“The first race of the season is always something of a sh!t show,” I mentioned to a friend, last week, as we talked about my upcoming race at the Intimidator Florida Challenge Triathlon, held in Clermont, FL on March 22, 2014.
In the case of this race, “sh!t show” turned out to be an accurate descriptor, as a series of events joined together to make this day–and the lead up to the day–less than ideal for racing. But, if you wait for the perfect conditions, you’ll never race.
All of my racing experiences – from high school until today – have taught me that racing is a series of choices and adaptations. Some things you can train for, some things you can’t. All things you must learn from.
The first half of this post talks about my prep, and then starting with the header, “Swim Swimminey, Swim Swimminey, Swim-Swim Swim-mooo!”, you get specifics on the race itself. So, if you are just looking for the race details, pop down to that section.
Like everyone, I’ve been crazy busy, and I had little time to pack, prepare and get my mental focus in order.
We had a jammed schedule: Fly out on Friday at 7:30 a.m., race on Saturday, fly home Sunday, arriving by midnight. Whew! The way my week went, I found myself packing at 5 p.m. Thursday night. And, let’s just say, when you are packing for a triathlon, you aren’t exactly traveling light. So, despite the short weekend, I still found myself with a 30 pound bag to check in, PLUS the bike box. Oh, yeah, I guess John needed to pack some stuff too.
Geez – bag hag!
To further intensity the packing situation, I had to dig out items I hadn’t used since October. If you’ve been following the weather at all, then you know that winter launched a full frontal assault on the Northeast. Even if I wasn’t a total wimp when it comes to cold-weather riding (which I am), the inches upon inches of snow we’ve been getting have made outdoor rides pretty much impossible. Since I’ve been on the trainer, I hadn’t been worrying about vital outdoor accessories like helmets, CO2 cartridges, bike tools, and water bottle cages.
It took me about 20 minutes to remember where I last left my aero helmet. And, the search for the bike tool? Yeah, that led me on an excursion through no less than 3 large bins of gear. I had thought about purchasing a big magnet, hoping it might just fly up out of its hiding place.
Needless to say, this was all time I was NOT spending thinking about race strategy and execution. By the time I finished all of this packing, it was 7:30 p.m., and there was a pathetic wilted piece of lettuce in the refrigerator. I ordered a pizza, and legitimized it as carb loading. Seriously though – my go-to pre-race dinner is pizza; however, I normally make it myself.
No, it was not ideal.
Gut appropriately stuffed with pizza, bags appropriately stuffed in the back of the Subaru, I then stuffed myself into my blankets and had a very fitful night of sleep.
The alarm went off at 5 a.m. “Come fly with me, come fly, come fly away,” Frank Sinatra boomed.
“Appropriate song for the day,” I remarked to John. I had started using this song for my alarm a few weeks back. It’s hard to lolly gag with the sounds of a big band blasting. Try it. You’ll see.
The flight was uneventful, and I was starting to relax. When I booked our flight, I had also booked a rental car, getting a pretty good deal on a 3-day rental. I was feel very smug and smart for my advance planning. That is, until we showed up at the Hertz rental line, which was at least 20 people deep, and only 2 agents working. Um, Hertz: have you heard about the unemployment figures? Help the economy out and give people some jobs!
There were 2 kiosks with remote agents, that worked intermittently. After about 45 minutes of waiting in line (what was that reservation for, again?), I was put on the line at one of the kiosks with Agent Chuck, who is a wonderful human being. As we went through the 5 minutes of checking in with my reservation, a look came over his face.
“Oh, no. I’m sorry. My computer just crashed.” Then, I looked up at the on-site agents, and I could tell from the looks on their faces that their computers had crashed as well.
Then, Agent Chuck said, “It’s a nationwide crash. I’m not sure how long this will take to fix.”
At this point, I had been standing for over an hour. I was hot. I was thirsty. I was hungry. It was not ideal.
