Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Vikingman Triathlon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 7; 9th Edition 
208.7 miles run; 1 mile swam; 30 miles biked in 2012 races
Race: Vikingman Triathlon
Place: Burley/Heyburn, ID
Miles from home: 584 miles
Weather: 40s-70s; crisp; sunny

Back when I originally was put in touch with the folks at the Vikingman Triathlon, their 70.3 was going to be my “A” race of the 2012 triathlon season. I saw the race would be four months after I completed the Pacific Coast 350, I would have two months off prior to it to train, and the course suited me. There was no reason not to plan to crush my PR, win the race, and ride triumphantly off into the sunset.

Then life intervened.

First, a bike crash and messed up shoulder –to put it lightly, followed by problems with my legs that went quite unexplained. After trying to will myself into shape and not being successful (it apparently takes actual exercise) I finally realized, literally hours before the race, that this race could in no way be my “A” triathlon race for the season.  In addition, even attempting to do the 70.3 would probably set me back in my recovery, something I finally seemed to be turning the corner on. As I long ago lost the need to feel like I had to complete a race just for the sake of completing it (as if I needed to prove something to anyone) I decided that I would change races and run the Olympic distance triathlon instead. Instantly I was happy with my choice.

I believe the Olympic Distance tri is the distance that best suits my skills. With a 1500 meter swim and a decently long-run distance of 10K, the just-a-hair-under 25 miles of biking is palatable. I simply am not a strong cyclist and have not given myself enough of an opportunity to improve on that.  Unfortunately, given the logistics of the multi-loop course to accommodate the 70.3 distance, the bike portion of this triathlon ran a little long. The nearly 30 miles of biking would be what we Olympic distance athletes would undertake. This meant there was 5 more miles for the lesser talented swimmers to kick my butt on the bike. *sigh*

The night before the race, I was given the immense pleasure of speaking to a large assembly of triathletes, supporters, and volunteers at a beautiful amphitheater in Riverside Park. I was able to share my stories of success and failure and how to overcome the latter and not get too caught up in the former. After a Q&A where some young kids in front led the way ,which I absolutely loved, I was able to spend time talking with new friends and old friends I had met in the past four years of traveling.

When Bert from Ogden, Utah, who I last met at the St. Louis Marathon in 2010, not only told me the awesome story about sharing a mega long-distance bike ride with his son, but that my story inspired him to continue to challenge himself, I was incredibly moved. People are very happy to tell you when they are not happy.  Rarely, for whatever reason, do they do the opposite and share the good things in their life. It is almost as if sharing would be bragging.  But Bert made it a point to specifically tell me this which was extremely touching.  I thanked him sincerely and let him know how much I appreciated it.

Alice and I post-race
Meeting people like Alice from nearby Rupert, who like me has conquered the Sawtooth Relay as a solo runner, was just heart-warming. She had a wonderfully positive attitude and a contagious smile. Asking if it would be OK for her to take a picture with me was almost laughable.  Why wouldn’t it?! Finally, last but not least, Kim Grooms Walton, undeterred by being in a wheelchair, did an awesome backstroke for the entire swim portion of the race and demonstrated that there are real no limitations in life. In between these people there were a plethora of other competitors, all with stories so fulfilling that it reminds me why I continue to do what I do , spending countless hours traveling and racing just to meet and be moved by them.

After a delicious cheeseburger cooked not five feet away from where I was doing a book signing, I skipped over to the host hotel which the race graciously provided for me and was actually in bed before 11:00 p.m.  I think the last time I did that was when I was 7 years old.  However, a 5:00 a.m. wake-up call in order to assure I had all my gear where it needed to be waited, and I wanted to be as rested as possible.
Race Day:

The morning broke cold and crisp – I love high desert weather. It didn’t feel like a drop of humidity was in the air and even at 6:30 a.m. When I left the comfort of my car to begin final preparations, the 48 degree weather did not even feel all that bad. Nervousness definitely prevailed and I once again thanked my lucky stars I was not doing the 70.3 distance.

As we were shuttled down to the start of the swim, to take on the shallow, slowly moving Snake River, I tried to get focused on the task ahead. It is always fun to sit quietly and listen to all the things everyone else talks about.  It is also aggravating to hear so much bad advice given to new people by slightly-more-experienced people. One can only hope those listening do not change their race preparations. Although, one athlete, seeing me already wearing my Zensah compression socks as I put on my wetsuit, thought the idea was brilliant and copied it on the sport. I cannot even imagine trying to put them on after the swim.

Swim: 23:32 - 3rd fastest OA
OK, the water was not THAT shallow.

(This time includes climbing out of the water and a little bit of a run.  I have seen this done at numerous tris and I do not know why the time spent after getting out of the water is not included in the transition time. My actual swim time, from start to hitting the deck, was 21:45.)

