Sunday, November 10, 2013
On September 29, I completed my fifth half-distance triathlon, for the first time repeating a race, at the Kerrville Triathlon Festival. Even though I shaved more than eight minutes off my personal record for the 70.3 distance (set at this race last year), frankly I left disappointed. I was really hoping for a run split close to two hours, so I felt a 2:15 was a poor showing, considering the weather was about ideal for a great race. After a new PR for a 1.2-mile swim and a reasonable (but not exceptional) bike ride, I had high hopes. But they were dashed by quads that didn't want to run up a small hill and a stomach that didn't want to absorb any more water. After some time for reflection, however, a 5:45:28 really isn't a bad time; on the plus side, it makes it a little easier to beat next time.
I drove to Kerrville Friday evening after work, getting into town at 8pm. I went straight to a mixer being held downtown. There was a mix of people I know from Austin and locals. Since I wasn't racing the next day, I sampled some of the beer and sangria. I met some nice folks from Kerrville, and got to hang out with some Austin friends. I left and checked into my hotel around 10.
I slept terribly that night. At 4am, I gave up and went to see if I could help with the sprint triathlon. I wasn't scheduled to be there until 6 (of course I signed up to volunteer), but I figured there was something I could do, and it was better than lying around staring at the ceiling. It was still early (ie nearly deserted) when I got there, so I mostly just helped keep the volunteer tent from blowing away for a while. More people started showing up (as did breakfast tacos). In addition to the wind, there were occasional sprinklings of rain. It wasn't enough that there was any talk of changing the event, it was just enough to spread doubt and be a nuisance. At 5am, I grabbed a marker and went over to do body marking, which is much less effective on wet skin. The athletes arrived kind of sporadically, so there was time to chat with the other volunteers. I did that until 7, then went to my real assignment, down at the swim exit. There was a guy, Alex, who had done this before (I had never been on that side) and gave tips to the six of us who would be stationed on the ramp leading out of the water. I had prepared to get wet, so I took a position at the bottom of the ramp, waist deep in the water. We were there from shortly after the 7:30 start until the last swimmer got out at 8:30. We were there to guide the athletes to the ramp, give them a hand out of the water if needed, and keep them moving to let everyone else through. With volunteers on both sides of the narrow ramp, two athletes could just fit through at a time. The fastest folks weren't looking for a hand up, and probably just wanted us to stay out of their way. At the tail end of each wave, the last swimmers generally looked somewhere between spent and grateful to have survived the 500-meter swim. It almost amazed me how drained some of them were from what was to me an easy swim. It eventually dawned on me that I was forgetting what I felt like three years ago doing my first sprint triathlon, and I've put in a lot of work just to be a mediocre swimmer. Once all the swimmers and kayaks were out of the water, my job was done, everybody and everything cleared out of transition 1.
Since I was just across the street from my hotel, I went back for a quick shower and change into dry clothes. I drove over to the finish area, downtown. I hung around there watching people finish. I decide to see if there was anything I could do to help in transition 2, a few blocks from the finish. Someone had made the decision that instead of people retrieving their bikes, T1 bags, and morning clothes bags separately, they would put the other bags with the appropriate bike. The bikes were nominally racked according to a range of bib numbers, but there were a lot of empty racks (ready for the larger field on day 2), and some people just threw their bike wherever. Plus not all the bags were in the appropriate bin for the number range. So, it wasn't as straightforward as it might have seemed. People were eager to retrieve their gear, and we were in a bit of a rush to get everything matched up before the last bike came in and transition opened up. When that was done, I headed back to the finish to see the awards ceremony. Two of my friends got age group awards; actually the one guy biked so fast (especially relative to his swim and run) that they didn't believe his time, and he had to argue with the timer after he wasn't called up with his age group. Once the event was winding down, I went for a little warmup run. The run course had to be altered from last year due to some construction, so I wanted to check it out, even though it was a minor difference. The vast amounts of sugar and caffeine I had been drinking all morning to combat the poor night's sleep kicked in when I laced up my running shoes. I wound up running two miles in less than 15 minutes, way faster than I should have or planned to. From there it was back to the hotel for packet pickup, which took almost no time at all. I got my bike ready and got it checked into T1, then went for a little practice swim. I hadn't worn my wetsuit since Ironman Texas, so I wanted to remind myself of the feel, in addition to checking out the course. It all seemed okay, the water temperature felt cool enough that I wouldn't overheat in my wetsuit. Then it was back to the hotel to get my T2 bag ready, then downtown to drop it off. I got some lunch while I was in that area; it was okay but not what I was really looking for. I didn't ever get a nap, but I did spend most of the afternoon doing nearly nothing at the hotel. There was a pasta dinner in the early evening; I went but it was quite underwhelming. The rest of the evening was spent relaxing in my hotel room. At least until it sounded like a freight train was running overhead, that is. Many of the day's conversations had focused on weather, specifically rain. I've probably mentioned I'm not a big fan of being wet, and especially not a fan of cycling in the rain. For once it was a good thing the weather forecast was so far off; after the pouring rains Saturday night, the front had passed and Sunday's weather was great. Not only was it dry, it was a good bit cooler.
