Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Enchanted Rock "Extreme" Duathlon

Last Sunday I raced in the Enchanted Rock "Extreme" Duathlon, just outside of Fredericksburg. The "extreme" bit is the 400-foot vertical run up to the top of the rock at the end (which I figured wouldn't be that bad after climbing the Willis/Sears tower, but that wasn't after a 16-mile bike ride). This race is put on by the same people who do the Natural Bridge Du and Lost Pines Tri, both of which I've done well at. This race attracts a higher caliber of racer than some of their other races, so the competition left me in fifth place in my age group, my worst finish at one of their races since my very first triathlon, back in 2010. That won't stop me from coming back next year and trying to beat my time of 1:46:08, however.

Because it was a 2-hour drive from my house to the venue (and I opted not to get a hotel room closer), I had to wake up at 3:30 Sunday morning, after about four hours of sleep. It didn't feel that cold, standing outside my house for five minutes, so I didn't load up on clothing. I went with my original plan of tri shorts and a tri top. Thank goodness I threw in my arm warmers and full-finger gloves. It was 10 degrees colder at Enchanted Rock, and the wind was blowing about 15-20 mph. The logistics of this race are a little weird. Transition and everything else were at the pavilion, which has no parking. The parking is about a half mile from the pavilion via a trail that is also part of the race course. It was lucky I had a flashlight in my car, or it would have been a rather dicey walk. When I arrived, there was a guy who wasn't sure where to go, and didn't have a flashlight. We walked to the pavilion together. Since I wasn't 100% on everything, I didn't carry my bike or gear with me, so once I picked up my packet, I walked back to my car and drove back to the pavilion. Volunteers took my bike and gear bag and put it in my assigned spot in transition. I didn't get quite as good of a parking spot when I parked the second time, but did get one of the last of the closest spots.

Even wearing every bit of clothing I had with me, I got quite chilled standing around waiting for the race to start. I tried to wait until the last minute possible to take off my jacket and pants. I may have looked ridiculous wearing a sleeveless top and arm warmers (similar to what I wore at the IBM 10K), but at least I wasn't the only one. The cycling gloves really completed the look. It felt slightly warmer once the sun came up, but it was still quite cold when I left after the race.

The start was individually timed, so it wasn't a wall of people fighting for space on a narrow trail. The self seeding seemed to work fairly well, I didn't feel trapped behind really slow people, and not that many passed me. The first run was just short of five miles, on the loop trail around the "Rock." The trail was not especially technical, which was good for me since I don't really run trails. It was mostly crushed granite (or solid in a few spots), with some steep sections built up with rocks or timbers. There were a few spots the surface was rather loose, particularly the stream bed in the latter portion of the run. The last mile the trail was rather narrow, with big rocks embedded. I came up on the heels of a guy going just slightly slower than I wanted to go. I ran behind him for about a hundred meters before I could pass.

I got to transition, slipped off my shoes, put on my helmet, and walked my bike to the mount line. I would have run, but the gravel on the asphalt was pretty gnarly. The biggest problem on the bike was the wind. It was mostly a cross wind. There were a few times I swear my back tire skipped around from being blown so hard. The course was quite simple: eight miles up FM 965, turn around at TX 16, eight miles back. It gave a pretty good opportunity to see where everyone else was, at least. I was about 5 miles behind the leaders, and about 15 miles ahead of the last person. I didn't feel quite as cold on the bike as I thought I might. I had generated some heat on the run, and must have been pushing hard enough to keep myself somewhat warm.

Back at transition, I kept my shoes on when I dismounted. It didn't help much, because now I was slipping on the loose gravel, but at least it didn't hurt my feet as much. As is too often the case, my hamstrings were rather tight, so I took an extra 10 seconds in transition to stretch before starting the second run. The second run was just over a mile, but went straight up the Rock, with the finish at the top. There was an additional timing device just before the start of the climb for a "king of the hill" competition. I had intended to run up the Rock and compete for KOH, but that theory didn't hold for long. I took the first 3/4 of a mile of run 2 kind of easy, trying to save myself for the climb. I hit the gas when I hit the second timing mat. That petered out maybe 100 feet vertically. Somehow it felt steeper than any of the previous times I've hiked up the Rock. I figured I would walk briefly, then pick the pace up again when I got my wind back. I got wind alright. Once the "trail" leveled off a little bit and I tried to run again, the wind smacked me in the face. It must have been blowing 30-40 mph higher up on the Rock, straight headwind. I just walked as quickly as I could to the flag and timing device at the top. There was some fanfare at the finish from a few spectators, but there were no amenities. There was no water or cookies, and certainly no space blanket like I really wanted. Since I had no real reason to stay at the top, and plenty of reason not to stay, I turned back down shortly after finishing. I did get a chance to cheer on a few friends of mine from Austin as they made their way to the top.

I had to walk right past my car to get back to the pavilion. Since my clothes and keys were in transition, I couldn't seek refuge from the cold in the car. There were still racers coming as I walked back to transition. I stayed out of their way and cheered them on. The first thing I did when I got the pavilion area was to go put my clothes on. I was still freezing, but at least I wasn't losing as much heat, and might have actually started to warm back up.

Apparently the timers didn't follow USAT age group rules when they set up age groups. Since I'm about to turn 35, I have moved up to the 35-39 age group. They messed up and had me in the 30-34 age group. Unfortunately by correcting them, I dropped from third in the 30-34 age group to fifth in the 35-39 age group. By being honest, I lost out on a pretty cool looking trophy made out of a chunk of granite.

My take-away from this race is that while my "off-season" has been good for my running, it has not been good for my cycling since I haven't been riding on the road much. So my bike ranking was not nearly as out of proportion as it often is at du- and tri-athlons. I finished 27th overall in total time, and 40/25/23 in run 1/bike/run 2. Only a few weeks left to get my cycling back in order for IronMan Texas (without sacrificing swimming or running of course). It's going to be rough.

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