live to see the Ultramax banner at the finish line. I wanted to survive the swim, go easy on the bike so I didn’t overcook it and then give it all up on the run. I really just wanted to see what this distance felt like. Beyond that I just didn’t want to be a statistic… 😉
Setup went smoothly so I think I am at least getting that part down. The only thing I forgot was a hat for the run. I whined about it before the race so Nancy Y. was there at transition from bike to run to hand me one. Our club is sooooo coool!!! Once my transition was set we got the word that the race was wetsuit legal. This was a bit of a relief since, even though I was confident I could do the swim, the wetsuit helped. By this time the sun had come up so I spent the rest of my pre-race looking for a shady spot to rest in. I usually get excited about watching the other waves go off, but this year I just wanted to stay as cool as possible. I could already feel the heat beginning to build.
My swim wave was the last to go. It was a big wave as it had basically every male over 40 that was doing the long course in it. I hid in the shade as long as I could so I didn’t heat up my wetsuit too much and then they made the call for us to come to the dock. At first I thought they were going to have us dive in en masse, but, in retrospect, I see that would have been stupid. We just all got in the water and touched the dock. At exactly 8:35 the horn blew.
(follow me here…) My main focus for the swim leg was to… FOCUS! My only goal was to keep my feet at the surface (MUCH easier in a wetsuit) as much as possible. I started out slow and let most of the group go and then tried to find clean water to swim in. The lake was nice and cool and there wasn’t much chop except for that generated by the swimmers, so I found myself comfortable right from the start.
But then something strange happened. I got kicked. Not from behind or the side. From the front. I looked up to find myself on the heels of another swimmer… and another… and another. Suddenly I was IN the scrum I had tried to avoid by hanging back. It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time. I was very excited that the swim work was paying off. I’m not saying I’m fast, but it was clear that I’m getting fastER. The terrifying part came as I tried to pick my way through the scrum. I suddenly found myself kicking other swimmers (no, not on purpose) and I finally decided to swim inside the buoys to get some clean water. I alternated breathing on left and right and found myself slowly picking my way up the food chain. Then something even stranger happened. I found myself on the heels of another swimmer at the first turn. This swimmer had a different swim cap color on. From the group ahead of me. This had never happened to me before. I don’t catch people. I get run over from behind a lot. Can you tell I had lost all focus at this point? I decided to really get back to my goal of kicking at the surface. I noticed I was pulling to the right so I sighted a lot, which made my goal difficult. I kept thinking that this would never happen if I wasn’t wearing a wetsuit. I was also kicking (slowly) to help me float a bit. This also helped. My swim time was (for me) a respectable 33 minutes and change. Looking at the age group it put me right about the middle. I’ll take that.
Joe Piper showed me a trick while I was setting up that involved putting rubber bands on my shoes to hold them in place on the bike. Even though this is a taboo (doing something new on race day) it made so much sense I did it anyway. I was a little wobbly coming out of the water so I just trotted through transition. My setup worked perfectly and I was in and out in an OK time. I was determined not to rush. My wetsuit coming off only cost me about 15 seconds which was a fair trade for the 5 minutes plus it saved me in the water. I was out and off with out much trouble.
I was absolutely insistent with myself that I would go easy on the bike. I made sure I was in a gear I could spin the entire time. I jumped on the bike at the mount line and definitely see the advantages the rubber bands provide for the shoes. With practice, this is really going to help. I did, however, have trouble getting in to one shoe and it took me nearly a mile to get it worked out. Frustrating and distracting. The ride was spent steadily picking off riders although I still felt slow. The ride was uneventful except for one rider who decided she didn’t need to ride on the right and clogged up a hill climb that had riders scrambling all over to get around her. She, however, seemed blissfully unaware of the chaos she had created.
