Race Recap: Timberman Triathlon (Part 2)

27 Aug

Morning Of the Race – Transition SetUp

Catching the bus at Gunstock and taking it down to Ellacoya State Park was a breeze. Not only that, but we pulled into the parking lot fairly early, and as we parked, another car pulled in next to us. I looked over and realized it was my training partner A and her husband.  How fun is that?  Of the hundreds of triathletes, I got to park next to the one person I knew well and sit with her on the bus ride.  Misery loves company…so do nervous triathletes pre-race.

We had plenty of transition time…well over an hour before we were supposed to exit the transition area. Unfortunately, it ended up not being nearly enough time for me. First, I had to deal with the girl next to me who said “Do you have to put your stuff there?” as if  I had any other choice than using the few inches allotted to me under my bike. I hate to call people names but if you’re thinking of one right now that starts with “B” that was her. She actually went and got race volunteers to come and yell at the girl on the other side of her because her bike was not exactly in the  middle of the race sticker where it belonged.  The guys on the other side of me were much nicer, although I did wonder if I was in the wrong place when I realized I was mostly in the “guys” transition area.  Then I realized we were lined up by age group and being a Z, I was the last girl in my age group before the guys in my age group.  They were helpful with figuring out the route from the swim to our bikes and from the bike racks to the run.

Second, I laid out my biking and running gear and then headed to the portapotty line with A.  We had 40 minutes left to setup our transition time.  After we had reached the front of our line and done our business, we had 3 minutes left.  Really, that was not cool. Even after we picked a line that mainly had men in it.  Next year, I plan on setting up transition with everything I need, handing my wetsuit and swim gear to my family, and then waiting in the dreaded line.  When you don’t start swimming until 7:29 but have to exit the transition area at 6:45, it doesn’t make sense to waste transition time in a long bathroom line.

So I spent my 3 minutes: grabbing my wetsuit and swimcap and goggles and Morning Bag (in which to leave my sweatpants and sweatshirt) and ripping open my Honey Stinger Waffles and putting them all in a baggy together for the bike. I had already taped 2 Gu packets to the top tube on my bike.

Timberman – Swim

A and I met up with my parents and my Dad dropped off my Morning Bag to the tent where they were keeping them after I downed some pre-race fuel.  Then we waded thru some freezing cold water to line up with our Swim group (#9 out of 20).  At this point, I realized I was wearing my Nike FuelBand…which isn’t waterproof. Ugh.  So I waded back thru the freezing water to find my parents (and failed). With timing running out. I went to the Morning Bag drop and tried to find my bag (and failed). They were all organized numerically….except for mine. I ended up taking my fuelband off, telling my race number to the teenage girl working there, and asking her to find my bag and put it in there. I figured my odds were: 10% of finishing the race and seeing my fuelband again versus 100% chance of it being destroyed during a 1.2 mile swim.  Then I waded thru the freezing water again.

The only good part about this unexpected interruption was that I had less time to stand around on the beach getting nervous about the swim. I am way too short and muscular to be a good swimmer.  Fact.  The very things that make me able to bench press more than my body weight and power thru Crossfit workouts are the very things that make me inelegant in the water.  Not to mention that swimming straight, not hyperventilating when people swim on top of me, and remembering to breathe are not skills of mine.

We headed into the water, I had about 60 seconds in which to panic and decide that it would be less embarrassing to quit now than drown, and then we were off. And…it was awful.  I would say that the first 5-10 minutes of the swim were the worst part of my entire race. People kicking me, hitting me, swimming over me, not to mention choppy water and my whole “10 strokes and then sight one of the buoys” turned out to not be enough to keep me swimming straight.  We swam straight out…and out…and out.  I made a game of counting the buoys (I pretended there were 20 even though there actually ended up only being 15) and telling myself to stay calm and slow and steady.  We had a short swim out, a long swim parallel to shore (which was very far away), and then a short swim back to shore. The middle section was actually the easiest for me. I caught up to a number of swimmers from the group before us and that felt good. I only panicked and thought “I’m the last swimmer in my age group!” once every 15 seconds.  The last part of the swim, even though I knew I was swimming to shore, was the worst.  My wetsuit zipper was pushing on the most painful part of my aching neck and I felt like passing out a few times. It made moving my head very difficult and I knew the shooting pain wasn’t a good sign. I also started getting passed by all the swimmers who started after us. And they were ruthless.  A bunch of them grabbed me as they passed by and literally pushed me away.  This does not happen on the bike…this does not happen on the run. No wonder I hate the swim so much.

44 minutes later, and in the bottom 10% of my age group (94 out of 104, I believe), I finished.

The wetsuit strippers were easily my favorite part. They were yelling “get it down over your hips” as I approached but one of the guys sized me up (being petite has some perks) and told me to get down and ripped off the suit in one smooth move, grabbed me by the arm and pulled me up (I think I weighed less than he thought as I went flying about 7 inches off the ground before I landed), threw the wetsuit in my arm and pushed me to the transition area.  Either I lucked out with the wetsuit stripping champion or he saw my swim cap, realized I was the last one in my age group and wanted to help me shave a few seconds off.

Timberman – Bike

Not only had I forgotten to take my FuelBand off during the transition setup, but I had forgotten to put a sports bra on under my tri suit. Tri suits are made for skinny women with no curves. The short run up the beach had proved to me that the tri suit alone was not supportive enough for my run.  But I figured it would be fine for biking and I would deal with it later…56 miles on a bike is plenty of time to make a plan.

