Saturday, June 5, 2010

Shenandoah Valley Sprint Triathlon

Me with friend Krista at the race

It was a great day in Luray, Virginia as the town put on a top-notch sprint triathlon. You could feel the town pride embedded in it and I was glad to be a part of it.

I got up there on Friday and checked out the venue to discover a cute man-made lake that wasn't a whole lot bigger than the swim course. I drove the bike course, much of it in one of those late afternoon torrential downpours with big drops and lots of them. About a mile of the course looked to have been recently oiled and graveled -- a major safety risk. But by the time we hit the road on Saturday, that section of road had been swept off and was in great shape.

When I picked up my packet from Appalachian Outdoor Adventures, I spotted two beautiful 52cm Quintana Roo Tequilo Tri bikes for $825. The owner of the store said they were his last two and he was getting out of the tri bike business. One was new and the other had been his race bike. My jaw dropped and I took one for a test ride and loved it...all 12ish lbs of it. It was strange having the shifters at the end of the aerobars, but I was really comfortable in that more aero, flatter-backed position. (insert big SIGH here and disappearing dream bubble...) Howwwwever, Jim reminded me via voicemail in an emergency shopping intervention that I've been doing fine on my road bike, and in truth I really don't have a spare $825. One thing about triathlons, though, there's no shortage of beautiful, expensive tri bikes at the races. So I do take a certain amount of pride in knowing I'm a decent racer on an entry-level used craigslist roadbike!!

Saturday dawned clear, warm, and beautiful. I got to the race site, set up, took the bike for a spin, practiced my mount and dismount, and loosened up the legs on a run with some dynamic stretching and strides.

Practicing the flying dismount

Then I began the back and forth indecision about whether or not to wear a wetsuit. The swim in the early May triathlon did not go well and that was my first race in the wetsuit. I haven't worn it since. Lake Arrowhead was a reported 75 degrees, "wetsuit legal", but it sure felt warm. I polled my fellow triathletes and some were using suits for the added buoyancy, while others scoffed at a wetsuit. After some consideration (read: agony), I realized one of things I love about swimming is the feel of the water, which I find is diminished in a wetsuit. Then I asked myself if I'd be more proud of myself for a good swim with a wetsuit or without. In the end, I swam without a wetsuit, and I was really glad. That water was very warm, I had less to worry about in transition, and I enjoyed the swim.

Lake Arrowhead

My little transition zone

I was in the fourth and final wave of swimmers to start. During the swim I focused on my technique, sighting, and *trying* to draft, but primarily staying relaxed and positive. The plan was to go out slow and build. When I got to the first turn buoy and saw a guy from the previous wave hanging off of it, I felt awful for him. Soon I rounded the second buoy and began swimming toward shore where the plantlife seemed to reach up and envelop me, and I emerged from the water wondering how much was hanging from me (think Creature from the Black Lagoon). Jim had warned me about the steps from the lake up to transition at the top of the hill and that I should have a plan of action about how many to take at a time. So I ran up them, in a two-at-a-time fashion as practiced, passing two athletes on the way. (I always hear him saying, RUN don't walk in transition, it's a RACE after all.)

heading to to the official in yellow...check out wiggly man in yellow that helps us see where to swim to!

I was 35/102 on the swim, eh, so top 1/3. On the plus side, there's plenty of room for improvement. My time was 16:28 and the top time was 11:04!! She must have ridden a jetski! One thing I realized is that it's hard to compare swim times from one race to another because they all have slightly different starts (beach vs water) and distances from the water to the exit timing mat. I'm wondering it the actual swim course distance could even vary a bit.

I had the third fastest T1 of the women (yay!) and off on the bike I went. Bike was great, I felt strong, smooth, and comfortable -- or I should say the butt, shoulders, back, were comfortable while the legs were appropriately uncomfortable. The course was beautiful and I was busy "racing" or picking people off one by one, and quite a number of them. Would it be awful to admit I find that very fun? Most of the folks I passed were under 40 and from previous swim waves and there were maybe just 4 or 5 master's women that I spotted and slipped past. I ground it out as hard as I could knowing there were likely more masters ahead of me.

Jim had warned me about an area of "false flat" where speed would drop and effort required would grow and not to worry because everyone would be feeling annoyed. It was nice to have that insight and avoid getting into a negative mental loop. Just so we wouldn't get bored with the flat stuff, there were a handful of sizable hills including one near the end of the course. I'd try to go conservatively at the bottom and work to grind it out at the top and pick up speed again as quickly as possible for the descent. Yeah, the legs protest, but they've been through enough burn-inducing split squats, lunges, and leg presses with Jake to suck it up and keep pedaling.

My left quad was complaining and I wondered what that might mean for the run. I had a nice flying dismount and was off to T2 (rank - 21/102). Putting my socks on slows me down, I think I could have been quicker here.

I felt surprisingly good at the start of the run, but boy it was hot! I saw a few people walking on the course, and there was some audible struggling heard from the returning runners on the out-and-back course. At each water stop, I took a cup and doused myself. Well, in truth, I managed to launch the first cup directly over my shoulder missing my body completely, but I did better after that! I remembered Jim had said that on a short race, the effects of the heat are not physiological, but psychologically. He had also reminded me to run tangents through the curves. The return has an uphill grade and my pace slowed considerably, but I had been passing people pretty steadily and no one was passing me so I just held tight for the finish.

That final 100m is a treat because it brings the encouragement of spectators, which is much appreciated. I passed over the finish mat and headed fairly directly back to the lake for a celebratory dip in the water -- in that warm lake with the oozy yucky bottom and gross plants and I dove and flipped and swam and loved every minute of it.

One of the really fun parts of races is the folks you meet and stories you hear. I ran into a friend who runs a teaching and learning center at Radford. I hadn't known her very well previously but boy is a race a great bonding experience! I was really inspired by a 13-year old girl I spotted on the run. She was in amazing shape and tenacious! Then there was the marine who hadn't raced in 5 years but was so happy to have had a great reintroduction to the sport at Luray.

Finally, I do have to mention that the awards at this race were custom engraved wine glasses AND a bottle of local Virginia wine!! How great is that?! Now you know why we all raced so hard! So here's the lowdown:

TOTAL - 01:38:54 (7th/102 women racers, 4th out of masters but awarded 2nd)
Swim – 0:16:28 (35th)
T1 – 0:1:36 (3rd)
Bike – 0:56:17 (5th)
T2 - 0:1:06 (21st)
Run - 23:29 (4th)

Overall results (women) HERE
Category results (women) HERE

Before the race I wrote on my arm "No Fear" with a smiley face to remind myself to be tough, but to have a good time and enjoy the opportunity I have to be a part of the triathlon community, in beautiful locales, swimming, cycling, and running, moving under my own steam. I race better when I'm happy and today I was definitely happy!!