Less than 48 hours after getting back from Alaska, where I spent 20 days on snow and ice climbing to North America's highest point, having stood at 20,320 feet elevation on July 5, I raced in the fourth event of the Texas Tri Series, Couples Tri. The event is meant to pair two people (friends, strangers, couples) and combine their times. Since I wasn't 100% sure I'd be back, I didn't pair up with anyone and went in the Individual category. I was quite curious how this event would go, as sort of a "Nature versus Nurture" experiment to see if three weeks at altitude could make up for not swimming, cycling, or running during that time. While it was rather unscientific, basically the answer was no. Having never done this race, my overall time of 1:23:20 can't be compared to a prior time, but it was slower than two friends who I normally beat. Comparing the bike split to the Rookie Tri, which is the same course, somehow my power was higher but my time was a minute and a half slower. Not too surprisingly, in the swim swim, which is so dependent on form, my mile pace was about a minute slower the other races in the series. My run pace was off of par as well, but at least some of that could be attributed to having killed my big toe nails coming down Denali.
Like the previous races in the tri series, I once again volunteered on Saturday and raced on Sunday. It was quite hot standing around in 100+ degree weather helping at packet pickup Saturday afternoon, but in a way it was probably good for an "immersion style" heat acclimation. Having been quite comfortable walking around Anchorage, with a high of 80 degrees, in shorts and flip-flops, I was afraid I might catch fire upon returning to Texas. While I did sweat quite a bit, even with shade and fans for a breeze, I survived the afternoon and felt at least a bit better about the heat than I did when I woke up that morning. I also managed to get some really short (less than 20 minutes each) swim, bike, and run workouts in during the day, just to make sure I still had some idea of what I was doing.
My sleep has not gotten close to returning to "normal," whatever that is. I woke up at 4 and left the house at 5, well before I really needed to. The upside was that when I got to the race venue at Lake Walter E. Long at 5:30, I parked really close to transition. I had plenty of time to kill in transition once I got my gear set up, so I chatted with some of the numerous friends racing. I was one of the last waves to go, so I had some time to kill even once the race was under way. It was a good thing, too, because my energy was really flagging and I had a chance to find a sugar/caffeine delivery device.
Let's just say I wasn't feeling especially well prepared when I got in the water for my 8:32 wave start. Fortunately it wasn't too chaotic when the claxon sounded. The wave wasn't particularly large, 45 guys, and I was lined up to the outside, a body length behind the front line. I jumped out, more or less the pace I should be capable of, but couldn't hold it. By the third buoy, before the first turn of the 800-meter course, I switched to breast stroke to catch my breath and reset my pace. From there, I kept a pretty steady pace, with one more quick bit of breast stroke to check my course. I tried to pull harder in the last hundred meters; I'm not sure it was all that effective, I didn't really increase my stroke cadence. I was out of the water in 19:45, even slower than I thought I would be. One of weird things about this swim is that, for the first time in my life, I have a full scraggly mountain-man beard, and the mustache is long enough that in the water, the hairs tickle my lip; it was a strange sensation to have.
Once out of the water, nobody passed me. Obviously being the second-to-last wave and having a slow swim is largely responsible for this, but it felt good anyway. Near the north end of Decker Lane, before the turn onto Lindell, I heard a loud popping noise from my rear wheel. At first I thought it was my tire popping, but it looked okay as far as I could tell. I heard the noise quite a few more times; I thought maybe it was related to my rear derailleur being out of adjustment. Closer to Lindell I heard a similar noise, but from a different angle, and I realized it was gunfire from the range there. There is just some acoustical property of my disc wheel that caught it and bounced it up to me. The rest of the bike was okay, we ran into a headwind when we turned onto the tollway frontage.
The run was just okay. I could feel my toes, but they didn't really hurt. I was only going about a 8:40 pace over the hilly, 3-mile off-road course. I was at least moving pretty consistently until the final hill. I was trying to power up it, trying to tell myself it was nothing compared to nearly 20,000 vertical feet of climbing, but my "RPMs" were near red-line. I walked for about a minute to the crest of the hill, then started picking up the pace again. I strided out the final 400 meters of asphalt, but didn't get up to a sprint pace. Since I was pretty sure I wasn't anywhere close to the podium (I heard an individual was finishing when I was starting my run), I got the announcer to give me a shout-out for having just come off the mountain. I hung out with my friends, and stuck around to see a few of them get awards. I normally would have showered before going out to lunch, but I didn't think I would stay awake long after getting home, and after 20 days of not showering on the mountain, it didn't seem that bad to go out in public after racing a sprint triathlon.