I slept better Saturday night but still was up at 4:30am. I ate my breakfast in the room, a bagel with peanut butter. I headed over to T1 around 5, filled my water reservoir, aired up my tires, etc. I had quite a bit of time to kill before my 7:44 start time. I chatted with some of the many friends there racing. I went for a really short jog (in my flip-flops), only about 200 meters. The air was cool, so I was reluctant to take off my warm clothes; I immediately put on my wetsuit to stay warm. I dropped off my morning bag and headed down to the water. The super fast folks went off in the open wave at 7:30, then women 40 and over in the second wave, men 50 and over in the third, men 40-49 in the fourth, then my wave, men 39 and under. I don't know the breakdowns, but that was probably the largest wave of the day. Almost certainly the most testosterone-filled one as well.
I didn't really have a game plan for this swim, or this race in general; I was pretty much just going to repeat what I've done for previous races- swim to get to the bike, run to get to the finish line. Like my previous best 1.2-mile swim (at Buffalo Springs last year), this swim felt terrible. I started out too fast, as always, and was right in the scrum for at least 200 meters. It wasn't the most chaotic swim I've been in, but it was up there. There was kicking and shoving all the way to the first two turns. I was swimming hard enough that, along with whatever I ate that morning, I thought I might throw up Fortunately I did not. On the back side of the course, the longest leg, it calmed down. Largely because I was wide of the course, out in the weeds (though not nearly as literally as at TriRock a few weeks prior). About halfway, I got really confused. Not only was I not sure how far off course I was, I wasn't even certain I was headed in the correct direction. I was soon able to make out the other swimmers to my left, and discern that they were headed in the same direction I had been going. I figured I wasn't doing too badly, so I put my head down and got back to swimming, trying to angle myself a little to get closer to the other swimmers. For the rest of the swim, I slowed my pace down and just pushed on through. I hadn't really panicked at all, but it was a relief to make that final turn and "just" have 500 meters to go. When I got out of the water (with a hand from my new friend Alex), I was surprised the time on my watch was under 40. The timing mat was after wetsuit peeling, and my split still came out to 39:44. Transition was relatively leisurely- I walked up the hill, got to my bike, took a few moments to wipe my feet and put on socks before I was on my way.
The bike went okay, but was not extraordinary in any way. I started out averaging somewhere around 220 watts, nothing too hard. About 3.5 miles in, my friend David whipped past me and I didn't see him again until the run; my friend Rob caught up around mile 5, we wound up going back and forth a few times. This confused me at first because I was thinking he had started in the wave after me, and frankly I wouldn't have expected him to catch up so soon. I eventually realized that I had started after him and gotten out of the water a little ahead of him. This was one of the better realizations of the day. After leaving the good pavement ~15 miles in, on the chip-seal nastiness, I passed more friends, Michelle, Brad, and Matt. (Matt started in the wave before me, Brad was in my wave, Michelle was two heats behind, ie she destroyed me in the swim.) They all passed me when I slowed to grab a bottle of water. I put a little power to the pedals and quickly repassed them. Of course I couldn't let up and let them catch me again, so I was averaging closer to 250 watts for the rest of the bike leg. There is a short, steep hill 22 miles in; I didn't hammer it too hard, but did top 400 watts. From there it was just a little further to get back into town, and then back around for a second lap. I had eaten a Clif bar partway through the first lap; I ate a second early in the second lap (I was more careful not to lose one on a bump like last year). Rob and I went back and forth a couple times on the second lap; I got into T2 just ahead of him. My full bike split was 2:46:08, just a little slower than last year, but still okay in my book.
