Sunday, October 30, 2016

Rockhopper Xterra Race Report

A Rocky Hell

Rockhopper Xterra Triathlon is a low key event on the north shore of Tempe Town Lake. The 1000 meter swim, the thirteen mile bike and the 3.5 mile trail run weren’t necessarily long, but they aren’t fast or easy, either. The terrain in Papago Park is hilly and bone-jarring.

I was nervous about this race because mountain biking always inspires a bit of fear. Will I crash or otherwise inflict bodily injury upon myself? My wounded knee hadn’t healed up for the past three weeks, because I kept crashing on it. Pain bred caution. I was slow, and cutoffs were also a concern. I met them last year, but it was tight. Last year’s journal entry mentioned how difficult the race was. I didn’t need the reminder.  Amnesia was bliss.

Am I too old for this stuff? It is exhausting and scary. The lack of any females in my age group sometimes makes me wonder if mountain biking and trail running is a good idea. But in a strange way it is fun.

Race day didn’t start out well. I was sitting in the car, ready to leave and wondered what did I forget? Too late I realized what it was.  I forgot my Camelbak. Camelbaks are not cool in road cycling, but it’s hard to drink from a bottle while mountain biking. Too much coordination was required to grab a bottle and stay upright. 

It also had my flat repair equipment in it. I hoped that the tire gods would be kind and not let me get a flat. Lately, I had been finding inch-long Cholla Cactus stickers in my tires. The desert is not a good place for tires. 

I also forgot my required USAT card for packet pick up, since I rarely do this on a race day. Luckily the race director let me off, since he knew me. I was impressed that he actually remembered my name. I must have done enough of his races to achieve notoriety.

Photo courtesy of Wannatri
The start of the race was in choppy water. This wasn’t an issue, since I had an old, beat up wetsuit that kept me from drowning. The seventy-five degree water temperature was almost chilly at first in my sleeveless wetsuit, but it felt warm later.  

The swim was crowded with swimmers doing only the 1000 and 2000 meter swim.  Undoubtedly, a few lapped me on the 2000 meter swim, since I was only doing the 1000 meter very slowly. Hazards like the dangerous breast stroker and over-enthusiastic fast swimmers had to be avoided. Breast-strokers can randomly kick me. Fast swimmers didn’t care if I was in their way and would swim over me if they can get away with it. They also churned up the water, adding the unpleasantness of being out in the murky lake. I was the last woman swimmer, but my time was better than last year. For once, the swim was the easiest part of the race.

The dreaded bike was next. Papago park is unforgiving terrain with loose rock and dirt that was difficult to climb and ascend. It wanted me to die. Pre-riding the course to practice was ineffective, because the right route was not obvious, despite doing the race last year. I managed to find some of it, but not all because the trails veer off in so many directions. 

The first loop I felt incompetent.  Frequently, I had almost made it up a hill when my wheel skidded on an errant rock. I cussed in frustration and had to jump off the bike when it lost traction, to avoid falling over. A particularly big hill was impossible for me to ascend. Climbing a steep hill isn’t worth it if I am bent over gasping for breath for five minutes, so I gave up. Walking was about as fast as riding anyway, but I hated it because it meant that the dirt and rocks won. I was tired from the swim and had to ride much harder to avoid the cut offs. The sun blazed hot. 

I was gingerly descending a demon rocky hill, trying not to kill myself, when a rider flew by me like it was nothing. Really? It must have been his bike that allowed him to do this. Amazing, but irritating. I didn’t know how the fast and fearless did it. For me, self-preservation took precedence when descending a sketchy steep hill. Other riders were having almost as much difficulty as I was. The course has mandatory dismounts–three per loop; two loops total. This involved awkwardly walking with metal cleated mountain biking shoes on loose gravel through a tunnel. Not fun. By the second loop, I had accepted that this course was very difficult and I just had to get through it. It wasn’t my fault; it was the trail’s fault. I had about ten minutes total of walking. At least I didn’t have the hotshots the last loop. The total time was about the same as last year. A little extra length was added because a pedestrian bridge has been taken out at the turn around.

