Monday, July 20, 2009

Race Report: Door County Triathlon

When I arrived at Transition - yes, among the first handful of athletes - race organizers were still setting up, inflating the swim start arches, organizing the buoys for transport out into the water, testing the sound system. It was chilly. A weird morning for July - it felt a lot like September. As I set up, waiting for the sun to rise above the woods around us and warm the place up a bit, I ended up getting some coffee just to warm my bones a bit. And I'm no coffee drinker.

The Transition racks were a bit low, and my brake handles are short (I think like a lot of others'), so the only way I could rack my bike was using the saddle - like a lot of others - so the setup was a little weird - lots of bikes kind of crammed together. I've never had less room in transition - my mat was directly underneath my bike, and everybody was just kind of smashed together. I chatted with my neighbors, and we figured as we were all in different swim waves it'd likely be a non-issue as far as racing went. Just a few minutes after I'd managed to melt my mouth off with the hottest coffee in history, the sun came up and the world warmed up. I connected briefly with Erin, who was committing to the swim and bike (she's nursing a running injury), and it was time to head to the the water.

I was in just the fifth Wave, which if fantastic because it messes with my mojo a bit to get all into "race mode" leaving Transition only to sit on the beach while you wait for your wave an hour later. The race starts with a mass start, but about waist-deep in water. We wished each other well as the count ticked down, and finally we were off.

The water was 62 degrees or so - definitely cool, and I was glad I'd warmed up a bit in it, but generally it felt refreshing. Lake Michigan was crystal clear - I've never swam in water so clear. It made it great for drafting a bit off of other swimmers, which I tried to do whenever possible. I felt great - relaxed, and really having fun. I tried to keep technique on point, but really, open water technique is so different from when you're in the controlled environment of the pool. Especially if drafting at all, you tend to keep your head tilted a bit more forward. When dealing with the rolling waves, you breathe on one side more than another. It's just a different animal. I kept the zigging to a minimum, which was an objective of the day, swimming with the buoys close on my left all day. About halfway or so into the swim I hit somebody - or was hit, who knows - and jammed my right ring finger. I instinctively threw an F-bomb - while my face was underwater - then laughed at myself a bit for swearing in the general direction of fish. My hand hurt the rest of the day, still a bit tender as I type this.

The distance felt right, whatever that means, for 1.2 miles, and I came out and crossed the mat in 41:51. The ramp up out of the water was covered in nice carpet, and there were wetsuit strippers (a la Ironman) helping out anybody who wanted it. I decided to forgo their assistance and just head to my bike, stripping my suit as I went. I had no time goals for the swim, but thought anything around 45 minutes would be realistic, so I was encouraged with my time.

In and out of T1 in 1:50, and I was on the bike.

The plans for the bike were the same as the rest of my race-day executions this summer - do no work. Rely entirely on my training to get me from here to there, and save my legs for the run. So, I backed off whenever I felt a push, rested whenever sensible on descents, and kept my spinning at 90rpm, easy and comfortable. I practiced nutrition and hydration exactly like I've been training, and just enjoyed the ride.

The crowd and community support for this race were fantastic all day, and lots of families were set up with lawn chairs at the end of their driveways as we rode past. I waved a lot, said thank you for coming out, for cheering us on. Another goal of the day was to have fun, and to act like it. I wanted to keep a smile on my face, keep my attitude light, enjoy the atmosphere and the crowds and volunteers. It was fun to have that back and forth - when they cheer for you as you fly by, and you cheer for them as you do, and they get a little crazy at the acknowledgment. Fun.

The course had a gentle tailwind for most of the way out, and many sections of road were nice, new pavement. There were a few sketchy areas, but not too bad. It was mostly flat - not Racine flat, but the gentle rollers encountered didn't make for anything too dramatic. I probably used my small chain ring three or four times all day. I only saw one group of obvious drafters (I'm talking to you, dudes in Gear N Up garb), which will never make any sense to me, but otherwise there was enough room with the roads and the swim waves where we were all able to find some space. It was a really, really fun bike ride.

Except at about mile 45, when a bee or wasp or some stinging creature plowed into my face, right between the top of my glasses and the bottom of the helmet, on my left eyebrow. It almost immediately stung me, and I instinctively threw out another F-bomb and swatted my left eye. In doing so, I smashed my sunglasses and the left lens popped out. I was able to quickly grab the lens and my frames before I dropped anything, but I had to precariously put my lens back into the frames while moving at 22mph. Within minutes my left eye had swelled shut, and it stayed that way for the rest of the bike and into maybe 3 miles on the run. That part wasn't really too fun at all. But, by the end of the race the swelling was gone and it was as if the whole thing hadn't happened.

The end of the bike course takes us back to the first stretches of road where we started, so I waved again at all the spectators watching, chatting to them, giving them a fist pump, just returning their enthusiasm. I got back to Transition in 2:50:53, good for a 19.8mph average speed, done on no work. I'll take it.

In and out of T2 in 1:18, and I was feeling good, legs feeling fresh, out to the run.

