Monday, August 17, 2009

TCSD (almost) Half Ironman RR part 1

Translation: The Triathlon Club of San Diego not-quite Half Ironman Triathlon Race Report.

I went into this race not really knowing what to expect performance-wise. After Coeur d'Alene I took a much needed, deserved, and well-earned month off from serious training. After looking through my schedule, I realized I only had a good two or three weeks worth of training. And while Jen assured me that my body would come around to race, I really wasn't sure.

Yes, I trusted her completely - as one should believe and have faith in their coach and good friend - but there were still unknowns insofar as race speed and how my legs would come around. If anything, I figured it would be a phenomenal training day and great opportunity to WORK HARD and PUSH and SUFFER for roughly 70.3 miles.


Race morning dawned early, as I wanted to give my stomach plenty of time to digest my pre-race breakfast. After my stomach catastrophe at IM CDA, I wanted to test something new. In the past, protein ensure has worked really well, and I think that will be a very good alternative to Greek Yogurt (for my protein source). Oatmeal, ensure, and baby food bananas were on the menu. Oh yes, and coffee - definite necessity. All before 4 am.


After eating and getting dressed, I waited around. And waited...and waited...and waited....

Finally just before 5 am, I roused Nathaniel. I wanted to give the poor guy a chance to sleep in as much as possible - we ALL know how tiring "spectathleting" can be. But after a cup of coffee and ever-so-necessary bowl of Raisin Bran, he was ready and raring to go. We were out the door at 5:20 - when I decided that arriving at the race site at 6 am for a scheduled 6:45 am start would be cutting it too close.

(In the past, I've been one of those athletes who arrives exactly 2 hours before the race starts. Why...I have no idea. Come to think of it...I still do that sometimes....hhhhmmmmmm.....There's just something comforting about being there early and NOT having to stress out. Race day is tough enough without worrying if you'll make the start. But because this was a relaxed and hometown race, I figured getting there an hour before start time would be perfectly acceptable.)

We pulled into De Anza Cove on Mission Bay shortly before 6 am. True to form, Nathaniel had made record time in our 25-mile drive from home to race site. I didn't want to look at the speedometer, and he certainly didn't want to divulge his speed. Yes, my palms were slightly sweaty and I think I only "fake braked" (from the passenger side) once or twice.

I was greeted with triathlon at its most wonderful and grass-roots form. The San Diego Tri Club van was open, and Brian (the race director) was setting up a small table next to transition area. Nope - there weren't any bike racks, and I noticed that several people had propped their bikes up against trees or lamp posts, while others had balanced backpacks and leaned their bikes upright. A few people even had bike stands that held their bikes upright via the front or back wheel.


Not so much. I figured that IF I tried to prop my bike up against my near-empty transition bag, it would only fall over spectacularly, (probably) breaking a cable or aero bar in the process.

Instead, my bike was safe - on the ground.

After registering and getting my number (15!) and timing chip, I set out for a very brief warm-up. First up: the bike. A quick five, or ten minute ride confirmed that the gears were shifting and brakes working (and honestly - I'm not really sure what I would do if they weren't...beg for help or try and fix it, I suppose). I was reminded how awesome race wheels feel to ride on, and my legs felt GREAT, ready to go for 50+ miles of HARD riding.

Very quickly replaced my bike with running shoes and ran another few minutes out along the running path and back, making a quick bee-line towards the restrooms. BIG mistake. They were disgusting; and I commiserated with fellow-triathlete Elizabeth about their sorry state.

I didn't realize it was Elizabeth until she timidly asked, "Are you Marit?"

And then I remembered: we had a brief conversation during the bike segment of Oceanside. I would pass her on the flats and she would drop me like there was no tomorrow on the hills. "YES!" I replied. "You must be Elizabeth!"

I offered her my semi-clean bathroom stall, but she was so sickened by the state of the others, I think she skipped the bathroom-thing all together.

We chatted briefly and eventually I made my way back to transition, where I noticed the race directors were holding the pre-race meeting.

While slipping into my wetsuit (okay - who am I kidding? Prying it on inch after painful inch), I listened while the RD went over the course.

The swim was pretty basic - one and a half loops that was the equivalent to 1.2 miles. Glancing at the cove and the buoys, the distance didn't appear too daunting. And that's what worried me. Most of the time when looking at a swim course, I always think that it looks too far or waaaay too long. This looked about right - so I figured it was probably a tad short.

But what did I know?

