From an outsiders perspective this past weekend’s activities might seem a little nuts! While others were flying to Texas to stay in hotels and compete in Ironman I was driving solo, more than a quarter of the way across the country to camp and compete in the HITS Grand Junction Aquabike. Let me assure you there was reasoning behind this decision. A large piece was cost, I simply can’t afford more than one or two destination races a year, it’s just not in the budget unfortunately. The other large component was that I wanted to do this race under stress. There are many issues that turn up on race day outside of one’s control, especially during Ironman, and although I didn’t set out to purposely sabotage my race I did want to go through some obstacles so that I could learn from them without the pressure I would experience during an A race. Last year I suffered a debilitating injury the morning of Lake Placid, and to have known in advance how to deal with it, better yet how to have prevented it, I would have done anything! Fortunately I was able to get my fair share of minor disasters and then some on race day, more issues in 6 hours than I’ve experienced in several seasons. I want to focus this report on the positive takeaways and lessons learned rather than the negatives. Here is a breif synopsis –
|Acute muscle pain heading out on the bike||Unknown. I believe it is a combination of stress, cold conditions and strain caused from sighting with a wet suit (unfamiliar body position).||Early morning stretch routine with proper warm up and foam roller/massage stick. Open water (race condition) practice with sighting drills (also in the pool).|
|Mild panic attack, loss of breath in the swim||Air/water temps in the high to mid 50’s, 4000ft elevation||The proper warm up for the conditions. Light run to get the blood flowing followed by getting in briefly before hand remembering to submerge the face to get rid of “ice cream headache”. When loss of breath occurs focus on long, steady exhales versus short stabbing breaths.|
|Swimming off course||Too few buoys, unfamiliarity with course||In addition to sighting often make sure to research the buoy configuration and rely on yourself rather than the people around you.|
|Flat tire, specifically speed of replacing||Inexperience with changing a flat, flat kit preparation||Practice changing a flat (it is part of the race). Prepare your flat kit for easy access, remove valve covers, have valve extensions on (carbon clinchers help). Sight for and avoid debris when possible.|
|Going the wrong way||Inadequate marking of turns||I’ve only experienced this with HITS. Generally the course is properrly marked but it doesn’t hurt to do the homework, even drive the course.|
|Performance deterioration||Improper fueling||Methodical fueling in training, do not allow the terrain to influence fueling on race day (no waiting for uphill’s to drink!). When races don’t have popper fuel options load your bike up beforehand.|
|Getting stung in the face||Kamikaze bee||Keep your mouth closed!|
This trip was one for the record books! I started my voyage leaving work at noon on Thursday, shuttling to the LAX airport, then to Hertz rental car before waiting in line over an hour to get my ride, a Toyota Yaris. I generally rent to save money and wear on the Jeep. The Yaris got decent mileage but next time I’m upgrading to a Prius or something more Hybrid. After getting stuck in traffic leaving LA, crossing the Mojave Desert where it hit 112, and a brief stop in Vegas, I pulled over in a Wallmart parking lot to rest 5 hours before continuing the trip. It was a strange contrast to go from blasting AC in the desert with triple digit temps to waking up surrounded by snowcapped mountains hours later. I ate my big breakfast at a Denny’s, the last rest stop for 120 miles before continuing across MOAB. With only an hour left in my trip, 21 hours in, I hit a road block where the 70 had been shut down due to a fatality. Stuff like this is why I find it’s so important to arrive a day early, just in case something happens outside of your control. Fortunately the roads cleared after an hour or so and I was able to make it to Grand Junction in about 23 hours total. The drive back was much shorter with a 13 hour straight shot and LOTS of Red Bull/ 5 Hour Energy’s.
Quick story coming back for anyone new to driving across the Utah desert. When I left Grand Junction I had a quarter tank and figured I would gas up at the next rest stop. 30 mins later with no service areas in sight I checked my phone to discover the closest rest stop was 30 miles back in Grand Junction. Every gas station within 40 miles was in the opposite direction. The next service area ahead was about 43 miles away and when I checked my ‘range’ it said I only had 30 miles left in the tank. I had to make a on the fly decision and with my bike in the back of the car decided to go for it, hoping that the range gauge was 15+ miles short. I spent the next half hour counting down the miles, sweating profusely (AC turned off to conserve energy), drafting off a Vibe at 70MPH. When I finally made it to the rest stop a wave of relief passed over me, and not a moment too soon, only 0.2 gallons left in the tank!! I’ve still never ran out of gas before, and hope if it ever happens it’s not in the desert like it could have been the case!
