Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Racing: 70.3, Texas Style

Austin 70.3 Race Report October 27, 2013 I signed up for the Austin 70.3 6 weeks before race date. The good (not) folks at the Miami 70.3 can be thanked for this as they refused my deferral from 2012 because I hadn’t signed papers they never gave me. Anyway, bitterness aside it was actually exciting to be heading to a new place. Reports on Austin were great, it seemed like everyone who had been, loved it and anyone who hadn’t wanted to go. We stayed downtown in Austin at a hotel the race organizers recommended, the W Hotel. It was the only one on the list that wasn’t out by the airport. The hotel was fab, so I was happy with the decision. Unfortunately, the race venue was about 30 min away at Decker Lake, through the ranchy lands of Texas. The distance wasn’t the problem, it was traffic that slowed the flow. Apparently the popularity of Austin is leading to some issues with the infrastructure. More than once I used the GPS to plot a course around the main routes to get to my destination. That brings me to race morning. The reviews of the race suggest you go early because there are only a couple of roads that lead to the parking/finish area, so while parking is plentiful, getting there is not easy. In the dark of the morning, our route took us “the back way”. It was smooth sailing until we discovered they were blocking every other route to the start, forcing cars to take one way in. We were early enough, and it was dark so we went around one barrier, my driver dropped me off right at the start area and he went off to join the flow of cars to the shuttle/finish/parking. I had plenty of time to look over my bike, load up my water bottles, hit the head and stand around. I was texting Tom, who was stuck in a massive line of cars trying to get to the parking area. Swimming was not allowed due to darkness with the late sunrise, so I just hung out and waited. The shuttles were dropping people off there was a flow of athletes coming in waves to the transition area to get settled. As race time drew closer the announcers began reminding people the transition area would be closing. It became obvious that many, many athletes were still arriving on shuttles. Word from some was that they waited over an hour in traffic to get to the race site. It was really disappointing to listen to the annoyance of transition area staff. They almost did not let in the last load of athletes because it was ‘closed’. Finally a decision was made to delay the race 15 minutes so that everyone could get in to their bikes quickly. I felt really bad for those athletes arriving late. It wasn’t their fault. Come to find out, someone in the traffic control area had blocked too many roads, so all the cars were stuck on one route making it impossible for people to get to the shuttle. At no point did it seem like the race organizers were showing any remorse or responsibility for this, and I know, if I’d been sitting in that traffic I would’ve been out of my mind. The stress level would’ve been so amped I don’t know how I could’ve raced well.

Anyway, race start finally rolled around. The weather was wonderfully overcast and cool. A thunderstorm had slid away over the early morning hours. I did 15 min of jogging and hill repeats on an empty road by the race area. I was warm, ready. The women in my wave lined up, we got into the water (warm-ish) and I took front row ON the start line buoy. Prime position. No fear. A duck swam right in front of us pre-start, which was sort of surreal. Then the cannon sounded and we were off. Immediately I felt great. How often can I say that? It’s like everything was perfectly lubed, nothing hurt, air went in and out smoothly. My arms felt light, I had great purchase on the water with each pull, my lungs were full with plenty of O2. The woman who lined up next to me was in a sleeveless suit as were many others, but it made it easy to spot her and her blue cap so I just kept swimming hard, keeping her in sight. It was easy to go until we started catching other waves, which happened quickly, and it took a bit of weaving and dodging to navigate the throngs. Still I maintained a mostly direct line to the right of the buoys. They have a lot of buoys at this race, which is GREAT. I came out of the water with sleeveless suit woman and we ran up the long grassy incline to transition. The wetsuit strippers rocked. I had 2, one got the sleeve over my Garmin and the other made sure my chip was under and they yanked that thing off so fast. I was grateful. Another note, race officials warned about ‘goatheads’, spiky burrs that apparently pop tires all the time. Rain earlier in the morning meant they were knocked onto the ground. They also warned about your feet- one burr in your foot means a bad race day. So, I jogged gingerly up that slope, hoping…. into the slightly muddy transition area (no shoes on pedals unless you are a pro), pulled on my helmet and shoes, threw my bike over my shoulder (don’t roll it until the road) and off I went. Sleeveless woman was right by me in the racks, so I saw I beat her out of transition. I suppose we looked a bit like a cyclocross race at that point. All good and fine until I realized that the mud in my cleats wasn’t coming free and my shoes wouldn’t clip into the pedals. While I rolled, kept reaching down and pulling on them with my fingers, banged them on the pedals and finally the right one clicked in. The left one wouldn’t, I kept riding and periodically trying to pull mud out. I was quite dirty. Finally it went in. Shortly after I saw a person with a hose spraying people’s feet. That might have been wiser a little earlier. Anyway, time to get in the zone. The roads felt a little slippery so I did a reality check (Carrie, you don’t know what roads are like in Texas, this feels slippery, slow down). I took the corners carefully at first. Later I heard the slick roads took out some pros, there were some ripped suits and bloody road rash to be seen on the run. I remained unscathed.