The run-out shoot was a really popular spectator section, so I cheered and whooped loudly, raising my arms up, acting obnoxious. Everybody exploded with cheering, and I smiled and laughed with them. It was great energy, and I enjoyed it.

My plans for the run - which turned out to be pretty much backwards - were to pace the first 7 miles at around 8:30/mi, feeling easy. Then, if I felt good, I'd throw down with whatever I had left in the last 10k. As we headed out of race headquarters and onto some long stretches of road, the runners around me all commented on how great the crowds were, how awesome the volunteers were. I agreed - this was an incredibly well-put-together race. The athletes were also cool, though - we encouraged each other as we went, offered a kind word to those we saw that were already suffering. In that way this race had a very Ironman feel to it, and this was maybe the first time that this was noticeable to me in racing - when you're doing shorter distances like Sprint or Olympic, it's a bit of every man for himself. Nobody's a jerk or anything, but you kind of keep your head down and go hard, because you understand a bit how you're going to distribute your energies for the task at hand. When it gets longer, like 70.3 or Ironman, you get out there and just kind of settle in. You had a plan, but you know that two hours later you might still be out here with a new plan, so the OCD drops considerably. People are more thoughtful of one another somehow, like we're all in this together. We have some sense for the training it took for that guy to be here next to me, or whatever, and maybe there's some mutual respect there that causes...well, frankly, kindness. You say things, you chat each other up, with a comfort level that you'd never, ever have if you encountered the same guy at the counter in the gas station. I said it after Ironman in '06, but it struck me again yesterday - I wish real life were a lot more like raceday sometimes.

As it is, we really only had each other and the volunteers at the aid station for support - the long country roads weren't conducive to spectators for the first several miles, so we just put our heads down and got it done. About 5 miles into the run we came into town (Sturgeon Bay? Egg Harbor? I'm not sure where we were...) and were met with fun cheering and crowds. Like I did on the bike, I was conscious to thank them, chat them up, high-five the little kids. It was awesome. Whenever I went through an aid station, manned often with some older people, I'd thank them and say "high-five!" and the old ladies would squeal and giggle. So cool.

At mile 7 I ticked my lap counter, and tried to gauge what I had left for the last 10k. My pace easily increased to 8:00/mi, so I felt comfortable clocking along. Then we met the first of 2 obnoxious hills. This hill was long and winding - not terribly steep, but it got your attention. It was starting to get warm now, and all around me athletes stopped to walk, or some pulled off to have a stern discussion with the legs about the cramping that was going on. I'd been carrying a bottle of my Infinit with me for the run, and I was pleased to be able to run up the hill without any horror, no drama or craziness, if a bit slow. About 3/4 of the way up I heard someone shout my name, but as I had no team out there with me for this one I assumed it wasn't me. I heard it again, and this time looked over - it was my man Brazo's wife Gaye, with Brazo and their youngest son cheering right next to her. "Hey!" I yelled and swung widely to the right so I could high-five them all. Brazo started running with me then, asking me how I was and how the day was going. I told him I was feeling good, I'd been having fun, my legs felt on point. He gave me a bit of recon on what to expect for the rest of the course, "You have on more hill after this one - it's not as long, but it's steep. It's the 'bluff' everybody talks about". I high-fived him again, hoped to see him later in the day, and kept on. It was an awesome, awesome boost to have them out there - it hadn't occurred to me until then how morally helpful it is when it's getting hot and tough to have people cheering your name. Thanks for running with my for a bit Brazo, that was a highlight of my day.

At the top of that hill we got to go downhill for a bit, and it felt good to let gravity do a bit of work after fighting it so hard a few moments earlier. The descent took us back into town, so more high-fives and spectator cheers from the great crowds. I maintained a nice, solid pace between 8:00 and 8:15/mi, and continued to enjoy the day. I hydrated as much as I comfortably could, thinking of that second hill I'd been promised, and not wanting to deal with any cramping issues. I overheard runners talking about the hill coming up and the best approach for it - seemed like a big deal. I expected it anytime...but mile 7 turned to mile 8, then mile 8 to mile 9, and still no big hill.

Cue Voldemort Music.

Just before the 10 mile mark came "the bluff". The race materials advertise "you can't bluff the bluff", and here it was, the dreaded last hill. I think, coming from the Ironman Wisconsin bike course, I was feeling a little proud of myself - like bah, whatever this "hill" is must just be something the locals get excited about, it can't be that bad. Just a hill, after all. It's inevitably over before too long. Blah blah blippity blah. This thing was awful. I've never encountered geography like this. It doesn't even make sense, it's so steep. Like, how do cars get up this thing in the wintertime? Two guys were biking it in front of us, and both of them had to get off and walk while we were "running" (I use the term absurdly loosely) up the hill. I honestly don't think they make an easy enough gear to bike up this thing - it damn near required belay ropes. I tried, in utter futility, to keep some semblance of a "runner's pose" going up the hill, but I might just as well have - and should have - just power walked. The net gain would have been better. It winded to the right - which was tough, because you couldn't see the top - and people on the sides of the road tried to encourage us with that - "great job, the top is just around the bend", but it was hard to believe in that promise. What a hill. No joke. Just a heartbreaker.

