Sunday, October 26, 2014

Race Report: Rev3 Cedar Point Half

This race wasn't very fun, at least the day of. I was severely undertrained, and it showed. The experience was similar to my first olympic distance triathlon, but twice as bad (because twice as long). Still, I enjoyed my time in Sandusky, thanks mostly to my family and friends, and the experience reminded me that no matter how many triathlons I do and how fit I think I am, I still need to train to be successful. This experience reminded me to respect the sport, especially at these longer distances. In that way, I think this race prepared me for my Ironman, because it will inspire me to be more serious about my Ironman training (rather than assuming that my general fitness can get me through).

The Weekend
Emily and I drove to Mansfield, Ohio, on Friday night to stay with my Uncle Dave and Aunt Lori. My dad also drove up from Kansas to be present for my race. My mom, unfortunately, couldn't get the time off of work, so she missed it. I love my aunt and uncle, and of course my dad, and we had a great time on Friday night hanging out.

On Saturday, we had a yummy breakfast with Dave and Lori, then drove to Sandusky. We stopped at a Walmart along the way to get the fixings for a family barbecue that night, then continued on to Cedar Point. I reserved a cabin at Lighthouse Point (part of the Cedar Point resort complex) for the night, and I'm very glad that I did. The cabin was within a mile of all the race activities. Close enough to walk, but not conveniently. The cabin had a deck with a beautiful view of the lake and a fresh, bracing breeze. The beds were comfy and the cabin was spacious enough for five or six people. We had our own coffee maker, a mini fridge, a grill, and a microwave. The kind ladies at the Lighthouse Point office even let us check in 4 hours early, so we dropped all of our stuff off at the cabin and then went to the race expo.

I got my packet, timing chip, and goodie bag, took a look at the Rev3 kit (a very impressive spread, although not quite as impressive as what I've seen at actual Ironman events), and caught part of the athlete meeting. The goodie bag was the best I've seen in a long time! It came in a musette bag, and had lots of great things in it, rather than just coupons and pamphlets. In all, the free kit at this race made the whole affair a great value, especially when compared to IM 70.3 races that I've done (the entry fee on this one was about the same as IM KS 70.3, and included a T-shirt, finisher's visor, finisher's medal, saddle cover, and the musette bag).

Most of my dad's family lives within an hour drive of Sandusky, and all of them drove to Cedar Point to have a cook out with us that evening! We had a great time eating hamburgers and hot dogs, cheesy potatoes, and peach cobbler. Then we played board games and chatted together. Most of the family wasn't returning to watch me compete (it was a fairly long drive at a fairly early hour, and they all had church the next morning). So the time spent with them was really valuable! Having the opportunity to get together with family was the main reason that I chose this race as my 70.3 for the year.

Two of my cousins, Abby and Nancy, stayed at the cabin with me, Emily, and my dad. I let all of them sleep in the next morning while my dad and I went to the transition area to get me set up. I completely forgot about bringing stuff for breakfast (rookie mistake--one of many!), so I gummed down some leftover hot dog buns and one hot dog from the night before. I also had two cups of coffee, timed so that I would get my morning poo out of the way well before the start of my swim wave.

I set up my transition easily. I know it's silly, but I felt a little intimidated by all of the expensive bikes around me. It happens at every race, but it's a let-down to park my $350 Fuji Road Ace next to all of the sleek, carbon, TT bikes. I know that the engine matters more than the chassis, but I still feel like a poser with my little aluminum road bike--I don't even have aero bars on it!

I warmed up with a light jog around the area, went to the bathroom a couple of times, then headed to the beach with my dad. I put my wetsuit on and jogged around a little more to get the rubber loosened up. I haven't swam in my wetsuit in over a year (another rookie mistake), but Lake Erie would be unpleasantly cold without it, and I needed all the buoyancy help that I could get.

The water was ROUGH. Painfully rough, at least for a lake. Not as bad as Venice Beach in September, but still decidedly unpleasant. I even heard the elites talking about it (in the med tent, but we'll get to that later) after the race. No one had a great swim that day. I haven't dealt with waves (well, a little bit of chop in June in the Potomac river, but that didn't even compare) in . . . Well, it's probably been since I left L.A. (2007). But it's not like I wasn't going to do the race because the water was a little scary. They called my wave to line up, and I shuffled into the water with the other women under 40.

