Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Rockhopper Xterra Race Report

Three kinds of people sign up for an Xterra triathlon–the fast, the clueless and slow people like me. Fast people power through the terrain like it doesn’t exist. I have never figured out how they do this, but I suspect that their fancy bikes help. The clueless have no idea what they are in for, but soon find out that they made a bad decision. An Xterra can quickly become overwhelming, and require a lot of physical effort and skill. I wonder what a person doing a triathlon for the first time would think of his experience. Maybe “never again?” Slow people like me struggle to climb the hills and often fail, resulting in more of a walk/bike or a walk/run. I do these events anyway, despite my incompetence, because I like the challenge.

These races  are mostly populated by younger, male participants. The mean age for this race was 35-39. Only twenty-five percent were female. For some reason older females shy away. I was the only one above age of 53 and I felt like an oddball. Maybe they fear injury, that they aren’t strong enough or maybe they are just smart. I am an outlier. I have been riding badly in multisport mountain bike races for years. I am slower, more cautious and less skilled than most. If a section scares me, I don’t ride it. Bodily injury isn’t worth it.

Mountain biking is more mentally engaging than road biking, which can be excruciatingly boring. I  have to constantly look where I am going and pick the best line through obstacles to avoid smashing into rocks, running into cactus and running off the trail. Climbing up slopes requires leg strength, finesse and sudden bursts of leg turnover to avoid falling over when pedaling. Even arm muscles get a workout. It can be physically exhausting in a short amount of time.

Still, it’s fun when it isn’t terrifying. I prefer the trail hazards of horses, other people and sometimes snakes, to cars killing me or stoplights. The tires usually don’t flat because they are so rugged. The scenery is better. Most snakes leave me alone.

Papago Park isn’t my favorite place to ride. The trails are rocky, rutted from storm damage and poorly marked. I am spoiled by the smoother, engineered ones in North Scottsdale, McDowell Mountain Park and even the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Papago Park is difficult to ride and even harder to figure out where to go in the spaghetti maze of random routes.

I stupidly signed up for the Rockhopper Xterra, anyway. Another “I couldn’t think of anything better to do” event. I hadn’t done this event since 2008, so maybe it would be an easier experience than in the past. It wasn’t.

The race had a 10 a.m. cut off for the bike. I was concerned about it, because my normal glacial pace on the swim and a mountain bike, I would be close to that time. I usually don’t have this issue, but maybe the race organizer had someplace better to be or they didn’t want to have to transport people who had keeled over in the rough terrain. Theoretically, October starts to cool down even in Phoenix, but the month had stubbornly clung to “hot” and “more hot.”

Race morning, I walked down the boat ramp and cautiously waded into the water. Sharp rocks await the unwary, then it drops off suddenly. My ratty, old sleeveless wetsuit kept me buoyant, so I wasn’t worried about drowning, unlike the last race. The water felt cold on my arms at first.

The horn sounded and everyone took off. No waves were needed because of the small amount of people. Open water swimmers, not doing the bike and run, started behind us. I expected to be lapped by some or all of them. They made the water more crowded. As I rounded the last turn buoy, I was shocked to find swimmers as slow as I was. This was a rare opportunity to draft off of them, which would make my efforts faster and easier. They were in my way, so I used them. The trick was not to run into them, because I couldn’t see past my elbow in the murky green water. An occasional bubble hinted at where they were.  I finished faster than I expected, which was good because I don’t like swimming and was short on time.

Staggering up the ramp, I got my bike gear on and debated going to the port-a-potty, which for once, was in transition. The urge was not that great, so I moved on to the bike course.

The bike course had a flat section that followed a canal, then crossed a bridge onto rocky hell. Right away, I fumbled the climbing and had to walk. I thought: I am not very good at this. The ride did not get much better the next three miles. Some hills I didn’t have enough power to get up. I was still tired from the swim and hadn’t recovered. Some I misjudged the best route and got stuck. Some had rutted, loose soil, and I couldn’t get enough traction to climb. Some sections were just too scary to ride like the sudden steep drop offs with loose, rocky dirt. I had trouble with my bike shoes. Sometimes, they were difficult to clip in when I had to I get back on the bike. Each of the two loops had three mandatory dismounts in addition to the hills I couldn’t ride. I almost tripped on a rock a few times walking the bike through the dark tunnel.

I began to despair of making the cut off, but all I could do is keep going. A portion near the three mile mark was flat, so I went as fast as I could to make up time.

