Monday, September 24, 2007


The fun started Saturday on my drive to the Autumn Colors triathlon to be held on Sunday. The race locale was in Holly, Michigan, which according to the map and Mapquest was east of Flint. Otherwise, I would never have had a clue where this place was.

The weather was incredibly perfect, almost unbelievable, actually. Driving east on any Saturday during football season, you can guess which team (Michigan or State) has a game that day, judging from the cars flying by with their team flags, logos, decals, etc. I already knew Michigan was playing a home game, and am thinking the two schools must coordinate their home and away games so as not to jam up the highway, since they both share the same route, more or less.

I arrived at the hotel we had found, in Fenton, Michigan, a suburb of Flint. It appeared to be a fairly new, built-up area, with all new shops, restaurants, and the one hotel we could find, which, had I not been looking at exactly the right moment, I would have missed. According to the desk clerk, because of ordinances, no overhead signs are allowed. Not too good for off the highway business, I'd say.

Shelley soon arrived, looking tres cute in all her pink girlie stuff! We decided to head to the park where packet pickup was to take place, but soon became confused by the directions I had printed out. So we decided to first get something to eat, since by now I was completely famished, in a definite calorie deficit, as happens whenever I ramp up my run mileage like I had last week. I was getting a dull, aching headache, and eating was a must. We asked directions at the Ya Ya's where we ate, getting nowhere with two of the workers, but then getting directions to a "Seven Lakes State Park" from another. It always amazes me how little people know about the attractions in the area they live or inability to give directions! The park he mentioned didn't sound right, but we were starting to wonder.

We set off in search of the park, through Fenton, on a two-lane, winding main street, with lots of slow traffic, with everyone out and about doing their weekend business it seemed. We finally saw a brown sign, indicating a state park, and sure enough, it was Seven Lakes. Well, what did we know? For all we knew, this was the right place. I mean, what are the odds there would be two state parks within a few miles radius? (Especially in Michigan, with all the complaining we get about the budget crisis, could we citizens actually "afford" this? But then, that's another rant I won't go into.)

There wasn't any sign of the possibility of a race taking place the next day, but again, what did we know? So we pulled up to the guard shack and asked about a race on Sunday? Uh, no. Wrong place. But we did get directions to the Holly park we needed to find.

I was glad we were sorting out these direction issues today. I always hate driving around in the morning and getting stressed about that. The Holly park wasn't too far from the Seven Lakes Park, and I had to acknowledge that the 3 Disciplines Racing company had a way of finding some unique, beautiful locations for races. Holly Recreation Area is very beautiful. And as for autumn colors? Some. Its still been too warm for a lot of color, but the sky was such a beautiful blue against the trees, I considered that color enough.

The road taking us to the swim area should have been a warning of what was to come the next day, but naturally we were too busy taking in everything to really notice. As we descended the hill toward the lake, you could see the sun glittering on the water, and the buoys starting to be put in place. It looked nice!

We got our packets, switched to the triathlon from the duathlon, which we both had registered for, just in case the day proved to be too cold to get in the water. I was still having reservations about switching over, but I had brought my wetsuit, and of course Shelley urged me to switch. Some of the race crew was there so we asked about the water temp: oh, about 68 degrees. (Yeah, right!) And what about the run course? A trail run? Oh, yeah, the road is "hard packed dirt." Okay, that's all right. We had seen some dirt roads in the park, so we let that slide.

After we left the park, I briefly wondered why we hadn't checked out the bike course. I mean, we could have driven it. Better we hadn't. Are you getting a little premonition of things to come here??

We headed back to the hotel, and Shelley wanted to get in a little run, so I just checked football scores and tried to hook up on my computer with the Internet, again with no luck. (I'm starting to really wonder why I bought the thing.)

After she got back and changed, we went out exploring the stores and shops across the street from the hotel. We first went to Big K, since she said there weren't any in her area any more, and there is only one or two in mine, which are not in any area I shop. We didn't have anything in particular to buy, except I wanted to get a jug of water. Stupid me, then, having to carry that thing from store to store! But like Shelley said, you never know when you're going to get thirsty. :)

Eventually, we came to a Bath & Body Works. Yes! That was the place to be. Shelley had a great time there, smelling all the various products, and finally settling on a Cherry Pie bath/shower/shampoo selection. Mmm, that really smelled great! And I finally found my Exotic Coconut shower gel to complete my set from my shopping trip the week before. So I was happy!

We then headed to Applebees for dinner, since our hotel key cards indicated $3 off a $10 purchase. Might as well! The drink specials that night were $2 "mystery beers--bartender's choice." Hmm. I don't like beer well enough to trust someone else's pick, and all I could envision was if the bartender was in a foul mood and spitting in it or wringing his bar rag out in it! I'll pass!

After dinner, we headed back to the hotel, watched a little TV, caught up on phone calls, and finally settled down and ended up watching that hilariously, stupidly funny movie, Dodgeball. Too funny. It was lights out when that was over, and I was getting very sleepy anyway, but as usually happens, just as I am drifting off to sleep, I hear a "noise" of some sort, and I am wide-awake alert again. So I lay there for a while, half in and out of sleep, before finally drifting off.

