Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Portland Triathlon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 20th Edition 
249.7 miles run; 16 miles biked; 800 meters swam in 2015 races
Race: Portland Tri
Place: Portland, OR
Miles from home: 11
Weather: 50s; Dry; Cloudy

Coming home from two marathons in one week in two different countries and then a quick turn around to another half marathon, I was feeling understandably tired and store. With the weekend that followed those races being an "off" week where I simply traveled to Vegas to speak at an ASEA convention, I was feeling slightly rested. Part of that rest came form a decrease in running miles and more than a few pool workouts. I should be n the pool more often as I do enjoy swimming.  However, the man reason I am even a runner is the drawbacks of the pool; namely, driving to one, changing into a suit, hoping the pool is open and swimming around others in the way.

When a few workouts in the pool went far better than expected, I thought about looking around to see if there were any triathlons in the area I might be able to jump into. It being the middle of September I knew they would be decreasing in frequency rapidly here in the greater Pacific NW. When I saw one race, the Portland Triathlon, was just a few miles from my home I was intrigued. They had an sprint distance which was all I wanted and what seemed like it might be a forgiving course.

I noticed one of the prize givers of the race was a company in which a internet friend who I had known for a decade but hadn't actually met worked for. I reached out to him about learning more about the race. We spoke about an amazing program he is involved with called "Open School" (formerly "Open Meadow") where in in-danger youth are taken from locales where they are highly likely to drop out of school and put into schools which do their best to make sure that does not happen, with incredible success rates (Read more here.) I figured a race which helps promote this program was as good as any other to jump into untrained. So I signed up and then began to wonder if that was a wise idea at all.

We often hear the lament of the athlete talking about how they are out of shape or not ready for a race.  It lowers expectations and let's them look amazing when they crush the race. However, I can honestly say that I learned about this race merely 5 days before I raced in it.  More importantly, I have no even sat my butt on a bike in 855 days (I counted.) The last time I pedaled a bike at all was the Stayton Triathon over two years ago.  So to say I was not in cycling shape is not me trying to make excuses. I plain and simply was not used to cycling. While I had a handful of swim workouts under my belt recently, I was hardly in swimming shape as well. That didn't keep me from figuring I would do well in the race because,well, hubris.

Race Morning:

With the race just 11 miles from my doorstep, it was beyond wonderful to sleep in my own bed before a
race. The last time I did this was the 4th of July weekend and just the 4th time this year I have done so. There is something to be said about seeing the word by racing.  There is more to be said for waking in your own bed with your own food.

Not knowing much about all the transition area stuff for this race, I decided to arrived earlier than desirable for me in order to check it all out. I and my best friend Shannon got a phenomenal parking spot. I loaded up my bike into transition, got bodymarked and had everything set almost before the sun even came up.

I know from triathlons in the past that sometimes finding water to drink prior to a race is a bit of a pain even though almost every race starts and ends at the same point. Finding some water shouldn't be a problem. As I needed to fill my water bottle for my bike, I asked around. No one was of much help in finding anywhere to get water and a few chastised me for not having already filled my bottles. Luckily, I found what appeared to be a series of faucets already put in place by the parks. I filled my bottle and then informed those who had been unable to help me previously where they were. You know, in case anyone else was so unbelievably unprepared like me.

The weather was looking absolutely fantastic. I can't recall the last time I had race weather so cooperative. Even the sun which was supposed to come out for a bit, only did so briefly and in spots. Otherwise it was a cool, cloudy, relatively-low-humidity day. No excuses in the weather department, that is for sure.

I scoped out the transition areas and tried to get the lay of the land.  As I was going third from last in the wave swimming I had plenty of time to watch events unfold prior to swimming myself. As I have said before and will say again, one of the many reasons triathlon will never be my favorite sport is how often you have no idea who you are actually racing against. Some can beat you with you ever having seen them race. I never have and never will like this. But you have to deal with what exists.

Before too long it was time for me to get into the group of huddled flesh to slowly walk into the water and get ready to see how these swim workouts had prepared me.

Swim: 12:33 (10:46 swim time)

I have lamented in the swims I have done in triathlons how I most often go last. I think I understand the rationale: usually my age group is the fittest and best swimmers (outside of the elites).  In order to have as many people finishing as close as possible the slower people start first. But what it means that even in a 800 meter swim with at least a 4 minute head start on the next group (here at least) I will easily be churning into body after body in front of me before even a few hundred meters have gone by. I am not sure what the solution is to fix this and make everyone happy but the current model is not to my liking.

I had heard not so great things about the Willamette River we would be swimming in. I had purchased a new set of goggles the day before the race (because that's not stupid) in an attempt to have the cleanest anti-fog lenses ready in case the water was dirty or unsavory.  However, from the get go I found the water to be perfectly pleasant. Also, opting to not wear a wetsuit did not seem to hinder me at all.  The water was brisk to start but within seconds I was concentrating on sighting and getting away from my fellow competitors. I can't say I was chill for a second.  Plus I did not have to worry about peeling the suit off. In addition, I have never enjoyed having a wetsuit on. I always felt like it was too constricting.

