Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Race report: Augusta Ironman 70.3

After a tough first half-Ironman last June, I was determined to make my next Ironman 70.3 (as the official Ironman organization prefers to call a half) not suck as much. At Eagleman, my Garmin froze up halfway through the bike ride, then I cramped up, then I faced brutal headwinds, and finally ran in some of the hottest conditions I had ever faced. I finished in 5:55, beating my "B" goal but still coming out disappointed.

I had already signed up for the Augusta race when I ran Eagleman, but by all accounts Augusta was a friendlier event. By late September, the Georgia summer has usually lost most of its punch. The swim was a easy one, aided by a 1-knot river current, and there were great crowds to give support along the run. The bike course was hilly but still quite fast, with a downhill finish.

Things were looking up when I arrived in Augusta on Friday. The water temperature was 74.7, and seemed unlikely to rise to 76.1 (which would mean wetsuits were not allowed). I met up with friends Jen and Liz, and Jen and I decided to preview the swim course. We hopped in and swam the entire 1.2 miles in a leisurely 29 minutes—13 minutes faster than I raced Eagleman! That's some current aiding the swim!

On Saturday we drove through the bike course and saw that most of the hills looked quite manageable, and that there was ample shade on the course. We had a big pasta dinner, and went to bed early, visions of PRs dancing in our heads. This time my "B" goal was to beat my 5:55 at Eagleman. The "A" goal was a big stretch: Break 5:30.

I woke up at 5:10 on race day, 5 minutes before my alarm was set to go off. I got my gear ready, had a granola bar and banana for breakfast, and then asked Liz if she had heard anything about whether the race would be wetsuit-legal. She checked the race Facebook page and shrieked: "F***, it isn't!" The race director had assured everyone that it almost certainly would be at the pre-race briefing yesterday, but of course allowed that the official measurement had to be taken on race morning.

"Oh well, there goes five minutes of free speed," I thought, and pulled my wetsuit out of my gear bag. I also got rid of my calf sleeves, which are legal to wear on the swim under a wetsuit but not in an unaided swim. I certainly wasn't going to take the time to wrestle them on wet calves during transition.

After Liz, Jen, and I had finished commiserating about the lack of wetsuits in the race, all there was left to do was hop into the car with their partners, James and Steve, who would be our sherpas for the race. We set up our gear in the transition zone and walked the mile to the swim start. It was a beautiful, cool morning, but the weather forecast was for another hot day, similar to Eagleman last June. For now, however, it seemed much cooler and less humid. Here's a pre-race photo of me, Jen, and Liz:

Yes, we match. Jen (left) and Liz are on a fancy tri team, and I just match by accident

Several friends from Davidson were at this race, and I saw my bike training partner Jim, as well as fellow DARTers Nicole, Jack, Rebecca, and Randy, in the starting area. Jen and Liz's buddy Judd, who I had met on Friday, was also in my swim wave, so Judd and I chatted nervously as we watched the waves ahead of us start. We were both starting at 8:28, about an hour after the first swimmers had started.

Jen and Liz had started closer to 8 a.m., but it was difficult to spot them on the swim from our vantage point. Soon it was our turn to walk out onto the dock and hop into the water, which was refreshing at 77 degrees. It may not have been wetsuit-legal, but it was much cooler than the lake I'd been swimming in all summer, so it felt great. I could also feel the current dragging me on to the course. The dock was already lined with swimmers, so I grabbed on to the shoulder of another swimmer while we waited for the start. Finally we were off. In an instant it seemed like everyone took off in front of me.

Eventually I got going and headed down the river, trying to focus on good form. Somehow I could never really get into a groove, though. I wasn't struggling, but I could tell this was not ideal. Whenever I focused on one thing, like reaching straight ahead or keeping a solid core, something else would fall apart, like my arm position or my kicking form. Slowly, I passed buoy after buoy. I knew that the first half of the buoys would be yellow and the second half were orange, but I couldn't remember how many buoys there were. Was it 9 of each or 10 of each? After a while I noticed that the buoys were numbered. I passed 2, 3, 4, and 5. I passed 6, 7, and 8. I passed yellow buoy 9. Was I halfway home? I decided I'd let myself take a break and look at my watch when I got to the first orange buoy. The sun was in my eyes, though, so it was hard to see what color this next buoy was until I was right next to it. It was orange! Great! I looked at the watch quickly and saw 17-something for a time, and a distance of zero. Zero!?! Was my GPS not working? I looked again and it still said zero. I sincerely hoped this problem would not carry through to the bike and the run. Also, the 17-something time seemed really slow. If I was halfway done, then that time should be faster than 15 minutes. Surely I was going faster than Friday, when I had practically floated down the river.

All I could do was keep swimming. Periodically I got entangled with river grass, which again hadn't been much of a problem on Friday. I guess all these swimmers were churning things up. Slowly I passed the orange buoys, 1, 2, 3, then 4, 5, 6. Just three more! I could see the boat ramp where we'd be getting out of the water. I had been swimming close to the buoys, near the center of the river, to try to maximize the effect of the current. Now I had to cross over several swimmers in an attempt to get out closer to the shore and the swim exit. Finally we reached the exit and I ran out of the water. I had finished the swim in 35:06. Normally that's a great time for me for a 1.2-mile swim, but I knew I had swam the same distance 6 minutes faster just two days before. I don't think I was giving anything less than a full effort, so I guess I can chalk the difference up to the wetsuit and the choppy water from thousands of swimmers.

I ran up the ramp and around the transition area to find my bike. The transition went without a hitch; I took a moment to stop and get my back sprayed with sunscreen, then headed out for the ride after an official T1 of 3:41.

The start was narrow and crowded as we rode on a street that was partially fenced off for spectators. A lot of cyclists were taking their time getting going so I passed as many as I could. Then we headed onto the the highway. The first five miles were flat and I was easily maintaining speeds of 22-23 mph. That seemed a little fast but as long as I wasn't exerting myself I decided that was fine. I was steadily passing other riders. There seemed to be more room here to do this compared to Eagleman because the bikes had a full lane of a four-lane highway. The next section was also mostly flat and again I was able to keep my average speed above 20 mph. I set my watch to display heart rate while my cycle computer showed speed and distance. I figured as long as my heart rate was below 150 I would not be pushing too hard on the ride.

