Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cotton Country Sprint

Sam McGlone is a pro triathlete I admire. She's a long-course racer. She came to my attention at the Honu 2007, the most recent year that T and I did the race--and the year she chose to jump up to the full IM distance after her impressive 70.3 wins, including the 2006 70.3 championship in Clearwater, Florida, which qualified her for Kona in '07.

In the 2008 October issue of Triathlete magazine, Sam wrote about the difference between pros and the "average Joe" triathlete: "A common problem among triathletes is training way too much and not racing enough."

This sentence jumped out at me.

Earlier this year I mixed up my season by taking a 3 month hiatus from racing, with only a fairly recent return to the circuit. I tend to train long, as this is the most comfortable distance for me. But starting in August, I've been sprinkling in some weekend sprint competitions--with progressively improving results. I've never been good at threshold efforts--they hurt too much, and my threshold is disappointingly slow--but these sprint races have served a purpose and challenged my capacity. Sam's words have helped me to realize that rather than wallowing in the self-absorption of my points standing in the SW Challenge series, these races have built on my early season base, extended my skill level, and touched up my speed. I have never been a "sprint" type athlete, but coupled with the external reward of placing on the podium, and the internal reward of pushing my limits, I now call these weekend forays, "fun" (whodathunk?), functional and applied interval training.

Yesterday, T and I decided to drive south to Levelland, Texas for the SPC Cotton Country Sprint Triathlon: 5K run, 13 mile bike, 300 yard pool swim. Since I work until 5 pm, and the drive is 308 miles, we broke up the distance by spending the night in Clovis (clean, new, unused (!) Comfort Inn), got up early, and finished the final 87 miles by watching a pastel sunrise across wide open Texas fields of cotton.

Cotton Country is a small race, which has grown every year to now having about 100 participants. T and I registered in a matter of minutes, set up our transitions, had about 20 minutes for warm up, then gathered in the street to get ready for the start. I hadn't recognized any of the 3 (!) names listed in my age group category, but one of the women happened to announce her age loudly while we were waiting at the start line, so I immediately honed in and marked her as someone to keep an eye on.

The Run:
The men started two minutes in front of us.

Due to my generally poor running performance, I seeded myself at the back of the pack, started at a steady pace, then found my stride and gradually made my way up to the 4th place position--right behind the woman who had identified herself as my competition. She ran well, and kept me on the edge. Another young, blonde woman passed me, and she and my competition spent the next two miles testing each other and surging ahead--which meant I spent my run playing keep-up and hoping I wasn't going out too hard.

Since the run is an out and back course, and the men started two minutes in front of us, we could see the men on the return as we headed for the turn-around. Bobby Gonzales looked up at me as he came flying by. T says that I was breathing so loud he could hear me across the road. He couldn't hear anyone else. Was I making such a ruckus that I disturbed Bobby's run concentration? I was merely trying to make sure I had enough oxygen, but probably sounded like I was drawing my last gasp.

The two women kept up the pace, but at 2 miles started to flag, and definitelylooked tired when they picked up water at the aid station. I went by without pausing for a drink, still worried that I was over doing it, and expected them to match me, but they fell off the back. Instead two other women passed me, neatly, like I was running my standard slow slog. Still, I managed to keep up the pace, reduce the damage, and pass one in transition, while the other disappeared--probably a team. Cotton Country doesn't take splits. I finished 5th on the run. A rough estimate of my time was 26:50, on a course that Muffin thought was longer than 3.1 miles.

The Bike:
The bike was well protected this year, including the turn-around which had both a volunteer and police officer. Even the sandy corner had been swept--or just hadn't gathered sand this year. The course felt a whole lot safer, even if the large trucks on the road certainly had no idea what we were doing...