The course was a long rectangle where we swam upstream, turned and then swam back downstream. After the nice start and just a few people to swim around, as we headed back to the finish, I ran into more than a few of the swimmers in front of me. In spite of a few whacks to the head and kicks to the face, I was able to navigate through without as much trouble as I had feared. The water felt good, I felt good and I was wondering if everyone else was enjoying their day.

As I got closer to the dock where we would exit, I couldn't see any of the other blue caps from my age group. I felt strong but not so strong that I passed everyone. However, when I hit the ramp to run out of the water I saw no one around me. If they were faster than me they were WAY faster than me. (It ends up that from looking at the times, I handily won my age group in the swim. The portion which included part of the transition? Not so much.)

It is worth noting that the transition time only started once you entered the area where the bikes were stored. The entire run up the ramp and over the path was tacked onto the swim time.

T1:  1:37

I had seen the transition from the swim to the bike was a long one indeed and had us running along a path with a far from smooth pavement. Shannon suggested I leave my OOFOS sandals out at the top of the ramp and it could not have been a more ingenious idea. Even taking a few seconds to slip them on and running slightly awkwardly with them on my feet was far better than trying to traverse the pavement and tearing up my girlie little feet.

One swimmer came up from behind me as I ran to the transition and took me a little by surprise. Hadn't expected to be caught from behind in this little run area.  But I still held my ground, ran into the bike area and had a relatively fast transition. I ran out and mounted my bike only to be told I could not mount it for another 20 feet. So, straddling my bike, I hippity hopped my way to the area that was deemed OK for me to do so. So many damn rules.

Bike: 47:59 (20 mph)

We had been warned about the ridiculous climb out of Cathedral Park and up to the bike course. I put my bike into baby gear and clipped in for the first time in over two years. Let the adventure begin!

The climb was tough (my Timex One GPS+ has it at a 15% grade at one point) but mercifully short. We then began a slight downhill, which I did not really notice until we were coming back the same way on the way home. Here on the down I pulled past a few cyclists with relative ease. Actually, more than a few. A great many, to be exact. I felt surprisingly good. One cyclist I had climbed the hill with stayed in front of me and I was trying to use him to gauge my effort. I needed this gauge because I still have no idea how hard an effort should feel on a bike. Most of the time I feel I am maxed out just to have someone pass me who I easily can match. So I often need to find someone who reminds me to pedal harder. In this race, I was more than pleased with how I was doing just that. Perhaps I would surprise myself with my amazing innate athleticism.  Then we hit a hill.

It wasn't a big hill. Just an overpass. But I felt like I came to a dead stop. A few cyclists I passed caught up to me. A few in front of me pulled away. When we hit the other side of the overpass and I let loose with my pedaling I remembered the fun part of being a 185 lb cyclist: downhills! In no time I hit 35 mph and cruised along the highway. Until we hit another overpass. Darn it.

At one point I could see we seemed to have other cyclists joining us from the side. I surmised correctly it was the Olympic distance triathletes doing their partial second loop. The only problem was they had to make a u-turn, slowing down, right at the point where we went from two lanes to one. Doing so created a bit of a bottle neck.  For a person who has had two bad crashes on the bike, this was not my cup of tea. In fact, whenever anyone came close to me, I definitely slowed off the pedaling a little bit and grabbed the handlebars a bit more. Hard to be aggressive when you are overcautious.

When the course opened up and flattened again, I too was able to let loose. I began passing cyclists again, including some who had passed me. It seemed as long as there were few turns and flat terrain, I could power by people no problem. I wondered if the muscles that allow you to cycle strongly on flats are the same ones you the most use in running. This potential corollary was the only thing I could find as to why I was able to so easily cruise by people with far better bikes, far niftier gear, and far better calf muscles than me.

Heading back, I finally felt like I could relax up a bit as I knew what was in store. A tight joiner with Olympic distance cyclists, a few overpasses and a small rise toward the finish was all that was left. Unfortunately, near the end, we could not take advantage of the screaming downhill as it was far too steep and we also had to come to a quick stop. In fact, if I had been a little quicker my stop would have been more abrupt.

A train had cut off some of the cyclists for differing amounts of time as it passed through right before the transition area. I actually remember hearing the train but wasn't too concerned. I had been overly concerned with the downhill and the jackwagon who threaded the needle between me and another cyclist on this screaming downhill. What in the hell those extra seconds meant here was beyond me. Total jerk move.  I knew nothing about the train until later. And then it would bother me as much as others.

T2: 55 seconds

Nothing much to say about this transition. It went rather smoothly and I was soon out of the area and ready to take on some runners. 

Run: 21:09

I knew the 5k course went over the St. John's Bridge. It is a towering and gorgeous bridge that is also in need of some serious repair. In repose waiting for the awards after the race, I looked up at the crumbling concrete pillars of the base and thought "Oof. America needs to fix its infrastructure quickly."  But right here I just knew we had to get up to the bridge to cross it. That meant we had to climb that big damn hill again.

