Sunday, October 10, 2010

Prospector Triathlon Race Report

I know if a race has Lake Pleasant as a venue, the race is going to be difficult. The landscape around the lake is hills, with some being rather steep. You can't get down to the lake without going down a slope. The lake level varies and the shore can be rather rocky.

The race had an Olympic or sprint distance option and I foolishly elected the Olympic(1500k swim, 24.8 mile bike, 10k run). Most people I knew who were doing the race were doing the sprint version, which was half the distance of the Olympic. They were long gone before I got done.

Since the lake is far from my house, I had to get there in the dark. It wasn't too cold, but it was breezy. Breezy is not good for a swim nor the bike. Breezy is bad. I could tell that the wind was whipping up the lake a little, but the transition was on a bluff overlooking the lake. The race was delayed because they were setting up the swim buoys. Originally, the Olympic distance swim was supposed to be one lap, but they changed it to two. I soon found out why.

I got in the water and it was warm. I had a wetsuit on anyway because I get cold easier and because I am a crappy swimmer and it helps me float. Anticipating the start is the worst part. You don't always know how the swim is going to go and sometimes to goes BAD. We started off. I started slow because I don't want to get all out of breath and panicky. Sometimes I do anyway. I started swimming and the water started getting choppy. REALLY choppy. By the time I got to the first buoy the chop was at least one foot waves. I was getting slapped in the face with water. This was not good. I stopped and treaded water and considered bailing on the race. It wasn't really an important race anyway. There weren't any kayaker near by, so I collected myself and kept going. Swimmers were going by me and making the water worse. I pondered the absurdity of the lake conditions. It was almost humorous. I was swimming merely for survival. Good swim technique was for pools.

I finished the first lap and thought "I have to do this again?!". I thought that this was going to end up being a really long swim. At least the water was a little less choppy by the boat ramp. I went around again. I had to resort to sighting less, keeping my head down and breathing out forcefully so that I didn't inhale water. I was very happy to get done with the swim. There were actually people getting out of the water with me. Usually I end up swimming alone because everyone else has already finished.

I thought that my time on the swim would be bad, but it was 35:43, a time that I never thought I would swim any Olympic distance swim in. My thought would be that the course was short. I was not complaining, though.

Going from the lake to transition involved going up a long climb on a rocky slope. There was carpet set down on the rocks, but it still was very bumpy and uneven. I decided to walk up it.

I fumbled through transition and hit the bike course. It was four laps of unrelenting rolling hills. I am glad I got my bike tuned up. My shifters were getting a work out. My pace was anaerobic. I would go eight miles per hour up the hills and descend at thirty. By the second lap I had ceased caring that my race time would really suck and just went with the terrain. I got the hang of using the downhill speed to help maximize the speed up the following ascent of the next hill. It took a lot of focus.

I finally rolled into transition to start the run. I had the requisite potty break because I can't pee in my wetsuit and lost two minutes. The run went down a 4-6 % grade hill and then went up it. Then you got to do it again. I tried to take advantage of the downhill to bring up my run speed, but it was hard to get my legs to turn over. There wasn't much life left in them. I hit the turn around and then started back up the hill. Some people were walking, but I didn't have to resort to that YET. I was kind of enjoying the suffering. I hit the turn around and went down the hill again. The downhill didn't seem all that helpful at this point. At least there were people behind me and I wasn't last. Usually I end up being by myself near the end of the run and wondering if I had vanished into some alternate universe where no one else exists.

I started the final climb and I was ready for this race to be over with. I had no illusions of having a great run time, but merely trying to limit the damage. I finally saw the dumpsters that were just before the turn at the top of the hill. People were still slogging down the hill, obviously in discomfort, but not giving up. I tried to pick up my pace, but there wasn't much life left in my legs.

I finally hit the finish line about 3:34 after I started the race. I wasn't thrilled about the time, but I refused to be depressed about it. I was happy just to get done with the race, since it was so difficult. I usually don't have a problem finishing a race, but doing it well, at least what I consider well, is another matter. Doing a race on difficult terrain takes away your control to a certain extent because you can't go as fast as you would on easy flat terrain. It seems purer racing in that way because you are in the moment, racing for racing's sake and not worrying about mere time. In the process, you have to redefine what is "doing well" even if it really sucks by other people's standards and you end up on the bottom of the race standings. At least, that is what I try to tell myself. The whole point of racing is testing yourself to see if you can pull something out of yourself that you didn't know you were capable of. Achieving a fast race time is icing on the cake and you don't always get the icing. At least I don't.

So I went to pack up my stuff in the transition area, where most of the bikes already gone, taken by their owners who had long gone home. At least there was still food left, which was being swarmed by numerous bees. I was sweaty, crusted in salt, had bike grease on my legs and I was feeling really groddy. But I still felt good. I went back home where the terrain was flat to collapse.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Blahs

Maybe it's the heat, maybe it's overtraining, maybe it's depression, but I have lost my enthusiasm for training and racing triathlons. I have been doing triathlons for ten years and I am long past the stage where I want to do every race in town. I have done most every venue in town at least twice, with some like Tempe Town Lake 15 times. Having the Tempe Town Lake dam burst and let all the water out didn't help, because my "A" race, Soma when with it. I have gotten really picky about what race I do.

If a race involves a nonwetsuit swim, I won’t fly to do it unless it’s Ironman Hawaii. My swimming is so slow and I don't need the humiliation.