The morning came all too soon it seemed. The alarm went off at 6:30 am, but I had already been awake for a little while, not really knowing what time it was. And it was still very dark. We dressed, packed up, and headed down to the breakfast offered by the hotel, and I was very glad to see they offered the boiled egg selection. I am one of those people who NEEDS my protein in the morning, and something I read a few years back indicated people's blood types determined their protein needs. Not sure if that is worth anything, but in my case it holds true.

We then left for the race site, which was about 20 minutes away. Again, it was a slow drive, looking directly into the sun, making it difficult to see. The morning was a little cooler than past days, but by no means cold, but I did notice steam coming off every pond or body of water we passed. That meant the water was warm. We weren't in that much of a hurry, because our race, after all, didn't start until 10 am, but I thought I had read where transition would close by 8:30, so we decided just to leave early.

Once we arrived and started setting up, from the info being given on the different races and transition areas, it became obvious we hadn't needed to be there until at least 9 am! Oh well, just more time to get organized and check things out.

This was a gender specific race, meaning men first, women second, and what was really nice, and made perfect sense, was that women had their own transition area and bike out/in as well. I was determined not to have another transition fiasco like my last race, and had heard them announce 7 bikes only to a rack. Getting there early, I still found my rack full, other than my bike making the 7th, but as I told Shelley, that meant 10 would squeeze in.

And sure enough, once I came back later to get my wetsuit and actually get set up, 3 more people had jammed onto the rack, despite 3 other racks being nearly empty. So I just picked up all my stuff and moved it to an empty rack. Much better!

Getting to the race finally:

Swim: 1000 meters. It looked short, and the water wasn't too cold. The sun was actually starting to get hot, so standing in the water was refreshing. And while it looked short, it still seemed like an endless pool swim. I didn't really have any problems, either with jam ups or sighting, but it seemed long. Based on my time, it was just an okay swim. Nothing more.

T1: Went well. Seemed fast enough for me, as I always tend to lollygag here.

Bike: 18 miles, although I think it was somewhat (blessedly) short. Knowing there was a steep uphill on the way out of transition, I had kept my chainring in the middle ring to make it easier to climb. But still, I was really surprised at the difficulty here! It was a short but surprisingly steep climb, and I felt myself barely moving almost immediately. You had to have a burst of speed to get up this thing, which I didn't have. And I was still out of breath from the swim and transition, so I was working hard. Get to the top, and down we went, a steep descent, down and winding around and then practically needing a stop to make another sharp turn, and then up again. OMG! This is horrible was all I could think. It was down sharply, up sharply, winding around, and on and on it went. The course was hell! It wasn't so much that it was up and then down and then up and then down, or slowing down for sharp downhill curves, it was a combination of all three! I never seemed to have my gearing right most of the race: either I had no gears on because of the uphills, or too many on because of the downhills, and the fact that the ups blended in with the downs, with nothing in between, you had to be quick on shifting and pedalling to keep up.

This was a 3 loop course, and eventually I saw Shelley going by in the opposite direction, although I didn't know how many loops she was into. I was so mind boggled by the whole thing by then I figured she was probably on her last loop, when in fact she was only on the second part of her first loop. And then there was the long, steep uphill toward the end of the first loop. No way was I prepared for this and ended up walking towards the end, near the top, to avoid toppling over. It wasn't until the last loop I finally got it right and grinded my way fully to the top, at a smoking 4.8 mph. At the beginning of the last loop, I counted 8 people behind me. When I finished, there were only 4. I heard one was picked up on the course, but that left 3 others unaccounted for. I'm sure they cut the course or quit. (Not saying I blame them though!)

I was so glad to be done with that bike! I think I was actually snarling at the volunteers as I passed them into transition! I was not happy! No idea on bike time, and I'm not sure I want to check, or see how slow I was. One of these days, I'll check.

T2: Fast enough. I just wanted to stay ahead of the last 3 or 4 people behind me, which I did.

Run: OMG. No words to describe other than another hellish experience. As I was leaving transition, I heard the announcer saying "still waiting for our first triathlete to finish. Just goes to show you the difficulty of the course." I still had no clue at this point exactly what this meant, but I started doing the math, and realized that even though the men had started an hour before the women, no one had finished yet!

Getting back to the run, we again had to climb that hill out of transition. I had decided to walk up that just to get my legs working and to avoid having a heart attack. Once I got to the top, it was quickly down, so that was going okay. Felt good! Where to next? Into the woods. Okay, that looks nice and cool.

But wait! This trail wasn't a groomed trail. In fact, what the hell was this?? This was just a path carved out of the woods, so I was soon stumbling over rocks, sticks, and roots, and it was so dark I had a hard time seeing initially. But I had to keep moving. There were other people behind me! Soon, that no longer was a concern. Just finding my way and not breaking an ankle became more of a concern. I started having serious doubts I was on the right path. I mean, no way was this "hard packed dirt." There was, however, a nice, hard packed dirt road right next to this mess they called a trail. Am I supposed to be on that?? Even if I was, I couldn't see any easy way to get on to it. If it weren't for the orange or green markings on the roots and rocks, I would have figured I was lost.