The Swim: 1.2 miles in 50:06 (11/17 in F25-29)
I had not done enough swim training. In particular, I hadn't done any long-distance swims, I hadn't done any open-water swims, and I hadn't swam in my wetsuit. And the waves. I know there is a way to swim in really choppy water, but I've never been good at it. As a result, I spent the first third of the course (the part going straight out from shore) swimming about 8 strokes, stopping to catch my breath and look around, then swimming another 4 strokes. I didn't take on a ton of water, but much more than I'm used to swallowing. Fortunately, Lake Erie is much cleaner than it was 10 years ago (and I should know, since I have an uncle who works at a water treatment facility on Lake Erie). The waves were probably 3-4 feet high. I've swam through higher (but again, not well). But I wasn't prepared or trained to keep swimming after a sudden drop of 4 feet. It was slow going. But you can tell from my position in my age group that it was slow going for everyone. There were still plenty of white swim caps around me, and I was passing swim caps from previous waves.

Once we turned the corner it got a little better, in that I could get into more of a rhythm and try to relax. But by that time, my low back was starting to bother me. Now that I'm not teaching yoga regularly I tend not to do yoga regularly, and my body's been paying the price. My right quadratul lumborem (low back) gets really tight, and it gives me trouble when I swim more than about 800 meters. It was bothering me on race day. This swim wasn't even about getting a decent time; it was 100% about making it through the swim.

The last third of the swim course, with the current at my back, wasn't as quick or easy as I'd hoped; I was counting on a little more help from the current than I got. Still, I was doing better than the people around me, who were disoriented by the feeling of push-pull from the waves. The last 400 meters seemed to take forever. I slipped on the beach exit, and was no help at all for the wetsuit strippers. I was glad to be out of the water and on to the bike, though.

The Bike: 56 miles in 3:34:05 (15.69 MPH, 12/17 in F25-29)
The bike course was lovely. Mostly flat, not as much wind as I expected so close to the coast of the lake, and a very nice temperature. Honestly, I don't remember much about it, other than just trying to enjoy myself. I brought three Honey Stinger waffles and two packs of Honey Stinger chews for my nutrition, and I lost two of them trying to get something to eat in the first 800 meters of the bike course. I'm glad I didn't get a penalty for littering, but I was very sad to see those waffles go. They taste much better than Powerbar gels.

I only have room on my bike for a single down-tube bottle. The frame is too small to have a seat tube bottle holder, and I won't use behind-the-seat bottle cages after my experience at my last 70.3 in Kansas (I lost most of my nutrition at that race, and it destroyed me). Fortunately, there were aid stations every 10 miles, so I got a full bottle and a gel at every station. That had me drinking 20 oz. of water and taking in 100 calories about every 45 minutes. I supplemented that with my remaining Honey Stinger chews, and ended up with 200-300 calories every hour. Based on what I've done in training, that was my goal.

My riding slowed down more and more as I got closer to the end. In the final five miles, I was (once again) focused solely on making it through. I already felt tired and spent; I had no idea how I was going to make myself run right off the bike.

The Run: 13.1 miles in 3:21:39 (15:24/mile, 14/17 in F25-29)
I surprised myself with the amount of energy that I had coming out of T2! It actually felt good to run. I was flummoxed, but enjoying the feelings. I did my best to restrain myself, because I knew that if I ran as fast as I felt I could at that point, I would pay for it later.

The first few miles of the race weren't bad. I walked the aid stations and took in as much as I dared at each one. At the mile 3 aid station, I passed up the opportunity to put on more sunscreen (another rookie mistake, and I paid dearly for it later!). Around mile 3, we got away from the lake and into the town of Sandusky. The blacktop was boiling hot, and there was no shade anywhere. I was not happy with the race directors for choosing this particular course.

Things took a turn for the worse around mile 5. I started feeling some GI distress, and I couldn't get any food or water in. I stopped at a toilet, and that helped a little. I walked for a while, and that helped a little. But my body was still too hot, and now I had a serious calorie problem, because I couldn't get any food in. I could barely get water in. I walked for the next mile or two.