The bike segment was also pretty straightforward. Exit transition and bike like mad towards Fiesta Island, whereupon we would ride 11-loops criterium-style and then ride like mad back to transition. After each loop we were instructed to call our race number to the lovely volunteer (NOT plural - originally there was to be one lady keeping score. If I was southern or still lived in the south, I would (at this point) insert a "Bless her heart!".) The RD joked that we were supposed to do 11 laps, but we were also on an "honor system". 12 would be okay - but no one would be punished or DQ'ed if they only did 10.

Again - we were totally on an honor system; racing because we wanted to be there. Not for a slot, not for an award, but for our own personal reasons. Some wanted a challenge - to tackle a new distance, to try something new. Others just wanted a GREAT training day or to beat their spouse.

And finally: the run. Per the pre-race instructions sent out via email earlier in the week, I had studied the course. Saturday night, Nathaniel and I used Google Earth and looked at the overhead and street view of the 13.1 mile run. While most of it seemed pretty basic (run around Mission Bay!), and the RD said that they would mark the street with chalk the day before, I was still dubious.

It seemed a little complicated (to put it very mildly), with twists and turns through a few streets in the beginning. We were assured of the two aid stations - at miles 5 and 10 - but at every other point, we were on our own. And while I had viewed the course and had a pretty decent idea of where I was going; I was secretly petrified of getting lost.

Finally after the briefing I was ready to go! Wetsuit on I gave Nathaniel the biggest smile I could muster and set off towards the lake for a brief warm-up swim. He said that I looked like someone from the future, while I felt like a stuffed sausage with semi-flexible shoulders.

The water felt incredibly warm, at what was probably 74 or 75 degrees. I felt like a cheat for using a wetsuit, and worried slightly about overheating. Oh well - too late for that now, I thought. I swam out maybe a hundred meters but noticed that absolutely no one else was out as far as I was. Pushing aside thoughts of rogue sharks, I swam determinedly back to shore and got ready for the final instructions.

One more final chat with another racer on shore, a good-bye kiss to Nathaniel ( I LOVE having him there for me! It makes racing so much more enjoyable!), and I was ready to go.

The Swim:

I lined up on the outside, towards the left of the main crowd of swimmers. I heard one guy a few places away joke about "good training for Kona" and I smiled inwardly. If he only knew... There wasn't a lot of jostling for position or underwater kicking. Everyone was so...relaxed. VERY different from every other race I've ever done.

One final countdown, and we were OFF!

Immediately I kicked out fast, setting a HARD pace and looking to catch the two or three really fast people who did the (seeming) impossible and managed to morph themselves twenty meters ahead of the main field.

Off to my left, I could see Elizabeth swimming strongly to my field and I figured I would keep her in my sights as long as possible. Then suddenly, from out of no where "BAM!!!"

Inadvertently the guy swimming next to me on the left side made contact with the watch on my left arm. Somehow the force of the contact pushed my watch strap higher up my arm and (unbeknown to me at the time), slowly began cutting off circulation to my left wrist. The blow hurt a lot, but I shrugged it off, attributing it to the contact of a mass swim start.

Shortly I rounded the furthest buoy and headed towards the orange buoy in the middle of the course. Even though there were several people around, I had open water through most of the swim. I could see a small group ahead and figured that I was somewhere in the second group. On my right inside, a swimmer slowly pulled up and passed, and I did my best to stay on his feet and in his draft. We swam together through the first orange buoy and then turned slightly towards the orange buoy on the far end of the course.

Eventually he picked up the pace and I just couldn't match his tempo. And it was very weird: I kept drifting slightly to my left and had to over correct my position. My right side felt strong and solid, but my left shoulder was beginning to ache in a very odd way. And I just couldn't produce the power that I was accustomed to. I made my way around the buoy and headed back, parallel along shore for the second loop, passing the orange start buoy in the process.

Half a loop left to go (or so I thought)!

A quick glance behind me confirmed that there was no one there. Peeking ahead, I could see a tight group of swimmers and I was doing my best to bridge up to them. Aside from the mysterious left-side weakness, my strokes felt long and really smooth. The wetsuit provided buoyancy to my legs, and my kick felt light but effective. I tried to maximize my glide, making each stroke count and focused on executing the most efficient technique possible.

Rounding the far buoy, I set my sights on what I thought was the final buoy before turning back towards shore. Man, I though, my had, arm, and now shoulder are fucking killing me! This is absolutely awful. Then the realization struck: the contact at the start must have done something to make my watch band cut off circulation.