If a race involves a nonwetsuit swim, I won’t do anything longer than a sprint because the swim is takes as long as an Olympic anyway.

If a race involves hot weather, I won’t do anything longer than a sprint and the run will suck because heat exhaustion tends to slow you down.

If a race involves flying, I won’t do it unless it’s a national or world level race or an ironman or a really great half ironman. Airlines seem to think that bikes are people, so they have to charge as much or more for flying a bike as a person would be charged for flying first class.

If a race involves driving more than two hours, it had better be a primo race.
Three hours drive is too much for a so so race. I don't like driving and having a crappy race to top off a crappy drive.

If a race is a half iron or longer, it had better be well organized and supported because I am going to be out there for a LONG time.

If a race is an Xterra, it has to be a sprint race. I don’t have the energy to do long mountain bike rides in training because they are much harder than riding a road bike.

If a race is an Olympic or longer, it had better have food by the time I get done. Again, I am out there a long time.

If a race involves a pool for the swim, I am not interested. The fear of drowning makes the swim more interesting.

If a race involves swimming during the run, I’m in unless it’s cold outside.

If a race consistently has water in the swim below 62 degrees, I am not doing it. I nearly drowned doing Ironman Arizona when it was 62 degree water. Some people(mainly from cold climates) don't think that 62 degree water is cold, but I get cold easily and I swim slowly.

If a race has boring scenery, it had better be flat.

If a race involves southern California and an ocean, I’m there.

If a race involves altitude, it can’t be longer than an Olympic, has to be a decent race and my time will invariably suck. Lack of oxygen does not make for a good race.

If a race involves a cold water swim, I will invariably end up in the med tent with hypothermia.

If I train for months for a race, someone invariably will do much better than me on minimum training, usually a beginner.

Having said all that, I can hopefully summon some enthusiasm for my upcoming fourth Lake Pleasant race. There's is always the hope that a race will bring out the best in you, that you will fly through the race on a high and that you will feel a sense of acomplishment when you get done.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Saguaro Lake 2000m Open Water Swim

There are several types of people that do these competitive open water swims. You may be a natural swimmer who is really good and thinks nothing of swimming vast distances without a wetsuit. You may be a newbie who couldn't swim straight to save your life and who panics at the thought of swimming more than 500 yards. Or you may be the type who grudgingly does the swims for training purposes, so that you can get through the swim to get to the good parts of a triathlon-the bike and the run. I am in the latter category. I don't mind leisurely open water swimming if I am in a wetsuit and have some assurance I am not going to drown. Swimming in a race or open water event is challenging at best for me and I have no illusions of doing well, since I typically am at the bottom as far as time goes.

I sometimes have illusions that this time I am going to do really well, but the illusions usually disappears when I actually get in the water and start swimming. It's one thing to do sprints in the pool, where you can hang off the wall if you get tired, another thing in the open water where there really is no where to rest unless you hang off a kayak. Once you start doing that, your race is done. You may finish the swim, but the time will really suck.

The swim had wetsuit and nonwetsuit divisions for 1000m, 2000m and 4000m. Some people swam all three. Some people swam 1000m and 4000m. I had a hard enough time just doing the 2000m with a wetsuit. It was 1000m loops which not only was boring, but psychologically difficult. At least when you are doing one loop, you can think about just swimming from buoy to buoy and not think that "I have to swim this loop AGAIN?" UGH! I am going to lose my mind!

So my division started and as usual, I watched everyone in front disappear. The water wasn't too bad, but the swimming didn't feel easy. My goggles were fogging up and it was hard to see. I had almost made the first turn around when lots a people passed me. I couldn't figure out where they all came from. Then I realized-THEY HAD LAPPED ME. Wonderful. All I could do was keep on moving. I turned into the sun and couldn't see any buoys. I had to sight off the kayakers because I didn't really know where to swim to. Lovely. I pondered why people actually like doing this. I really wasn't enjoying myself.

Finally I hit the first lap. Of course people were getting out because they had finished. It would be so tempting to quit, but I swam on. There were a lot less people now.

This swimming site has the misfortune to be near enough to a marina that any passing boat creates waves. The water was getting really choppy. It's not like the ocean where the waves are rhythmical. It slaps you around and is unpredictable. I have learned that if you stop to rest in such conditions and put your head up, you end up breathing water. The best thing to do is to keep your head down and keep going. It is really tiring because you have to stroke harder to fight the waves. I kept imaging someone on a waverunner gleefully dashing by just to see me suffer.

I turned into the sun again and blindly headed for the end. My goal was to finish before the 4000m wetsuit people started, but I didn't quite make it. I didn't envy them having to swim in this choppy water, but some of them will probably finish sooner than I am finishing my 2000m swim. I was getting slapped around pretty good by then. I finished before the 4000m nonwetsuit people, when was pretty decent for me.

It is sometimes pretty difficult to stand up after a long swim after being horizontal. You had to negotiate slimy rocks to get to the steps to get up the bank. I felt really unsteady and a little dizzy and really glad to be done with this swim.

It's always difficult for me mentally to do open water swims and finishing one is always a small triumph. I basically suck at swimming and I don't like being away from shore and not being able to stand up and rest. Getting through the discomfort and physical exertion make me feel like I have power over my environment. Excelling in the activity, I guess, is left up to other people.