Sunday, March 12, 2017

Desert Classic Duathlon Race Report

Before the rain REALLY started.

In the desert, the assumption is that rain is not likely to occur. That assumption is wrong, at least in February, which likes to pretend it’s winter. Since the Desert Duathlon in McDowell Mountain Park usually occurs in February, every few years the weather is bad. Gully-washing, road flooding, sweep-the-car-away-in-a-rushing-torrent-of-water bad. The days before the race, the prediction was 100% to rain. The question was when and how hard.

Being a weather nerd, I looked at the hourly prediction. The best chance of maybe not raining hard was during the hours of 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. A possibility of hope existed. I brought what passed for rain gear–a jacket that repelled water, but wouldn’t keep me dry. As a rule, I usually try to avoid riding a bike in rain. It’s unpleasant and cold. Water from the wheels soaks my butt in a freezing, unpleasant stream of mud and road dirt gets on my legs.

Driving in the rain feeds my anxiety. The roads are slippery and my wheels spin if I accelerate too fast. When I first moved here, a heavy rain storm flooded my back yard. The pouring rain stopped, so I thought it was safe and in minutes a rushing wall of water came over my fence. Welcome to the desert! So, I was nervous about encountering large pools of water and getting trapped in a river. The race might be cancelled, or even worse, I might have to ride the road bike route with my mountain bike. The road in the park made me want to stab my eyes out with it’s unrelenting climb and rough pavement.

I got there early because I thought it would take longer to drive there. The roads weren’t flooded. The rain had mercifully held off and the trails were still fairly dry. Maybe this thing could actually happen. I debated what to wear on the run. The light rain was intermittent, but not too bad. The rain gods were still kind, so far.

The first 5k run started for the mountain bikers. The road bikers started later, so they had a half hour more to worry about the weather. Of course everyone got ahead of me right at the start. I was going to end up last, so it didn’t matter anyway. Trail running was a lot of effort. Instead of shuffling, I had to pick my feet up to avoid tripping on rocks. The trail undulated, gradually went up halfway, then down, so attempting a “fast” pace was strenuous. It sprinkled lightly at times. I did it in 34:58. I was at the right speed for me. I got back to transition and was disappointed to not see a timing mat, so my run time would include preparing to bike.

I took my jacket and arm warmers on the bike, even though I didn’t need them yet, since I was sweaty from the run. I would be out for a long time. I climbed the road, then turned right onto Pemberton Trail. About four miles into the ride, it turned from light drizzle to raining steadily. The conditions were about to get tougher. I stopped to put on a jacket, but left the arm warmers off, thinking they would be too warm. I was following someone for a while. We were the only two people out there. Then she got away and I was alone.

Puddles formed on the trail. I tried to avoid them, but couldn’t every time. Thankfully, the washes weren’t filled with water. Mud splashed me and my yellow jacket was dotted with brown spots. I got colder, but I didn’t want to stop. My jacket was wet, but it was warmer with it on. I rode more cautiously than if the trail was dry because it was slippery. The wind picked up and increased the sensation of being wet and cold.

Some parts of the trail had sticky mud. My bike made noises from all the gunk caked in the chain. Hopefully, the bike wouldn’t have a mechanical failure because help was a long distance away. The trail was now downhill and had rocky and clay sections. I stopped before the road and put my arm warmers on because going fast down the road would be even colder. I was on the edge of hypothermia, but not shivering yet. My hands and feet felt numb. The bike flew down the road.

I finally hit transition after about two hours. I was the last mountain biker off the course. This was a fate that I had learned to resign myself to. Mostly the hardcore competitors do the mountain bike races and they are fast and have fancy bikes. They have SKILLS. I don’t, not being able to descend nor climb well. My bike is old. Plus, I am a touch lazy. I value self-preservation over speed.

I was still cold and left my jacket and arm warmers on for the run; something I would never do otherwise. The desert isn’t supposed to be this way. The sun is supposed to come out and heat me up. I remember another rainy duathlon I did where I made the mistake of thinking that I would warm up right away and I didn’t and paid the price.

The first mile was slow because I was so cold I could barely move. My feet were still numb and felt like blocks. Slick mud made the steep downhills sketchy. The second mile was better and by the third mile my feet were thawed out and I finally felt warm again. I took off my jacket. The last mile went through the Clay Pit, which had gooey, slippery mud patches. It was well named. Any large mammals would have sunk into the muck. I passed someone who stopped to try to get the mud off her shoes. I knew the effort would be futile, but I also quickly tried to scrape off the mud on the rocks while running because it weighed my shoes down  Final run was 39:35.

After about three and a half hours, I finished. I was only next to dead last. As the only one in my age group, I got first.

Too disgusting even for my car.

I felt dazed from the cold and the exhaustion. A normal person would have stayed home and been warm and dry, but where’s the fun in that? Riding in the rain sucks, though. My bike was so disgusting that I made a feeble attempt to clean off the slimy mud before putting it in the car. My rock-bottom car cleanliness standards weren’t that low.

 It was badass to defy the elements, but badassery has its price. Maybe by next week, I will have warmed up.