I stopped very briefly to try and tug it back in place, but the wetsuit sleeve seemed stuck and there was little I could do without the pack behind catching up. I knew the swim would be over within a matter of minutes, so I rationalized that I could deal with the numbness for a short while. Had the swim been any longer though, I would have fixed the problem. Pronto!

But when I arrived at what I thought was the final turn buoy, I noticed the first pack had kept going towards the other far buoy (essentially making the course a 2 loop instead of the prescribed 1.5 loop course). As this was a practice race, I figured 'Why not?' and set out to follow the leaders.

Besides, in spite of the pain on my left side, the swim seemed really really short. Perhaps the leaders wanted to extend the distance...? So I put my head down and glided the best I could to the other far turn buoy. Rounding it felt great, because I knew I would be on shore shortly and could fix my tightly lodged watch.

The very first thing I did while running out was NOT to unzip my wetsuit or remove my cap and goggles (which is what I ALWAYS do). Instead, I wrenched my wetsuit arm up over my watch and shoved the watch as far down over my wrist as possible. One glance confirmed that it had been forced half way up my arm, and the deep welts looked awful. But I kept going, running up towards transition, ready to get on the bike.

I groaned when I saw my time. Yes, I've been working on my swimming but NOPE, there is NO WAY IN BLOODY HELL that I could ever swim an 18-minute 1.2 mile swim. Otherwise Hello USA Open Water Swimming! I am your new sensation! Another 10-minutes, and perhaps yes, the distance would have been correct. But 18 minutes? Sadly to say, not even close to 1.2 miles.

Transition 1:

The weirdest thing was having Nathaniel RIGHT THERE. As the transition was a completely OPEN one, he could meander leisurely through, watching as I got ready to bike.

I think we had a conversation, but I don't really remember what was said. Sorry Sweetheart!

I quickly ran to the sidewalk, backtracked to the timing mat (when the Race Director worriedly yelled to RUN OVER THE MAT!), ran over said timing mat, and got ready to ride!My heart rate was probably at or near its highest at this point. Barely on the bike and I was already going the wrong way. And getting yelled at for missing the VERY OBVIOUS RUNWAY OF YELLOW BIKE OUT CONES. Oops. I felt like a complete idiot. Foreshadowing of things to come (the getting lost part, but I suppose the idiocy was there at times as well).

The Bike:

My main goal was to GO OUT AND SUFFER. To put my head down and work my honest-to-god hardest. I knew that the flat course was deceptive: the winds on Fiesta Island could be fierce. But, having lived in flat hot spots such as Eastern North Carolina and the Florida Panhandle, I knew that a flat course isn't always an easy course.

Trust me when I say that by mile 30, I would have done anything for a hill. And nope - the small "bump" on the Eastern end of the island did NOT count (as it took all of two seconds to climb over. By the 5th or 6th loop I began to look forward to it). Riding in the same three gears for just over two hours is tough at best, and I was grateful for all my years of riding very flat regions of the country.

Exiting transition, I had a vague idea of where Fiesta Island was. Ummm....just head south until you hit the island, hang a right over the bridge, and you're there....

I could see two riders up ahead, and figured that one of them was Elizabeth, whom I had seen in transition while I was wrestling off my wetsuit. She had made quick work of hers and sprinted out ahead of me. I was so shocked to actually see her there, though, as I know what a superb swimmer she is. I was just stoked to be in the same stratosphere as her.

Her cadence looked really strong and I made an effort to pass her quickly and not let her keep within my sight. I have so much respect for her and know what a strong cyclist she is; having seen her pull away from me during Oceanside 70.3 in the last part of the bike. If I could prevent the same from happening now, then all the better.

I put my head down and told her that she looked STRONG as I rode by (and I truly believed that), but was quickly destracted by what I thought was Fiesta Island...but wasn't really sure.

I quickly applied the brakes and yelled back to her, "Is this the turn?"

"YES!" She yelled. "TURN HERE!"

I thanked her - feeling like a complete idiot (again) - and did my best to gracefully navigate the tight turn from without falling over. Crossing the bridge, I hammered my way onto the island, and rode.

I didn't really know what to expect while riding around Fiesta Island. Yes, I had run around it once during the Resolution 10k race back in January, but having never ridden it via bike, I was unfamiliar with the territory.