In my last few triathlons I’ve experienced issues with stabbing muscle pain in the glutes to lower back, especially at Placid, but at almost every race since at some level. I figured the 23 hour trip, sitting in a cramped car, sleeping on the ground and cold water swim would certainly trigger the same if not addressed. I spoke with my coach about the issue and the morning of the race went through a specific stretch routine. It seemed to do the trick because any pain was mild to none. In the future I hope to come up with a protocol warm up/stretch routine to do that will loosen up my back and not allow the problem to return.
Air temps nearing 7am were in the low 50’s with water temps in the high 50’s to 60 degrees. The race director had a pre-race meeting right before 7am so there was just enough time for me to get wet and swim 50 yards or so before the gun went off. Standing waist deep for a couple minutes I felt freezing but didn’t think it was a big deal. It wasn’t until the gun went off and I was 100 yards in that I realized I couldn’t get enough oxygen to breath. I have done dozens of triathlons in my life and this has never happened to me before! Perhaps it was the lack of warm-up, cold temps or elevation (~4000 ft) but no matter what I couldn’t swim and had to doggie paddle for over a minute to regain composure. Losing space in the swim isn’t just a confidence killer, it’s a huge hassle because once I regained composure I had to fight my way back through hundreds of athletes to get toward the top again.
As I exited the water to head out for my second loop, even with my mishap, I was told that I was in 3rd place (out of only 50 or so). I spotted the far buoy and began swimming out to realize I was all alone. When I reached it, or at least thought I had, I said out loud “where the hell am I!?!?” There was not a single swimmer or buoy in sight in any direction!! After what seemed like forever I found a red buoy in the far distance and began swimming to it as fast as I could. By the time I almost reached it an emergency boat had approached me to say ”are you doing the full cause you missed a buoy.” The buoy I missed was so far away I could barely see it!! Talk about swimming long –
The take away from this experience is twofold and I spoke with Gerry about it this morning. First, always get the proper warm-up in for the conditions. That day, because of the low temps I would have likely never warmed-up in the water. That’s why it would have been appropriate to warm up out of water to get my system going and body temp up before getting in right before to dunk my head and acclimate, preventing the shock to the system. Once I ran out of breath I should have turned my concentration to getting longer controlled exhales versus short stabbing breaths. Second, I learned there is a difference between sighting and interpreting in open water swims. I believe I can sight pretty well but lack the experience to understand where I am in the water and where I should be headed, traversing between buoys and other athletes. I am confident that the upcoming T26 open water Wednesday season will help prepare me better.
Final swim time 1:11, that’s going WAY out of the way.
For the first time I was not provided with a HR target for my ride. I figured I would be racing like it was an Ironman, training for the experience, but instead I was instructed to go as hard as I could maintain for 112 miles. As I headed out my HR was 160 or above, which is my HIM target. I noted going through the first hour with 22.5 miles, feeling good. Everything was going pretty well, despite turning the wrong direction a couple times. Right as I headed out for my second lap of two, with 1st place only a minute ahead I heard a pop, experiencing my first ever race flat (rear tire). Luckily, this was not an A race because the change took me close to 10 minutes. In the future carbon clinchers and preparing the gear better (easy release, removing valve caps, etc) will help to make things go by much faster. I may practice more before Tremblant to be my fastest (flats happen!).
Despite the flat I was able to narrow the lead down to only a couple minutes to first. It was pretty upsetting because I’ve always wanted a motorcycle escort (maybe some other day). To add to the suffering I was stung by a bee in the nostril on my second loop, made blowing snot rockets unbearable. So happy to finish the bike and not have to run!
Bike split without flat 5:08 (21.7mph). This was on P1 without race wheels and no aero helmet.