WEEKEND AT THE RACES--RACE 1, Saturday, June 9, 2007
Lake Macatawa Triathlon, Holland, Michigan
Swim: 1/2 mile
Bike: 22 miles
Run: 4.8 miles
Finish time: 2:57
4th out of 4
This race was going to be cancelled due to water issues, then it was back on. They actually offered an out to everyone, offering refunds. That is highly unusual, and I could have taken the easy out, but I remembered the waiver we always sign, indicating you do these things at your own risk, and decided that once the water issue was cleared up, I would put aside any worries I had and do the race. Don't swallow was the advice given by everyone I knew.
Saturday was predicted to be perfect weather, and it was. It started a little cool, probably about 57 degrees, cool enough for a jacket pre-race. The race was about 30 minutes from home, and I arrived at the race site about an hour ahead of time, to get my packet and get organized. That was pretty much when the majority of others also arrived, but I found a parking spot relatively close and proceeded to get my bike ready and make my way to transition. Once I started walking towards the race site, I suddenly realized there was more parking right next to transition! Well, I hadn't done this race before, so there was no way I could know. Apparently most other people didn't know either.
As soon as you entered the park, you had to go down a short steep hill. I figured this might be one of the hills mentioned in the race course description, which was mainly described as flat. The packet pickup and body marking were right in front of transition, and the transition area was a huge parking lot next to the beach. Already, there wasn't much available space on bike racks, but I finally settled for a rack about in the middle and not too busy yet. Now I had to figure out how to set everything up again!
I looked around for any familiar faces, and saw a couple women I knew in my age group: Deb, who was training for Lake Placis and Kona, and who had qualified for Kona at Wisconsin the year before in her first ever Ironman. Deb used to weigh in over 200 pounds, and in her quest for weight loss, discovered an incredible, untapped athletic talent. I first met her at Steelhead last year and introduced myself. Before then, she had seemed aloof and stand-offish; after we finally met, she has been graciously kind to me. And there was Ruthie, a multi-Ironwoman, who, while not one of the faster women in the age group, was very capable of placing in her age group most of the time. And then I saw my spinning instructor, Tom. I figured he would hammer the course. He ended up winning over all. And a few 20 somethings I knew. I was also looking around for Cindy, but not knowing what she really looked like, I hoped to meet up with her at some point.
I decided to get into my wetsuit, and soon discovered what an ordeal that was to get on. Last year it seemed a lot easier! Does any coating wear off after a while? Once I got that on, I put on the cap and got out my goggles and realized mistake number 1: I had bought new, clear goggles instead of tinted goggles like I did after a swim fiasco last year. What was I thinking?? Well, you go with the flow. Hopefully the sun wouldn't be too direct and I would do okay. The water was warm, but naturally I couldn't help think about what might be in it! I had ear plugs and a nose plug, so I hoped I would be somewhat safe.
I was in the last wave--men and women over 40, so predictably we had the biggest wave. But when the gun went off I just waded in with the others and realized how shallow it was. Once I got where I thought I could start swimming, I did, but others were walking, walking, and still walking. I wonder now if I would have been better wading longer because I wasn't making much forward motion progress on the walkers. They also blocked my view to the first buouy, so by the time they finally got in the water, I could see I was headed slightly off to the left of the first buouy and had to correct my direction. Finally, I arrived at the first buouy, and then had to turn towards the second one. That's when I started getting the sun in my peripheral vision on the right, and since I only breathe on the right, every breath caused me to see spots when looking at the sun. So I had a little difficulty sighting the second buouy and staying on course. But it wasn't until we turned towards the shore and the next buouy that the blinding effects of the sun became a bigger problem. All I could really see was the glare on the water and a little splashing. I really don't think the sun was all that bad, but I seem to have more of a sensitivity to sun in my eyes, so I was mainly following the splashes right ahead of me. Which turned out to be a guy flailing, basically.
I don't know why 20 or so minutes in the water always seems like an hour, but I was starting to think I would NEVER reach the shore. My shoulder, the one that was broken, was starting to hurt some. I knew this was from the wetsuit, and I hoped it wouldn't be a problem on the bike. I finally seemed to be getting closer to shore, and I could see people walking again, so figured it was shallow, but not for me yet. So I swam on and on and on, it seemed. Then I could finally get to solid ground and did decide to start walking to get out and be done. I glanced at my watch and saw I was over 22 minutes, which is relatively slow for me, but decided not to let it bother me and go for the next leg of the event. They actually had a kiddie pool to clean the sand off your feet by the timing mat, but I didn't think I could leap into and out of it without tripping or falling so bypassed it.
