Monday, October 16, 2006

Race Report: Pumpkinman '06

It is time for a race recap.

I was in Las Vegas for the weekend.  Actually, I was in Boulder City, which is a little bit outside of Vegas, sort of the gateway to the Hoover Dam.  I drove north at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Dan Tkach's bike strapped to the back of my car, and pulled into Boulder City at around 1 p.m.  The team met up at packet pick up, which was near the second transition area (bike to run, for the uninitiated), then we went back to our hotel to suit up and go for a quick ride.

What began as a quick ride turned into quite an adventure, since we decided to try to bike to the Hoover Dam.  This was especially important since the ride would be part of our bike course.  But from Boulder City to the Dam is pretty much downhill the whole way.  Long story short, we definitely hit 35 mph going down those hills on our bikes.  It was hella sweet, but also hella scary.  Zach (our team captain) halted us at a less-steeply-downhill point, looked back, and realized we were missing two of our nine team members.  So . . . we waited around and had some water . . . and here comes Jon, hops out of some random guy's car, pulls out his bike with one flat tire.  Aiya . . . so Zach and Mark tried to fix the tire, which didn't really pan out because something was wrong with the spare tube we had . . . and so Mark and Zach decided to bike back uphill and get the team rental van to pick everyone up.

Jackie and I decided that it would be fun to bike back up the super-steep hill.  Seriously, it was uphill the whole way; there was no flat; there was no downhill.  But we made it up, and just as we were reaching the end, Zach and Mark drove up with the van.  We hopped in the van with our bikes, picked up the other guys (9 people and 9 bikes in 8 seats) and drove the rest of the way to the dam, where we got out and took a picture.

We hit a pizza place for dinner (mmm . . . ton o' carbs . . .) and watch the game in the bar.  At half-time, we went back to our hotel to chill (or, um, not) in the hot tub.  And watched the rest of the lame USC game (Booty, you've disappointed and distressed me).  Then we went to sleep.

And woke up at 4:30 a.m.!  Yay!  Ate breakfast (which we bought at Vons the night before), got our gear together, and headed off to the swim start.

Okay, I have to admit that I was so nervous . . . Thinking back to that moment, the exact emotion returns to me, the butteflies, all the thoughts of "I can't believe that I'm really doing this again!"  I set up my bike gear, squirmed into my wetsuit, and hit the port-a-johns . . . twice in one hour.

Standing, freezing with Drew in Lake Mead, waiting for the swim start.  "We should warm up, huh?" he asks.  I shrug.  Okay.  We swim around for like two minutes.  Everyone huddled at the edge of the lake.  Cannon shot.  We start off.  Asthma, wtf?  I can't breathe.  Can't get my face in the water.  Already thinking, "I'm never going to make it.  I don't want to do this again."  Proceed to side-stroke, back-stroke, dog-paddle, everything but my highly refined and efficient front crawl . . . Round the first buoy, passed again and again.  Wondering what the heck is happening . . . last time I was the one doing the passing.  Hear the second cannon go off.  It's been 15 minutes already?  It can't possibly take me longer than 15 minutes to do 750 yards!  Keep swimming.  Round the second buoy.  Finally feel like I've caught my breath a bit.  Put my face in the water and start swimming for real . . . 1, 2, 3, breathe, 1, 2, 3, breathe.  Almost to where I can touch.  Sight the chip timing pads.  Feet touch mud (very slimey, btw).  Slog my way to shore, half-jog to T1, fully aware that my first transition time is going to suck.  Get into T1 and proceed to walk to my bike (which I'm regretting, now that I've seen my 5 + minute T1 time), pull off wetsuit, which has become very fond of my skin and doesn't want to leave.  Pull on shoes and socks.  Pull on tri jersey.  Suck down a GU (energy gel . . . yummy), and jog out with my bike.  Mount.  Onto the bike course.