After reviewing two race reports, 2007 and 2006, I thought I was going to fun on the bike with one humdinger of a tail wind. Instead we had a crosswind, so that after working hard to get to the turnaround and my headwind reward, I found I had to work even harder--and battle thoughts of "there's only 3 in my age group, so why am I working so hard?"--until it suddenly struck me--I could go for the overall, instead of age group, win. Since it was a bit late to suddenly realize I might have a shot at the overall, it was a bit like blowing air into a leaky balloon, but the thought still worked enough to pick up my sagging-in-the-wind bike effort and overtake more men, and one of the females in front of me, to bring me up to 3rd overall on the bike. A rough estimate of my bike time on the 13 miles course was 35:30.

The Swim:
In transition, one of the women I had passed on the bike caught up to me. I was busy trying to get my bike shoes off, so I said, "Don't worry, I'm not in your age group," then looked up and thought,"Uh-oh, did I just lie to that woman?" I felt so bad about unintentionally misleading her that when we got to the pool, together, and she motioned for me to go first, I said, "No, you go." She took off, with me right behind her--and I'll be darned if I didn't pass her within 25 yards, without even trying. T said we both lost time with our polite sillyness.

The swim was down and back in the same lane, for another thrashfest. However, this time, I didn't hover on the edge of panic, just kept on warming up to the water and gradually, opening up my speed. Unfortunately, in a deja vu moment, a large guy passed me--then couldn't keep up the speed. He blocked me from passing, and couldn't negotiate the turns, so as I found myself having to slow down my swim, I got worried that the woman behind me was catching up. I also, now, had no chance of catching any woman in front of me. It was very frustrating, since this was one of the only swims this year where I wasn't panicking. I thought about passing hiimon the right, but there wasn't quite enough room. By the finish, I was pretty irritated, but T, who had watched the whole thing, immediately spirited me away from the pool, which gave me time to pack up my gear, put my irritation behind me, and enjoy the lunch and awards that followed.

T and I both did well.
I love it when we have dual-twin finishes.
He was 3rd place Overall male, I was 3rd place Overall female.
Unfortunately, T had tummy problems on the bike, and ended up placing 2nd in his age group--first in the pool off the bike, but with not enough lead to hold off his competition.
I won my age group.
The woman I passed in the pool was a couple of age groups behind me, and won her age group.
Here is how T congratulated me: "Do you have to keep hogging all the national championship slots?"
Which is how I realized I had qualified again.

The best part about this race, is feeling that I was able to push my pace on the run, and not panicking in the pool.

Sam's advice about training too much, and not racing enough seems to be working for me. Every race brings up my skill--and this year, I'm enjoying it.

We broke up the drive home by stopping in Santa Rosa for a half mile swim in Park Lake, a sink hole 200 yards across with relatively clear water (like Bottomless Lakes in Roswell), large fish, and coolish temps. Lightning came up from the east and cut our swim short, but it was a nice interlude, and made us feel we had done more than "just" a sprint distance work out for the day.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Good Day: The Patriot Triathlon

When I finished the Patriot Tri I thought "It figures. I'm having a really bad day."

This was because a number of events leading up to the race had been auspiciously adverse.
Not that I'm superstitious, or anything like that.
It's just that when enough things go wrong, you start to wonder if maybe the universe is trying to tell you something....

It all started when I tried to sign up for the race, on the day of the deadline--and I couldn't get Active to give me anything past the waiver page. Signing up for the race was pretty important to me, but as it was a race I really wasn't sure I wanted to do, I'd left it until the last minute. I'd already completed my 8 races to qualify for the SW Challenge Series, and was really looking forward to a change in focus--but during my 3 month hiatus, unbeknownst to me, a rival Age Grouper had taken my absence as a sign that maybe she could take the prize--so she'd turned up the heat by participating in a number of races, and was fast closing in on my first place status.

I had to find another computer to get Active to allow me to register, but not before I had a momentary panic and internally berated myself for waiting until the last minute....