At Mile 10 we turned on to the detour section of the ride. Instead of another long, flat stretch, we'd have to climb two major hills. The first one was a long burner, and the bikes quickly bunched up. I found I had plenty of energy, and my heart rate was down in the 130s, so I pushed the pace and passed riders in clumps. I kept my effort up as we crested the hill and turned onto another 4-lane highway. Now we had a long downhill stretch and I kept pedaling to make up for the speed I'd lost on the climb. I finished the section with a 19-mph pace, despite the major climb, which gave me confidence that I might be able to finish the ride averaging faster than 20 miles per hour, faster than I did on the flat Eagleman course. Soon I finished the second climb on the detour, again averaging 19 mph from mile 15-20. The next 5 miles was more of the same. Around Mile 25, I caught up with Judd, who asked me how I was doing. I said I felt pretty good, and we stayed near each other for the next five miles or so. I passed him for good around Mile 30, where I was finally able to get my average pace back above 20 mph.

All I needed to do now was stay strong until Mile 40, where I knew the course would become predominantly downhill or flat, all the way to the finish. Again I averaged around 19 mph for the next two sections. At Mile 40 I was ready for the downhill to start! Unfortunately it didn't quite start exactly at Mile 40. But it did start soon after, and I found my pace steadily increasing to an average of 21.9 mph from mile 40-45! There were some sections where I was hanging on for dear life, not wanting to sacrifice speed, but not wanting to die either, as the squirrelly tri bike approached 40 mph! A couple of times I succumbed to the urge to move my hands out of the aero position so as to be closer to the brakes, but I resisted the urge to actively brake. Mile 45-50, with a bit more climbing, went by at 21 mph. Finally we hit the serious downhill finish and my speed quickened to 23.8. I kept pedaling on the flats as we neared the transition zone, passing more cyclists before stopping and leaping off the bike. Total time for the ride was 2:45:39, a 20.5 mph average.

But my first few steps off the bike were wobbly. I had to run most of the length of the transition zone, perhaps 150 yards, with my bike, wearing bike shoes and cleats. I tried to run but the legs simply wouldn't cooperate. I decided a fast walk would be the wiser choice. Soon I was sitting on the ground next to my gear, pulling off my bike shoes and putting on the running shoes. I decided to spray myself down completely with sunscreen. Then I grabbed my hat and race belt and ran for the exit. Fortunately the running seemed easier now. My decision to spray myself with sunscreen turned out to be a good one—I didn't see a race volunteer at the run exit to cover me with another layer.

My total time at the start of the run was 3 hours and 28 minutes, which meant that all I needed in order to beat 5:30 for the race was a 2-hour half-marathon. Anyone can do that, right? The running seemed easy at this point. To run a 2-hour half, you need to do 9:09 per mile. I looked down at my watch and saw that I was running a 7:50 pace. Calm down, Munger, I told myself, don't rush things. I decided to limit myself to no faster than 8:30 per mile for the first 6 miles. If I felt good at that point, I could pick up the pace. But somehow I didn't manage to do that, and ran too fast. Mile 1: 8:17; Mile 2: 8:22; Mile 3: 8:34; Mile 4: 8:24. Meanwhile the temperature was climbing over 90 degrees, and the mid-day sun blazed straight down from overhead.

The aid stations were supposed to be "about every mile" but there had been a 1.7-mile gap from mile 2.3 to 4. Then that aid station didn't have ice. I had been loading my hat with ice at every station in an effort to keep cool. I wouldn't have that luxury for the next mile, and it showed in my pace, 9:17 for Mile 5. The next aid station was 1.4 miles away, and the extra 0.4 seemed to take an eternity. No ice at that aid station either. Grrrrr.

Fortunately the next aid station came quickly, and was fully stocked with ice. My pace, which had been 9:39 for Mile 6, dropped to 9:04 for Mile 7. Somewhere around this point, Nicole, who had started 8 minutes ahead of me, and who I had passed on the ride, passed me almost effortlessly. I said she was running well, and she growled "I just want to get this over with." Whatever it takes to motivate yourself! Meanwhile, my pace slowed again, 10:23 for Mile 8. I was in the second loop of the run, and I knew I'd soon hit the section where the aid stations were 1.7 miles apart. I did okay for the first stretch with no aid, but I eventually had to stop for a 20-second walk-break before I got to the aid station. Finally I reached the aid station and let myself walk through it, and for some distance past it. Mile 9: 9:04, Mile 10: 10:08. I was beginning to doubt I could keep running between every aid station when I saw a familiar face: It was Heather, a fellow DARTer form Davidson. I didn't know she was going to be here as a spectator. "DAVE!" Heather screamed, with open arms. It looked like she wanted to give me a bear hug.

I was pretty sure I would collapse into a heap if I got a bear hug at that moment, so I said "High Five!" and somehow managed to miss out on a hug AND a high-five. But still, seeing a familiar face cheered me up, and I pressed on. I didn't speed up, but I didn't slow down. Mile 11: 10:04.

I looked at the total elapsed time on my watch: 5:09. If I could finish in 21 minutes, I'd break 5:30. But though my watch had clicked Mile 11, the Mile 11 marker was nowhere in sight. By the time it arrived, my watch said 5:11. That's 19 minutes for 2.1 miles, or roughly a 9:00 pace. Could I do that? I wasn't sure. It was hot. My feet were sore. I didn't know where or when I'd get ice to cool off. My next mile took 9:41. That meant I'd have to do the last 1.1 miles at an 8:20 pace. There was simply no way. No way. I sort of gave up at this point, slowing to the slowest of jogs, and stopping for a very leisurely final aid station. I ran Mile 13 in 11:05. But suddenly, the finish line was right ahead of me, sooner than I expected. I ran for it. I ran through. I stopped my watch.

I finished in 5:31:33. I just might have had time to crack 5:30 after all—argh! I guess the last couple mile markers were off but the overall race was accurate; I had the run distance at 13.13 miles. Still, all in all I really can't complain—this was much better than I did at Eagleman. My pace on the run was much more consistent (probably mainly because I had a functioning GPS unit), and I was nearly a full mile per hour faster on the ride. Conditions here at Augusta were nearly as tough as at Eagleman, but I was able to overcome them for a 23-minute PR.

I got my medal and limped to the finish area, where I grabbed a banana and a Coke and collapsed on the ground. Fortunately helpful volunteers offered to bring additional food and water, so I sat and chatted with the other exhausted finishers next to me. I was spent. After 15 minutes or so I had recovered enough to walk to the restaurant where Stephen and James had set up a spectator station. There were Jen and Liz, who had both finished in PR times as well. Here's our semi-official finishers' photo:

Everything is better with beer!

And here I am soaking in my finishing effort.

Everything is even better with even more beer!