And that, unfortunately, was about where the "race" ended for me. I got to the top of that hill - which God bless 'em they put an aid station right there - and while I loaded up on ice and water and some more ice and yes please, I'll have some more water - I felt just spent. I walked through that station - my first walking all day - and just relaxed for more than a quarter mile or so - hydrating, collecting myself, stunned maybe that such a hill as that one exists in the world. I chewed on ice for awhile, feeling the sun, now hot, beat down; these last 5k were totally open and unprotected. I felt hot after the hill. I finally started running again, but the mojo was gone - it was a survival shuffle. All around me I was getting passed up, which was kind of a bummer - to know the execution had fallen apart after all. At the last aid station, around 11.5 miles, I grabbed two handfuls of ice to try and cool my core temp a bit, and tried to run it home. I ended up walking again for a short bit just before mile 12, but then I finally got it together and ran it in. My run time was 2:02:56, with a 9:23/mi pace. My finishing time was 5:38:50.

Bits & Pieces

• It was really just poor planning that sabotaged my race; I didn't know, or plan well enough, for 2 big hills in the last 10k, especially that the last hill was so tough, and dumped you out onto a very hot and open last 5k. If I had, I think I would've flipped my run script, and kept it slow and conservative - maybe a 9:00-9:30/mi pace, maybe all the way through 10 miles, with hopes to have something left to finish strong the last 5k. So, I don't credit the meltdown necessarily with a fitness issue or anything, just a strategic mishap. Next time I'll do my homework better on a new course.

• Heat. Ugh. I finished the race with it being my biggest concern for Ironman. If it's a hot, sunny day, then all bets are off on the run. I'll need to plan to go very conservative, especially the first 13.1 miles when it's still afternoon, and keep ice and hydration the primary objectives. Pace and speed will be out the window, and it'll just be about staying healthy. Hopefully I can get some hot days up here for some training ground.

• I think I'll eat a bit on the bike. I've been keeping exclusively to Infinit, which has worked just great, but I got a little bored. Have to give this some thought, particularly for my special needs bag on the bike.

• I can't say enough about how well done this race was. It has huge volunteer support, great crowds, great community support. In that way it felt very Ironman. But there were also smaller details - actual bottles of Gatorade at the bike out available, a guy checking race number credentials as athletes went in and out of transition all morning to make sure only athletes were in transition, carpet on the swim-out ramp. These guys have a very special race going here, and I strongly suggest it for anybody looking for a fun, challenging 70.3. Yes, it's the same weekend as Racine, but at least you're getting a correctly measured swim distance here. (zing!)

• Best moment of the day, bar none: An old woman, with a walker, the kind that has a little flip-down stool built in, sitting at the end of her driveway, having made her way down from her house, clapping sweetly and cheering us on on the bike. I yelled, "thank you!" as I went by, and she says, "thank you", like I was doing her some favor. I wanted to stop, get off my bike, and go give her a hug.

• Second best moment of the day: Dude arriving at the race riding his bike. With his wetsuit on.

• The medals for this race were awesome. But huge silver shiny things. Just another small detail they got right - no skimping on the hardware, even when hardware isn't too important to me.

• Thanks to Erin and her husband, and their friends Andy and Lisa, for hosting me at their rented cottage Saturday night!

• Thanks Brazo and family for hanging with me in the Finish line area while I chowed down a BBQ sandwich!

• Big nasty blister on the left big toe...I don't think the Lunar Trainers will cut it at Ironman. But, I've been leaning more towards the Newtons anyway. For me they just are a great shoe.

• From here: Well, I generally feel good. My bike strategy is working, so at Ironman I'll plan to "do no work". That means from here to then I'll need to amp up the intervals and speed work so that I'm as strong as I can be by race day. The x-factor, I suppose as always, is the weather. I'll have to develop a few plans for the run, depending on how the weather is. I feel good about the swim. There are (besides said weather, which I'm hardly going to sit and think about as that's pointless) no glaring weaknesses, no huge problems I'm foreseeing. I'm right where I want to be, I think - in good shape for a final hard push to taper.

Congratulations to friends who raced this weekend - IGN, Robert, RobbyB (who killed it) all raced Racine - looking forward to all of your reports. Who else was out doing crazy things this weekend?

Thanks for the support everybody - looking forward to the final climb now before the descent.


KodaFit said...

Great report! Informative, entertaining and if I'm ever up in that part of the world, definitely sounds like something to try.


Alili said...

Cool, cool, cool...minus the bee. Things that sting will never be cool.

WADDLER26.2 said...

Great race report and analysis. I love your attitude about gaining trainging info.

I am beginning to use Infinit on my bike and run also. Do no yet have an opinion.

Flores Hayes said...

a great find for panda fanatic!
my roommate and i LOVE this bag

Susan said...

I love, love, love reading your race reports. Well, except the bee/stinging thing, that made me cringe. I'm getting very exciting about being able to cheer you on at Ironman! You are a rockstar!