Coming back on the first loop, I crashed on a technical section named “The Steps.” It consisted of evil, steep stone ledges in a wash that scared me. I thought to myself that I could get through this. I got down the ledges, landing hard, but climbing out, I couldn’t pedal hard enough to make it back up the wash and unceremoniously fell over. A volunteer asked me if I was alright. My leg was scraped and my butt hurt, but I was able to get up. I didn’t lose too much blood, just my dignity, since I had landed in the dirt.

I finished the first loop and hoped for a better outcome. It didn’t happen. I didn’t stumble as much and went faster, but I still couldn’t get up some of the steep hills.  The volunteers that had been stationed by the potential crash sites had left before I finished the second loop. I was on my own. My high heart rate was high and it was hot. I fought exhaustion. For some reason, I kept hopscotching the same guy. I  passed him on the climbs, then he  passed me on the flats. Did heI  know how old I was? He was probably 35-40 and not doing much better than I.

 At the finish of the second loop, someone called out that the cut off was in ten minutes. Miraculously, I could go on to the run.

The start of the run was hot–about 85 degrees. I just wanted to survive and make the cut offs. Only the canal portion was shaded. The trails were rocky, bleak and steep. The difficult ascents had to be climbed twice, plus constant up and downs. A young kid flew by me as I hobbled up. I hated his youth. My legs were fried by then. Tripping was a concern because it happens when I am tired, but I avoided falling. I passed an older man, about seventy and I wondered if he was on his first or second loop. At least he tried.  The last mercifully flat 1.3 miles were a lot faster.

Total time for the whole thing was 3:03:59, a little better than I expected. This was one of the hardest races I have done this year. I hadn’t expected much out of it, knowing the difficulty, but I had wanted to finish it.

Most people were leaving as I got done. As I picked up my gear, people told me to get a mug, since I was the only one in my age group. A man who had gotten one gave me his. He was the same one that I had seen on the run and was in the 70+ range. He was miffed that everyone had gone home, the race was packing up and awards had been given out already. I could relate to that. It’s basically most of my race experiences, especially Xterra. I didn’t really care, being wasted. The rest of the world might have finished early, but old, slow people can still do the damn thing too.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Speedo Trauma

I don't want to look, but I have to.

I inhabit a world of lycra. In the triathlon world, lycra doesn't hide much, especially when wet. Speedos are an extreme example of this phenomena, being basically a fancy form of men's briefs. Hence the trauma:

Hey you!
Muscular, tan, slim,
In a Speedo swimsuit--
with that Bulge.

I want to look away, but can’t.
I don’t want to see.
The odd body ornament.
Hanging left.

The Speedo reveals all.
Every little outline.

I never used to notice
men in tight Speedos,
until my husband ran off
with a masseuse.

I don’t date.
No romance.
I have a crisis of faith--
in myself.

Exposed genitalia
is a distant memory.

I am penis deprived.                                    
 Really Speedo?
But I don’t want to see yours.

I am not attracted to you,
an immature youth.
Pretty, but insubstantial.
I am old.

And yet I look.
There it is.
Repulsive, yet

Please go and
take your Bulge with you.  
Before I go Blind.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Tempe Tri Race Report

 Photo courtesy of  Bob Pane, One Multisport
I normally go out of my way to avoid the Tempe Tri race, even to the point of leaving the country. It’s hot and not wetsuit legal. The air temperature can climb into the nineties. September may be mild in other parts of the country, but in the desert, it makes a mockery of fall. Fall doesn’t exist here anyway. Summer heat loses its intensity, but still awaits to punish the unwary.


To swim in Tempe Town lake even with a wetsuit, is not fun. Things float in it that I don’t want to know about. Not that floating objects could be seen, because the water is so murky, I never even see my hands. Occasionally, a body is found in it. The surface is well below the walls that contain it, like a castle moat filled with  monsters. Massive bridges loom overhead, blocking the sun. Lack of a wetsuit makes it exponentially more unpleasant.

But I wanted to race and was too cheap and lazy to go elsewhere. The swim would be a challenge to take on. It was a mere 750 meters or 810 yards, but that can seem forever with the possibility of death. Even in a nice lake, swimming away from shore without a wetsuit makes me panicky. Physically, I can swim the distance, but mentally is much more difficult. Fear is a strong opponent, resistant to change. The brain gets in a rut, spewing out over and over that I won’t make it to shore.