But rather than get all Jersey, which all that would do is further agitate and upset me, I started bantering with Chuck. In the next 35 minutes, we had enjoyable conversations about IT guys in the backroom doing shots of RedBull and Monster trying to get Hertz’s national reservation and sales system back online, big cakes in the work breakroom, angry mobs rushing the Hertz sales counter, and all other manner of humorous pleasantries.
I believe Chuck was thoroughly entertained, and ever the performer, I enjoyed the captive audience.
Finally, finally, finally, after 90 minutes in Rental Car Limbo, we were granted the keys to our super fabulous economy class Ford Fiesta. Party people!
Now, as a compact car, it was quite the enjoyable exercise to cram my bike case into the back. But, pop the back seats down and in that baby slid–as if the Ford Fiesta was made to carry bike boxes. And, boy oh boy, nothing quite like that tin can ride we had in the Ford Fiesta. They should really add this to their marketing materials.
Now, we had a ton of errands to run: hotel check in, bike assembly, race check in, pre-race shakeout workout, and race day preparations. We had wanted to do it in that order, but the hotel room wouldn’t be ready until 3 p.m.
So, John, always the McGuyver, set up an impromptu bike shop in the hotel parking lot and put my bike together. (No, I don’t take my own bike apart or put it together. I have minus mechanical skills. I really don’t want to break Rooby-Roo.)
After scurying about most of the afternoon, we finally found ourselves back at our cheap but clean hotel (Sunsol Boutique–$65/night). At this point, I had to get my gear together for the race the next day, and a headache that had been at the edges of my consciousness for most of the afternoon, now came front and center. I did what I could to prepare my nutrition bottles, my water, my bike, transition gear, and so on. When I finished, I collapsed on to the bed with what was now a full migraine-strength headache. If I tried to move at all, I became nauseous.
I laid in bed, with a cold rag on my head, and prayed, begged for sleep to come to relieve the pain. I think it finally came somewhere around 9 p.m.
Nope. It was not an ideal night-before-the-race situation.
Off to the Races
“Come fly with me, come fly, come fly away!” Frank Sinatra boomed at 4:50 a.m.
Mercifully, the headache was gone, and I seemed to be in one piece. I made my way through my traditional pre-race breakfast: banana, scoop of perpetuum (which used to be protein), 2 cups of applesauce, water and coffee. Wow – how freaking delicious can you get? *sarcasm*
We arrived on site with plenty of time to prep my stuff – that is until I realized that I had left my carefully prepared concentrated bottle of race nutrition (Perpetuum) in the hotel refrigerator.
Okaaayyy. Plan B: make due with the honey stinger bars and clif shots I had packed in the case of an emergency. It wasn’t ideal, but it was certainly better than no calories.
Then, John realized that the “expo” was open, and luck of all lucks, the guy was selling packets of perpetuum and bottles! I made another bottle, and was all set to go. But, by this time, I had used up all of my “extra” time, and really hadn’t had a spare moment for the entire week to mentally visualize the race and my strategy.
I had 10 minutes to get my wetsuit on, and do a make-shift warm up of sorts.
Swim Swimminey, Swim Swimminey, Swim-Swim Swim-mooo!
Whenever possible, I do a 5-10 minute warm up, but if that isn’t possible, I like to at least wet my face and chest before a swim to avoid the shock of the water hitting me – even if the water is warm. I find this cuts down on panic moments in the first few minutes of the swim.
The women were the first wave of the day – which was a surprise, as I am accustomed to being the last or second to the last wave. No complaints here! I’d rather be first, than to have to pick through the crowds during the bike (like I did during Eagleman last year).
The lake was announced at 72 degrees, and I’d say that was about right. It might have even been a tad warmer than that, as I felt really warm by the end of the swim. It wasn’t crystal clear, but it wasn’t dirty, and I thought it was a rather pleasant swim.
The course is a long rectangle. You begin with a beach start, then swim out, with the buoys to the left, make a left turn, swim for about 200 yards, then make another left turn to come back to shore. The RD had plenty of buoys, which were easy to sight, with no sun glare at 7:30 a.m.I crossed the timing mat in 31:10, a PR for this swim distance by 2 minutes. But, if I’m being honest, I think the course was short. But, that time still goes in the record books.