There was a cross wind that seemed to be in my face the entire time (there was a reason for that…). The roads weren’t the best and I did a pretty good Chester Cheetah impression a couple of times where they had failed to roll smooth the tracks the equipment that actually laid down the road had made. I knew I was slower than I usually am and I was proud of myself for keeping control. I did run out of water about half way through. This concerned me as I could tell I was really thirsty. I got to transition with an 18.5mph average. This would have been disappointing in any short course race, but I was very happy with this average because it meant I had kept myself under control. I barely noticed the cloud cover that had started to settle in and actually, as I was running through transition, hoped it would intensify to help cool off the run. Be careful what you ask for…
Again, no problems here. Pretty fast and without incident.
Well… here is where it all fell apart. Dammit. I knew from the first step that this was going to be a death march. I started melting immediately. My goal was 8:30s in the heat. My first mile was 8:37. Not bad, but harder than it should have been. My second mile was 8:28. I knew it would be my last under 9. I just blew up. The course was really pretty, but not nearly shaded enough. As we ran across the dam all I could think of was not walking off course and turning in my number. I started walking the aid stations and carrying ice in my hands and under my cap. It helped but it was short lived. I was running out of ice before the next aid station and heating up again. We hit mile three and made the turn. It was then that I noticed that the clouds… were now organized. And dark… and threatening. The reason the wind was across me on all legs of the bike was because it was shifting. I wasn’t really sure how fast the clouds were moving but at that point… I was PRAYING to Ma’ Nature to cool me off before I burst into flames.
When I got to the aid station at mile 4.5 I must have looked like hell because BOTH volunteers asked me if I was OK. We went down a hill from here and then hit the steepest up on the course. I gave up at that point and walked it.
The skies darkened (or I got tunnel vision… I’m not sure which) as I got to the top of the hill. I was looking for an official to give my number to. I was done. Nauseated. Weak. Burning, but cold at the same time. Scary.
I know this is going to sound cliche’… then the darndest thing happened. I started into my slow trot and got blasted by a cold wind. I mean… like walking into the beer freezer at Hy-Vee. I looked up and the storm was on us. It hit again and again and the temperature dropped. My guess is 15 degrees in less than 5 minutes. The winds picked up to 20-30mph.
It was the most beautiful thing I had ever felt. I wanted to cry.
And then, all that energy that the sun sucked away? It all came back. I thought… “I can do this”.
It started raining at about mile 5. I picked up the pace. Not because I wanted to beat the rain. Just because I felt good. Really good. After two 12 minute plus miles, mile six was an 8:44. The rain intensified as did the wind. Then the first big clap of thunder hit. Mile 6 was 7:44 and the remainder of the .9 mile distance was at 7:29…? I ran harder and faster in a cold wind and thunderstorm with driving rain than I did the rest of the race. Can you say “Can’t handle the heat?”… *sigh*
First Olympic distance triathlon in the bag. Not really proud of the time, but definitely am proud of the effort.
I came across the finish line and it was empty. There was no one there save one lone intrepid volunteer collecting timing chips. I walked over to the water trough and jammed both hands in the ice up to my elbows. Even in the driving rain and wind, I was still a bit hot. This time I knew it was just from the effort though. I grabbed a water and made the slow slog back to my transition spot to pick up my gear.
What a mess. They had taken all the bikes off the racks because the wind was blowing them down. Some nice person had set my transition bag back up nice and straight (and wide open). It contained my wallet, various triathlon bits, my cell phone… and about 2 gallons of fresh Kansas rain water… Scratch one cell phone.
See… We started the race under bright blue skies and NO CLOUDS. Hard lesson learned. I will never leave my transition bag unprotected again. That was stupid. I gathered up the soggy mess and grabbed my bike and made the slow (and surprisingly refreshing) walk through the rain back to my car. I didn’t even stop to get a celebratory beer at the food tent. I was shot. I just wanted to be cool and dry.
In retrospect I liked the event. Well supported, organized and full of fun people to race with. I thought a lot about the race on the way home. I’m just not sure what else I can do to make the run better except for keep training. I’m going to start running a little bit at lunch in the heat to acclimatize a bit more. The swim was encouraging and the bike was controlled, but the run means two things. First, I’m not in very good shape. Second, I need to do some brick work in the heat. Lessons learned. I will get better with the next one…! Hi Ho Evergreen! Awayyyyy!!! July 17.