This year I signed up for the olympic-distance race (1500 meter swim, 40 kilometer bike, 10 kilometer run) instead of the "long course": half an ironman. The long course was on Saturday and my race was on Sunday, May 2.
It's incredibly crowded since there are so many racers (there's even a mountain bike race run on Saturday after the long course gets started), family and spectators and almost everyone is camping. One of our club members, George, went up a week early, took a bunch of our tents, and set them up to control a spot for our club to camp together, and that worked great. Thank you, George!
I drove up on Friday morning and got there just in time to go for a short bike ride to make sure everything was working. (I change the wheels to a racing set for races only, and it's a good idea to make sure all the shifting works, et cetera.) There was a frightening amount of wind, but I hoped it would be better on race day. The prediction was for a warmer Saturday and an even warmed Sunday, which should cut the wind.
Many, many club members (perhaps 20) raced the long course and only 8 of us signed up for the short course. I decided I'd try to be a race photographer and try to emulate Isa, who often serves that position for the rest of us, but who was racing the long course on Saturday.
I knew the cyclists have a long climb out of the lake and I experimented with couple of sites before the race began. I wanted a site with three properties: a good view in the distance so I could see our riders coming and get set up, good light, and an uphill road so they'd be going a bit slower. The first site I tried looked good: I'd be sitting on a "grassy knoll", shooting cyclists, but but I sat there for a bit, taking test photos of non-racing cyclists and the light left half of their faces dark. I finally moved down the hill with slightly less distance view, but with the sun at a better angle and set up there.
It's a long wait: the wave starts take two hours, some swimmers are pretty slow, and so between the first pro racers and the slowest of our women (they start the womens' waves after the men), I was sitting on my butt for almost three hours. I almost ran the battery out, since I spent a lot of time taking photos of the first riders, not to save, but to try out various camera settings and to practice picking out individuals when they were clumped together. Next time I'll bring a spare battery, and a flash with an auxiliary battery wouldn't hurt, either.
I did get some nice photos. Then I hiked back to near our camp and the fastest riders were already back from their 56 mile loop, so I got a few more photos of club members from that position.
I went for a short run (a couple of miles) to "burn out any carbon deposits", cleaned up, and went down to the finish line to check that out. Then back to camp and helped cheer in the last runners. We were camped at mile 7 of the run (which is 13.1 miles) and I was very glad I'd signed up for the short course. It was hot, and threatening to be even hotter the next day. A lot of the final runners were already walking at mile 7.
I was afraid I wouldn't get much sleep the next night since I figured the partying would go on late and those who raced had no reason not to party. But it was no problem: my tent was a bit away from the main gathering point, and I think the race was brutal enough due just to its length and the amount of climbing, but especially so with the hot weather, that a lot of the celebration was cut short by early bedtimes.
I rigged my bike and packed almost everything for the trip to the start in the morning before bed so when I got up there was almost nothing to do except have breakfast, take one last trip to the toilet for a "number two", pack up and ride to the lake.
The short course starts an hour later and my wave (the "geezer wave" of men 50 and over) started an hour after the first collegiate racers took off, so my start time was at 10 o'clock. It was already getting warm as I was racking my bike so I figured we'd have a very hot race, and I'd have to be careful with my hydration, even though it was just an olympic-distance race. I drank a bunch of Gatorade and water before I got going and loaded up two bottles for the bike: one of Cytomax and one of water.
I yakked with a lot of folks near me before the start (all the people in my age group (men 60-64) were racked nearby) and I walked down to the water start about 15 minutes before my wave was due to start. The waves took off every five minutes, and as soon as all the members of one wave took off (we wore different-colored swim caps to identify our waves; we geezers wore yellow) we could hop into the lake and warm up. Unfortunately, we only had about three minutes do that, to allow all of us to line up, and I would have preferred more.
I lined up right at the front since I'm a strong swimmer and there's the usual chaos at the start, but I got out ahead pretty quickly. I'm almost always the first out of the water in my age group, but the "men, 50 and up" were in the wave, so there were a couple of the "youngsters" who could match my speed, and I counted on them to do some of the "sighting" (looking for the buoys and keeping us going in the right direction). We were swimming directly into the sun after the first turn and I felt almost blinded by it, but knew things would be better after the turnaround. It seemed amazing how quickly we caught people in the wave ahead of us (meaning we'd gained 5 minutes), and by the time I finished, we were deep into the group two waves ahead with a few folks three waves ahead.
After the turnaround, I was surprised to find that I still couldn't see and realized that my goggles were totally fogged up. I stopped for a couple of seconds to clear them, and after that I had perfect vision.
Since I hadn't warmed up properly (and at Wildflower, due to the logistics, it would be very difficult to do so) after about 100 meters I started feeling exhausted, but I just kept going. At about the 300 meter mark I was finally warmed up, and then it felt great. I had been taking lessons in a new style of swimming called "Total Immersion", and was trying the techniques out in a race for the first time. I wasn't planning to go much faster; I just was hoping for more stroke efficiency, and it seemed to work well. I felt like I was going very fast, and with much less effort than usual. There were only a couple of yellow caps with me when we got to the finish.