I later found that my DART buddies Nicole, Jack, Rebecca, and Randy had also had strong races; Nicole and Jack completed their first-ever 70.3 races, and Randy had a first-ever sub-5:00 70.3. Congratulations to all the survivors of Augusta 70.3 2016!

My Garmin record of the race is below:

Monday, August 8, 2016

Race Recap: The Lake Logan Sprint Triathlon

I awoke with a start at 3:00 Saturday morning. Goggles! I had forgotten goggles! And here I was, in the middle of the North Carolina mountains, getting ready for a triathlon.

Fortunately my race, the Lake Logan Sprint Tri,  wasn't until Sunday. I had time to find a sporting goods store in nearby Waynesville, and get an amazing deal on a new set of goggles. My third set of goggles. You can never be too prepared!

By the time the tri started on Sunday morning, I had had three more moments of panic, when I realized I had also forgotten Tailwind (my in-race fuel, a powder I mix with water), my race belt (to attach my race number during the run), and thought I hadn't brought a strap to attach my timing chip to my ankle (I found this in my gear bag after I bought another one at the packet pickup Saturday night).

Since this was "just a sprint," I hadn't spent as much time packing as I did for my half-Ironman in June. As it turns out, you need all the same gear for a sprint as you do for an Ironman! Next time, I'll use a checklist, I promise! I had managed to find reasonable substitutes for all my omissions and now just needed to race. First up was the swim:

My wife Greta took this shot as the swimmers were entering the water

There is no standard swim distance for a sprint; in this case the swim was 500 yards. There was also an International tri that day, and they were swimming 1500 meters. All we had to do was swim to the closest orange buoy, then hook right to go around the buoy at the right of the photo, then swim back under a bridge to the swim exit. I had been warmed that the water in the creek that flows under the bridge was much colder than the lake; some people actually jump out of the water at that point!

The swim was wetsuit legal, so I hopped in the water in my wetsuit; the water felt fine. All 67 male swimmers in the event would be starting together, so I expected the swim to be a little crowded. A moment later we were off. Actually the start wasn't as crowded as I expected, and I found a nice pocket of open water. It was pretty easy to sight the buoy and I was there very fast. The first corner was where things got interesting. All the sudden it was like a mixing bowl as everyone tried to cut it as close as possible. Fortunately no real damage was done and I had the second buoy in my sights. Buoy #2 was a repeat of the first one, with the added bonus of dodging the last, straggling, breast-stroking swimmers from the International tri, who had started 30 minutes earlier. Now I was headed for the bridge, and beginning to feel the strain of my aggressive pace. "Cmon, Munger, it's only 500 yards," I told myself, and kept up the pace as well as I could.

As the bridge got closer, I could feel the water getting colder. Then I saw the rocky bottom. It was shallow here! The woman ahead of me stood up and started walking. No way was I going to walk barefoot 50 yards in a rocky creek, so I kept swimming, sometimes grabbing the rocks to pull myself forward. Finally I was at the dock, and I hopped ashore and headed for the transition area.

It was probably a hundred yards to my bike, so I started stripping off my wetsuit. As I tried to yank it off my left wrist, I could hear my watch beeping. Hopefully it wasn't getting horribly screwed up. Finally I disentangled my arm from the wetsuit and looked at the screen as I ran.


No! I fumbled for the button to cancel the operation and kept running. Finally I got to my bike, where I quickly ripped my suit off my legs. A few days before the race, I had decided to trim about 2 inches off the bottom of my wetsuit, and this proved to be a huge help; this was definitely the fastest I'd ever removed the suit. My friend Joey was three bikes away, and was struggling with his suit. I threw on shoes and socks and headed out for the ride just ahead of Joey.

Running for the bike start, with Joey right behind me

Once again, it was a long run before we could start riding, possibly 200 yards. Finally we reached the road and I hopped on my bike to start the 13-mile ride. I passed three or four people who were struggling to mount -- I managed to clip in get up to speed quickly. I knew there would be a quick, short climb, followed by a fast descent and then a long, gradual downhill stretch, so I figured I might as well put everything I had into the climb. I passed several riders and then pushed hard over the top. The descent was steep and curvy enough that I wasn't comfortable riding in aero position; I had to use the brakes a couple times here, but soon I was on the gradual downhill. Now I needed to pedal and take advantage of the course. I got my speed up to about 25 mph and continued to pass other riders. At one point the road flattened and I was tempted to downshift and slow down a bit, but I reminded myself that this was a short course; I needed to take advantage of all the speed I could muster, so I pushed harder and kept up the 25 mph pace. After about 5 miles I came to the next climb, and pushed over it. There were three hills like this over the next two miles, and I pushed hard each time, knowing they were relatively short and would be followed by downhills. I was doing the climbs around 16 mph and the descents in the high 20s.

I reached the halfway point, where we looped around and headed back towards the lake on a different road. This one was a gradual incline over the next five miles. I knew it would be a tough grind, but I should be able to keep up a decent pace. I tried to keep my speed over 20 mph, but the hill gradually intensified and my pace slowed to 18-19 mph. A few riders passed me here; I couldn't tell if they were in my age group though -- at least one of them was definitely a relay rider, so I tried not to let it bother me. It was at this point that I decided to glance at my watch to see if I could figure out what my average pace for the ride was. The screen did not look like a cycling screen at all! I guessed (correctly, as it turned out) that my wetsuit mishap had caused me to cycle my watch ahead to T2, so the ride was being tracked as if it was the transition between cycling and running. All I could do was wait until the run started, then cycle the watch ahead to catch up. I refocused on riding and pushed as the hill gradually steepened.

Finally we were at the base of the big hill: From Mile 12.45 to 12.92, we'd climb 163 feet. I knew this climb should only take a few minutes, and the pack of riders that had just passed me were in my sights, so I stood up and started picking them off, passing at least three of them as I ground up the hill. I'd have almost a mile of downhill to rest before starting the run, so why not? Gasping for breath, I reached the top and gave everything I had left to pick up speed for the descent. Soon, I was at the transition area, where I hopped off the bike and ran the 200 yards back to my spot. I racked the bike, threw on my shoes, and hopped back up to start the run.