Then, I went to pick up my packet.
I call this section "LOST IN RIO RANCHO."
It took me two hours to get my packet.
I could have just about driven to Farmington, which is on the northern border of this state. Instead, I spent 2 hours in a neighboring suburb.

It all began when my excessively literal self read the race brochure which stated that packets could be picked up at the sponsoring bicycle shop OR at the race site.

I thought it was odd that there were two packet pick up sites, but thought maybe they had some kind of computer system that would cross check...or...err....something like that.

So, I plugged in my address to the "map" link on Active, got my directions, and proceeded to the race site. I figured I might as well kill two (or three) birds with one stone: pick up my packet, figure out the location of the race site, as well as take a look at the course.

Trouble was, the directions dead-ended in dirt. So, I drove around a bit and, fortuitously, found my way.

Trouble was, there was no packet pick up at the race site.

And, without a packet, I couldn't scope out the course.

So I left the race site and immediately got lost. I thought I knew what direction I was going in, but after a while it became painfully obvious, I didn't have a clue. I tried going a different way, but ended up dead-ending into dirt roads. I thought, "No wonder they come out here to film movies." There's this vast dirtness in Rio Rancho. Skyline that just goes on forever. Sparse vehicles. Occasional cacti. And no traffic on smooth, wide, sweeping roads.

Which was my undoing.

I got stopped for speeding 55 mph in a 45 mph zone.
Truthfully, I hadn't seen a sign, so I didn't know what the speed limit was.
The officer was polite but firm.
I ended up parked for an extended length of time in direct sunlight magnified by the windshield, while she checked for priors. I was dripping sweat by the time she came back. Cooked, and getting browner by the minute.

Then, I couldn't find my insurance card.

Even though I have an envelope with insurance stubs going back 5 years, it was the most recent one that was missing.
I have this memory of tearing out the perforated card and walking out to the car with it.
But, obviously, I didn't.
I think that insurance cards should be mandatorily delivered directly to the vehicle they belong to--just to prevent the number of forgotten insurance cards that get left at home.

So, even though the officer was very nice, and gave me a warning for the speeding infraction, I now have a court date in Rio Rancho at 8:00 am on a weekday morning. Before I left, she warned me that if I got stopped again, I would get a ticket.

So, after my run-in and sauna with the law, I proceeded at a very sedate pace to the actual packet pick up site.

Well, no, actually I didn't.
First, I got lost again.
You see, after the officer left, I realized that I hadn't asked her for directions.
So, at this point, I wisely decided to back track everything, and eventually, finally made it out of the maze.

Then I proceeded to the packet pick up.
Where I was told, "You know, there was this woman who wanted to know if you were doing the race. I mean she really, really, really wanted to know. It was kind of funny."

Which immediately told me that the rival Age Grouper was here, and that she had me in her high beams--which made me feel under the gun.

The funny thing is, any time we've had a head to head competition, I've always buried her. But, you never know. Plus, she's moved up (elevation -wise, about 2300' above my home) to Los Alamos, and is training with the Tri-atomics, who seem to turn out nothing but utterly awesome athletes.

So, race day morning, I drove out to the race site at the Rio Rancho Aquatics Center, anticipating a smack-down show-down--and really not too happy about it.

The race itself had a festive, chaotic atmosphere:
Lines for packet pick up
Lines for bodymarking
Lines for chip timing
A live military band played some fun rock 'n roll.
Loud PA announcements.
Parking was in an adjacent lot a little ways up the street, so you had to pack up your items, and ride your bike to the transition--if you had a pack.
There seemed to be plenty of room on the racks.
There were a lot of first timers, which was nice.
Someone told me there were over 300 registered.
In the end it looked like there were more women participants, than men (Can you believe it? Remember those races when it was 80 men to 7 women?).

Remember what I said about auspiciously adverse events?

I got myself set up at an ideal spot, helped the new girl next to me, got chipped and body marked, ran to the bathroom a few times, went out for a warm up run, returned with minutes to spare for the 8:00 am start, THEN noticed that my bike number and run number did not match.
Aw, gee.

