Sunday, July 21, 2013

Eight Weeks Out: Tri del Sol Race Report

As of yesterday, eight weeks stand between me and toeing the line at the ITU Age Group World Championship in London. The spring and early summer have not been kind in terms of injury and training. I have been trying to make up for my lack of run training with harder swim and bike training, but I can't say I'm ecstatic with it. I'm now on the flip side of my usual race situation. I find myself looking over my shoulder in fear of being chased down by faster runners.

To be brutally honest, I hate it. I hate that I no longer possess my former secret weapon - my running speed. I actually don't like to be leading races - I secretly enjoy coming off the bike behind the leaders with the knowledge my run can and has (in the past) erased up to a 7-minute lead in a 10K.

But eight weeks won't afford me the gains I've lost while recovering from a stress fracture and I must adjust my goals going into London - I must put together the best swim and bike legs I can. And I MUST speed up my painfully-slow transitions.

I was able to gather more data in my second Olympic-distance race of the season, the Tri del Sol in Grand Rapids Michigan. There were several reasons for choosing this race, none of which involved the travel situation (more on that in a bit). I thought the competition would be good because the top three awards involved cash. I also had a prior commitment on Sunday so I needed a Saturday race. And, last of all, my husband Jim has always wanted to visit a famous guitar shop in Lansing called Elderly Instruments that is never open on Sunday (usual race day).

But as mentioned, I was facing a travel "situation." The race was Saturday, June 20, and Jim was flying home from a business trip at 2:00 pm Friday. I would pick him up and make the five-hour trip to Grand Rapids Friday night. If his plane was late, we would deal with it. Guess what! Mechanical problems delayed his flight, and we ended up leaving Cleveland around 5:30 pm. It was going to be a late one.

We managed to find a decent meal at a rest area and rolled into the hotel close to 10:30 pm. I was pretty wound up and unable to relax that night, thus my usual anxiety coupled with a lack of pre-race wine resulted in a completely sleepless night.

But this was not an Ironman - or even a half. It was a short do-able-on-no-sleep race - so I shook it off and focused on what needed to be done. The plan was to hammer the bike and see what happens (this is a theme of late). Mentally, I'm still a slow biker, so "hammering" the bike is a difficult concept. All I knew is my legs had to hurt (bad) coming off the bike.

As recommended in a pre-race email, we arrived at the race site 2.5 hours early. I checked in and quickly grabbed the end spot on the transition rack (this was one of the rare races where "first come first served" actually mattered) - by the time transition closed, people were begging for space on the racks and many of us had to be vigilant to make sure our bikes were not moved or flipped around.

This was one sign of an inexperienced race staff. The bike racks were not numbered and no one was helping people properly stagger bikes. I noticed many people racking adjacent bikes in the same direction. Jim recommended I baby-sit my bike until transition closed to make sure things stayed put (I've been at races where helmets end up on the ground and transition areas disrespected).

No wetsuits at this race - the water was a whopping
84 degrees F. Here we were discussing
the buoys (or lack there-of).
Right before 8 a.m., we walked down to the swim start for the pre-race meeting. The swim start was the second - and biggest - indicator of an unprepared race staff. There was no "pre-race meeting." Despite maps of what the swim would look like, it looked completely different (read: rectangular course with only three turn buoys), and no one could explain to us the exact swim course. There were two distances - the sprint consisted of one loop, the Oly-distance, two. We watched in horror as the sprint triathlon began and the buoys started moving. This was not good. There was a speedboat racing around the outskirts of the swim course repositioning buoys WHILE WE WERE SWIMMING.

Swim start - that's my elbow you see.
My race started out fine - within a few hundred yards, I knew I was leading the women in the 1500-meter swim. I suspect an advantage came in the fact that I'm very good at spotting buoys because of my slightly heads-up swimming technique. By the time I reached the far end of the swim course, the two triangular turn buoys had come together, making the course more of a triangle. Swimmers were scattered all over the place, and I was alone for most of the swim. During the second lap, I was hit by rough water from the speedboat, making me swallow a couple gulps before turning toward the finish. Not seeing any other women and dealing with unreliable buoys, I lost focus and slacked off during the swim. I was surprised (and upset at myself) when another woman came out of the water right behind me going into T1. My watch time showed 25 minutes at the chip mat.

That other woman beat me out of transition (did I mention how painfully slow my transitions are?), and now I knew this would be a race. Why? Because I recognized her - three weeks earlier, this competitor had beaten me by about four minutes (but lost her second-place finish after being docked time for drafting - TWICE).

Within the first few minutes of the bike leg, I noticed she was on the sidelines spinning her bike wheel (mechanical problems) but appeared to be getting right back on her bike. I used the opportunity to make the pass and hope I could hold her off. I already knew she could run faster than me (from the previous race).

T2: Oh no, don't forget the helmet.
I hammered the 40K bike course as I had planned. Despite some issues with traffic control, the bike course was beautiful - with rolling hills and only a few rough areas. The biggest surprise was that it was marked MILE BY MILE - and very accurately too. I rode as hard as I could and with tired legs but holding my lead in the women's race, I pulled into transition only to see the same time on my bike computer as my last race (1:07 - 1:08). It was a harder course, but I was still disappointed. (I later found out that other bike course was more than a mile short according to a race report by an athlete who had GPS on it).

Proof that I ran with my sunglasses in hand.
My T2 was also slow because I still struggle getting into my running shoes faster than a snail. Being OCD, I also have to reposition and adjust the tongue, which usually ends up at my toes (yes, despite the laces going through the tongue lace "holder"). I usually also take time to pull the laces tighter. It IS a disaster. At least I remembered to take off my helmet. AND to put my hat, sunglasses, and number belt ON while running.

Having ridden hard, I was surprised how good my legs felt out of transition, but the 10K run starts on dirt and wood chips and then features a pretty formidable hill. I was shocked to see 6:38 on my watch when I went through the first mile (it HAD to be a short mile). I tried to hang with a guy named Mark who was running a great pace (we were trading greetings when he passed me near the end of the bike leg, but I beat him out of transition).

Yay, finish line.
In the second mile, I had to back off to avoid a serious blow-up on the run. Mile 2 also showed a sub-7-minute pace, and I found myself wondering what WAS going on. Were the markers wrong? I certainly didn't expect to hold a pace like that with only a few weeks of run training.

At the turn-around I realized I never got a split at mile 3, but I looked down at my watch, noted the time, and started my lookout for the second woman. I finally saw her just over one minute from the turn. This meant I was about two minutes ahead with about three miles to go. But I was feeling it. The run course was rolling and I was crawling on the uphills. I tried to run the downhills hard to get as much speed as I could. My splits at miles 4 and 5 were well over eight minutes - prompting the hope that they were marked wrong. If they weren't, I was in trouble. But somehow I managed to hold on to my lead and was relieved to see the finish line (and Jim) after another stint on a wooded trail.

Yeah, I was pretty happy knowing I could still win
a tri at 48 years old - and that I would be $200 richer.
My new friend Mark confirmed that his GPS on the run course measured 6.5 miles, so my final time of 46:13 landed me a mile-pace of about 7:06 (overall time 2:20:49). My progress in the run has me feeling encouraged at the possibility of a half-way decent run in London.

But as they say, my work will be cut out for me.

Yeah, I'm up for it.

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