I had cycled my watch ahead, so it was now properly on the "run" screen, but my pace included the time I spent putting on my gear in transition, so it was showing something like a 10:30 pace for Mile 1. Greta snapped this photo of me as I struggled to figure out what my real pace was:

Doing math while running is hard!
The run was an out-and-back: A gradual uphill on the way out, and a gradual downhill on the way back. As on the ride, I was passing runners, but now I didn't really know how fast I was going. I knew it should be a hard effort, since I only had to run 3.1 miles. I've set my watch to show the average pace for each mile during my runs rather than the current pace. This is because the GPS isn't accurate enough to give you a good current pace; the "current pace" will fluctuate wildly between, say, 5 minutes per mile (faster than I can run) to 10 minutes per mile (slower than I ever want to be going). As I ran, my average pace for Mile 1 went down, down, down, finally settling at 9:02 as it beeped to indicate I was almost 1/3 of the way through the run. My real pace was probably more like 7:30, which is a little slower than I was hoping to run. I had figured before the race that I should probably be able to handle a 7:00 pace.

There were a few runners heading back to the finish now, and I could see an aid station ahead. Perhaps stupidly, I decided to grab a cup of water, which I subsequently choked on. This slowed me a bit, and when I hit the turnaround I was doing about 7:30. Now it was all downhill! Back at the aid station, I took some water to dump over my head and kept running. I passed an old friend, Tony, headed up the hill (Tony had asked me not to say anything negative about him in the blog, so I won't mention that he looked like he was laboring a bit ;). I passed Joey, who looked strong and gave me a high-five. Finally I passed Morgan, who was also looking strong and high-fived me too.

With about a half-mile to go I spotted another runner ahead. I was gradually gaining ground on him and wondered if I should try to pass. I squinted to try to see his age (in triathlons your age or race group is always written on your right leg), but he was too far away. I was laboring fairly hard at this point and started to hope he wasn't in my age group so I wouldn't have to put in too much effort to pass. Then I got a few steps closer and could see that his age started with a "4". Surely he wasn't old enough to be in the 45-49 group, like me. A few steps closer and I could clearly see that he was 45.

Dammit! Now I have to pass him!

I decided I needed to pass with authority, so I picked up the pace, and zipped by, trying to exude confidence by not looking back at him. I tried to keep it up for another 100 yards, then relaxed a bit as I made the final turn down the gravel road to the finish. The road seemed to take forever! The route took us into an open field, and there were two corners before the finish line. Rounding the first corner, I looked back to see if "45" was there. He was! Or was it a different runner? Either way, this guy could easily be in his late 40s, and he was gaining on me. I gave it everything I had left, which wasn't much. I rounded the last corner, with 75 yards to go. I took another look, and he was even closer! Now the finish line photographer was there, trying to get me to smile or pose for the shot, but I just kept my head down and ran, as the footsteps behind me got closer and closer. Finally I was across the line, just ahead of the man who turned out to be Zebulon Weaver, age 47. I had beaten him by two seconds, for second in our age group. He shook my hand, and I grabbed a water and guzzled it down. My pace for that last mile was finally under 7:00 at 6:46, for an official time of 22:30 for the entire run, a 7:15 pace.

Soon Greta was there to greet me, and we cheered Tony, Joey, and Morgan in to the finish. Each of them finished in third in their age groups! Here's a shot of three of us with our awards:

I had completed the triathlon in 1:17:49, second in my age group and 12th overall out of about 120 athletes. I was especially happy with my ride, where I averaged 20.2 mph on a course that included over 700 feet of climbing. My garmin record of the race is below:

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Race Report: The Jimmie Johnson Foundation Cane Creek Sprint Triathlon (RELAY)

I live in NASCAR country. The NASCAR hall of fame is less than 20 miles from my house. My kids went to school with the children of NASCAR drivers, crew chiefs, and team owners. Heck, one of my regular cycling routes takes me on Earnhardt Lake Road. I'm not exactly a NASCAR fan, but I have run in a race sponsored by NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne. In that race, I was really hoping to run against the driver known locally as one of the fastest on foot: Jimmie Johnson. Johnson didn't show up that day, so when a friend invited me to be on his relay team in the Jimmie Johnson Foundation-sponsored Cane Creek Sprint Triathlon, I took it as another opportunity to race against Johnson.

It wouldn't be a fair race because Johnson was doing the full triathlon and I was just doing the bike leg, but it would still be a good opportunity to see how I compare to a local (and national) celebrity. Unfortunately, not being a racing fan, I didn't actually know what Johnson looked like, and he would be starting a wave ahead of my team, 10 minutes earlier.

But of course, there was another reason to race, and that was to share the camaraderie of a relay team in a fun race. Our team was led by Thomas Lanahan, a sports videographer who actually knows Johnson, who'd be doing the run segment. For the swim I had recruited Kaye-Lani Lanaugh, a swim buddy who regularly kicks my ass across Lake Davidson and then regales me and my other swim buddies with tales of her travels around the globe. That left me to handle the 13-mile bike leg.

After a month away from the bike as I engaged in some globetrotting of my own, I have recently been getting back into biking shape; this 13-mile time trial would give me a great sense of where I stand in that regard.

The race was an unusual Tuesday evening event, starting at 6 pm. It was a scorcher of a day, with the car thermometer reading 95 degrees as we drove the 90 minutes from Davidson to Waxhaw, North Carolina. I wasn't too worried about the heat since I had only a short ride, and I didn't plan on slowing down enough to not have at least 15-mile-an-hour breeze to cool me down. Kaye-Lani reported that the water was over 90 degrees, however, and Thomas would be running at a much slower pace than I was riding, so heat was definitely a concern for them!

The race had about 250 participants, divided into three waves: Elite, Men, and Women+Relay. The elites started right on time at 6 pm, followed by the men at 6:05. Kaye-Lani would be in the last group. Her short 500-yard swim started at 6:15, and I watched her swim to the first buoy (in third place in her wave!) before heading up to the transition area, about 200 yards from the beach. Kaye-Lani would have to run that distance after her stifling swim before making the exchange with me. Thomas stood at the corner of the transition area to watch for her. First, an amazingly talented young girl emerged and headed toward the bikes. Kaye-Lani was just behind her, in second place! She was running strongly and soon was in the transition zone.

Our plan was for the outgoing athlete to remove the timing chip from the finisher's ankle and place it on his own, so I kneeled down and tried to strip off the velcro strap. However, my grip failed me -- this velcro didn't want to budge! I fumbled with it for several more seconds before finally tearing it off and attaching it to my own foot. Then I ran for the bike exit. As it turned out, this only cost us a few seconds -- our time in transition was 26 seconds after Kaye-Lani's amazing 7:45 swim-plus-200-yard-sprint. I hopped on my bike and clipped in without incident (you may recall that I was not so successful at my last triathlon, where I had forgotten to remove my cleat covers before the race).

