Monday, April 30, 2012

Republic of Texas Triathlon

The Ides of April. Other than normally being tax day, it doesn't have quite the portent as the Ides of March. While I would hardly call this April 15 doomed, it certainly didn't go as originally planned. The plan was for a half distance (70.3) triathlon at the inaugural Republic of Texas Triathlon Festival, which is something of an outgrowth of the Corpus Christi Triathlon I did last year. However, due to dangerously high winds, the swim had to be cancelled (as it was Saturday for the sprint distance race), and a 6-mile section of the bike course over the harbor bridge had to cut out. Also, for reasons that weren't explained, the bike turnaround was moved, cutting out five mile from each of two loops, making the course a total of 40 miles. The run course was unaffected, and remained two ~6.5 mile loops. I was kind of disappointed about not having the swim, I was hoping to show off the work I've done in the pool since Longhorn 70.3 in October, but as my time still wouldn't have been all that competitive, I wasn't devastated. Plus, it would have been my first time really swimming in salt water, which I was a bit nervous about, and didn't have a chance to attempt on Saturday afternoon when I got into Corpus due to high winds (making very rough seas). So, while I didn't have the day I might have had with calmer weather, I was pleased to at least average over 20 mph on the bike (which I so narrowly missed at Longhorn), and had my best half marathon time so far in 2012 (but far from my PR) of 2:34:11, for a total time of 4:34:57. Beyond my personal performance and a couple of minor gripes, it was a very good, well run event, as all High Five Events I've done have been.

Since the Blue Norther Du five weeks ago, I have continued physical therapy, I've seen a podiatrist, and had a 10-day trip to Europe that was a bit of a rest period (other than a lot of walking, the only real workout was one run). Those things, along with two good hard weeks and one lighter week of training, led me to feel fairly confident going into this race. One thing I failed to address, however, was the tightness in my hamstrings I had during Blue Norther, and it was nearly my undoing in this race.

I drove down to Corpus Christi Saturday morning with probably twice as much stuff as I needed, but realized too late that I forgot my aero water bottle. It wound up being more of an annoyance than a real problem, but I did feel pretty stupid. There was almost nobody at the expo and packet pickup, which was nice, because I got my packet right away and had a chance to chat with some vendors and volunteers. I checked into my hotel after lunch and had a light jog back to the host hotel for the course talk with the referee and race director. The wind and seas were so high, I had to scrap my original plan of going for a little swim. I did take the bike out for a couple miles to feel how it felt in the wind. It was rough, but didn't feel particularly dangerous with my deep aero wheels on. I spent some time getting my things together for the race, then around 6:30 went out for a milkshake and to check out the course. Having done most of the bike course last year, there weren't any surprises there. After a little TV and internet time, I went to sleep a little after 10. Other than waking up a couple of times, I slept pretty well.

While it looked relatively calm outside at 5am Sunday, and the room's sliding glass door wasn't whistling as much as it had Saturday afternoon, the wind was still blowing strong outside. I filled my water bottles, ate some food, went over my gear, and headed to transition about 5:20. With the tail wind, it took almost no time and almost no effort to ride over from my hotel. There were already a few people there waiting for transition to open, so I joined the queue. Standing there in the wind and watching the roiling water, nobody seemed to think the swim was going to happen. There were some anecdotes of swimming in water that rough, and most people seemed willing to swim if it was going to happen, but nobody seemed enthusiastic about that prospect. I wound up racking my bike a couple spots away from one of the few people I actually knew there, David, who was briefly my swim coach (oddly, I also ran into another former coach over the weekend). After getting my gear more or less situated, there was plenty of time to chat with David and some of his friends. Later on I got a quick chat in with my "twitter friend" Andrew, who did the Olympic-distance race. At 7 o'clock, the race director got on the PA to announce what we had already assumed: the swim and harbor bridge were out due to the high wind. The race would start time trial style, one at a time across the mats, starting at 7:50, with about 12 seconds between bikes. The queuing for the start was very orderly, one side of a rack at a time, starting with the half distance open division. Having set up at the end of the second rack from the run out, I was somewhere in the middle of the ~70 men doing the half distance. Just before 8, I was off into the wind.