Since this race was important to me, I went to the poor overworked race director to make sure my race effort would be recorded correctly. She probably saw me as a giant irritation that wouldn't go away, since yesterday I had told her they probably needed to tweak the wording on the race brochure to make it correct for their future races. She determined my correct number and assured me my chip would time me just fine. Than, handed me my correct bike number.

I couldn't help myself.
The time was 8:04 am.
The race was supposed to start at 8:00 am.
I looked at the number and said, "I'm not going to put this on my bike now."
It just came out like that. I didn't mean to come off as rude, and I certainly hope I didn't. But I couldn't understand how they could think that I was going to take the time to undo my current number, and a-fix a new one--after the start time for the race--and when I didn't have any twist-ties or tape with me, as it was all in the car in the parking lot that was up the hill across the dirt field....

So, I left everything as it was, and decided just to have faith in my chip.

The Swim:
A time trial start for 400 yards, 8 laps in an 8 lane pool. That means down and back in the same lane. What a splash fest.

I had put my estimated swim time as 9:25. Which is right on par with my best pool practice times. Ha. I always go in with this wide eyed expectation that this time I'll have a smooth controlled strong swim in which I'll just sail over the water without a hint of panic. I guess hope springs eternal.

When I stood in line, I realized I was surrounded by large human beings with huge limbs--and they all looked FAST. Then, I got a glimpse of the pool. It was so splashy, you couldn't even really see the people--at least that's what it seemed to me. Then the guy behind me in line said he usually swims a 400 in 7 minutes. WHAT?! What are you doing behind me? I realize I am going to get mowed down like Muffin's lawn, so I helpfully tell him he should make his way to the front and get in the pool with his own kind. But, by now, I'm getting nervous.

I actually didn't have a bad swim. I hugged the lane line so close, to allow others to pass, that I hit my left goggle, which dislodged and filled with water. My panic didn't tip over into hyperventilation--but it did hover just on the brink. A breast stroker passed me, then slowed down, so his large, paddle like feet and enormously long limbs kept waving back and forth just in front of my nose--so I tapped him a few times to get him to move along--and he did. My swim time, including getting out of the pool and running outside across the timing mat, was 9:46.

Swim note to remember: Running from the pool, outside and around to the front of the building, on cement, was dangerous in wet feet. One person slipped and fell running across a metal plate. It would be nice to see some old indoor/outdoor carpeting laid along the runway to make the transition run safer.
Also, the swim started late. There was some confusion regarding the start order.
So, eventually, people just started to line up and enter the water, according to a hazy "What's your swim time?" question to the person standing next to them.

The Bike:
4th female bike split all age groups included. Need I say more?
Actually, I didn't know I was having such a good bike.
In fact, it seemed pretty poor at the time.

I knew when I exited T1 that Age Group Rival was in front of me. I had seen her enter the pool, and didn't think she could be too far ahead. However, I also remembered that at the F1 in Roswell, I hadn't caught up with her on the bike until the latter 3/4's of the bike, so I knew she could put the hammer down when she needed to.

The bike was an immediate hill that just kept on going. It was one of those days when the wind just seemed to come from the front--no matter what direction you were going in. I picked off 35 people, then stopped counting. No matter how hard I looked, or how many people I passed, I couldn't spot the bright orange of the Triatomic uniform that Age Group Rival had been wearing at the start of the swim. I started calculating--if the pool entries were 10 seconds apart than passing 6 people meant I had made up a minute. But what if they had telescoped the time trial start, and the pool entries had been 6 seconds apart? Then 10 people equaled a minute--and I had only made up 3 minutes so far on the bike. Pretty poor. Why hadn't I seen her yet? Could I really be that far behind? She weighed more than me, so I bet her downhills were screaming. Living up in Los Alamos meant she must be riding hills. Had she gotten so much better since the last time we had raced?