I had taken a look at the bike course beforehand and noted that it was fairly hilly, with well over 400 feet of climbing. I didn't really know how fast I'd be able to ride. If I could do 22 mph on the flat, maybe 21 here? Maybe a little faster because of the adrenaline of race day? I decided I'd be happy if I could break 21 mph, and ecstatic if I broke 22. Here's the elevation profile of the course based on my Garmin data:

As you can see, the first half of the ride is rolling-to-uphill, while the second half has a bit more downhill and a big climb in the last mile. There was no time for strategy other than ride hard and realize you will have some relief later. I hit it as hard as I could. I left my seat on nearly every climb, then tried to push with equal force as I crested the hill to build speed for the ensuing downhill. I began to pick off riders from the men's swim wave, which had started 10 minutes before our wave. The back-of-the-pack riders were probably doing 10-15 mph, so I tended to surprise them as I zipped by at 20-30 mph.

The course was well-patrolled by local police, who stopped traffic at every intersection. However, cars were allowed on the course, so there was an occasional car coming the opposite direction, which sometimes presented a hazard as I tried to pass riders who weren't staying to the right of the road.

I didn't allow myself to rest on the downhills; I pedaled through them and tried to build up speed. The only times I hit the brakes were at corners, some of which were 90-degree turns. I'm not confident enough in my bike handling skills to take a sharp corner at 30+ mph, so I usually slowed to 18 or so on these corners. Better safe than sorry!

I knew there was a big climb starting right about Mile 12, but again I didn't want to back off. I pedaled furiously down the final hill, then tried to maintain my speed as the final climb got steeper and steeper. I passed the lot where we had parked right before the race, and the road started back down. It's all downhill from here, I thought!

No it wasn't. The road turned away from the lake and I found myself climbing once more. I knew it couldn't be much further, so I told myself "Don't stop pushing, Munger!" Finally the course turned down the hill toward the transition area. There were two tricky speed bumps before the dismount line, so I had to slow a bit for them -- again, I'm not confident enough to try to bunny-hop them or anything! As it was, I had to skid to a stop at the dismount line and jump off my bike. I ran awkwardly through the transition zone in my cleats. Kaye-Lani was there to take a photo:

At least I was running!
Thomas, having been warned by Kaye-Lani about the tough velcro, ripped the chip off my ankle on the first try and dashed off. A perfect 14-second transition! I was spent, and stood at my bike for a few minutes to catch my breath.

Yep, this is my "exhausted" look
I racked my bike, and Kaye-Lani grabbed a Gatorade for me, which made a huge difference in cooling me down. I had completed the bike leg in 35:46, an average speed of 21.8 mph. Now we would just have to wait for Thomas to finish his 5k. On a good day, on roads, Thomas can probably do a 20-minute 5k. This was not a good day. It was 95 degrees, the day's heat was still searing on the asphalt, and half the course was on a trail of unknown quality. I figured if he was under 23 minutes he'd be doing really well. What we didn't realize is that the course came right by the transition area about a mile before the finish -- we missed seeing Thomas there, so we could only wait for him to show up where the road emerged about 200 yards from the finish.

Finally, he was there, looking tired, but picking up the pace in the home stretch!

The final corner

Crossing the line!
He was soaked with sweat, but the first thing he did with the cup of water he was handed was dump it over his head. He had completed the run in 22:10, a 7:08 pace -- amazing under these conditions! After making sure Thomas was okay, we headed over to the results tent to see where we stood. We were not only the first-place Mixed relay team, we were the first relay team in any division: Men, Women, or Mixed!

As for my ride, I felt like I had ridden to the maximum of my abilities. I was breathing hard for the entire race, giving it a total effort at all times. I think the corners did slow me down a bit, but this effort probably represents my current fitness level quite well. My dream finish was 22 mph, and I had achieved 21.8 -- tantalizingly close! My Garmin logged 499 feet of climbing, which is a lot for such a short race. By contrast, the Augusta Ironman 70.3, which I'll be racing in September, has 893 feet of climbing in 56 miles. If that course was as hilly as this one, it would climb 2150 feet!

But how did I do against Jimmie Johnson? He finished his race slower than our team did: 1:08:35 versus our 1:06:23. But he beat me on the ride, 35:03 to my 35:46. Next time, Jimmie, next time!

I did get to shake his hand as he presented our team with the award for top Mixed Relay team. Here we are with him on the podium!

Thanks to Nicole van Baelen (who won her age group) for the photo!
All in all, a fun event, and my first experience doing a tri relay. If these things weren't so expensive, I'd definitely consider doing another one! One regret is that I forgot to pack my heart rate monitor, so I won't get to geek out on that data. My Garmin record (sans heart rate) of the race is below.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Race report: Eagleman Ironman 70.3

Near the end of my 4-month stay in India last fall, I began ruminating on the idea of completing a half-Ironman. I was starting to recover from my hamstring injury, but still didn’t seem to have much speed running. But in a half-iron distance you don’t really need to run that fast. I could run as slow as 9-minute miles and still end up with a very respectable time in a half. How hard could it be?

Before I knew it, I had signed up for not one but two IM 70.3 events: Eagleman, in June, and Augusta, Georgia, in September. Eagleman, in Cambridge, MD, was nice and flat but could be hot, and Augusta, while not flat, had a very fast downstream swim and great crowd support on the run.

On Sunday I completed the first of the two races, which proved to be everything I had heard about. It was perfectly, absolutely flat, and it was brutally hot. I had done some heat-acclimation runs over the previous two weeks, so I felt confident that I could run pretty well in hot weather, and I had ridden the flattest terrain I could find in hopes of preparing for the flat course on the ride.

The plan was to swim the 1.2 miles at a steady pace, within my capabilities, then ride according on heart rate, staying in zone 3, around 130-140 bpm. Based on previous rides, this would probably be somewhere around 21-22 mph for the 56-mile course. Finally I’d just let it all hang out on the 13.1-mile run, hopefully hitting that 9-minute pace or even a bit faster. If I did all that I should be comfortably under five and a half hours for the whole race. If the heat or something else got to me, I hoped to still finish under six hours.

I awoke feeling strong on race morning. My wave started at 7:32 so I walked from our B&B at 5:30, planning to arrive at the start, a mile away, by 6:00. There was a beautiful sunrise, so I stopped to take a photo before checking in to the transition area.

Looking good...for now!
The morning already felt quite warm. It was nearly 80 degrees, and the skies were clear, so it was only going to get hotter. As I set up my gear in the transition area, a large moth landed right next to my shoe! I stopped to take another picture of this surprise!