As we left the transition area and ran over a twisty and turny bike path (Grr. Hate these) one could hardly turn any speed on. It was not a path designed for speed and the crowds nestled in deep or randomly walking across your path didn't help. (Neither did the little girl sitting on the wall who just all of a sudden decided to kick her feet and damn near kicked me right in the face.)  But I knew my day was roughly 20 minutes of effort from being done. So as I turned the corner and saw the monster hill in front of me, I simply focused on the top and went.

I passed scores of people as one runner came screaming back down the hill at me. He asked a volunteer where to go and it appears from talking to people later in the day, this was the guy who was directed the wrong way.  Poor fella.

Cresting Mt Portland, I headed toward the bridge. I had thought we only ran half way across the bridge before turning back which means we would only had to deal with one hill.  Unfortunately, I was wrong. Getting to the hump in the middle I saw we went all the way to the other side. This meant climbing back up the bridge again. Le sigh.

Just about then a runner passed me. I was a bit surprised by this but fortunately was not at top gear yet. I fell in behind him and stayed so close as to read all his pertinent information inked on his leg. I could see he was not in my age group but he was in my race. So as we turned around on the other side of the bridge, I used a race tactic of running wide on the turn to hopefully stay out of his field of vision.

As we headed back over the bridge it felt like I was stronger than him. The only question was when to kick. With 1.1 miles to go, I passed him on the downhill. I figured I would make him work to beat me if he could.

Now on the same downhill I saw the runner incorrectly directed off of earlier, I saw no one to direct anyone in any direction.  I guess the previous volunteer had been relieved of his post. I assumed looking ahead at runners in front of me that we continued down the way we came and simply headed back to the finish. With no other information to go on, I went with that gut and kicked it in. When the race flattened out, there were, again, some odd twists and turns that I thought were right but couldn't be sure. In addition, I could hear a runner behind me and assumed it was the one I had passed. When we made a sharp turn, I caught him out of the corner of my eye. Bollocks. I was not expecting him to catch up to me again. If the race ended where the run leg had started, I had him.  Unfortunately, it did not.

In fact, the course passed that point, made a long winding loop where we ran to the bike transition earlier, curved around again before making a final series of turns.While there were volunteers at every turn, not knowing exactly where we were turning until we got to them was a little disconcerting. The runner behind me wisely sat in my shadow and waited for me to make a decision. When I did, and it was right, he followed. Good race tactic. Finally, with .1 of a mile to go a a clear path ahead, he made his move. I could not respond.

He was worried enough to look over is shoulder a couple of times but I did not have the gear to catch him. I threw in a hard kick at the finish to feel respectable and crossed the finish line in a time of 1:24:12. Initially this put me 13th overall male and 14th overall in the race. Later, however, I got moved to 19th overall.

It seems that enough stink had been made about the train that adjustments were made to people's times. While I think that is fair to an extent, I also know people greatly overestimate how long they wait for such problems. I heard that a blanket 2 minutes was given to every one who said the train stopped them when from eye witnesses there, no one, not even the first person made to wait for the train (the overall female winner who showed less that professionalism by slamming her bike shoe on her bike seat and chastising a volunteer) waited a full two minutes.

Now nothing happened to me other than moving down five spots but if I had lost some money in the whole venture, I would have been a bit upset. But we move on.

All told, I was more than pleased with my performance. I am reminded in every triathlon I do how weak I am in the bike. This time, however, I had an actual excuse: complete and utter lack of time on the bike. But I didn't crash so that is a win for me.

The biggest shock of the day was how the top two overall winners were not only separated by just a handful of seconds (1:11:08 vs 1:11:16) but beat the 3rd place finisher by 5 minutes. Even more, they were both 15 or 16 years old. Dang. It is one thing to get beaten handily by a competitor but it is another when they might not have even hit puberty yet. Kudos to these young gentleman.

Will this mean a re-commitment to triathlons for me? No. But I have decided to spend more time in the pool and maybe I will thrown the bike on the trainer in my loft as well. While I actually fare better as a triathlete than I do a runner, and maybe perhaps could win a few bucks here and there, my love for cycling, or lack thereof, keeps me from wanting to pursue that sort of sport. Maybe if I win the lottery and can more comfortably afford the right gear and make more time to train all three sports I will think about it. As for now it is a pleasant distraction.

In spite of the less than desirable 5k course, I felt the event was run fairly well. It has a good attitude to it and a family feel. In fact, the last finisher of the triathlon, who finished long after most did,, actually had an escort of volunteers leading her in.  As she ran down the final chute, a large contingency of the athletes in attendance formed a cheering line for her.  This is the type of example I like to use for people who fear finishing last.  I have a feeling she received more cheers than the rest of us combined. We understand the struggle and realize that even if you are last you are beating everyone on the couch that day. Kudos to her.

I was happy to be able to take part in this race and make have to look into more events like this here in the near future.

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