Not catching up to her was demoralizing.
By the end of the bike I had all but conceded.
I started to let up a bit, than thought, you never know.
Lance's mantra--every second counts--came into my head.
In a time trial every second does count.
How awful would it be to let up, just a wee bit, then find I had lost by mere seconds.
So I resumed the hammer once more.
Even though the hills were starting to get to me.
And the headwind just never let up.
And the traffic.
At one point, a large truck passed me on a downhill, than took the right turn at the bottom of the hill at the speed of molasses: Hey--you're slowing me up. Please move!

Crossing Unser was the only dangerous intersection. Otherwise, the route was well protected.

And even though it was remarkably hilly and windy, it was fun. And pretty. Even if it was in the vast open dirtness that is Rio Rancho.

Bike note to remember: The bike is HARD. Have faith in oneself and practice more hills. In the wind.

The Run:
Not much to say here. The run was just a never ending hill also. Then it went onto sand.
Soft sand.
I kept looking for water.
There wasn't any as I exited T2.
And there wasn't any at the bottom of the driveway before the left turn and the sustained up hill.
I asked a volunteer, and he said he didn't think there was any.
More demoralization.
I had a real need for water.
Even if I only needed to take a sip, and then toss the rest over my head.
And I still hadn't caught up to Age Group Rival.
So my run was one more of resignation than of smack down.
It was kind of a trudge.
With a lot of out of hard breathing.
Is Rio Rancho at elevation?
That's what I started to think.
Finally, at the mid way point, there was an aid station.
But not enough volunteers.
I needed 3 cups of water at this point. And there was only one person holding one cup out and the other I kind of snatched from her other hand.
I took what I could get.
I finally started feeling good on the during the last half mile of the run.
Then I went up the driveway to the finishers shoot.
A lot of people were there cheering. I heard my name. I heard a number of "good race" type comments. Since I was sure I had just had one of the worst days of my sprint tri career, I thought, "Wow, everyone is so nice. They say the nicest things, even when it's obvious your just trudging along."

As far as I could tell, I hadn't caught up with Age Group Rival.
To not catch up with someone on the bike is always demoralizing to me. And I really didn't think she had been that far ahead.

Some time ago there was a debate in which one side asserted that you can't win a triathlon on the bike. I think Norman Stadler put that opinion to rest.

I'm one who does best on the bike.
I can't run and I can't swim.
But I can ride a bike.
Today, I placed 10th female overall out of 140 women.
I had the 4th fastest bike out of 140 women.
Right behind the first place woman (who had an amazingly fast swim and who, I was told, is on a swim scholarship), the second place woman, and the third place woman, Tove Shere, holder of a number of national cycling awards.
I was first out of 21 women in my Age Group.
That hasn't happened to me before in these larger races.
I buried my Age Group Rival.
I have no idea when I passed her, but I must have.
Even though I felt like I was having a bad day, I really wasn't.

I had a really nice time. Met some of the newer Outlaw triathletes, including Cindy, who recognized me, and one of the Kathies. Saw H., Miguel and Lorraine, Lazy Mike and his girlfriend, "Trouble," and my partner in pace, Kenneth O'Conner. Michi was volunteering.

"Trouble" made it fun by doing the race in a pink shower cap, arm floaties, and a hello kitty theme, on a 3 speed child's cruiser bike. I wonder how she did on those hills?

So, what do you do after an effort like that?
T and I had a nice afternoon swim, 2300 in an outdoor pool.
What a good day.

p.s. This post is dedicated to Mr. T, who when the alarm went off, and I could barely open my eyes, got himself up to pack my bike in the dark, brew coffee, make sure I was awake, wish me well, and then return to bed. He's had to miss a lot of races this year, but always supports me in mine.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Race and a Run: The WSMR Yucca Triathlon

Today I ran way too far on too little sleep, food, and drink, and on not much in the way of legs.
My quad muscles didn't start hurting until mile 11.
Then they gave me a lactic acid burn as if I'd been lifting in the gym.
Before that, they had felt tired and slow, but pretty unremarkable.
I ate my gels (miles 5 and 10), drank my water (miles 4, 5, 7, and 10).
Re-filled my water, but couldn't re-fill my gels.
Then, I REALLY got hungry, like there was NO food left in me.
I walked the last 3 miles and the last mile was a real doozy.