I could see one rider in the far distance and did my best to keep him in my sights. Long sloping turns to the right, a long straightaway, a shorter turn to the right, slight uphill, slight downhill, sharp (but well banked!) turn to the left, another brief straightaway, a sharp left, and then a LONG straightaway with slightly left-leaning turns, more straightaway, more left, more straightaway, and again...more left.

And there - in the distance - I could see the aid station and what was presumably the end of my first lap. Sure enough, I could see a small cluster of volunteers and as I rode by, I yelled, "15! THANK YOU!!" and kept going.

And going.

And going...

For. Another. 11. Laps.

But actually, it wasn't that bad.

The first two or three laps I got into my rhythm, allowed myself to really settle. And then I started to build, gradually upping the tempo and increasing the pressure. My stomach felt awesome - absolutely NO bloating or pain - and I knew my pre-race meal was working the way that my body needed it to. I was doing a great job of taking my Powergels every 45 minutes, and two sips of Carbopro 1200 on the :30 of every hour.

Occasionally I would sip on water, and I also made sure to take in salt tablets, as the temperature was heating up into the upper 70s/low 80s. No, it certainly didn't feel hot, but the sun was shining BRIGHTLY and I knew that by the time the run came around, my body would need it.

Suddenly on lap 4 on the backside of the island, I saw Nathaniel.

"Hi Sweetheart!" I yelled. "I LOVE you!"

And then I kept going. But I knew - that as long as he stayed in place - I would see him in approximately 12 or 13 minutes.

Sure enough - the boy was still there, cheering me on and snapping photos as I rode by.

He also snapped a few other pictures - because, after all, what does one do when one is waiting for one's wife to appear every 12-13 minutes?
Wave runner/water craft person on the bay...
One of the many stretches on Fiesta Island...flat, flat, and MORE flat!
The VORTAC in Mission Bay. Yes, it looks like a giant bowling pin, but its actually a type of radio navigation for aircraft. In the military its called a TACAN. Can you tell that Nathaniel LOVES to fly, and really likes to tell me these things? I suppose he could recite all different types and models of race wheels...

During my ride, there were several riders who I went back and forth with - trading the lead. One guy on a silver Cervelo was especially nice and every time he passed me, I did my best to keep him in my sights. We exchanged pleasantries throughout the ride and I was grateful for the company.

I didn't see a lot of drafting per se, although I was passed by two different trains of riders, one that included two people who were doing a very good pace line that would make Tour de France cyclists proud. Humph! I suppose that drafting is inevitable, and there's nothing I can do to prevent it save for keeping myself OUT of such groups.

But one glance over my shoulder shortly after I had passed a woman, confirmed that I had a illegal passenger (drafter!) of my own. Unfortunately, I knew the girl and didn't feel comfortable 1) launching a mega-snot rocket of my shoulder or 2) swearing at her to GET THE FUCK OFF MY WHEEL.

It was actually quite annoying. Especially after she settled in for a while and nothing I could do seemed to shaker her. I rationalized that I HAD caught up to her and lapped her (as she wasn't ahead of me out of the water), so by default I was faster than her. I knew I would shake her eventually, but I was annoyed. Shame on her!

Another lap of this, and I was pissed. I deliberately sat up and braked - something I would NEVER do - and she sailed by. I watched her pedal off into the distance and wondered how long it would be until I caught up again. Shortly, I passed Nathaniel and took the opportunity to vent: I pointed at her, looked at him, gave her the finger, pointed again, and then flashed the "thumbs down" sign to him. He just looked confused (as though my signal wasn't clear! Ha!)

Within a few minutes, I passed her and again settled into my rhythm. Only to have her pull up next to me and say, "Boy my legs are KILLING me." I didn't even respond, and instead took a glance at my computer. Yes - 23+ mph when you can't sustain that WILL make your legs hurt I thought to myself.

And then she kept riding ahead.

That was IT. The pleasantries were officially over. NO MORE BEING NICE. Up until then, I had made an effort to say something nice to each rider who passed me, or that I passed. I was also very vocal about yelling THANKS to the growing number of volunteers at the checkpoint. But this - this woman on green wheels - was beyond comprehension.

Maybe she didn't realize what she was doing. Perhaps this was HER race strategy.

I didn't know.

But when I finally dropped the hammer, I did it fast, hard, and with stealth. I put my head down and time trialed my ass off for five minutes. When I passed her I said nothing, did not glance her way, and refused to offer a smile. Yes - I felt like a bitch, but hey - no free rides! I didn't even waste the energy to peek behind me. Firstly, I didn't want to give her the pleasure and second, I had enough faith in my surge that I knew she couldn't hold on.