Freaking uphill forever.  Then turn right, uphill some more.  Quick downhill, more uphill.  Down, more up.  Actually passing people, woot!  I'm not going to be the last person on the bike course this time!  Hit the turnaround for short course and realize that a lot of this segment is going to be downhill!  But also realize that after that, it's going to be all uphill.  For like 5 miles.  Half an hour of solid hill-climbing.  Try to focus myself, encourage myself.  "Tuck into aero, really use those downhills.  High cadence.  Downshift to a more comfortable gear, but keep the cadence high.  High cadence for Candiss.  For Dad.  For Dischord.  For your family.  For your team."  Also berate myself.  "Can't you pedal a little faster?  You're in your lowest gear!  You have to be able to keep a high cadence in your lowest gear!"  Thinking how glad I am that I climbed this the other day with Jackie.  Noting the beauty of the sun rising over Lake Mead, through the clouds, over the mountains.  Nice and cool, fresh.  Praying for strength.  The "Lane ends, 1000 ft" sign is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, because it means that the climb ends in 1000 ft.  500 ft.  I know that just past that bend, it's downhill all the way to T2.  See that chip timing mat and dismount gracefully right before it.

Do much better in T2; just have to hang my bike and take off running.  And I do.  Manage to keep my feet moving for the first mile.  Thinking, "I'm going to walk; it's only a matter of time."  Running through the shourt course water station, then walking as I drank my water.  Running some more.  Running past Bethany Baptist Church, thinking, "Wonder if they would pray for me."  Wishing I was running with someone else so I could share the joke with them.  Walking, running.  Uphill, downhill.  One absolutely adorable old lady with a tin can shaker, cheering us all on.  Running past people saying "Fight on, USC!"  "USC, Class of '93," one woman shared.  Hitting the turn-around, running over the split-timing mat, starting to walk.  Knowing in my heart that I'm too easy on myself, that I'm not working as hard as I could be.  Knowing that I could be walking faster if I were fresh than I'm running while I'm fatigued.  Knowing that, as close as I am to being done, I should be making myself sick with effort.  Things getting more familiar.  Volunteers saying that I'm almost there.  Grabbing water and Gatorade, walking, running.  Finally seeing that blue, blown-up arch . . . "Finish."  Remembering the Shawnee Mission Tri, wishing my dad were there to run through the end with me . . . Pretending he is, anyway.  Hearing his voice as I break into a sprint in the last 50 yards and take off through that blue arch and feeling his pride all over again.

A medal, food.  Water.  Drew, already standing there (having eaten like four scones, he said).  Trip to the port-a-johns, taking a picture in our post-race bliss.  Waiting in line for a complementary massage (which made the whole thing totally worth it).  Taking the best shower I've ever had.  Meeting up with the team in the end.  Endorphin high extra sweet, knowing that it's going to last for days . . .

That was pretty much my tri experience.  Before I wrote it, I was thinking, "Is this really for me?  Do I really want to invest hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in this?  Is it going to wear off in another year or so?  Will I grow out of it, like I did with climbing?"  After all, I don't think I'm genetically designed to be an athlete.  Short.  Slow.  Heavy.  And mentally, I don't think I'm equipped for it.  I don't have the motivation and focus to tell myself to keep running until the lactic acid fades out of my calves and I hit that second wind and can keep going.  I don't feel like I gave as much as I could have given in this race; I feel like I could have been more stubborn, more driven.  I should have taken more pain.  I should have forced myself to exhaustion.  I should have poured out all that I've stored up in the past few months and drained myself.  That's what I see as giving my best.

But, having written all that out, having essentially relived my race . . . I realize that I absolutely love it.  I can't wait to do it again; I can't wait to do it better.  Last time, I finished third from last.  This time, I moved up to 50 from last.  I was still last in my age group.  Maybe next time I can be next to last in my age group.  Maybe next time I can set a 10-minute mile pace (my run split was 39 minutes for 3.1 miles, so a little slower than a 10-minute mile).  Maybe next time I can keep a higher cadence in the run.  Maybe next time I can go back to an exceptional swim leg (my split ended up being 21 minutes for 750 meters, compared to 24 minutes for 1000 meters, which is what I swam last triathlon).  Maybe next time I can attain new levels of mental drive and focus.