One of the biggest I've ever seen!
The other competitors in my area were all in the same age group, and we chatted nervously about our race plans as we set up our gear. I took care to slather myself with sunscreen before heading to the swim start with my wetsuit. I found a shady spot to sit down and wait for the race start, still 45 minutes away.

Finally, with 20 minutes to go, I struggled into my suit and lined up at the start. Each swim wave of 100-150 people started 4 minutes apart, and the groups lined up together before finally wading into the water. Before I knew it, it was my turn to go! Into the water I went, and we were off!

The start wasn’t as crowded as I thought it would be and I was able to find clear water fairly quickly. The salty water surprised me — this was the first open-water swim I’d done in saltwater, and I wasn’t quite ready for the taste of it. But soon I adjusted and tried as best as I could to focus on form and swim in a straight line.

The course was a U-shape, with the longest segments being the “arms” of the U. Swimming along the first arm, the water wasn’t very rough, and my main concern was just sighting the buoys and avoiding other swimmers. Finally I arrived at the first turn and headed towards shore. Now I was swimming straight into the chop, and the going was a little tougher. I had swam in bigger waves, so these were more of an annoyance than anything but I’m sure they slowed me down a bit. I tried to look at my watch to see how well I was doing, but I couldn’t see the screen and decided not to worry about it.

Here there were spectator boats and support kayaks along the outside of the course. I was trying to stay clear of the other swimmers but the kayaks insisted that I swim close in to the buoys, which was a bit annoying; I was just looking for clear water. Whatever. Just swim, Munger!

Finally I rounded the last corner and headed for home. Once again the water smoothed out and I could just focus on my swim form. I noticed some swimmers in green caps (my wave all had yellow caps). Was this the previous wave catching up to us or me catching some of the wave ahead of us? Whatever. Just swim, Munger!

I was actually surprised at how quickly the swim finished. I hopped out of the water and ripped off the top of my wetsuit. I always have trouble getting my legs out, so I opted to use one of the volunteer wetsuit-strippers, and together we wrestled the rest of the suit off. I hopped back on my feet and ran for my bike. Greta was there cheering me on and got a neat photo of me running for the transition:

Still looking good!
I dried my feet and got ready to put on my socks — wait, where were my socks? I knew I had an extra pair in my bag but I was sure I had laid them out. I looked frantically around and finally found them behind me, three feet away; they must have been dragged over there as I pulled out the towel. Otherwise the transition went without a hitch. I put on my HRM strap, shoes and helmet, and took the time to reapply sunscreen, then ran off with my bike.

I ran through the gate, hopped on, and started riding, but struggled to clip in. What was going on? Finally I realized what was the matter. I had left the cleat covers on my shoes! Argh! There was nothing to do but stop my bike and put them on, a hundred yards in to the ride. A volunteer urged me to move off the road because other riders might not be looking ahead as they struggled to clip in. I ripped off my cleat cover and threw it in the grass in disgust. “That’s a litter penalty,” the volunteer noted. Crap! He's right! I got all the way off my bike and grabbed the cleat cover. My tri top had tiny pockets and I struggled to cram it in the pocket. Then I took off the second cover and took even longer to find the other pocket for that one. Ugh! I had lost at least a minute of my precious ride time. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, I got back on the bike and rode off, clipping in easily this time.

Then I remembered my HRM. I had forgotten to start it at the transition area, so I reached over to turn it on. The HRM is turned on by holding its center button for three seconds. I carefully counted to three and let it go. Not I just had to wait for my Garmin to recognize it. I waited 15 or 20 seconds and then glanced down at the watch. No HR. Was the HRM not on or was the watch just failing to recognize it? I didn’t know. I decided not to worry about it — I could just ride in that 21-22 mph range and figure that was good enough.

For the most part this speed seemed comfortable. I could spin easily and maintain that speed without putting an unmanageable burden on my legs. At this pace, I was passing lots and lots of riders. It was almost annoying, saying “on your left” over and over again. I guessed I was doing pretty well! Still, I got passed, fairly often too, so it’s not like I was some cycling beast out there.

There was around a 10-mph wind that day, and I soon figured out that the ride seemed easy when I was going with the wind and much tougher when I was heading into it. My speed varied from about 18 mph to 24 mph, and I wished I had the HRM data to make sure I was giving it a consistent effort.

The mile markers clicked by every 5 miles, and my watch beeped on auto-lap, indicating that my Garmin was doing its job properly. That is, until we got to Mile 20. There was no beep from my Garmin, and I noticed that we were only 9:34 into the split. There’s no way I could ride 5 miles that fast; a 22-mph pace works out to around 13:30. I didn’t worry too much about it at the time, just kept looking at my speedometer and trying to maintain that 20-22 mph pace.

Then I got to Mile 25, and there had still been no “beep” from the Garmin. I glanced at it again and saw the same 9:34 time. Uh-oh. Had I accidentally stopped the watch? No, that would have put the Garmin on a different screen. I reached over to press the buttons on the watch, but there was no response, no matter what button I pushed. Dammit, the GPS had frozen up. Now I had no Garmin in addition to no HRM. There was nothing I could do about that; I just needed to focus on riding.

I had planned to consume 600 calories during the ride by drinking Tailwind, a Gatorade-like concoction that was easier on my stomach. Each scoop of Tailwind powder is 100 calories, so I had put two scoops mixed with water in my main water bottle mounted on my handlebars and four scoops with water in my backup bottle on the seat tube. There were four aid stations on the ride, so if I drained the main bottle each time and replenished it with about a third of my backup bottle plus water from the aid station, I’d never had to drink the warm, super-concentrated beverage in the backup bottle straight up. The plan worked pretty well, because as the day warmed up, I got cold water from the aid stations and the resulting mixture was never too warm or too sweet. Keeping my mix right helped distract me from my technological woes.

Around Mile 30, though, another problem began to impose itself. My legs were starting to cramp up. I think the new saddle, which was very comfortable for my tush and privates, was not so comfortable on my inner thighs, which began to throb in protest. After a while, the pain was almost unbearable. I tried slowing down, but it hardly seemed to help. I tried standing and pedaling for a time, and that did seem to help, but the pain would resume nearly as fast as I was back down in the saddle. Between adjusting my position by standing, riding upright, and the more-efficient aero position I was able to come to a compromise, but still, it hurt. A lot. And I had over 25 miles to go.