Honestly, I'm not normally a super aggressive person, but on the rare occasion when the mood strikes - WATCH OUT!

The final few laps were uneventful, and I'm happy to report that I felt stronger as the bike went on. The legs were still firing well, the body felt good, breathing was controlled, and I was (literally) counting down the laps until I could get OFF the island.

On my last lap, I let everything go and threw caution to the wind. The traffic had picked up and more and more cars were passing. I could see people playing in the water - both on jet skis and also in rowing boats - but I knew that there was NO OTHER PLACE THAT I WOULD RATHER BE.

I wanted to make sure that I had completed the 11 laps, and though some may think it foolish, I stopped at the volunteer table to make sure they had me down for 11 laps. Yes, I know I could have looked at the computer - but I just wanted to be sure.

They confirmed that I HAD completed all 11 loops and yelled that I should RIDE HARD back to transition. So I did my best, carefully navigating the stop signs and watching out for cars.

I could see one rider ahead and did my best to close the gap. He slowed for the stop signs and I did the same, all while yelling, "CLEAR!" at the top of my lungs. I think I confused him because he looked back at me. "It's okay!" I shouted. "No cars - keep going!"

Duh. Again - I felt like an idiot, and he just gave me a funny look.

Oh well.

Nearing transition, I downshifted and took the final few turns carefully. I made sure to keep the cadence high and spun out my legs. I felt really great about my bike ride and was now thinking about the run. Correction: was now thinking about not getting lost on the run.


I hopped off my bike and ran across the mat.

To Be Continued....


Ryan said...

Call out the Drafter for Public Shame and Humiliation!!

And poor Nate, not only does he have to get up early...he has to put up with a "fake braker."

He is truly Saintly.

Beth said...

I love your race reports Marit!! They are always so detailed I can picture exactly what's going on. Plus you really crack me up. :) A few comments:

1) I'm almost certain Nathaniel and I are kindred drivers. And that you and Oscar would get along just fine with your fake-braking. :)

2) I absolutely LOVE the fact that your bike is just laying there on the ground!!! :)

3) GREAT SWIM! Especially because you did it with a numb left arm. OUCH!!

4) That bike sounds fun! It also sounds like you really worked it. Great job. And good job for getting rid of your free rider. Geez.

5) Can't wait for part II! :)

Kim said...

hahaha i love the set up of this race! 11 loops and yelling out your number? HILARIOUS!

way to drop the hammer on green wheels; she deserved the finger!

youre kicking ass so far!

Kim said...

Sounds like you were having a great day! I like seeing some of that fiesty come out! It isn't like you but it sounds like it was called for! Can't wait to hear about the run! My friend Gary did this race too. He is part of that club! You have to meet him!

Angela and David Kidd said...

That guy must have hit you HARD on the swim. Glad your hand didn't fall off.

And 11 laps - I would have lost count and gotten lost. That requires some serious focus. Glad you lost the drafter. Like you, I am not aggressive, but on the bike I can be just plain mean. I have choice words for people who draft or ride far to the left and I am think all kinds of terrible thoughts. Then I get to the run and I'm nice Angela again and wave at everyone and shout encouragement. I don't know what it is about the bike.

And Nate does not look happy in that picture! Sounds lihe perked up once he got to drive fast.

Shan said...

OMG 11 laps of Fiesta?! Zzzzz TCSD could have done better than that for a bike course! I'm surprised...

Ah well - excellent work! I'm curious who your special drafter friend was ;). Nice work on showing her who's boss!!! :-D

Can't wait to hear about the run!! xoxo

Charisa said...

NICE swim - I think it was legit :)

GoBigGreen said...

Sweet 18 minutes. nice. Jen will want some of what you are eatin! Hope the run was fun...will read about it soon I know!

Anonymous said...

very entertaining read so far, and I loved Nathaniel's pictures and commentary about them. I will identify the VORTAC when I see it next time! Good call with the drafter, although I wouldn't have been as nice as you.

Heidi Austin said...

grrrr....stupid drafters! I hate when people do that in races=Not cool! I'm glad that you handled it so well. I don't think I would have had as much patience as you :-)

ADC said...

I am glad I didn't have internet acces for couple of days because now I get to read both parts in one go - YAY!!!