The RD had wetsuit strippers, which was a nice surprise. Normally, there aren’t strippers for a local race like this one. I appreciate it because it does make the de-wetsuit-ifying so much easier! If you are going to use the strippers, just make sure you have the suit pulled down to your butt – and even a little bit below to make it easier.
Into transition I went with nary an issue. Okay – maybe all of the less-than-ideal issues were behind me!
Thirst for the Bike
I had talked to a few people who had done this race, and also read a few race reports. The consensus on this bike was: hilly. But, if you are used to climbing, this course will seem pretty tame. My Garmin has it as 2200 feet of climbing, but that seems really high. If it was that much, I’d be surprised.
Overall the course has some rollers in the beginning, flattens out in the middle, and re-introduces some climbs in the last third or so. On the day of the race, there was some wind, but I wouldn’t characterize it as very windy. However, I could see how this course could definitely kick up with the wind–especially in the middle portion. So, if you are thinking about it in the future, keep that in mind.
As soon as you leave transition, you hit a set of short moderately-steep hills. I miscalculated my shifting on one of them – only 5 minutes into the ride – and boom, dropped my chain as I shifted from little to big gear as I crested a hill.
Yup. I haven’t ridden outside since October. Go me!
In the middle portion of the bike, along route 19, there is considerable traffic, including tractor trailers who really don’t care to give you much room. The shoulder is maybe 3 feet, so you have to be careful.
I think the first half to two-thirds of the course is faster moving than the back end of the course, so be prepared to possibly lose a little bit of time toward the end.
The most substantial climb of the day is called Sugarloaf, and that comes at around mile 39 (judging from my Garmin file). It’s about a mile of climbing, and it’s an average grade of about 5% (again, judging from my Garmin file). In this back end of the course, the pavement also gets pretty rough. You guessed it: it’s not ideal :).
I’ve been on the trainer all winter, and haven’t had any time on hills, and I found all of the climbs more than manageable. If you are doing this race, and don’t have access to hills, then I recommend incorporating big gear work into your training to be prepared for these climbs–a series of 4-8 minute big gear intervals with recoveries half that period once a week or every other week during the build period would do the trick. If you have a CompuTrainer or something similar (i.e., Trainer Roads), then select rolling courses, such as Ironman Louisville (after the first 10 miles). That would be good preparation for this course.
So, I didn’t find the climbs to be the major challenge of this course. Nope. The biggest challenge of this bike course: There were no aid stations until after Sugarloaf, about mile 40–despite the advertised and announced aid stations every 15 miles.
I passed by what should have been the first aid station about 45 minutes into the bike. I saw a porto-potty, but no people, no aid, and no water. I didn’t panic–despite the fact that I had already finished all of the water I brought with me. I just thought, Okay. No problem. The next one is 15 miles up. I can make it.
The location for the second one came about 90 minutes into the bike. There were some spectators there, and yes, a porto-potty. I asked them, “Are you an aid station?”
They looked confused, “No, no we aren’t an aid station.”
Then, I may or may not have uttered some type of something about careless, shameless, crappy organization. Hard to know for sure
I tried not to think about the lack of cold, refreshing, life-giving water too much. I tried not to panic, but as the bike wore on, I became increasingly more thirsty. Eventually, I got to the point that I had almost no saliva left in my mouth, and I was taking swigs off of my concentrated Perpetuum bottle just wet my mouth.
Seriously though: a concentrated bottle of calories is no way to wet your whistle. I felt like I had glue in my mouth.
I wished I had a dollar to buy water in the various convenience stores that I passed. I thought about throwing myself on the mercy of a shopkeeper, but realized that would really chew into my time if I had to properly set the context to obtain my free bottle of water.
I started fantasizing about waterfalls, and ponds, and lakes, and dreamed of an Aid Station Oasis, complete with gleaming and glistening bottles of pure H2O, that ran directly in my mouth and into my shriveling cells.