At any rate, I can't wait until I can tri again.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Race Report: Shawnee Mission '06

I have been home for about an hour.  So . . . here's the run-down.

Left yesterday morning at about 9, hopped in the car and drove to Shawnee Mission.  Checked into the hotel, first off.  Nice place.  Executive sweets on weekend special.  I guess not many executives travel over the weekend.  After that, we drove to Shawnee Mission Park to check out the course and check in, look around.  Got my race packet, t-shirt (woot!), and swim cap (bright pink, wtf).  Sat in on the orientation meeting, which was run by a woman who looked just like my dad's cousin, Barb.  Seriously, I kept wanting to go up to her and ask how she's doing.  But I'll see her at the reunion next Saturday.

Rode around on my bike, a bit, and that should have tipped me off 'cause it was hella hard.  But I figured--meh, I haven't done serious riding all week, so no big deal.

Last night, had hella hard time sleeping.  Kept having crazy dreams about the race . . . woke up after one thinking, "Whoa! It's over!" and then realizing that I still had to do it.  In another, I ended up missing the start of my heat and I woke up in a cold sweat.  Add to that my dad's ridiculous snoring and my mom's ridiculous air-conditioning, and it was a rough night.  I think I got enough sleep, anyway, though; probably about 6-7 hours.

Woke up at 5 and got ready.  Packed all my stuff up, checked out, and finally got on the road at about 5:45.  Walked down to the start point on the lake, set up my transition area . . . good times.  My parents took off about 6:40, and I went down to swim over to the start point for my warm up.  The sky was overcast, and the air was cool, though still humid.  Water was 84 degrees and perfect (except I couldn't see a damn thing).  Chatted up the other participants as we all huddled on our knees under the water to avoid exposure to the cold air.  My heat started at 7:15 (the pink caps, what), all women who were doing the longer course (1000 meters, 18 miles, 4.5 miles).  I wasn't super nervous until the volunteers yelled out "1 minute!"  Then, I freaked out.  But seemed like everyone was freaked out.

You should have seen these women; they were so freaking ripped!  Housewives and mothers from various midwestern suburbs with these absolutely amazing bodies and rock hard abs and toned arms and whatnot.  Ridiculous.  It's not very often that I feel fat, but I am downright tubby next to these 12% body fat people .  A little glimpse into my future if I stick with this, probably.

I rocked out on the swim.  It was an out-and-back course in this reservoir lake, and so it was uber long, looking out at it.  Orange buoys forever.  I tried to pace myself from the beginning; it's easy to get caught up in the mass start feel and sprint all-out for that first little bit, then have nothing left by 400 meters.  I managed not to do that, this time (the Catalina tri was another matter).  I passed quite a few people, even people who started in the heat before mine.  Out of all the women in my division, my time was pretty middling (btw, if you want to look at the results, see  24:18, slower than I did in practice--in the pool, I tend to make about 2 minutes/100 yards, and my last 1000 time was 21:22.  Still, I'm happy with my swim performance.

The bike segment was another story entirely.  Riding that new bike was probably a mistake; I didn't really have time to get used to it, and I hadn't done any hill work on it.  It was ridiculous, and I felt so lame.  Seriously, everyone passed me on the bike.  Everyone.  I was the very last one on the bike course.  The very last one.  Is that not ridiculous?

I was fine on the flats, but that was probably only about half a mile, a mile tops, of the course.  The rest was all hill work.  Living in Wichita, I don't get in a lot of hills to begin with, and these were steeper than anything we have here.  And they were like the whole course!  So the downhill parts were fun, but from the beginning, I could barely move my legs going uphill.  I'm not sure if I didn't know the bike well enough, like which gears to use, or if I just hadn't practiced hills enough, or if the gears on the bike are just not conducive to hill climbing (it's a road bike; maybe that has something to do with it), but my bike time was God-awful.  It took me about an hour and a half, all-told.  That's 12 mph.  Do you know how slow that is?  I got passed by people going 20-25 mph, maybe as fast as 30 mph, on the downhills.  And I normally can average at least 15 mph, if not 18!  So I was very, very disappointed with my performance on the bike.  And it really sucked to be last, pulling into the transition area as people are ALREADY GOING BACK TO THEIR FREAKIN' CARS!  By the end of the bike segment, I was thinking, "I'm never going to do this again.  Because who wants to pursue a hobby they suck at?"

