Monday, July 1, 2013

Electronics Disaster: USAT Mideast Regional Championship

Best race t-shirt ever.
What can I say? I'm rusty - in both blogging and Olympic distance racing. Actually, in racing altogether. And definitely in my pre-race preparations. If I weren't so rusty, my return to racing may have been disaster-free.

But it wasn't.

After 10 weeks of dealing with a difficult-to heal tibia stress fracture, my doctor finally gave me the go-ahead to race without my aircast. Personally, I think he did it to avoid having me lapse into a psychotic episode. I think my words to him before he said "ok, you can race" were: "I CANNOT D.N.S. ANOTHER RACE." And yes, I actually said it in ALL CAPS. This injury had already cost me three races this year: the Boston Marathon, the Ohio Triple-T, and Ironman 70.3 Eagleman. The only things left on my schedule now are Olympic distance races. And I'm still not pain-free, but if a 6.2-mile run is ok with the doc, then it's ok with me (*end of discussion*).

However, in the last two weeks, I managed only two runs longer than 30 minutes, thus, I wasn't even sure I'd be able to run the entire 10K (holy hell, did I really say that?). Enroute to the race, my husband Jim and I discussed that my swimming and biking would have to be enough carry me. I think his exact words were: "you'll have to hammer the swim and bike and just see what happens." See. What. Happens. This race had now become a shakedown. My goals? Get back into short racing (from Ironman), put myself in a race situation, make mistakes... and perhaps the hardest one of all: deal with it.

Let's be honest - the proverbial "it" here was one thing: my running. For the first time in my triathlon career, I would have to deal with the inability to use my run to its advantage. My run would not only be sub-optimal - it would probably be my slowest 10K ever. I might have to walk. I might have to WALK. Walking in a marathon is understandable, but walking in a 10K? How much mental pain would I inflict on myself after that? But it had to be done. The 10K, that is. Not necessarily the walking. Let's just say the walking part was my demons surfacing (,climbing up onto land, and beating me senseless).

Which brings me to the race - it was the USAT Mideast Regional Championship. As a qualifier for the USAT Age Group National Championship in August, this race was meant to be good competition for me to prepare for the ITU Age Group World Championship in London in September. But it certainly helped that it was only three hours away in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Medal with a second life.
We quickly learned there were other way more awesome reasons to do this race. It started with my favorite race shirt of all time (see photo at top) designed by Frazz himself, Jef Mallett (who also raced). And for finishers, it came with one of the best medals of all time - it doubled as a bottle opener (do I have to explain why that's cool?).

And, yes, there were trade-offs as well. Despite the amazing work that Epic Races does with their events, this one suffered a bit because of the venue. It was held at Portage Lake Beach in the Waterloo Recreation Area, and upon checking in, we became acutely aware of one very annoying thing about this place: mosquitoes. Everywhere. Especially in transition. I was bitten to death before the race even started. (There were additional negative aspects of the race I will discuss shortly.)

But let's get back to the positives. For me, there was an unexpected perk that came with getting to the venue the day before. Tired of listening to me gripe about wanting to replace my old DeSoto two-piece maddening-to-strip-off wetsuit for two years, Jim convinced me to talk to the Aquaman dealer (a very nice Frenchman named Emmanuel Millet - website Not only did he tell us why his suits are number one in Europe, he let me take one back to the hotel to try on and bring back the next day. Astonished, I took him up on the offer. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find the suit (the "Bionik") had an amazing fit only to be negated by a neck gap [that would no-doubt cause it to fill up with water]. I almost cried because this suit did not restrict my shoulders AT ALL, and it came off instantly because of the high cut arms and legs.

Instead of focusing on my race that night, I spent the time researching Aquaman wetsuits (don't. there is very little information out there.) because the price was about $250 less than comparable name-brand suits. My only hope was that the women's small would actually fit and be available to try the next day. And it was. After a decent night's sleep (surprise, no sleep disaster despite all my worries), I bought an Aquaman Bionik the next morning. The fit is as close to perfect as it gets.

For the race, I had decided not to wear my wetsuit because the water temp was (a balmy) 75 deg F. Then, about an hour before gun-time, I changed my mind and decided to learn the ins and (more importantly) outs of this suit in real time. Heck, this was a shakedown - why shouldn't I do something untested on race day?

For once I didn't have to stop to pull my
DeSoto T1 wetsuit top off over my head
The 1.5K swim was a two-loop course with a deep water start - or, more aptly, a "deep seaweed" start. By the time I reached the first turn buoy, I became intimately aware of something grabbing my feet - not hands, but a cling-on. I tried to shake it off several times, but it had firmly adhered itself to the gigantic timing chip (you know, the ones that look like trucks attached to your ankle). I carried my stowaway through the second loop, but by the finish, I had become more concerned about how hot it was in my wetsuit and took no notice when it finally set me free. I'm subtracting at least two seconds for the extra drag.

Getting out of the water was followed by one of the other trade-offs of this race: THE longest transition I've ever seen in a race - it was even longer than the Chicago Triathlon. Looking at it, I had a tiny inkling of what it was like to storm the beach at Normandy. We had to run up the beach, up a hill, down a paved path and around several turns. By the time I got to my bike, I had almost forgotten why I was there. I wasn't surprised to find at the top of the hill, the guy in front of me stepped off the path to vomit. (Embarrassingly, I took solace in his misfortune - THAT guy was almost surely in for a worse race than I was.)