Of course, I thought, "Maybe my legs will lose weight."
This was after a not very happy moment two nights before between a hotel room mirror and myself.
I think they make those mirrors intentionally to bring out the worst in you. Kind of like the Fun-House mirrors at the used-to-be Playland at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Although those actually let you play around with your size.

Then, I got home and ate a giant pot of macaroni and cheese--with extra cheese.

Mr .T said, "I told you so."
So, sometimes, I just don't listen.
Like maybe a lot of the time.
He said, "You can't do runs like that when you're getting ready to do a race."
Mr. T was right.

My legs were tired because yesterday I had done the Yucca Triathlon at White Sands Missile Range. I had driven down after work, stayed at the Super 8, on the Bataan Highway (where I encountered the mirror), not gotten enough sleep, and hauled myself over to the race start in time to arrive at the gate at 6:30 am. Contrary to the usual scene at the always popular Polar Bear Triathlon in December, this morning I was the only car around. It was so quiet I thought maybe I had driven to the wrong location for the race. Or that the race had been cancelled.

However, I was in the right place and 53 people had signed up, so the race was a go.
10K run, 48 K (30 mile) bike, 400 yard swim.
Unfortunately for me, I had seen the "400 swim" on the brochure, and had just assumed I was doing a short sprint race with an extra long bike. Not a good "whoops" for me, since I don't run very well.

There was a very fast contingent from El Paso.
9 women were present, each distributed one per age group--except for the 34-39 and 45-49 age groups.
Of course, my AG was the only competitive one. Age-Group-Nemesis was there. Checking out what colors I was wearing so she could track me, and subtly dropping a number of tri-excuses to tell me she "wasn't really going to race." We finished 2 minutes apart. She's a runner. Three marathons under her belt so far this year, and training for a 4th. She got me by 7 minutes in the run. I took back 6 minutes on the bike. It would have been closer, but when I realized I wasn't going to catch my competition, I thought, "why push it for second place?" and took it easy for the last leg in the pool.

The run was a mile of gentle downhill and flat, then a good, steady 2 mile uphill on pavement, with the remainder on moderately soft dirt roads. As Age-Group-Nemesis says about herself, "I'm the queen of dirt." And she certainly was.

The bike just seemed hard. A head wind all the way, even though we first headed out south, then west, then north. I felt like I couldn't get any speed on the downhills. About half way into it, I got a headache. The rhythmic bump-bump-bump of the rough roads turned my head into agony. I ate a Gu Roctane, which may have been the reason my headache went away. Yeay for sodium, potassium, calcium, amino acids, and caffeine. When my head was hurting, I thought, "I am never doing another race on these roads again." The wind just never let up. I was exhausted by the last leg of the ride, and barely hung in for the final up hill. I kept wishing for the pool--which truly isn't something I usually do.

The swim was short and sweet. There were so few participants that no one was around me and the water was smooth with no splashing or passing.

Age-Group-Nemesis made sure I didn't hit my head on the water slide.
We had lunch together.
We talked about "bad" mirrors and unhappy mirror moments (she thought the WSMR pool mirrors were bad).
She invited me to stay at her house next time.
She really is the better athlete than me.

I made 4th out of the 9 women total, 2nd in my AG, and earned another 9 points towards the SW Challenge annual AG competition. Trying to win it, but I suspect Age-Group-Nemesis may have her eye on the prize, too.

Yesterday really was a pretty good, sustained effort.
Running extra long today probably really wasn't the best thing to do.