Then I got to my bike, and this huge wave of fatigue hit me. I had already started stripping off the wetsuit on the way up to my bike (why is the transition from beach to bikes ALWAYS uphill??), but didn't follow my usual protocal, which was to sit on my camp stool to peel the thing off. Instea, I stupidly tried doing it from a standing position, and that's when mistake number 2 happened. Doing this caused me to get the thing tangled up at the ankles, and I could not get it over my heel and foot to get it off! Last year, the thing stripped off like nothing so wasn't expecting this difficulty, yet here I was, hopping on one foot, about ready to crash into the bike rack and take the whole thing down. At this point, I basically lost my balance and crashed down onto my stool, just about tipping the thing over onto the woman sitting on the ground next to me. Fortunately, I recovered in time and then proceeded to struggle with the wetsuit. By the time I got the socks, shoes, sunglasses, race belt, and helmet on and quickly drank some water, I noticed it was already more than 5 minutes wasted! Oh brother. I did have the foresight to ask someone standing there if we could ride out of transition (which usually is a no no), and was told no, so prevented getting disqualified.
So I got to the bike mounting line and of course that too was at the bottom of the steep, but short hill coming into the park. Surprisingly, my bike cranked right up it and I was off. My legs felt pretty good, way better than with my old bike, so something has improved here.
Heading out on the bike, we first were in the neighborhood surrounding the lake, but soon were out on one of the main roads. Here, I realized immediately that the course was not going to be closed to any traffic, so I was going to have to face my fears with that today also. One thing was certain: it was a flat course so far. I kept my cadence up, trying to not overdo it, but realized too I had not reset my computer from my last ride, so I had no idea what kind of average pace I was keeping, the distance, or the time. I suppose that could be considered mistake number 3, but it wasn't a huge issue. I still had my watch running since the start, but it would have been nice to know the mileage so I knew where I was.
Probably about 3 or 4 miles into the bike portion, I started hearing this strange hooting or whooping sound from behind. I thought it was someone riding making that kind of noise, and after a couple of minutes it was getting annoying. Eventually, I could see a shadow behind me, on the right, and I started thinking it was some young kid doing the race who was actually going to attempt to pass me on the right, another no no. So I yelled back, "don't pass me on the right!" Only to have the rider pull around me and pass on the left. It was a woman hauling a baby bike carrier. They have these charity athletes in the race, who actually pull canoes or rafts with special needs kids in them, then pull them in their bike carriers, and then push them in jogging strollers, all to raise money for their charity (which I can't remember what it is and can't find the link). Anyway, just as soon as she passes me and pulls in front of me, I'm on the wheel of the carrier, so I am forced to go around her. I didn't want to ride that hard, hard enough that I had to pass, but I was forced to so as to not get a drafting penalty. Yeah, right, a drafting penalty from a bike carrier?? But I wasn't going to test the system and pulled ahead.
I didn't think I really knew the bike route, until we finally reached Lakeshore Drive, which is along Lake Michigan. Here, on the lake side, there are these fabulous homes and gated communities, none of which are visible from the road, so you don't even realize the big lake is there, but it also doesn't cause any windiness or distraction from the view, so its a pretty nice route. I was remembering then that I did know this route, having run my first 10k here, numerous 5ks here, numerous bike rides from the opposite direction through here, and my ultra, 50k run.
So I am thinking of all this, and along comes woman with the bike carrier again. I can hear her kid, so I know she is behind me again. Once again, she passes me and then basically cuts me off, forcing me to pass her. There is also another rider in front of her that I am forced to pass as well, and as I go by her she says, "I'm not too consistent today, am I?" I say nothing, but grit my teeth instead. This cat and mouse thing went on two more times, until I finally backed off when she passed me the last time and she pulled ahead for good. Like I said, I didn't want to ride that hard today.
The route was basically flat like they said, but we did hit a few hills, and here I could see how seriously lacking in hill training and shifting I was so far this year. I did, however, get into my aerobars for almost the first time and stayed comfortable in them for most of the race. I knew once I got into race mode, I would quickly adapt. Even with some hills, I recovered quickly and by the turn around actually passed a young woman. I liked reaching the turnaround, because here I could see just how many people were behind me. I passed her on an uphill no less and went on my way and then passed another guy struggling too. That was the last time I saw the young woman on the bike course. But she would show up later. At the turnaround, I counted at least 11 more people behind me, so I worked hard from there on to maintain that position. I figured there were at least 200 people in front of me though.
