Sunday, August 8, 2010

Victory and Shoe Karma: Sylvania Triathlon Race Report

Two weeks after my epic fail at Ironman Lake Placid, I found myself back in the saddle racing an Olympic distance triathlon in Sylvania, Ohio. This was as much of a surprise to me as anyone. If I must blame it on someone, it was husband Jim's idea. He saw it work in 2008 when, after an embarrassing performance at the Whirlpool Steelhead 70.3, I came back eight days later to take the women's field at the Greater Cleveland Half by running a 1:26 half-marathon leg. It's not something I would advocate -- two half-Ironmans in two weekends -- and I don't know any coaches who would advise an athlete to race two weeks after an Ironman. But I rationalized by noting I didn't actually DO an Ironman. I just "attempted" an Ironman. I'm calling it an I-5 -- an "Ironman minus five miles."

Racing this past weekend also involved a big choice. There were three local options, all with Olympic-distance courses: the Cleveland Triathlon, the Greater Cleveland Triathlon and Sylvania. My choice was Sylvania for several reasons: it got me out of town (Cleveland), I had done it twice (and won it once) before, the bike and run courses are flat, and it's a very well-organized and well-run event. Oh, and the lunch provided after the race was amazing in years past.

Going into the race, my biggest fear was that I would have NO speed. After long-distance training for many months, I had no idea what my legs would be capable of when faced with the "shortness" of a 40K bike ride and a 10K run. The swim was the only thing I wasn't worried about. As a swimmer since age 14, I have a good grip on how to pace myself at most distances (i.e., NOT sprints).

We arrived in Sylvania the day before to see things almost completely set up for the race. These people KNOW what they're doing. Familiarity with the race site gave me a comfort level I've not had in years, but I still had some sleeping issues the night before. I tossed and turned until 1:45 a.m. then managed to get a few hours before the alarm went off at 4. I always say that one cycle of dreaming is all I need to get through a race -- and that's pretty much all I got.

We got to the site at 5:15 for a 7:30 a.m. start. My bike was the third bike racked that morning. We were there SO early that I served as a "guinea pig" for the girls who volunteered to do body marking. My young body-marking apprentice was chastised no fewer than three times while writing the number on my arm. Her "master" finally took the marker and did it himself. Apparently, he was an intolerant body-marking perfectionist. After enduring his wrath, I picked up my timing chip by moonlight and began the long wait for the swim start. My all-women wave would start around 8 a.m. (there was also a sprint race and a duathlon). I guess I could have used that extra half-hour -- or HOUR -- of sleep.

The weather at the start was perfect: sunny and dry. At 84 degrees F, the water was actually warmer than the air and many of us stood in it to keep warm. During this time, one of my female cohorts declared "the wind is kicking up," to which I replied "it doesn't look that bad." I would soon find out that she knew more about the wind in Sylvania than I did.

The swim was a clockwise loop in the calm waters of Olander Lake. The loop pretty much covers the entire lake, causing many triathletes to exclaim things such as: "we have to swim clear over to the other side of the lake?!?" and "it seems REALLY FAR!" Hopefully the swim went by as fast for them as it did for me, my only mishap coming from swimming wide and having my hand hit the bottom several times at the far end of the lake. By the time I reached the shore, I had fallen only about a minute behind the fastest woman. Out of the water, my time was around 21:30.

The swim is followed by a not-so-short run on beach sand then across the road to the transition zone. When I hit transition, I was well over 22 minutes. But my swim-to-bike transition went faster than usual because I actually focused on speed this time, and I was up on my bike just over a minute after crossing the first transition mat.

The bike course was a clockwise loop as flat as you could ever hope for in a race. The first two miles of MY bike course were marked by classic Disaster Magnet behavior: I struggled for more than a few minutes getting my feet into my shoes (clipped onto the bike), I forgot to hit the split on my watch, and I left my bike computer in "sleep" mode. We went out directly into the wind which was now substantial at about 10 mph. My legs felt like cement (Ironman fatigue, perhaps?), and I could barely break 19 mph on the outbound leg. As usual, one woman passed me like I was standing still before the first right turn. It was disheartening, especially because I was trying to "hammer" the bike leg. I didn't actually start to feel good until it was 3/4 over. By that point, I was able to reach speeds of 24-25 mph -- but don't kid yourself, that was WITH the wind. My average speed for the 40K ride was just under 22 mph.

By the time I finished the bike leg, I wasn't sure my legs were up to a 10K. WHAT? Two weeks ago, I ran 21 miles after a 112-mile bike ride after a 2.4-mile swim. It's ONLY 6.2 MILES, for cryin' out loud! I wanted to smack myself for the very thought. Upon dismounting my bike, I managed to knock my shoe off the pedal and had go back to retrieve it. What was this? Some kind of bad SHOE Karma?

And it continued... While racking my bike, Jim gave the news: there were two women about a minute in front of me (only a minute?), and he told me to relax and go out easy. My brain said: "How the heck am I supposed to relax when I can't get my running shoes on?!" I struggled for what seemed like hours with my running shoes despite using Body Glide on them and fixing the laces before the race. Frustrated, I had to settle for the tongue of my right shoe acting like an accordion on top of my foot, and I took off on the run with my hat in hand. (Yet another tip from Jim-the-efficient: "Don't put your hat on IN transition, just grab it and do it on the run!" DUH!) My bike-to-run transition was atypically, and disparagingly, slow.

I started the 10K run in my default Ironman "shuffle" mode. Yes, I KNEW I was doing it. Yes, I am well aware that this is NOT the way to run a 10K. I kept telling myself that my 10K stride would eventually kick in. So shuffle I did, past the first woman (the one who blew by me on the bike), past the second woman (the female leader in the collegiate division, whose wave started eight minutes in front of me), and into the lead before mile 2. I looked but saw no mile markers until mile 3, about the same time my 10K stride DID kick in. My watch said "19:24." I had a 6:30/mile pace with a shuffle? I'll take it. With only three miles to go, I opened up my stride. Mile 4? 6:27. Wha? Hmm.. I picked up the pace. Mile 5? 6:31. Apparently, this was as fast as I could run. Although I can't say I was pushing myself. In fact, I know I was not. Without anyone to chase, I just reeled in the miles and settled for a short sprint to the finish line. My 10K was a dismal 40:38 for a course on which I had once gone 37:42. Was it age? Maybe. Was it time for some speedwork? Probably.

All in all, I was still ecstatic to celebrate an overall victory in any race, especially at my age when it's becoming an ever-rarer occurrence. And I was also very happy to do it in Sylvania where I have great memories of well-fought battles to the finish line in years past. The icing on the cake? They had beer at the finish line.


  1. So awesome Jeanne! Sounds like a great race!

  2. You continue to inspire and motivate. Congratulations Jeanne!

  3. Last week I had two of my best solo training runs ever and for the first time ran some back-to-back sub-8-minute miles (7:56 & 7:58).

    I was actually feeling pretty good about myself until I read about this “dismal 40:38 10K” of yours.

    Where do I sign-up for your dismal run pace? I’m assuming your “awful” swim and “yucky” bike splits are both substantially better than the best day I have ever had too. If you ever want to get rid of those let me know because I’m buying.

    Congratulations on a dismal FIRST PLACE finish.

    Rock star!!

    All the best,


  4. looks like everyone is having fun in most of the picture..its cool too watch em enjoying the water..:)