Monday, December 9, 2013

Austin Beer Mile / Natural Bridge Caverns Duathlon

Last Saturday, hours after flying back from spending Thanksgiving with my parents, I participated in the Austin Beer Mile for my second time, and it went much better than the first. Today, I raced in the Natural Bridge Caverns Duathlon. The past two years, I won my age group in the "Woolly Mammoth" division. This year, since I age grouped up, I decided to up the distance to the "T-Rex" division (5 mile run/15 mile bike/5 mile run). I am quite pleased to have once again come away with the age group win, and fifth overall. The field was smaller this year than last, due to frigid temperatures, hovering around freezing, with 20 T-Rexers.

After kind of a crazy holiday week (in which I ran most of Saturday night, flew to Virginia, spent some time at my parents' house, drove to New York for Thanksgiving, drove back to VA, flew back very early Saturday morning), I took part in one of Austin's craziest races. This year I actually put in some planning and "training," aka drinking beer. Normally I hardly drink, but I knew I had to put some hard work in for this race. I also had to do some sampling to find a canned beer that would go down and sit well. After some testing, I decided on Imperial, a Costa Rican beer.
Of course, I did not want to risk driving drunk, so I rode my bicycle the six miles from my house to the venue, pretty much hoping for someone to be nice enough to give me a ride home. There were quite a few folks there already when I arrived, including several friends. There was some chill time before the start. Then it was business time.
I did a reasonable job of pacing myself, to run my own race and not get whisked up in the rush. When it seemed like everyone was finished with their first beer before me, I didn't panic and try to finish too fast. I also didn't try to run my fastest 400 for the running portion. Thanks to the beer going down well, I averaged about 1:10 per beer and just under 2 minutes per lap, with a little sprint at the end, for a 11:33. Not only did everything go much better than last year, I beat all the ladies and local pro Jamie Cleveland; however I was way off of international superstar Iram Leon's winning 7:20.
Coincidentally, in the week after this race, I read an article that middle-distance pro Nick Symmonds has his sights set on breaking the beer mile world record (currently 5:04) this year. He already holds the American record of ~5:20 with little specific training.

While the weather was great for the beer mile, a nasty cold system moved in during the week. While Austin was largely spared from carnage, it was rather cold this weekend. I didn't want to leave the house at all yesterday, but I recently changed the hydration system on my bike and needed to test it out. I rode 3 miles, freezing my hands and feet, followed by a 1-mile run, which was not nearly enough to warm me up. It turns out I didn't like the whole cockpit setup, which put my bike computer basically in my hands and was difficult to read. I took the bike over to a tri shop to brainstorm a solution, and we wound up putting the computer on the stem. I used to have it there, but liked it a lot better further up, where there is now a water bottle. Saturday night was my company's party (and two other parties I skipped). I stayed much later than I wanted to, but I had to stick around for the raffle drawing. I was grumpy and I didn't win the GoPro.
The temperature was hovering around freezing at 4:30 this morning when I left the house for the 1-hour drive to the cave. Frankly, I was hoping to wake up and find an email that the race was cancelled and I could go back to bed. It was still on as far as I could tell, so I got up and got moving. It was cold enough I broke out my light down jacket and fleece hoody, two of the five layers I wore at 20000 feet on Denali. After getting down to the venue, getting my packet, and getting my bike set up, I went inside for a few more minutes of warmth before the race meeting. Just past 6:30, the race director led us down into the cave to the start. The cave is pretty consistently 70 degrees and nearly 100% humidity. Once I started running I warmed up quickly and tried to vent a little to keep from sweating, which could lead to hypothermia outside. Only one person seemed eager to start at the front and I wound up starting second. The guy who was third probably regretted pushing me in front of him, as he was on my heels all through the cave and passed as soon as we got outside. I felt bad for being in his way, so I went as fast as I could sustain. I used some stair racing skills for going up the switchbacks to the exit (no stairs, just steep smooth pavement). Actually the three of us were on top of each other, the first guy must have made a wrong turn, then he was nice enough to hold the exit door for me and the other guy. Boy was it a shocker to get outside, going from fire to ice. There was actually a very brief moment where it felt good to be out of the soupy humid air; then it was just cold. It was still pretty dark, and the guys were out of sight when I came to a fork in the road. This area has changed since I've been there, and I wasn't sure which way to go. I paused for a second and looked for a sign; not seeing anything I went straight; there was a sign 50 meters further that I couldn't see from where I was. The course went up a little baby hill I hardly noticed the first time through, then a second longer hill that slowed me down a little. Then after a flat section was the real hill- first down, aid station (brief pause for a sip of water), turn around and right back up. The first time, I ran-shuffled up the hill. The second time (on run 2), I shuffled halfway up, saw that nobody was close enough to overtake me, and walked to the top. It's mostly downhill from there back to the buildings, then up to transition in the parking lot.
I was quite warm when I got on the bike. That slowly drained away, but not so much my extremities were in danger. The bike course was shortened so that all 3 road bike courses (there is also a mountain bike course) did the same 15 miles, rather than have people freezing doing 26. I didn't see many bikes out there. I passed the few I did see (nobody passed me), including the guy who passed me somewhere on the first run. I didn't get far ahead of him, he and another guy passed me on the second run. My bike split was pretty slow, averaging 18 mph. While the cold was pretty good for running, it obviously made me slow on the bike. The new hydration system worked pretty well; with the straw right in my face, I took a lot of sips.
The second run was definitely slower than the first, but still okay. I ran the "intermediate" hill, albeit slower than the first time. As I said, I walked some of the steep hill, then it was almost a coast to the finish, with a slight uphill to the line. I was hot and sweaty when I crossed the line, but I was eager to get more clothes on. I was pretty hungry, so I got a sausage on my way to transition for my warm clothes. It felt so good to take off my wet jersey and put that fleece back on. I waited and kept warm inside until the awards ceremony started. I picked up my award, a geode slice, and went on my way back home.

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