Seconds before the start, my goggle strap came unhooked. Seriously? As if to point out the number of things that can go wrong in a triathlon that you don’t have to deal with in running alone, the strap just flat out popped off of its hinge.  As I struggled fervently to get it back in its holster, a small prayer was being held.  Then someone said “If you feel a little freaked out by the water, well, stand up.”  They weren’t kidding.  The water was shallow and, much to our chagrin wasn’t moving much at all. What is the use of downriver swim if you can’t just float! Damn you, massive drought affecting millions of people nationwide both financially and vocationally! I wanted a fast swim time!

There is not much to recap from the swim other than it went, well, swimmingly. While I breathe to the right and the sun was rising where I was breathing, the trees along the shoreline of the Snake River blocked most of the sun’s rays. For most of the swim portion it appeared I was in third place.

However, it was hard to tell as about halfway through we joined the 70.3 swimmers who had started before us.  Now I was simply trying to sight well, avoid swimming erratically, and get to the finishing dock as quickly as possible.  I was a little out of breath during the first five miles and attributed it to a combination of both the fact that the race took place at about 4,000 feet above sea level and this was my first race of any kind in nearly three months.

Near the finish, I could see I was pulling ahead of at least one swimmer in my race and really began to dig deep.  I could feel the strain in my injured shoulder as I had definitely not pushed it this hard since the accident. Nevertheless, I was out of the water before him and thought I might be in second place. It ends up I was third, averaging a 1:27 per 100 meters. I haven’t swum that fast in quite some time.

T1: 1:26 - 7th fastest OA

A seamless transition where the wetsuit strippers quickly ripped my suit off had me running toward my bike.  I was into my cycling shoes, helmeted, and out of T1 lickity split. Well, not as lickity split as I would like given I was seventh fastest in transition but I am getting better. Truth be told, I wasn’t that slow as the fastest competitor in transition was only 15 seconds faster than me.
While the race was not large in participants, it was big in assistance from volunteers which was greatly appreciated.  Moreover, given its smaller stature, one could be in and out of the bike transition area in no time flat. There was no searching for your bike, running endlessly through a transition area, or other not-so-fun things I’ve previously experienced.

Bike: 1:24:29 - 18th fastest OA (Ugh.)

Out onto the course we went, knowing we have two loops of a basic rectangle to traverse with a little upside-down stovepipe thrown in for good measure. The road was, for all intents and purposes, fairly smooth, especially for a country road. On the long straightaway on the top half of the loop there were some places where cracks in the road provided little bumps which I am sure more seasoned cyclists didn’t even notice.  However, I was in ultra-aware mode trying not to tempt fate in my first race back from the crash. Every little bit of debris, every crack and every approaching cyclist had me clutching my handlebars. I slowed to a crawl at every turn and stared down every motorist at intersections, even though they were all stopped by people with orange vests and big stop signs. I wasn’t taking any chances.
Always hated this piece in Tetris

Throughout the first lap, only three cyclists passed me and I was feeling good about that. Knocking out 15 miles at around 22 mph wasn’t exactly killing it, but it wasn’t horrible either.  If I was in the position I thought I was in it meant I was still in the top five.  If I could hold this placing, I could definitely have a run at some of the top guys during the 10K. Perhaps even a top three finish!

On the second loop there were a few more distractions as the occasional country truck would pull out in front of some riders or scooting past from behind.  Don’t get me wrong, they were all rather friendly and accommodating, but with the roads being open, I don’t think many knew that a race was going on. Also, on this second loop, my energy waned a bit. A rider would pass me and I could keep them within a respectable distance for a while, using the carrot of another cyclist as a reminder that I could go faster than I thought I could, before eventually falling off the pace.  The fact remains that given my very limited time on the bike, I simply do not know how hard I can press myself and know I am not red-lining. As such, I often have to slow down a touch to keep it all in check. But when another guy goes flying past I can almost always turn it up a notch for a mile or so before fear sets in again. I let the fact that I know I can probably run faster than most of the cyclists in front of me comfort me into being a little lackadaisical on the bike. At least that is what I have done in the very few triathlons I have participated in. Doing so again on this day meant that a handful of other riders passed me here and there. I actually lost track of how many exactly, but I am almost 100% sure that one guy passed me twice.  I am not sure how or why that happened except that I did see a cyclist on the side of the road changing his tire. As I have no idea how to change a tire, and don’t even carry a spare, a flat would end my race.  Add that to the list of other things I need to learn how to do.

Nearing the end of the second loop, one last rider squeezed by me.  As happened throughout the ride, I would have moments where I was easily pedaling at 25 mph and others when trying to maintain 20 mph was a chore.  Given the almost pancake flat nature of the course I could not say this was because of changes in the road. All I can say is that I haven’t the foggiest idea how to ride a bike in competition yet. Here, after being passed, was one of those times when I went into feeling fast and feisty mode. I stayed right with the cyclist or at least right with the cyclist in the allowable passed-by-cyclist distance as we made one final turn home. With less than a mile to go I felt it would feel better mentally to potentially pass him on the run then pass him on the bike.  So I hung back and prepped for what I was hoping would be a solid 10K.