Each mile marker brought a little relief. Mile 35; only 21 to go. Mile 40, just 16 left! But around Mile 45 we were slammed with the worst headwinds of the ride. Would we be riding into the wind for the last 10 miles? My pace slowed to 16, even 14 mph. The slower I went, the longer this would go on. Argh! Finally the course turned, and we got some relief from the wind. It was blowing more from the side now. I wasn’t able to ride 22 mph, but at least I was in the high teens. Then we were riding along the run course, and I could see some of the race leaders. We were past Mile 50 now, so there were less than 6 miles to go! I pushed as hard as I could for the last bit of the ride, then finally arrived at the transition area. I was done with the ride! But would I have anything left for the run?

I got off the bike and tried to run with the bike to my spot. It was a struggle, but I could do it. I was moving faster than most of the other riders. I put my bike away, then wrestled my running shoes on, applied more sunscreen, and threw on my hat. I was ready to go. I had been holding back the urge to pee, and now I saw there was a row of porta-potties with only one person waiting for them. I hadn’t managed to pee off the bike, which is the “pro” move, so it seemed prudent to wait a few seconds for an open stall. I went in, did my business, and ran off. The transition took under five minutes, the same as T1, so I think I made the right call.

The run was where I was really going to miss my Garmin. You can’t really look at it while you swim anyways, and the speedometer on the bike gives you at least some information, but on the run, I always rely heavily on the GPS. Even worse, during a tri, there are no clocks on the course. They wouldn’t help much since everyone starts the race at a different time. A couple of times I asked other runners their pace, but I didn’t know if they were pausing during the rest areas, whether they were giving instantaneous pace or average pace, and in any case, it was either someone I was passing or who was passing me, so our paces were by definition different. After a while I gave up on doing even that, and just tried to run by feel.

Occasionally I’d look down at my watch, which said 9:34, as it had since Mile 18 of the ride, and I’d think “Oh that’s not too bad,” but then I’d remember. DOH!

But the main thing I had to contend with was the heat. It was 87 degrees by now, and there was practically no shade on the course. Mile after mile, I baked in the sun. I was passing lots of runners, which was encouraging, but I had no idea if I was running at my target of at least 9-minute miles. Fortunately there were aid stations nearly every mile. I decided early on to walk through each aid station, getting plenty of water, and taking a cup of ice. I’d put half the ice in my hat, then hold on to the remaining ice cubes in my hands. When my hands got numb, I put the ice down my shirt. I was jealous of the women, who could put ice in their jog bras. My ice would slide all the way down inside my shirt to my belt, where it didn’t seem to do much good.

Around Mile 6 we turned onto a shady road, “Lover’s Lane,” which offered some relief, but now there was no cooling breeze. Then it was back into the sun at Mile 7, and instantly I missed the shade. Here there was a timing mat, and I found out later that I’d averaged 9:25 for the first 7 miles. Just 6.1 to go!

At Mile 8 we joined back onto the same road with the cyclists, and I was amazed to see that there were still some riders on the course. If I was feeling bad, I could only imagine what they were going through!

At each aid station I repeated the same routine, and I felt like I was running about the same pace. Lots of runners were stopping to walk between the aid stations, but I kept telling myself “you can run a freaking mile Munger!” I never stopped between the aid stations.

At Mile 10 one of the runners said “Only 3 miles left, right? Anyone can run 3 miles!” I agreed, silently noting that there were actually 3.1 miles left.

I told myself I could pick up the pace here; I was almost done. I’m not sure I really did speed up, but I think that at least kept me from slowing down too much. I kept looking out for mile markers, but not seeing any. Surely we were past Mile 11 by now? Shouldn’t Mile 12 be close? But I didn’t see one more marker. Maybe I missed them, maybe they had fallen down, but it was especially frustrating to not see the markers when I didn’t have a Garmin telling me how far I’d run.

Finally we arrived at the river and we could see the finish area in the distance. It seemed tiny and far away, but surely it must be less than a mile, right? At the last aid station I walked, but I didn’t stop to put ice in my hat; I just held it in my hands and started running right away. This probably saved about 10 seconds but it felt like I was making a “strong” move. I pushed harder, trying to pick up the pace as we neared the finish line. The other runners were pushing too, and so for the first time I wasn’t really passing anyone. The transition area came into view, but I knew we had to run past it, out to the point. Just keep running, Munger.

Then I was in the finish chute, and people were cheering, and the announcer was saying “Here’s Dave Munger, from North Carolina, a first-time Eagleman,” and I was running across the finish line with my arms raised!

I had done it, and I wasn’t dead. I got my medal, and my hat, and a big bottle of water, and wandered through the finish area looking for Greta. Then I found the food, and got more water, and gatorade, and some cookies, and sat down, and eventually Greta found me.

“How did I do?” I asked her. “I think you did great,” she said. I still didn’t know what my time was. I was pretty sure I hadn’t finished in under 5 and a half hours, but maybe under 6 hours? She had the results on her phone: 5:55:05. Not the best possible result, but still a solid performance in these conditions. I was okay with it.

I had done the swim in 42:41, a 1:59/100 pace, which was very good for me.

The ride took 2:52:46, an average of 19.45 mph. The cramps and headwinds in the second half had definitely slowed me down.

The run was 2:09:50, a very slow (for me) 9:54 pace. Again, I slowed way down on the second half. But actually my run was the fastest of the three legs relative to my age group — I was 45th on the run among males 45-49.

Overall I was 73rd out of 209 in my division, so not bad for a first effort. Again, I was hoping for more, but I will take this.

I do think that a couple of adjustments could have given me a much better result. A different saddle, one that doesn’t cause my legs to cramp up, could have saved me 5-10 minutes on the ride. And I think I could have at least maintained my first-half of the run pace of 9:25 for the whole run if I’d had a working Garmin to let me know where I stood. That would have saved me another 6 minutes, for 10 to 15 minutes faster overall. I’ve since learned how to reset a Garmin 920, so if it freezes up again, I can restart it (fyi, you hold the power button down for 15 seconds. I actually tried that on the run but only held it for 10 seconds. Aargh!).

But my first-ever half-Ironman is done, and I survived. I’m pretty sure Ironman isn’t going to be my thing, but I’ve learned to never say never. I’m definitely going to do the race at Augusta in the fall. Maybe I can get that elusive 5:30 there! Besides, as Brolympus points out, this one doesn't count:

Monday, April 25, 2016

Race recap: The Leatherwood 10-mile ultra!

Come to Leatherwood again, they said. It'll be fun, they said.

So I did.

Leatherwood is the site of my one attempt to run an ultra, in 2014. That didn't turn out so well.

I came back in 2015 to enjoy a weekend in a nice cabin and run the 10-mile race. That went considerably better.