Threw on my bike shoes, grabbed my helmet, realized that my plan to loosen my bike helmet in advance had actually resulted in me tightening it, fixed my helmet and headed for the transition (Clearly I’m not very organized and prepared when it comes to these things…but I also am unflappable and don’t get bent out of shape when things don’t go smoothly). Raced out of there as fast as I could and began the first awful ascent of the ride.

Between mile 1 and 2, while climbing uphill, I saw a horrific sight – two guys bloody and unconscious at the side of the road.  Medical personnel was shooing us over, away from the shoulder, and I instinctively knew that the accident had not just happened so the fact that the guys were still unconscious was probably not a good sign.  Regardless of that, I managed to not get nervous about bike accidents.  And having previewed the course was very helpful as I knew when to prepare for the badass hills, when to prepare for some nice descents, when to fuel. I got passed.  A lot. But I also exchanged pleasantries with a number of cyclists and the weather was ideal.  I reached the 30 mile mark having averaged over 17 mph which is not good for a professional but is very good for me.  Sadly, the last 26 miles were brutal: the worst hills, wind against me, bathroom stop mid-hill at the first unoccupied portapotty I saw.

There wasn’t much time to think on the bike, I told someone recently.  Really?  3 and a half hours wasn’t enough time. But its hard to explain…I was thinking…about hills and fuel and how I was going faster than I expected and how I couldn’t turn my neck and guessing what the tattoos on the guy in front of me stood for…and how I went 45 miles needing the bathroom before I stopped…and how after seeing the 7th cyclist repairing a wheel I began praying that my bike would make it without any repairs…and how I only stopped at the first (of 4) fuels stations and how the women were pretty timid on the descents but I slammed down the final downhill at 47 mph and the guy who came after me pulled up alongside with a huge grin on his face and said “That was the best part of today – that was incredible” and I felt the same. I get a feeling of sheer terror biking that fast but I also feel incredibly energized and alive doing terrifying things like that.

I owned the last 5 miles of uphill.  Not sure why but my fuel stores were starting to kick in and I passed 27 people, mostly guys, in the last 5 miles.  The harder the uphill got, the faster I pedaled.  I was in the homestretch and although slow, I was going to finish without any walking or even standing up in my saddle.  Thanks to the neck pain, I hadn’t even had time to worry about my hands going numb (happens if I don’t switch position often enough) or my groin hurting (always in tri shorts) or how everyone else had fancy aero bars. I saw A up ahead, finishing the “no pass zone” on the bike and speeding back into transition. She had predicted that I would “pass her at the end of the bike leg” but she was wrong. I was mostly happy that we had both finished without accidents and well within the time frame we had expected.

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Honestly, it was a slow bike ride but I am a slow biker. I biked faster than expected, was able to hold down more fuel than I had hoped for, and finished in good spirits.  I was 95th out of 104 in my age group but I knew my secret weapon was next – I can run.

Timberman – Run

I was ready to rip off my tri top, throw on a sports bra I dug out of the bottom of my race bag which was under the race bag of the guy next to me, and head out. But I remembered the whole “no nudity” rule and the fact that spectators (including my parents) might be able to see me so I headed to the portapotty next to the run course and did a quick costume addition there.

Having run all of my marathons without headphones, I was prepared for this. What I was not prepared for was having age stations every 3/4 mile apart (lots of fun to look at but also disconcerting when you prefer them spaced every 1-2 miles apart) and the fact that my legs didn’t feel bad at all (I should have biked faster).  I had A and two coworkers S and P to look for and cheer on and that motivated me. Not to mention I had downed some caffeinated Gu towards the end of my bike and I never drink caffeine…which means I was high on energy. My goal was to enjoy the first 6.6 loop and slog thru the second one. I ran the first loop so fast that I don’t remember enjoying it but I also don’t remember hating it either. It just was. And there was Andy Potts, the winner, cheering us on as we started our second loop.

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The second loop was slower.  My hips hurt and my IT band started aching and I needed a bathroom stop.  But it was also a fun run. There were so many spectators lining the course…the aid stations were a nice distraction…I had people to search for…I had lots of fun chats with people on their first leg of the run and I was excited to get to the Finisher: This Way sign at the end. Without my watch, I hadn’t a clue what time it was so I kept asking people, then attempting to do math in my head, then realizing I was running really fast and that spurred me on to move faster. My finish time was 1:44, putting me 8th in my age group!

Funny to compare this with a half marathon – where everyone gets cheered on for the last mile or so. In this race, having already been competing for many hours, we needed cheers for every mile of the race. The atmosphere was festive, very festive. As if the run was just icing on the cake, the race was already over.

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I got my finisher’s hat and my medalsome water and immediately found my parents by the finish line so I could wait for and cheer A. Finishing felt good, watching other people finish with huge smiles on their faces and being handed their medals by a dimpled Andy Potts felt even better. Every single person who ran had a personal story of victory and triumph, stories I will never know, but stories that matter nonetheless.

I’m not super into finishing times and competing against others.  I compete against myself, often against courses and weather and pain and other things that could slow me down.  But I post these results just to prove that people can finish and finish happy regardless of their placing, regardless of how much body fat they have, regardless of whether they have aero bars and expensive clothing and sponsors.

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