Panoramic vista, a.k.a. the swim exit
I did remember to look at my watch as I came out of the water and saw the number 20 on it. I was happy with that. The official results added in the run to transition, giving me 22:34 minutes. (Note: I would have been happy with that as a swim time too.)

My wetsuit came off without a hitch. However, I was about to ride smack into the major disaster of my day. My rustiness bit me in the first mile of the bike leg. I looked down at my bike computer only to find the sensor was not registering. (Because I had not checked it while setting up in transition. Even though Jim asked me if I did.) I had to stop for a minute or two to fix it. That was electronics disaster part one.

Heading into T2, happy to be on smooth pavement
Electronics disaster part two followed shortly thereafter. The bike course was a teeth-chatterer - mostly due to road patches and cracks - and turned out to be another drawback of this race. There were only two small stretches of road that were smooth. And I had just received one of those touch-screen 250-lap Timex watches for my birthday only to find that touching the screen wasn't the only thing that took a split. Every. Single. Bump. caused my watch to take a split. I started focusing on that and not paying attention to my ride. And seriously, I had no idea how hard to ride for a 40K. I got into a leap frog with another woman and tried to gauge my speed based on what she was doing. It also helped to have someone to watch in order to navigate the bigger bumps and rattlers. My speed stayed mostly over 20 mph with a couple of flat stretches that I got up to 26. My legs felt fatigued for most of it but not burned out.

I rolled into transition with absolutely no clue what my time was (note e-disaster part 1&2 above). Jim yelled that I was the fourth woman and: "don't chase, just take it easy!"

Yeah right.

I settled immediately into a comfortable pace that felt more like a marathon shuffle. I could not stretch out my stride (have I mentioned an additional hip problem that is still undergoing therapy?). The run started on a paved park road but very quickly turned into seriously rolling hills on dirt roads and trails. Great! My slowness would be compounded by slowness of surface.

The last two miles of the run were on wooded single-track trail that was so winding and rolling I couldn't see anyone in front or behind. At one point, I truly believed I was no longer on the course. There wasn't anywhere to have gone OFF-course, but running alone for that long in a short race can play tricks on my mind. Did I say "running"?

I told you my run was ugly.
YES, I was STILL running. At mile four. I never saw a marker for mile five. I WAS taking splits just in case I ever wanted to go back and upset myself by looking at them. Mostly I was relieved to find that even though they were all over 7 minutes, they were under 8.

Finally, a guy came up behind me and when I turned around to look, he said: "yeah I'm back here - I've been trying to catch you the whole trail." I had no idea what distance was left, but there was NO way I was going to let THAT guy beat me. I tried to pick up it up, but my body's response was dismal. And just like that, we were out of the woods (in theory and in practice) and back onto a paved parking lot with people yelling that the finish was right around the corner. (It wasn't.)

We still had about a half mile to go, so I just hung on. I don't know where my chaser was but he wasn't with me at the finish line. I grabbed a flag (did I tell you that one of the race participants - a veteran - brought American flags from Afghanistan for us to run with across the finish line to show our support of US Troops? well, that's what the flag was for) - and ran across the line with people yelling that I was the third woman finisher.

I barely kept my balance
grabbing that flag (it was huge). 
As it turns out, I was the first over-40 finisher and won the overall female masters award. I tried not to care about my splits right away (Jim will tell you different) - and I was pretty happy to find out that my official finish time was 2:16:55. I was also pretty happy to find that the masters award came with some pretty cool swag from USAT (free year membership and a vest), Rudy Project (free sunglasses), and the supporting bike shop, Transition Rack ($25 gift certificate). I'm not complaining.

In the car on the way home, I tried to make sense of my splits and finally gave up. The final electronics disaster was finding out that my new watch only saves 50 splits per event (wtf, Timex?), and that none of my run splits were stored. I'll never really know what happened out there, but I do know that my 10K was 44:37 (I refuse to calculate the pace). My transitions were slow. But my bike split was 1:07:22 - which includes the stop to fix my sensor - so there's THAT.

And because there's everyone's lingering question: "what's up with the stress fracture?" Here's what happened: during the first three miles of the run, I forgot I had a stress fracture. During the last three miles, a low-grade worsening pain reminded me of it. But then, shortly after I finished, the pain strangely ramped up to a fear-inducing level. I slapped on the aircast, wore it the rest of the day, and prayed. By this morning, it was gone.

And just like that, my hope for salvaging a triathlon season looks much brighter than it did yesterday.

UPDATE: We found out today that my third place overall finish was actually second place because the second place woman was given six minutes in drafting penalties. Wow.

The guy I'm shaking hands with is Michael Wendorf, USAT Mideast Region Vice-Chair,
Michigan Rep, and Youth Development Program Chair, but MOST importantly,
he's in his mid-50s and he BLEW BY ME on the run like I was standing still.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a good race! Except for the mosquitoes. They are vicious this year. :) Good luck with the rest of your season!