On the return portion of the bike, the traffic was getting heavier. Being a lakeshore community, with numerous beaches and waterfront parks and fishing areas, we were constantly passed by trailers and trucks hauling boats. I really didn't like this, but what can you do but hope for the best? This road though seemed like it was never ending, and I was ready to be done, but we still had the busiest traffic portion to go through, and here the drivers were just downright rude and annoying. I found myself swearing at everyone who came close to me without getting over, even when there was another lane for them to be in. It didn't make sense. But being out there basically by myself again, I didn't have the comfort of other riders around me to make these people aware, so I was basically holding my breath.
I can't tell you how glad I was to finally turn off that busy road and onto the last portion of the bike. But here, it was just as congested, because you had runners coming out and going back, and it was like an obstacle course until the end. So I was glad to be done with the bike and this time my transition wasn't as slow. Off with the helmet and bike shoes, on with the running shoes, take a quick drink, and I was off. Lace locks are the way to go, allowing me to just slip the shoes on without having to tie them. I almost forgot about that nice trick. And here again, was the young woman I passed at the bike turnaround. I was positive it was her, and since I heard her say her name to someone she passed on the bike, and heard her family call out her name, I knew it was her. There was no way she got ahead of me; no one had passed me since the turnaround, yet here she was, heading out on the run. I heard her family say her bike broke but she was going out on the run. So she must have gotten a ride back. Did they not disqualify her and take her chip?? I still don't know.
In any event, it was time to run. Oh man, my feet were so stiff! I must have laced my shoes too tight, because I felt like I was running on stiff cardboard. I tried to wiggle my toes, but my feet were numb, so that could have been the problem. So I started my shuffle out of the park and through this rat maze of yellow tape, directing a path out of the park. It was a little confusing, to be running along and then see yellow tape across a portion of the trail and having to look for the way to go, but eventually I got to the road and was on my way.
I have been training myself to not walk no matter what except at the water stops, and I figured with a distance of only 4.8 miles I could manage to shuffle through the whole thing if I had to. But I can't tell you how happy I was to get to the first water stop so I could stop running, if only briefly, and catch my breath. I gratefully accepted the water, and then the volunteers started pointing to a big sign that said "BEER HERE." It was like an oasis! But I resisted and said I would catch them on the return. Which I did. I can't tell you how much even a shot of beer perks you up on a run! I am not one who ordinarily would order a beer if I was out, and rarely drink it, but it just seems to be a magic elixir when running. I have tried this several times when it was offered in races (not by official volunteers obviously), and it never makes me feel sick, and always perks me up. Way better than gatorade or any other sports drink.
By this time, I could see I was not being challenged by any of the other back of the pack people, but there was no one directly in front of me, and the volunteers were sparse through here. I kept waiting for the hills mentioned in the course description, but can honestly say what might be considered hills by some were not more than a couple of inclines here and there. By the time I hit the next water stop, it was just before 3 miles, and here two women with baby joggers came gliding by, and I never saw them again. And this part of the course was more sunny and winding through neighborhoods, so you saw people on the return portion, but never knew how far you still had to go to get there. Basically, they had two water stops in the race that you hit twice each. The last one then was just before 4 miles. I had been keeping track of my pace and was consistent at least for each mile. The last 8/10 of a mile seemed forever though. No one was out on the course in front of me any more, there was traffic, and the side of the road I should have been running on was all sun, so I went to the jogging path instead, in the shade. I figured no one could possibly have a problem with that.
Back at the park entrance, I thought that was where the finish line would be, but no. Again, a return to the rat maze, down a hill, around a corner, down another hill, and out onto the grass. My legs almost buckled hitting the uneven grass at this point, after coming down a sharply steep hill, and then I could see the finish line and they announced my name, and I could hear some people cheering my name, and I was DONE!
I wasn't last. There were still several people out there. I broke 3 hours, which was my secret goal; and I had a lot of practice in getting back into the triathlon groove.
After the race, we stood around waiting for awards. That's where I finally met up with Cindy who is a fantastic athlete. I think she got first in her age group. The awards were little wooden shoes that got progressively smaller with each descending place in the age group. (Its Holland, remember?) And as usual, there were 4 in my age group, and I was fourth. But I am okay with that. I am happier with the fact that I wasn't last overall, I kept running nearly the whole time, that I felt pretty good afterward, that I had put forth a decent effort, and that I got to participate and mingle with all the great people you meet in triathlons.
And then I remembered, I get to get up and do this all over again tomorrow! Life is good!