As my desperation mounted, I scouted front lawns to see if anyone had their hose out front. If I had seen one, I would have stopped and filled my bottle. Trespassing be damned–this was a desperate situation, people!
By the time, I got to the “first” aid station at mile 40, I was already woefully dehydrated. I’m used to taking in at least 48 ounces/hour of fluid on the bike on hot days. Until I had gotten to this aid station, I had had 24 ounces of water in 2 hours – along with my desperate sips of concentrated bottle glue.
To make matters worse: the water bottles they handed me were twist off – not squeeze. Seriously?! Am I on an episode of pranked or something? I knew enough not to expect that they be cold.
Water is, arguably, the most basic requirement for racing – especially for a race that takes place on an 80-degree day in the Florida sunshine. It’s unacceptable.
Suffice to say, the bike was not my best effort at 2:59 for the split. I’m disappointed because I know I have more in me. I’ve been doing great work in training so far, yet I never really found my gear throughout the 56 miles.
The run course is two mostly flat laps. You leave transition and head out along the South Lake Trail, for approximately 2.5 miles out, and 2.5 miles back. There is something of a short hit just after the turnaround on this section. But, it doesn’t take much more than a minute to climb. Stay strong! This portion is mostly shaded, and while it was hot, it wasn’t unbearable. Then, you pass by the transition/finish line area for another out and back section – a little less than 1 mile out and 1 mile back. This part is not shaded at all, and it got hot – especially the second time around.
That’s one “loop,” which you do twice. Of course, passing by the finish line so many times seems somewhat cruel, but it’s great for spectators, and with so many out and back sections, it’s easy to get a handle on where you are in the field, and how likely you are to catch the person in front of you, and how likely the person behind you is to catch you.
When I first left on the run, I was uncertain how the dehydration would impact me. At this point, I had yet to pee, which is never a good sign, and in fact, I never peed once during the entire race. (When I did later in the day, the color was less than satisfactory!)
I took the first mile to get some fluids in me, and to assess how I felt. As I came to the first mile marker, I determined that I felt fine, and I went after it. I started running like I know how to do. I was shocked to feel so great, but I wasn’t going to question it.
The miles ticked off, in the 7:30 range, with my HR just where I like it to be in half-irons. I was potentially in striking range of a half-marathon run PR. But alas, as I came into mile 10, the dehydration started to cook me. My heart rate soared, and my pace dragged. I held on, and was basically anaerobic for the final 3-4 miles – but my pace dropped into first the 7:40s, then the 7:50s, and finally just under 8 for the final mile. I would have needed to negative split the second half – not get slower.
I ended up with a 1:40 half, which is 2 minutes shy of my previous best (1:38 @ Eagleman). Alas!Even so, this run was a great effort, and I stand by it. I blew up at the end, but really, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner given how low I was on fluids. In fact, as late as 3 days after the race, I was still about 2% low on my total body weight percentage (as measured by my Tanita scale) – and that’s despite pushing the fluids to catch up.
I ended up with a 5:15 overall half, which was good enough to be 28th overall finisher (out of 222), 5th overall female (out of 60), and the fastest of the old ladies, as I was the first place “Masters” athlete (40+) – which is basically like saying, “Oh, we’re surprised you are even alive and kicking – here’s a trophy!”
Overall, this race served its function: an opportunity to dust off the rust, and prepare for the more important races of the season. As I anticipated, this race had its sh!t show moments, and several of the circumstances made it less than ideal. Even so, I had a good time and enjoyed the Florida sunshine!
The athletes that I competed with were super friendly–I would say the camaraderie among the racers I interacted with was the highlight of my day. There was a strong sense of support out on the course, which I really enjoyed. For that I owe my fellow racers a word of thanks! It was a pleasure racing with you, and I’ll see you at the next stop!*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
What are some of your less-than-ideal racing moments? Do you have a story about circumstances you overcame to end with a great day? What have you learned from some of these moments? Please share!