I got into transition and no one stopped me, so I must have made the cut off. In my hurry,  I forgot to take off my helmet and didn’t notice for a half mile. I left it on the side of the trail to pick up on my way back and felt really stupid. This had never happened to me. Only the totally clueless do this. Why didn’t anyone say something like “idiot, take off your helmet!”

The temperature by then was eighty-four degrees. It was hot, but not unbearable. A breeze helped. I had no hat as usual, because of failing to take off my helmet. The run course was a little more doable than the bike course, but it was still a lot of climbing and descending rocky hills. A volunteer dude kept asking me what loop I was on. I appreciated his concern, but I was well within the cut off. Go to hell.  I had to run with my helmet in my hand the last mile. I hoped no one noticed. Total time was 3:05:43. 

I was first in my age group because I was the only one. This usually has to be pointed out to race directors, especially when awards are given out before I even start the run. They must not expect older athletes to show up, though usually every race I do has a seventy-year-old male that can crush the bike, but not run as well. 
Another race, another beer glass

Being the only one made me feel like a bit of a misfit. But even if I am not good at it, I still mountain bike and do Xterras. Incompetence never stopped me before.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Tempe Sprint Tri Race Report

I prepare to meet my doom
I woke up at 3:30 a.m. to get down to Tempe by 5 a.m. so that I could start racing at 7:30. Why am I doing this race again? Oh yeah, I got in for free. Otherwise, I wouldn’t touch it. This is the last time I am doing this race. My headache from yesterday still lingered and the thought of swimming in warm, soupy Tempe Town Lake did not help. I tried to stifle my terror at the thought of a non-wetsuit swim.

I hate swimming without a wetsuit, which is why I try to avoid this event. Invariably, the water is too hot for a wetsuit, since the desert’s version of fall is a slight moderation of summer’s inferno. Without a wetsuit,  floating is more work. My legs feel like they are sinking, pulling me down to the slimy unseen bottom of the cloudy, green lake. Who knows what lies down there? Dead bodies? A Tempe Town Lake monster? Plus, I am much slower, increasing the time of misery.

The drive, parking, and setting up went surprisingly smooth. It was comfortable pre-dawn, which was a bad sign. If it was balmy now, it would be blazing hot later on. The breeziness also worried me. Wind caused a choppy lake, which meant more fear. I want a glass smooth surface. Preferably with no other swimmers are in it. Even better would be to skip the entire thing.

I talked to some people I knew, but the goal was to save my energy. Who wants to talk this early in the morning, anyway? If I have to walk over to you, forget it. Waiting for one hour and fifteen minutes to start was just more time to stress. I tried to be calm. I poured water on myself a few times, because standing in line was warm.

When it was my turn to go down the stairs to jump into the lake, I was still nervous. I failed to notice that my position in line wasn’t in the back, where it should be. I got in, and way too many people got in behind me, so it was crowded. The water was turbulent with thrashing arms. A zen state of mind eluded me. The start line was fifty yards from the stairs and I had to get there by the time the horn started, but I also didn’t want to get battered. My chest tightened and I couldn’t relax. This was bad. Last year, it felt okay, but this year it didn’t.

The start horn sounded and I swam, but was still tense and fearful. Stopping to dog paddle to catch my breath wasted energy. This made me more tired, which made me more nervous. I was almost to the turn around when the next wave of swimmers overtook me, churning up the water again. I panted and couldn’t get enough air. I floated on my back, swam, then floated on my back. I even stopped to hang onto a kayak, which was an act of desperation. This was not going well. The water was pretty warm–82 degrees. A wetsuit would have been hot, but I wouldn’t have drowned. Maybe if it’s too hot for a wetsuit, it’s too hot to race.

