Thursday, September 29, 2011

Belews Makeup Race

Belews Lake Triathlon was supposed to be my first race of the season but it turned into the last. Funny how things come full circle! I first blogged about the Belews Debacle back in April. I guess due to its title it also happens to be my most popular blog post. I would like to reflect on why this might be the case but I will stick to the point for now.

This past Saturday morning instead of feverishly texting all my racing buddies I solemnly packed my car and ate my breakfast. Since the spring race had been postponed to Sept 24th Set Up Events gave the registrants the option to do the makeup race or one of three other races in the series. Unfrotunately everyone else jumped ship leaving me to fend for myself at Belews. Struggling to eat my breakfast and find anything to motivate me I headed north towards the small lake created by Duke Energy to provide cooling water for the company’s largest coal burning power plant. Needing a break, I stopped at a rest stop and ran into Tanya Houghton of all people! The two of us have been racing against each other for the past two years even when we didn’t know it. I suppose seeing her put a little pep in my step. It was nice to run into a familiar face but it was neat to run into such a tremendous athlete at a highway rest stop of all places! She is headed out to Kona this week so I wish her the best of luck!

I arrived at the race site significantly earlier than I was expecting so I had plenty of time to go through packet pickup, transition set up, and a quick warm up for once. I usually find myself scrambling pre-race since I have a tendency to run late. After a little swim warm up I was ready to line up for the time trial start. In most races, your wave starts as a group and it is a complete free-for-all when the gun goes off (hence the need for me to work on my get out speed). This time we had to submit a 100m swim time and then we were seated accordingly in waves of 2. My wave partner, Happy Frank, was not there opting to train for his Ironman in Kona (no big deal) so it was a lonely start for me. I was looking forward to swimming against Happy Frank since he whooped up on me as relay members at the Cane Creek triathlon. Ok . . . ok, I will admit I was looking forward to a little bit of redemption, mono e mono. So instead I focused my brusied ego on the two open males in the one wave sending off a mere 15 seconds ahead of me. Right before the start it began to rain . . . and thunder. I was worried the race would get delayed/postponed/partially cancelled. Luckily none of those things happened and I was off chasing the boys before I knew it.
It was still raining as I headed out on the bike. Luckily neither me nor the rain was going hard enough for it sting but it did turn the roads into a puddle-fest. I tried to ignore the weather but towards the end of the bike I was starting to worry about the steep dismount into T2. Testing the brakes I knew it was very possible I would not be able to stop without fishtailing or crashing. I came into T2 very conservatively and luckily I was able to keep my stead steady.

Looking at my happy
feet or convincing my
feet they were happy?
Heading out on the run my thoughts were only focused on “happy feet.” Since this race was a time trial format I had no idea how quickly my competition was chopping away at my head start. I tried to focus on not worrying about what everyone else was doing and just on getting to the finish line with happy feet.

5th race. 5th win.

The award for the top three finishers in each category was a set of four stemless wine glasses. On my way back home I fought the urge to stop at Trader Joes so I could celebrate my victory with my new glasses and some “2 buck chuck” but instead I opted to drive to Augusta, GA to cheer on some of the local athletes at the ESI Augusta 70.3. Good start to a great weekend!

Friday, September 23, 2011

70.3 World Championships

When I heard Ironman was changing the location of the 70.3 World Championships from Clearwater, Florida to Las Vegas, Nevada I knew instantly I wanted to do it. I do not know exactly what the draw was but something about the challenge behind the heat and hills appealed to me. My main goal for the 2011 triathlon season was to qualify for the 70.3 World Championships. Unfortunately this put a lot of pressure on the only 70.3 race I was planning to do but luckily I had a great race and was able to qualify at the Muncie, IN 70.3. It becomes a slight dilemma when your whole season is focused on qualifying for something but when you do are suddenly left goalless which is exactly where I found myself going into Vegas. Since this was the first year of the race there were no past results to analyze, no real chance to create expectations, so I found myself floundering a bit towards race day. Even now, two weeks after the race, people ask me how I did and the honest answer is I don't know. I felt good during the race and finished strong. Does that mean I executed the perfect race day or does it mean I could have dug deeper?  Hard to say but overall I enjoyed the inaugural event I am hoping to go back again sometime in the near or distant future.