Thankfully, the bike was not the end of it.  I got off the bike feeling good, transitioned really fast to the run (after gobbling down some GU and putting my USC hat on so as to represent), and was doing pretty well.  It wasn't like last time, when I came out of the swim completely wiped out and could barely even run, could barely even breathe.  My first mile took about 12 minutes, but after that, I swung into a 10-minute mile pace.  I'm hoping by next year I can do an 8-minute mile pace .  The run course was beautiful--dovetailed the bike course up until the first big hill (the dam hill, as it was called, with some ruefulness), then branched off to the first water station.  Looped around, then crossed the bike course (and I sure didn't have to worry about getting run over by bikers!) and went into the woods around the lake.  It curved through the woods, with a long circle around for the long course and a short cut-through for the long-course, over a couple bridges and under trees . . . Very pretty.  By this time it was raining pretty hard, which was nice.  Very refreshing, but I knew it was going to suck by the end, when my feet were all wet.  I knew there were two more women behind me, and I knew I had time to make it in under 3 hours, if I could keep that 10-minute-mile pace.

Around mile 2, I realized I really, really had to poo.  Very distracting, but not debilitating.  I did consider taking a field squat a couple times, though.  By mile 4, my feet were blistering under the balls of my feet and on the ends of my toes.  I considered taking my shoes off and running barefoot (I have been practicing that, because I've read that it increases strength in your legs and feet muscles), but I didn't want to take the time to stop and take off my shoes, plus if I needed to put them back on it would slow me down even more . . . so I just suffered.  My feet were ridiculously wet.  And my left knee was a little troublesome, and my right ankle, my right hip . . .

Finally came out of the woods with a little less than half a mile to go.  Halfway from the woods to the finish line--back on the bike path--my dad caught me up and ran alongside me.  "Just a couple more curves," he said.  He made me keep running when I wanted to walk (and my dad clumping alongside me like the clydesdale he is was definitely inspiring; no way that clydesdale was going to beat me!), and asked me, with about 100 yards left to go, "Got anything left for a final sprint?"  I said, "I dunno; maybe."  So he let me run along for a couple more yards, then said, "Okay; now give it all you got!"  And I did.  I sprinted that last little bit and finished strong.  It like to have killed me.

Afterwards, my dad and mom were both "So proud of you," and we took lots of pictures as I choked down another GU (the chocolate ones are too sweet, btw, so watch out; go for the plain.  Ooh!  Or use Clif Bar Shot Bloks!  Those were great.)

We packed everything up (with a lot of help for my parents, because I could hardly do anything) and walked back to the parking lot, which was about a mile.  I still had to poo.  And I'm pretty sure I have asthma.  I've suspected before, but I told them that I couldn't take too deep a breath and they said, "Sounds like you have water in your lungs."  I'm like, "Wtf, how did it get there?"  So . . . asthma apparently does that.  Took it a couple hours to go away, too.  It was that final sprint that did it, I'm pretty sure, because I was fine up until then.  We went off to a McDonalds to use the bathroom and to change, and I put on shorts so that the "302" running down either side of my legs was ostentaciously displayed .  We also met Ashlyn for lunch in Lawrence.  It was super cool to see her again, and she took us to a fabulous little sandwich shop.  After that, I don't remember much, because I fell asleep and continued to sleep all the way home.

And that was my triathlon adventure!  I had considered training for the L.A. Triathlon in September, but after my bike performance today, I don't think I'll be ready to go Olympic distance in that time.  I could do sprint, I guess, but the rest of the USC Tri Team is doing Olympic so . . . I dunno.  I guess we'll see.  I can't wait for the next one!

By the way, Anna, Towanda!

(Hey, wouldn't it be cool to have a racing jersey that said "Towanda" across the back?  Maybe I'll look into that . . .)