I was able to start running again between miles 6 and 8, and I started to feel more optimistic. At that point, we were running through "downtown" Sandusky (more a Main street than a downtown, and totally deserted). There was a little bit of shade, here and there, and I ran in it as much as I could. I was starting to feel . . . crispy. I realized then that it was a mistake to pass up the sunscreen, as I was going to be out there much longer than I'd planned.

I was still having trouble taking in calories; even water felt like too much. I walked a lot, getting passed by people I'd passed earlier. Still, I saw plenty of people with half-distance numbers walking, too, as some of them were on their way out while I was on my way back. So at least I wasn't DFL. I was able to run off and on between miles 8 and 9, but I could feel the lugnuts coming loose. The wheels were going to come off; it was just a question of when.

By mile 10, I was toast. I was able to put on some sunscreen at an aid station around that time, and it probably did some good (since the last 3 miles probably took about an hour). By this point, I was checking my watch and doing math, trying to figure out if I could still make it in under the cut-off.
Those last 3 miles were brutal. I considered sitting down on the road and waiting for an ambulance many times. I walked the entire time, almost tripped on more than one occasion, and was preparing myself for the possibility that I might need to crawl part of the way. The last 30 minutes passed in a blur. Even during the last mile, I was still questioning my ability to finish.

I did finish, and was even able to muster a job for the last 200 yards through the finishing chute. I crossed the line, got hugs from my dad, Emily, and Dave and Lori, then headed straight for the medical tent.

Total: 70.3 miles in 7:51:02 (13/17 F25-29)
I don't know whether the cut-off was at 8:00:00 or 8:30:00, but I'm glad that I didn't have to find out. This time embarrasses me. I can't believe that it took me almost as long to cover 13.1 miles on foot as it did to cover 56 miles on a bike. I didn't train well enough, and I didn't respect the race enough. I neglected my swimming (especially open-water swimming), and lacked the endurance base to have a successful 70.3 experience.

But I did finish, and that in itself was a valuable accomplishment. And the experience and perspective that I gained was valuable. I don't think I've ever had to (or been able to) push myself so hard to finish a race. I'm empowered by having to dig so deep to get through the race.

I spent about 15 minutes in the med tent. Someone came over and checked my pulse, blood oxygenation, and blood pressure. They were all a little bit off of normal, but not dangerously so. I stayed horizontal on a cot, drinking as much water as I could, while my vitals came back down (or up, as the case may be). After 10 minutes, they checked on me again, and the numbers had improved. About that time, I got really cold, so they got me a blanket and a big cup of hot chicken broth.

I didn't realize this, but hot chicken broth is apparently magic. As soon as I started drinking that stuff, I felt instantly better. I felt warm, and my stomach settled down. I could get up and walk around. I had a little bit of energy. I knew that hot chicken broth is a staple of ultra endurance races, from the Ironman on up to ultra marathons, but I'd never experienced its healing power myself. It's magic. I'm going to remember that for next year.

I ended up with a pretty good sunburn, but it wasn't as bad as I expected, based on how I felt on the race course. It was sore for a couple of days, especially around my neck and under my right arm. After two days, it faded into a tan, and I didn't have very much peeling. With my fair skin, I was surprised at how quickly and painlessly it cleared up.

Although I liked this race, I did not enjoy the run course at all. It was boring. It was too exposed. And it offered too few opportunities for spectating and cheering. I think the run course should be altered in the future.

I didn't take advantage of discounted Cedar Point tickets, but I wish I would have! On Saturday, Cedar Point was closed for a private event (I think held by Honda for their employees), but racers and their families could get in. It would have been awesome to get to ride some rides and not have to wait through super long lines! I decided against doing that because I didn't want to be on my feet a lot the day before a race. If I had to do it over again, though, I would definitely have spent some time riding the roller coasters.

I'm very glad that I stayed at a Cedar Point resort, rather than off-site. It made getting around the morning of the race and after the race much easier. We also got validated parking, which saved $15. The cabins were great, with very nice views and wonderful amenities. They were also nice and quiet. Or at least our neighbors were quiet. We weren't, because we were playing board games.

I am considering doing this race again next year, but as an aqua bike instead of a triathlon. It will be about a month before Ironman Barcelona, so I think it would be good preparation if I did the full aquabike. Besides, cutting out the run would mean that I can spend lots of time on my feet at Cedar Point the day before!

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