I finally got to the turn buoy and settled down a little. Quitting was not an option. Then turning to swim back to the stairs, I got a rhythm and just kept going. The swim finally felt halfway bearable instead of very uncomfortable. I just wanted to get it done. The pace felt right, like what I trained for. The surface was a little choppy, but not as bad with most of the swimmers gone.

The lake was mostly empty when I finally reached the last turn buoy, which was about fifty yard from the stairs. Someone ahead of me was backstroking, another desperate open water strategy, when the swim sucked. This close to the end and you’re back-stroking? Loser. A draft off of him would have saved my energy, but no such luck.  His feet were not visible to follow in the murky water anyway. Total time was an excruciatingly slow 33 minutes, which was a minute faster than last year. If I had worn a wetsuit, the time would have been ten minutes less. Hence, my hatred of swimming without one. More time in the water to contemplate the possibility of death. My Garmin watch said 900 yards, instead of the supposed 820. Maybe I didn’t swim straight, but it was almost 900 yards last year. Why didn’t they have a short swim course for once?

I didn't drown.
I climbed the steps out of the water and ran through the grass to my bike, exhausted after that swim. Slowly, I put on my bike gear and took off. Theoretically, transition was supposed to be done quickly, but the body didn’t always do what the mind told it. Mind: hurry up! Body: no. Mind: Please?  Body: go to hell. Sometimes, the mind forgets to even say anything.

The sun blazed hot already, burning my skin. The heat bowl around the lake extended to the streets of Tempe. I joined the hordes out on the bike course, also foolishly exerting themselves in the heat. Usually, biking as fast as possible was a blast, but Tempe Town Lake had dissolved my joy in its green liquid. The resolve to push myself was weak. I was still thirsty from the swim, since drinking Tempe Town Lake water was a bad idea. Things live in the lake. Things that make you run to the toilet. Microscopic things with wriggling little legs that you don’t want to think about. An eastern breeze provided a little relief. I told myself to pedal harder, but the urge to go all out wasn’t there.

I tooled along, getting passed by the fast riders and having to get by the slower ones wearing running shoes with mountain bikes; in the land of in between. Not fast enough to keep up with the strong riders and not slow enough to avoid the need for passing the newbies. Maneuvering through the flotsam was hard work. At least I was faster than a few cyclists–the really old, the inexperienced and/or those with crappy bikes. I give them credit for being out there and trying, but get out of my way, already.

I never smile.
At the end of the ride, approaching transition, a guy ahead of me was in my way. Really? The choice was to just go slower or pass him. To hell with it. Being stuck behind him was annoying, so I passed and then got off the bike. Total time was 45:58. This was about a minute slower than last year. Meh. Maybe all the mountain bike training was slowing me down. Or maybe it was just being tossed around in the lake.

Out on the run course, I feared melting in the heat, like last year, but it was strangely bearable. Eighty-eight degrees wasn’t optimal running weather. I prefer fifties, which only happens in the winter around here. I stuffed ice down my bra and put some in my hat, not caring what people thought. The first mile, my legs were the usual stiff, “what are you doing to me, making me run after biking?” feeling, but by the second mile, they came to life. My pace went gradually faster and harder on the unforgiving cement. I passed the souls who had given up, had heat exhaustion or who had ran out of energy. My time of 31:38 was a minute better than last year’s.

Total time was 1:58:18, which was about a minute slower than last year. If I hadn’t been so slow in T1, I might have beaten it. I was fourth in my age group, mostly because of my crappy swim. Non-wetsuit swims were not kind to me. 

I am not doing this race
again. Make me.
Overall, it didn’t feel as bad as I thought it would, despite the weather. I didn’t drown, crash or get heat exhaustion. It was a good social event, but sucked as a race. September is still summer, only less so. It’s denial to think otherwise. I have been doing triathlons too long to put up with suffering through bad conditions. I have lost interest in racing when it’s too hot, too cold, too windy, too much hill climbing, too long a distance, too far away, too difficult a swim, or too much hassle. Call me a wussie. I am not doing this event next year. Really.