The moat
Mine tells me I am in danger in deep water, making me tense, then tired, then more fearful. A fish I am not. Convincing my thoughts to go in a positive direction takes some effort. I tried a self-administered aversion therapy by swimming in open water prior to the race with some success. I stayed near the shore, where I felt comfortable, then ventured short distances farther away. I told myself constantly that I would be okay. 

I couldn’t totally avoid fear. Swimming along calmly, I would suddenly encounter a swell or a wind created chop and my composure would break down. My retreat was to swim back to shore or to a rock I could stand on. If shore wasn’t close, I flipped to my back.

The other problem was lack of speed, being much slower than if I had a wetsuit. The buoyancy of a wetsuit lifted my legs, which was less drag. I could go faster when I wasn’t worried about sinking. The combination of uncomfortable and slower was a real curse.

Another worry I had about this race was the anxiety-inducing washing machine effect of moving bodies churning up the water in Tempe Town Lake. But since I was in some of the last waves, the water might be smoother. I already had the baggage of some really bad swims in that lake over the years. But I had somehow gotten through them, cursing and moaning.

Despite the thought of all these unpleasantness, the swim was something to conquer. I hoped to fight the fear in spite of myself. It is frustrating to be controlled by anxiety.


Race day dawned hot in the eighties and “humid”. Nervous and sweaty, I wondered why I was even doing this race. I must be out of my mind.

Waiting around for the start was the worse part. I had nothing to do but dread what might happen. I tried to block out the thoughts of doom and envision calm. 

I jumped in the water when it was my turn and swam to the start line.  I wasn’t quite there when the wave started. So far, I was unafraid. I kept moving and when I felt out of breath, turned on my back. Luckily, there weren’t a lot of people to run into me. People swimming over me is not restful.

I felt thirsty the whole swim. Maybe it was because the water was so hot; about 84 degrees. To drink the green lake water would be deadly, a prescription for illness. I was not having fun. I wasn’t very fast, but my fear was under control. With nothing to rest my feet on, and nothing to stop me from going to the bottom, it was just under the surface, ready to rise again. 

The water was choppy with all the swimmers that preceded me. It didn’t bother me too much, though I wasn’t happy about it. I didn’t sight as much as with a wetsuit to save energy. Lifting my head made my legs sink, which made me tired.  Sinking legs are bad, a precursor to panic.  Panic leads to flailing arms and legs, going nowhere, not getting enough air and more fatigue. I finally reached the first turn buoy. People were hanging onto the kayak, so I got past them in order to rest. Losers. Hanging onto kayaks is to be avoided as it’s an act of desperation.

I preceded to the next one and turned back. I could see the last turn buoy in the distance, through the bridges. The end of the ordeal drew near. So far, no panic with the swim more than halfway done. I was going to live.

I was relieved to reach the last turn buoy, only 100 yards to the exit steps. I was going to make it. Few people were in my way. Undoubtedly, I was probably one of the last people out of the water, a testament to my swimming ability.

Total swim time was more than I thought it would be, and a very slow time for the rest of the world, but I didn’t care. The ordeal was over and wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be. 


I got on the bike and immediately felt hot. Instead of drowning, now I had to worry about heat exhaustion. I wish they had an aid station so that I could throw water on myself. The course was crowded with newbies, but that didn’t faze me. They were a target to pass. Their determination was admirable, with their gym shoes and mountain bikes. The course didn’t have any real hills.  My heart rate started climbing, though, as I rode, due to heat and dehydration. The  Olympic, was much worse, with two tedious loops. Twelve miles was not too taxing, but not as fast as if it had been cooler. 

I felt good starting the 5k run, but the air was a nasty blast furnace. By the second mile, I was ready to be done. The Tempe Town heat bowl cooked the cement path. I didn’t expect a fast time and didn’t get it, being overheated and dehydrated.  Why the hell do they put on this event in September, the month that pretends to be fall, but isn’t? I couldn’t imagine running the 10k. It was brutal.

I look like I feel--wasted. Photo courtesy
Camelback Coaching 
I got done, felt ill and immediately went for any ice I could find to cool off. A volunteer felt sorry for me and scooped some ice to put in my cap. It took a while for me to be hungry.


I accomplished what I set out to do–get through the swim without losing my mind. Fear is still waiting out there in the water, but is a little less persistent. Now instead of saying to myself “I can’t do a non-wetsuit” swim, it will be “I can do a non-wetsuit swim, but I don’t want to.”