Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Trirade: Island Lake Tri Race Report

Race morning sunrise in Brighton, MI
And just like that, my first triathlon of 2014 is done. And forgotten. OK, maybe not forgotten. But it's done. And lessons have been learned.

As my first triathlon of 2014 - in fact, my first tri since London last September - I chose one close to home (only a three-hour drive) on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend in order to allow two more days of training without having to be at work. The race that fit the bill was the Island Lake Triathlon in Brighton, Michigan. As luck would have it, the weekend weather was damn near perfect, and the race took place in a very scenic location.

I always treat my first tri of the season as a shakedown race. I use it to reacquaint myself with the race atmosphere: race pacing, transition practicing, wetsuit stripping, pack swimming, buoy spotting, and any other race-day mayhem which, this year, included tolerating (or not tolerating) cheaters. I'll write more on that in a minute, but what it cane down to was that, although the race is USAT-sanctioned, it did not include a USAT official on the bike course.

The day started out with one of the most memorable sunrises ever - over Kent Lake - the location of the swim. I rushed to check in, then immediately ran to take a photo with my phone. Everything was orange and there was a mist hanging over the lake. My husband Jim had taken to getting my bike out of the car and making sure the tires were pumped. But before he could even get to that, I told him to drop everything, grab the good camera, and take a real photo of this gorgeous moment (see photo).

The next hour would be spent racking my bike and remembering how to prep my transition area. In this race, I would finally fast-forward to this century and use my birthday present (received two days prior) for tracking my splits: a Garmin 910XT. Trying something new is never a good idea, especially when your nickname is "Disaster Magnet," but a shakedown is a shakedown, and what better way to learn how to use a gadget than with a potential gadget fail? And so I mounted it on my bike and hoped to remember the things I committed to memory during the drive. (Although, I would soon learn that force of habit trumps all.)

For the Olympic distance race (mine), the 1500m swim was a two-loop course in the lake (sprinters do one loop) with a waist-deep start. There were two waves, women starting second. Almost immediately, I took the lead in the swim and quickly came to the realization I was in a non-ideal situation: I had to spot buoys directly into the sun, a problem more complex because I was being consumed by seaweed. In the first five minutes I was blinded and choking on strands of seaweed - and swimming way off course. I reminded myself this was a shakedown race.

It was like I was flailing around in the water until the end of the first loop - when I got into a rhythm and into the mix with the stragglers in the first wave. (It was much easier to stay on course with more people in the water.) By the time I was crawling out, I was surprised and relaxed at having a lead - I could focus on getting out of my wetsuit and onto my bike without a massive amount of anxiety.

T1, therefore, went without incident, and I was quickly on my bike, hitting "start" on my Garmin (I remembered!) and heading out. The 40K bike leg was also a two-loop course - on rolling, paved roads mostly within the boundaries of the Island Lake Recreation area. It had two turn-arounds and one loop in the parking lot that slowed things down - I was convinced my Garmin should have been telling me I was faster. As usual, I expected to be caught by at least one (if not more) women before the run, and so I kept my eye on the bikers behind me at the turn-arounds.

Do you believe this guy?
And then it happened. No, I didn't get caught by the women. I got caught by a pack of guys drafting the entire race. At every turnaround, I noticed a pack of about five men who were riding just like that: as a pack. Like, in a diamond shape. All within about two feet of each other. They caught me with about three or four miles left, when the bike course passed by the start for the final short out-and-back.

At first, it didn't bother me. I wasn't racing them, I was racing the women. But when they slowed down, and I got caught up in it, I had to pass them again to keep it legal (which I did). The next thing that happened made me angry. At least one of them stayed in my draft zone - he never dropped back far enough (breaking the USAT rule) before reattempting to pass. I kept glancing back (he was on my left side) as if to say "drop back." But he decided to hang out at my side - not passing - just drafting away. It was then that I saw Jim with the camera, so I pointed to the guy (see photo) and yelled "do you see this?" At that moment, another drafter started to pass me on my right (unbeknownst to me, and not legal either). The guy on my left started yelling at me to get over to the right so he could pass - and I came within inches of crashing into the guy on the right.

THAT'S when I lost it.

I started screaming at all of them for drafting. I think I must have carried on screaming for about a half mile (Jim said he could hear me). I don't remember what came out of my mouth but it wasn't pretty. Or ladylike. (The words "idiot" and "jerk" come to mind - I sincerely hope I didn't resort to flinging cuss words.) As each one passed, I do remember saying "you're ALL CHEATING." I suspect some of my verbal outburst was inspired by the girl who called out another girl in London for drafting off me. I mean, seriously, if refs aren't going to do it, someone has to.

I came into T2 still ranting, and Jim apparently felt the need to calm me down. He told me to focus on MY race and let it go. I tried. But I was determined to chase them all down.

And after a short struggle with my running shoes (it was a shakedown race!), I was off. I forgot to hit the lap button on my Garmin on the way INTO T2 (because, as you know, I was ranting), But I remembered to hit it on the way out.

I thought I hit it.

First loop of the run, still smiling
What I actually pressed was the stop button. And I realized it about a half mile into the run. Too many watches with too many buttons in too many different places. I wanted to scream but instead I settled for 5.5 miles of splits.

And even though I wasn't running as fast as I could because there were no women to chase, I managed to hunt down and pass all the cheaters. Quietly. I wish I were bold enough to have laughed as I passed them knowing I started three minutes behind them. But I just ran and didn't look back.

In the end, seeing I had a good lead at the turn-around, I kind of lollygagged (Jim's word to describe my run) my way through the 10K - again, a two loop course, some cross-country, with a few substantial hills. I wasn't completely satisfied with my time, but it was hard to argue against a fun race with great weather and a nice course for a first race of the year. And the awards were awesome: a bottle of two-buck Chuck, a couple gift certificates and a really nice New Balance tech tee. Despite my issues with drafters, you can't beat this race venue for an early-season triathlon in the midwest.

And after the race, we had a chance to meet up with some friends we've not seen in several years. A great start to a holiday weekend.

Gotta love a race with wine awards.

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