I must have been swimming hard, since my legs felt pretty wobbly on the run into the T1 transition. My transition was not great, but not particularly slow, either. Note to self: cut about an inch of rubber off the bottoms of the legs of the wetsuit so you can pull it off faster.
The trouble with being in a wave of mixed age-groups is that you don't know where you stand, relative to your competitors. I thought I was probably in first place, but just didn't know.
The bicycle ride begins with a fairly brutal climb up "Lynch Hill". I had set the bike in its lowest gear, knowing that not only was it a tough climb, but that I wouldn't be in tip-top condition when I started. My strategy was to do a solid climb to the top, and then to open it up on top, which is what I did.
The nice thing about being in the final men's wave is that there are thousands of "rabbits" to catch ahead of me, and most of them are younger, which feels really good. (All of us have our ages written on our calves so we can tell who we're racing against, if you're an "age grouper", as most of us are.) So it didn't bother me to be passed by anyone who didn't have a "60" to "64" on their calves. Obviously, with a strong swim I caught a lot of 40 and 50 year-olds in the water, but they're stronger cyclists than I am, so I got passed by a few of those. I tried not to let anybody 50 and up pass me but there was some strong competition from a few of them, and some of them eventually got away. But nobody in my age group passed me on the bike.
Of course that didn't mean anything; I might have been passed in the swim or in the T1 transition, but I thought that was unlikely.
I hammered my brains out on the bike and it was a pretty good course for me. Lots of hills, where I passed hundreds of people, and I'd ridden it a bunch of times, so I knew where the hills were and exactly how hard I could push each one without blowing up. I made one major mistake (well, two, actually): I had loaded three salt tablets into my "Salt Stick" dispenser on the bike and I only ate one on the ride. I should have downed all three in retrospect. I did pick up a water bottle at the aid station which I hadn't planned to do and drank almost all of it in the 100 meters or so to the last place where I could jettison the empty. That was a very good decision.
One disturbing thing that occurred on the first climb up Lynch Hill was that my gears started skipping. It started with one, and soon I couldn't find one that didn't skip. I finally realized that maybe the cable had loosened up, and luckily, there's a cable adjustment fitting on the rear derailleur cable. I tightened it up and the problem was solved.
I felt very good on the whole ride, and it turned out (looking at the heart-rate recordings afterwards) that my heart rate was near my maximum aerobic rate for the entire ride except for the long downhill stretches. I had a pretty fast T2 transition, and then it was off for the run.
I drank a lot on the run: at least one cup at each aid station, and sometimes two. I drank about half water and half Gatorade. The run always starts slowly, since your legs are pretty beat up from the bike ride, so that seemed normal, but I got a real surge of fear at about kilometer 1 (of 10) when my hamstrings in both legs started to cramp. I've never had that happen before. I found a way to jog that tended to stretch them more than my usual stride, and the cramp threat was there for almost a full kilometer. At about 1.5 kilometers into the run there was an aid station and I took down two cups of Gatorade, hoping there'd be enough electrolytes to help with the cramps, and cursed myself for eating only one salt tablet on the bike.
Thank goodness that at about the 2 kilometer mark the cramps started going away, and they were not an issue for the rest of the race.
I was pretty tired, however, and it was hot. I had planned to run the whole thing, but there were about three spots on steep hills when I did walk for 20 or 30 paces, so not too bad, overall. At about the 3 kilometer mark I was passed by a guy with a "61" on his calf. I tried to pick up the pace, but it was hopeless. The rest of the run went well, but I was sure happy to see the 8-kilometer mark, since I knew the last two were all downhill (we ran down Lynch Hill to the finishing chutes). My heart rate during almost the entire run, including the short walking stretches, was always near my aerobic maximum.
I came in second place in my age group (out of 20) with the following times:
Swim: 24:42 T1: 4.02 Bike: 1:23.13 T2: 2:11 Run: 53.55 Total: 2:48.03
I had the fastest swim and the third-fastest bike and run. My run result surprised me: I thought I was going pretty slowly. I'll have a heck of a time beating the guy who won (Gary Maxwell). Here are his times:
Swim: 33:11 T1: 2:50 Bike: 1:19:20 T2: 1:29 Run: 48:21 Total: 2:45:11
He basically spotted me 9 minutes in the swim, and still won easily! Perhaps I should work more on transition, too. He picked up about two minutes on me there. Reminder to self: cut an inch off the bottoms of your wetsuit legs; that probably cost you 30 seconds.
I was a little dizzy after the race, but didn't feel too bad. I did try one new thing: a few of us walked down to the lake and just waded in to about hip depth for 15 minutes after the race to "ice" our muscles. A lot of people swear by this, but I'd never tried it. I can't tell if it helped or not, but it didn't feel bad, either.
Anyway, I had a pretty good race, and really enjoyed camping with my triathlon club buddies.
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