Swim (27:51) -
Swim course going out
My wave was not set to go off for thirty minutes after the pros started but when transition closed we were all expected to line up. A full hour before the 30-34 females were set to start we were all in a line and some people already had their speedsuits on. I waited until the last minute to put on my BlueSeventy PZ3TX because I wanted to breathe while I was still on shore. Encouraged by my first time in the speedsuit at Lake Norman, I had great expectations for that tight but ridiculously fast little suit.

Needless to say we all lined up like obedient water-loving penguins and slowly made our way to the docks where we jumped in but still had about 15 minutes to float/swim to the start line. The swim course itself was quite nice with easy visibility and only three turns. I opted to wear my metallic BlueSeventy Elements and even though it was still dark when the race started the sun rose fast and we were swimming into it by . With so much time until the start I struggled a little bit to hold position on the front line but when the gun went off I was moving. I have been working on my get out speed and it has helped. In less than thirty seconds I was off the front with only one girl to my right and a small group way off to my left. By the 200m mark I was alone and had the luxury of a paddle board escort. I found this very encouraging and swam hard to stay in the lead. Luckily the waves ahead of me were stretched out so I did not have much trouble as I started picking off the previous waves but by the time I made it to the bridge I was starting to wonder if this swim was ever going to be over.

T1 () -
I am not sure on the logic of this transition but the swim started on the left side of the lake with the bikes. We exited on the right side of the lake and then had to run up a hill, over the bridge, and then down again to enter T1. I am not sure why they didn't just start the swim on the right side but maybe I should just shut my mouth since I did not major in logistics.

Bike () -

Pretty much sums it up
 The bike course, hands down, was the highlight of this race. We left the lake and immediately started climbing the road leading out to the main highway from the resort. Once out on Lake Mead Highway we turned right, rode about 0.5 miles downhill before we hopped on a trail under the highway and then back onto Lake Mead going the opposite direction uphill. From there all I could see was desert and mountains. There had been an early morning rain shower, while there was no moisture in the air, the smell of rain still lingered and the morning dew was still burning off in the distance. It was the most beautiful sight I have ever encountered during a race. I wish I had a helmet cam to capture what I saw. Looking at the spectacle before me all I could think about was how lucky and fortunate I was to be there. I spent a lot of time with these thoughts for the first half of the race. I was really conscience about taking the first 28 miles conservatively as the hill profile made the last 16 hills appear to be all uphill. I was passed by 6 girls in my age group before the ½ way point but I tried to not let it get to me. The bike isn’t over until mile 56, right? Ultimately the bike course proved to be more mentally challenging than physically challenging. The climbs are the climbs so you just have to be smart with how you take them but the false flats – those guys mess with your head. There were several times I would look at my speedometer and the surprisingly slow speed I was putting out on what seemed to be a perfectly flat surface was morale breaking. This is the course to take advantage of a powermeter.

Still feeling good during the second half, I found myself enjoying catching people on the uphills only to be passed again on the downhills. I was beginning to worry I had taken the bike out too slow but just as I was starting to feel it in my legs, I passed 2 girls who had flown by me in the first half. I felt a little more confident in my pacing.

T2 () -
Happy to be off the bike . . . not looking forward to the run.
Run () -
For the first few minutes of the run my legs did not feel good. Luckily the rest of the mile was downhill to the first turn around. After the turn around it was 1 mile uphill to transition/finish and then 1 mile uphill to the next turn around. Then it was the same downhill, and then again uphill, and then again downhill, and uphill, and then downhill 1 mile to finish. No the world’s most exciting run course but the 2 mile stretch was filled with spectators and Hal, who went out of his way to announce my arrival. The run course was simply fun and I pulled a lot of energy from being surrounded by other racers (much unlike LKN). The best part was feeling like the miles were flying by . . . a feeling I rarely experience while I am running. All of a sudden I was running the last downhill towards the finish line. When I saw the race clock at 5:29:50 I just had to give the finish everything I had. I was supposed to start 30 minutes after the pro men’s field so I had less than 10 seconds to squeak under 5 hours. I thought I made it but the timing must have been slightly off as my final time ended up being 5:02:00. Have I ever mentioned how much I like even numbers?