Notables from the ride: I was using a new Nathan aero bottle. I couldn’t fit my Garmin on its’ bracket so I kept in on my wrist. It bumped the bottle and switched to transition just around 4 miles in, so I had to reset the entire watch, put it on bike mode, and just left it there for the rest of the race. The roads were rough. Texas uses chipseal on some of the surfaces. This can only be explained as the kind of bumpy that rattles your brain, neck and water bottle. My bottle ejected itself from the aero bracket once (caught) and then the whole bracket popped off (saved). I’ve since returned the Nathan bottle with some suggestions for improvement. Due to that bottle, I assume I drank around 2 full bottles of Powerbar Perform but who knows, because there was fluid spraying from the bottle on the bumps. In hindsight, I did not pee for 8 hours, so that means…..? I tried to enjoy the ride. Similar to the effortless nature the swim, my legs felt like air, I could pedal harder, it didn’t matter. The course is NOT hilly like they say, rather it does roll a little bit but with an overall elevation gain of around 700 feet you can understand there is no serious climbing. I probably got off the aerobars once or twice very briefly. That’s a lot of bumpy, aero riding. I looked for cattle, none. I looked for cacti, 2. I saw no sunflowers. I saw one flash flood area with a measurement sign that went up to 8 feet. Yikes. I watched one guy cheat worse than I’ve ever seen anyone cheat, he drafted off another guy forever. I watched them on the long, flat roads for a long time, he just floated back there. That pissed me off. By around half way I’d passed most people since I was the 4th wave. I passed two pro women. I was alone fairly often. It wasn’t bad, just not particularly exciting, but that was ok. No flats, no problems other than the water bottle. I was happy to come into the transition area and get on with the run.

Imagine transition 2 as you’d imagine Texas big. With around 2300 people in this race, the second transition area stretched out very, very far. I knew roughly where I’d hung my bag the day before but now visualize a long rack with bags that all look the same and a slightly light headed person who just swam and biked clunking along in bike shoes on pavement. There was no one in the area. Literally. Well, one other guy by me found his bag. I wandered down feeling like it was a dream. I started counting down the numbers on the rack. I needed an identifying mark, but it was just bag after bag. Finally I found where my bag should be, sort of, there was some old numbering too, but I pulled open the bag on my number and it wasn’t mine! Panic. Luckily mine had just been slid a little, and finally, I found it. Stuffing my helmet and shoes in the bag I put on my socks, (biked barefoot- too muddy and warm) and shoes, race belt and visor and stuffed some salt pills into the leg of my shorts. Off I went. Now my legs did not feel light and fresh. My high hamstrings felt like they were pulled tight. My stride was short. Mentally, the thought of three laps of this treeless, slightly humid course was bringing me down. All the pros were on the course when I started, lap two. I had no data from my Garmin so my plan was just to run how I felt. I do that anyway, so it didn’t really matter although early on I would’ve liked to see what that was coming out as. I felt very slow, and in retrospect I was not very slow at first, so if I could’ve seen that data it would’ve helped. I pulled my Rev 3 visor down low and just went to that blank place where it is possible not to think about the fact that there is 13 miles of this ahead and ran. I took salt, did the combo of sports drink, water on the head at the aid stations, added in some coke at mile 8, and ate my Clif Bloks as I went. My legs were just not zippy in any way. It’s ok. They were moving. By lap three, (HOORAY!) the course was packed. It’s a funny course, part of it on the trails by the lake, the rest on open road. The hilly climb back to the finish area sucks but at least all the people are there to cheer. When I climbed the last time, I was slow. At that point part of me didn’t care, I had no sense of whether someone else was near me. I was just going. It was so crowded and of course some people walked. It was different than when I was out there with the pros, whose performance inspired me to go faster. I got to the split for lap/finish and entered a wide, empty run. NO ONE was there. All alone I ran, I looked back over my shoulder and no one! So, I enjoyed it. No rush. The race ends INSIDE a stadium. They open the big door and have people run in. Novelty I suppose, but it was so empty because I was rather early so it felt a little hollow. A handful of people cheered, I crossed the line, and that was the day.

Very quickly I hit the massage table and because there wasn’t a long line, I got a fantastic rub down that I think took the edge off my calves, neck, back and hamstrings. I won my AG by around 6 minutes. I was 10th amateur female. I beat a few pros. All good. Really, the reason I am most happy with this race is that I worked hard to get there. I started the season hurt, I struggled with plantar fasciitis (I still have it), my stride was rough. In July I had an ultimate Frisbee fall that left me with a concussion and a back injury that had me in the ER. Coming back from all of this required a dedicated focus. It was really, really hard at first. Everything hurt. I dotted the “i”’s and crossed the “t”’s . I dropped to race weight. I pushed through some really hard workouts that were not always what I wanted to see. Runs where I couldn’t hit the pace. Rides where I felt the lack of summer riding. Swimming when it hurt to push off the wall because of my back injury. I signed up for a few running races and tris to make myself go to that place of pain, whether or not I liked the result of the race. I kept a good attitude. Methodically I stuck with it, I didn’t quit.

Others deserve thanks. I did the work, but I would not have without them. My long time coach Kurt who among other things, at key moments put up workouts that I didn’t think I could even do- which helped carry me through that patch from injury to fitness. Colleen Monroe, chiropractor to the stars, sent me off for x-rays and talked sense into me when I was concussed, saved me from a drawn out injury. The boys who bike with me, well there is no way I go out for a 60 mile ride or an early morning interval workout without that motivation. Thanks to Jeanette and the masters program at the Kiwanis pool and my swim buddies who show up to suffer gloriously. And Eric and my Cape masters pals, to suck chlorinated air and crack ourselves up for the last few weeks of my swim training. Of course the runners too, super fast Erin dragging me up to run with Joanie and the fastest women, where all I can do is hope to hang on the back and survive. I loved all of this. To me it is what makes sport great. We have ups and downs but we persevere. To be as low as you can be, hurt, out of shape, daunted by the tasks ahead, and to step by step, obliterate the obstacles that are keeping you down. The results aren’t always exactly what we want, but the journey that takes us there is of as much relevance as our success as the end.

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