You had to be watching your step the entire time. And then there were the steep climbs up and the sharp descents down, just like on the bike. Why hadn't that occurred to me before? I kept hearing twigs breaking behind me, but never could see anyone behind. Probably a bear or something! (LOL!) I got hit by some acorns falling from a tree, and twice stumbled forward nearly ending up on my face. And this was before the first mile!

I finally saw some arrows point left. Left meaning where? No path to the left. Oh, left, meaning up that hill and then finally out to the road. Yipee! Hard packed dirt. But again here, it was another hill up to the first water stop. I had smartly brought a water bottle, but decided to take advantage of whatever they offered. I had a feeling I was in for a long adventure.

Now where, up the hill? Back into the woods? Oh shit! I don't want to do this anymore. Come get me! Okay, quit whining, I told myself. I think someone is actually coming behind you. Get going! So I did, on to the first mile marker and then back into the woods again, another stumbling, bumbling adventure. I don't know whether this was considered X-terra, but I'm calling it that. I'm not even sure it would qualify for a mountain biking trail, it was so rugged. At this point, the footing became treacherous, and I was getting more and more concerned about hurting myself, so I went down to a fast walk, not much slower than I was doing anyway. My feet were beginning to hurt a lot too from all the twisting and turning and stepping on sharp rocks.

Since I had started walking, at this point, a woman behind me caught up with me. She was 26 and said this was her second "tri." Poor girl. What a way to get into the sport! The "path" was not even more than a one-foot-in-front-of-the other rut in the dirt, so even while we started walking together, we had to walk single file. There was no passing unless you were actually going to run! She was really struggling, both mentally and physically. She wanted to quit, but as I pointed out to her, "where do you think you're going?" It was forward or back, nothing more. I decided after a while, it was best to stay with her, and a perfect excuse for me to continue to walk. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have done much running anyway at that point!

We continued on and on and on. We exchanged info and then started making jokes about wondering if anyone would come looking for us when it got dark, wondering if they would find our bodies, etc.! We had to lighten the moment.

I just went mile by mile in my mind. She kept wanting to know how far we had to go yet. ("Are we there yet?") She did say there were a couple of women behind her, so we figured we weren't last yet. And surprisingly, at about 4 miles, another woman came trotting up behind us! We never did figure that out, because Janine (the woman I was with) said it wasn't one of the same ones she saw. She might have been a relay person. That could explain why it was someone different, and she only had running clothes on and looked pretty fresh. More power to you lady!

Like I said, I cannot describe to you the ruggedness of this "run." I know I have never done anything this difficult before, and the trail never ended! It seemed like we were in there for hours, and even when we finally came out to the road, the mile marker had to be a lie. No way was it 5 miles there based on how much farther it was to the end. I had already talked her into running when we hit solid ground, and it actually felt good to do so. But then it was another steep hill and neither of us were up for that anymore. We walked that, and going on the markers then figured it was another half mile to finish. Didn't happen. On and on we still went, and we were both getting discouraged and more than a little fed up at this point. We finally made it to the top of the last hill and a volunteer said it was another 5 minutes--walking. Well, its downhill, so we're not walking. Let's cut that down to 3 minutes or less!

So we set out on the glorious downhill, on pavement. It really did feel good! We made a pact then that we were crossing the finish line together! No last places! But then we hit grass again and were at our wits end to get this thing done. How did some of those people finish that fast?? I had seen women already out of the woods on the last leg of the run when I was heading in, and they weren't that far ahead on the bike.

Naturally, by the time we were finishing, all but the timing clocks had been removed, and they were onto the awards. Surprisingly, I had received a 2nd place in age group award and hadn't even finished yet! That has to be a first! Janine also got first in her Athena division, and we both rightly felt entitled to our awards. Oh, and if you haven't figured it out yet? This is labeled as the "hardest sprint race in Michigan." No wonder!

Shelley got third in her age group and was 8th overall. Great job! Both of us decided we didn't have to do this race again either!


Cindy Jo said...

Well done! On ther race AND the write-up. I am DEFINITELY putting this race on my schedule for next year. I love that kind of running (don't ask me why). Aren't you glad you switched to the tri?! ;)

jahowie said...

Congrats!! I told you that you wouldn't be last!! This race sounds horrible. I'm happy that you were able to finish it so well and without injury.

Fe-lady said...

Congrats to you both..but the results said you got first! (Hope I was looking at this year's results!)
Sounds like the run should be part of an Xterra course!

See Zanne Run said...

nice job! i love the place award before you even finish - priceless. did you get your BBQ at the finish?

Lisa - Slow & Steady said...

First off, congrats for finishing such a tough course. You ROCK!

And a medal is icing on the cake! WoooHooo. One of these days, maybe I shall have that honor.

WADDLER26.2 said...

Great job on hanging in there. Also congrats on the trophy.

jeanne said...

Holy crap, what a nightmare experience! but you are smiling at the end, i see!