T2 went smoothly, not too rushed. I may have "beaten myself" in transitions at TriRock, but I didn't try to speed them up too much at this race, figuring its more important to be ready for the next leg for a race of this distance than to be 5 seconds quicker and miss something.
The run actually started out great. I didn't even feel like I was pushing it and the first mile clicked off in 8 minutes. On miles 2 and 3, I slowed down a little for a drink of water, but still made good time for the first ~3.27-mile lap. By the start of lap 2, my stomach was starting to complain. It seemed as though every sip of water I had taken was still there, sloshing around. I tried skipping aid stations to give it a break and maybe absorb some of what was already in there, but I was too thirsty and when I did skip one it didn't seem to improve anything. It wasn't really all that hot, it was mostly overcast, but it was enough to make me quite thirsty. Like always, I probably should have drank more on the bike. Lap 2 was still a reasonable average pace, around a 10-minute average. In addition to the stomach issue, on the one small hill (where it turned onto a trail last year), my quads were screaming at me. Laps 3 and 4 were a grind to the finish, just maintaining forward progress. I jogged a little between aid stations, but overall it was more walking than jogging.
There were so many of my friends on the course, and it's bi-directional all the way, so I saw them all many times. Some were having awesome days; some finished a lot closer to my time. Erin, Andrew, Jamie, and David finished long before I did; Matt, Brad, Doug, and Rob didn't pass me until the final lap. A mile from the finish, when the course leveled out again, I sucked up the pain and picked up the pace for a strong-looking finish. It was certainly not a sprint, but it was better than a limp, at least. I at least managed to stay close to Rob and finish shortly after him. A few minutes after I finished, after sucking down some fluids, another friend Allison finished her first 70.3. I went over to the finish chute to cheer her in, and got a high-five to boot. I never saw Michelle again on course; I saw her later at the hotel in a hospital gown in a sling- quite unfortunately she wrecked her bike.
Later I griped a bit on Facebook about my 2:14:58 half marathon time; for a little perspective, a friend said that would be a PR for her. As with so many of the things I do, I needed to step back and realize I'm pretty lucky to be able to do this kind of stuff on such a regular basis.
I hung around the finish area for a bit, then went to T2 to get some things. I wasn't cold, but it was just cool and windy enough I was afraid I might catch a chill once the warmth of running wore off, so I put my jacket on, but probably would have been okay without it. I took the shuttle bus back to the hotel, took a quick shower, and drove back over to T2. I put my gear in the car before going over to the finish line for awards. The guy ahead of me in my age group for the Tri Series won the age group at this race; not that I would wish ill on anybody, but I was kind of hoping he wouldn't finish this race for some reason and I could win the series by default. After the awards, I didn't really have anything to do until the volunteer party at 6, and since my car was there, I helped out at T2 for a bit, picking up stuff. When I'd had enough of that, I went over to the restaurant early. I met some nice folks, ate a whole bunch of food, drank a couple margaritas. A nice evening, but probably not the best post-race activities. After the volunteer party broke up, I wound up sitting down in the bar area with some Kerrville locals and a friend from Austin. It later struck me that I live in a strange world- of the 7 people at that table, 6 had done at least one full Ironman. Obviously I have a screw or two loose, because back at the hotel I had a beer with some of the event folks, much like I did after the Corpus race (same race organizers). I finally crashed around midnight.
I woke up at 5:30 Monday morning for no real reason. I tried to go back to sleep but couldn't. I went to breakfast and stuffed myself with bacon, eggs, the works. I loaded up my car and drove back to Austin, straight to the office, another questionable decision of mine. As I mentioned in another post, I screwed my recovery even more by trying to bounce back too soon; actually, getting a flu shot was probably the worst move; I wound up having a poor 10K race the next weekend.