T2: 0:45 - 5th fastest OA (just 3 seconds slower than the fastest here.  Getting better in transition!)
I was in and out of this transition area so fast that I doubt they even got my time. Ha!

Run: 45:25 - 4th Fastest OA
Mike finishing strong

Good thing my transition was fast as I spent a solid minute in the porta-potty relieving myself and marveling at the fact that I continued to go and go. Precious seconds were passing away as I finally finished my business and bolted out of the door. “Bolted” is a strong word as my legs simply would not respond.  Fortunately, the legs of some of the runners in front of me simply would not respond more.  In less than a mile I had passed three runners, including the chap who pulled me along at the end of the bike course. I would later meet and talk with this gentleman, Mike Tilley, and thank him for pushing me.  However, during the race, I was focused on reeling in as many runners as I could and wasn’t all too chatty.

I actually came to a stop at one point to take off my left shoe as I felt I had a massive rock in it.  But no rock was present and even when I tried to fix my sock the feeling prevailed. I later realized there was nothing in there at all but my foot simply felt weird.  It is the same foot which constantly feels weird when I am cycling too.  I definitely need to try and figure out what exactly is causing this.  Couple this with the extended bathroom break and this will probably be the slowest 10k I have ever run.

To be honest, I think the run portion of this tri leaves a little to be desired. It is interesting with many changes in terrain (and odors) but I wanted a paved surface to track down the competition.  As runners would skirt the Burley Municipal Airport, they could see other runners WAY ahead of them.  Some find this disheartening but to me it gave me a chance to finally try and get back into what I thought would be the top ten. The odor from what I think was some sort of sewage plant was not ideal but hot horrible.  I was more concerned with the footing than anything.
THAT'S where the smell came from!

As we hit the turn-around for the run, or more accurately, as I approached it, I could see that I might have a chance to take over one or two more positions.  My legs simply were not firing and even 7-minute miles were a struggle. I had put a more comfortable lead on Mike, who was also separating from the other runners as well, but not comfortable enough that I felt like I could coast.  With about one mile left, I went through an aid station in Freedom Park and the volunteer there said “You are either 11th or 10th!” Well, that is a big difference!

With no knowledge myself (I lost track of the runners coming back at me) I knew I would not forgive myself if I finished 11th when I could have caught one last runner and cracked the top ten.  So away I went pushing with all I had. As we crossed the Snake River again, passing from Burley back into Heyburn, with about a quarter of a mile to go, I caught the last runner I would catch.  I noticed he was also wearing black Altra Instincts, and told the guy I liked his shoes before pushing on by and  with  one last glance as I ran under the bridge I saw he would not be challenging me.

Heading back to Riverside Park, to the bike and run transition which was just meters away from the finish, I  had a few more twists and turns to go before this long training day would be over. As I crossed the line, I was told I had in fact been top ten already and the extra push had netted me 9th place overall.  Triathlon times are, for the most part, rather meaningless given all the variables but I was relatively pleased with my time of 2:35:37. Considering less than 5 minutes separated me from the overall winner of the race this was a small victory for me. Heck, if the race had been a normal Olympic distance, five less miles of cycling might have made this a much more interesting race. (e.g. over those additional 5 miles alone, the difference in pace made up a entire minute between myself and the fastest cyclist.)

All told, I thoroughly enjoyed the people who put on this race and all the wonderful volunteers. Could some things be better here and there?  Of course.  But there were no glaring problems whatsoever. In fact, I think the race went off without much of a hitch. And it is hard to beat the awards.  Mine (3rd in my tough age group) was cut right out of stone in a three- dimensional logo of the Viking itself. I truly hope that the race will fit into my schedule next year as it would be great to come back and see what I can do when I am in half-decent shape.

 Until then, I want to thank the organizers of this race and the people of both Heyburn and Burley.  They were warm and welcoming and really seemed to appreciate having the race in town. Moreover, to all the fantastic people I met this past weekend; I hope we meet again soon.

1 comment:

Alice said...

Ahh...what a sweet recap and great read! Not just cause I was mentioned it in & sported a photo to boot! it was so nice chatting with you and I am looking forward to reading your book! This comment of yours resonated with me: "I actually came to a stop at one point to take off my left shoe as I felt I had a massive rock in it. But no rock was present and even when I tried to fix my sock the feeling prevailed." LOl because my feet go numb and I was convinced there was something in my shoe also. So much so that at one Ironman race I stopped to take out the package of Gu i was convinced was in my shoe! It wasn't!
All the best Dane! Hope to meet again! ~Alice