The wind direction was such that, for much of the course, it was maybe 10 degrees off of being a direct head/tail wind. It was tough to fight against, but it wasn't quite Sisyphean. At that angle, the bike's handling, with the deep race wheels, was manageable, at least as long as I kept both hands at the controls. The first mile or two, however, was dead into the wind. Although I was managing maybe 15 mph, it felt like I was barely moving an inch. Meanwhile, David, who started about 30 seconds after me, passed me in the first mile. "Climbing" the one small hill on the course was tough, but after that point the road turned enough that the wind wasn't coming straight at me, and things got a little easier. I was still putting a lot of effort into making forward progress, but at least I was able to go closer to 18 mph. The consequence of not having my aero water bottle, which I can drink from without taking my hands off the bars, was that I didn't drink a drop for the first 8 miles.
The course was sort of a "Y" shape, 7 miles down the "stem," one mile each way on the right fork, and one mile each way on the left fork. My only real quibble with the organization of the race is that they had the first aid station near the end of the right fork, but while we were still headed upwind. The second aid station was at the start of the second loop, also while headed upwind. Because handling was erratic, to say the least, headed upwind with one hand at the control, it was very difficult to take a bottle and do much of anything with it, especially to drink from it. What I did at the stations (I took a bottle of sport drink at the first station, and one of water at each of the next two) was to take a bottle, put it away in the cage behind my seat, and get my hands back on the controls. It was only once I was headed downwind again that I was able to drink safely. It was so nice to turn around and go from fighting the wind, to having it help. The first time, it was short lived, just that one mile of the right fork before going down the left fork, both forks both being mostly southward. It was such a relief to finally have a good stretch of tailwind. Because of my hydration situation, I didn't fully capitalize on the fair wind. I spent the first few miles recovering and drinking, but with little effort going 20+ mph. The real "rock star" moment was the last few miles heading back toward transition, going down the hill, with the wind at my back, hitting just over 30 mph. And then I made a U-turn, grabbed a water bottle, almost went down losing control trying to get it on board, and struggling through pretty much the same thing one more time. Only this time, I knew exactly what I was up against. The second lap wasn't much different from the first. It was still windy, there were still gusts to sap momentum and energy. Somewhere along the way, though, my hamstrings started to bother me. They were feeling tight and yelling at me. I didn't attempt to do much of anything about it until the last few hundred meters, when I stood up on the pedals and stretched. It was a slight relief, but not good heading into transition. I racked my bike, put on my running shoes, and... ouch.

I didn't even attempt to run fast out of transition, or for the first few hundred meters. I was really just trying to get my legs working, and to find the run in them. I actually felt pretty okay, all things considered, averaging about a 9:30 pace for the first roughly mile and a half. Then, instead of my legs coming around, they started to complain more and more. I still was feeling okay, averaging about a 10 minute pace, for the next 2.5 miles. It was there, four miles into the run, looking at an uphill section that normally wouldn't have been a big deal, but at the time looked like a mountain, that I slowed down, took a drink, and walked up the hill. It was also around that time that I first felt a blister forming on my arch of my left foot.
The world didn't suddenly look all bright and sunny from the top of that hill. Even going down the other side of the hill, I didn't pick up much speed. Even race winner James Bonney passing by wasn't enough to spur me on. I finished out the first lap at something of a jog and walking through the water stops, averaging 11+ minutes per mile. The second lap was just a grueling fight to the finish. After a couple miles of mostly jogging, I succumbed to a pace of mostly walking. I attempted to jog every once in a while, but my hamstrings and calves hurt enough that it didn't last long. Finally, with about 2 miles to go, at the top of the hill, with the wind at my back, I mustered my reserve and set about having a good run to the finish. Starting with something of a shuffle, my legs started working a little. Even at a 12 minute pace, though, I slowed to walk again after 3/4 of a mile. I made another attempt with one mile to go. That time it finally took hold, and managed a ~11 minute pace. The last hundred meters, with the finish line in sight, a small crowd cheering me on, I gave it all I had left. It felt like a sprint, but it was only a 9 minute pace. I felt like I was going to hurl, which has almost never happened to me, right when I entered the chute. I toughed it out. I couldn't slow down with a bunch of people watching, so close to the end. I "broke the tape," but that was only for show, I was one of the later finishers, High Five just likes to make good hero shots.

I got my medal and walked around for a while, trying to keep from cramping up completely. I got some food and drink, but they didn't really have any of my favorite things. I went over to the medical area, just wanting to get my legs in the ice bath. It was a little crowded, so I only really got my feet and calves in. While I was sitting there, with my socks off, someone noticed my enormous blister and suggested I get it looked at. The medical person (I don't know her actual qualifications) lanced the blister and put some ointment and a bandage on it. I was a little surprised that the treatment was actually quite helpful. The blister treatment I got after Austin Marathon (just some gauze, really) was not very helpful at all.
I hobbled back over to transition, got my stuff together, and headed back to the hotel. I rode my bike, against the wind again, but at least I didn't care how fast I was going. I thought about walking the bike, but it seemed just as much of a pain, and slower. I was so grateful the hotel allowed me to check out at 3, because it was 2:30 when I got there. My stuff was pretty much ready to go, I just really needed to take a shower before driving three hours home. I had half a mind to see if they could give me the room for another night, but someone might have noticed when I didn't turn up to work Monday morning. A little ways down the road, I stopped at a gas station to get what I had been craving- Dr Pepper and chocolate chip cookies. Fortunately I didn't fall asleep or crash the rest of the way, and made it home, exhausted.

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