I just want to take a second to thank my mom and Charlottesville Dermatology for donating my flight, Hal Cobb for gambling so much my room was comp-ed by the staff at the Palms Casino and resort, Patrick Ray for letting me borrow his race wheels . . . again, Graeme Leiser and Martin Jones for their donations towards my travel expenses, and my brother Mark for his overwhelming enthusiasm and encouragement towards my racing. I am constantly reminded how lucky and fortunate I am to be able to do something I love with the support of those I love. 

My casino and car rental (I wish), oh yeah, dig it!

LKN 2011

Recently several people have commented on the large number of races I have competed in this year. The funny thing is as of right now I have just as many races under my belt as totaled last year. I have two more races to compete in this season but with one of 2010’s races being an ironman I do not feel like I have overextended myself. I do regret that several of my races were back to back but sometimes that is just how the timing plays out. This is exactly what happened to the Lake Norman Sprint Triathlon. I sighed up for the race at the beginning of the season when the rumors of a sellout were all around me. In the meantime, the opportunity to make Nationals a cheap trip fell into my lap so I had to take it. Generally speaking I prefer to do only one race a month so these back-to-back weekends have been both a learning experience and a challenge for me.

Coming out of a lack-luster race in Vermont, I expected it would be difficult for me to find the motivation to push hard at the Lake Norman Sprint but I knew I would have to. While the race did not seem to have the depth it had in previous years, the presence of both overall female winners from the two years past validated the battle for top three. So on my drive up I turned to Toots & the Maytals to get me going.

Despite being a little late to the race site I seemed to have plenty of time to set up the transition and even sneak in a short warm up swim. I decided to swim with my new BlueSeventy speedsuit, the PZ3TX. Going into the swim I was not sure if it was worth wearing a speedsuit but I wanted to give it a try as I planned to wear it in Vegas. IT IS AMAZING! After years of seeing swim technology come and go, I honestly did not think the speedsuit offered much in the triathlon swim realm. I was so wrong! I sprinted off the start and found myself alone with one other guy but at the very first turn buoy I pulled out the super-duper-super-special buoy turn Patty Waldron, the head coach of MAC Masters, taught me and then I was alone. Suck it sucker! (don't feel bad nice fella, you passed me in transition)  From the there I felt fast and smooth until I exited the water and removed the suit with ease. I thought the time gained from a speedsuit would be offset by the time it takes to get it off but I was wrong there too! Wrong, wrong, wrong. If you don’t have a speedsuit, get one (preferablely from Inside Out sports – they are a blueseventy dealer).

The bike itself was unremarkable. Happy Frank passed me and passed me fast. I have been able to hang with him in the past but he simply blew me away this time. I guess his Kona training is paying off! After that a few more open men passed me but I was not able to hold pace and pretty soon I was riding solo. The solo theme continued as I transitioned from the bike to the run. I appreciated seeing some familiar faces in the transition but back on the run course I felt so alone. There were stretches of 5 minutes when I did not see another racer, volunteer, arrow, or spectator. At one point I was beginning to think I missed a turn and was now lost is the morass of some suburban neighborhood. The neighbors were all having yard sales and such . . . didn’t they know 500 athletes were about to tromp through their ‘hood dropping GU packets and spreading sweat on their wares? Won’t be an issue if I am off course . . . . and then finally I see another arrow. Pheeeeew, I was really starting to get nervous. Of course then I missed the last turn to the finishers shoot. Ooops. Luckily I did not get far before I was corrected.

I want to thank Cline, Vespa, and SmellyPoo for coming out just to cheer me and the other racers on. It was great to see some friendly faces out on the course to push me on!