This year, still recovering from injury, I decided once again to run the 10-miler. I told myself in no uncertain terms that I was only running the race "for fun." Arriving the day before the race at the palatial cabin Sam had reserved for our group, I did the funnest thing I could think of -- climb up onto the giant horse sculpture in front of the house:

Yeehaw! Somehow I don't think my wife thinks this is as funny as I do....

I didn't restrain myself in beer-drinking the night before the race as this was all supposed to be "fun." That might have been a bit of a mistake.

The next morning I awoke early enough to see Karl, Sam, and Tristan start the 50k:

Smile now while you have the chance!

The 10-miler didn't start for another two hours, plenty of time to go back to the cabin, drink another cup of coffee, have breakfast, and get ready for my race. That extra cup of coffee might have been another bit of a mistake.

Finally the five of us who would be running in the 10-miler piled into cars and drove back to the start, where we met fellow DARTer Chad Randolph, who was also running the 10-miler:

Stephanie, Michelle, Chad, Chris, me, and Ashley

We had found out that the course would be different from last years' 10-miler. This time it would mostly follow the second loop of the 50k, the one that had given me so many problems two years ago. Fortunately it had been a relatively dry week and race day was cool and sunny, so I hoped it wouldn't be as muddy as before.

The course started on a paved road, which allowed the runners to string out nicely. I figured the race would take about as long as a road half-marathon, so I should probably be running the road portion at my half-marathon pace, about 8:00 per mile. I completed Mile 1 in 8:14, which seemed about right considering it involved 84 feet of climbing. There were maybe 15 people ahead of me. Then we turned onto the first trail, a singletrack that headed across a couple small creeks and then up a major hill. I passed a few people on the hill, traded places with a woman a couple times, then crested onto a rolling section before hitting a steep climb. Since I was walking this part anyways, and since this was supposed to be for "fun," I pulled out my phone and snapped a selfie:

I didn't see Chad behind me (in red) until I looked at this photo later!
Everything was feeling great until I hit the first steep downhill of the race, about halfway through Mile 3. Then I began to feel the beginnings of a cramp in my quads. I've never cramped in my quads! What was up with that? After another 100 yards the cramp was strong enough that I decided to try to stop and stretch. Chad and woman behind me in the photo above passed me, and Chad looked concerned. I said it was just a little cramp and I should be okay, but I was concerned too. Leatherwood doesn't do switchbacks; you're either going straight up or straight down, and any hill steep enough to cause me to break my stride was leading to cramping.

Somehow I made my way down the steep sections (with a couple more people passing me) until the trail broke out onto a gravel road. Now the incline was less and I was able to run with my usual stride. It hurt, but it was bearable. Near the end of Mile 4 was an aid station, where Chris caught up with me and I had a couple cups of Tailwind and a couple pieces of banana, hoping they would help with the cramping. Now we were on a paved road for most of Mile 5 and I picked up the pace to around 8:10, again up a gradual hill. I caught one guy who had passed me earlier, and at the end of the mile arrived at the infamous creek crossing. I had done this crossing two years ago and knew it was no big deal so I plunged right in. The guy right ahead of me was taking it more gingerly so I managed to pass him in the creek:

The water was actually refreshing!

Next was another big climb, which I remembered being horrendously muddy in 2014. This time the footing was great, and I was able to walk/run up it pretty easily. I began to figure I was through with the quad-cramping. I passed another runner (a shirtless guy) on the climb, but he passed me again on the next downhill as I noted that the cramping had not gone away. But fortunately there was another big climb ahead and I passed shirtless guy again.

This became a theme of the last half of the race, me passing shirtless guy on the climbs, he passing me back on the descents. There was a long, gradual climb on a gravel road up to the second aid station at Mile 6.5, and I figured I'd lost him for good, but then the trail descended rapidly and I began to cramp up again nearly as badly as before and he passed me back. I passed him yet again on the next climb and then hit a more gradual downhill that I was able to run down without breaking my stride. I figured I could hold of the shirtless guy, but before I knew it, he had passed me again around Mile 8.

At Mile 8.2 on my Garmin we came back out onto a gravel road, and Chris had caught up with me as well. "There's no way I'm going to stay with you on the road, Dave," he said, putting a little pressure on me to pick up my pace. Shirtless guy was in my sights ahead, and I gave it everything I had. This was a gradual downhill to the finish, about a mile long, and I was running a 7:10-ish pace.

About halfway down the road I passed Shirtless Guy again, and he just said "go get 'em," so I figured he was cooked. I strode as hard as I could all the way to the finish, which my GPS clocked at 9.3 miles (inaccurate as GPS tends to be on trails). Chris had passed Shirtless Guy too, so the two guys wearing their Brolympus Racing Team shirts finished as a team!

Go Brolympians!
I ended up 18th overall, just behind Chad. DARTer Ashley Neff was ahead of both of us as second female, and it wasn't long before Michelle and Stephanie rolled in as well.

My quads were sore, but I don't think I injured them. A few days of taking it easy and I expect they will be ready to run another day.

All the 10-milers headed home for showers, then returned to have some beers and watch the 50kers finish:


Tristan got the "soccer tunnel" finish as he completed his first ultra!

Back at the cabin that night we were able to really let loose and celebrate a great race. Karl even filmed me doing Old Skool rap in our rustic country lodge:

Bustin out the rhymes Whodini-style

Primary objective achieved: I had fun! In hindsight, the several beers the night before the race, plus the coffee before the race, may have contributed to some dehydration on race day, which might have caused the cramping. But I still finished strong with no permanent damage, so I'll take it.

Leatherwood, for all the grief it has caused me, is one of my favorite races, and I hope it continues to provide great times in the years to come. Details of my race are below.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Race Recap: The Belews Lake Tri- er- Duathlon

On Friday morning I was in a bit of a panic. The aero wheels I had borrowed for the race were great, but my running / cycling / swim buddy had left out a key component: The cassette (the gears on the rear wheel). I could use the cassette from my wheel but I didn't have the tool to do that. My buddy suggested taking it to the local bike shop. But the more I thought about it, the more I wasn't sure I wanted to use the wheels. The forecast for Saturday's Belews Lake International Triathlon was for temperatures in the low 40s, with winds of 18 miles per hour, gusting to over 30. Aero wheels make a bike more unstable in any conditions, and gusting winds make the task of handling bike even more challenging, because they give it a bigger profile in the crosswinds. I decided to stick with my tried-and-true wheels. That turned out to be an excellent decision.

Fast forward to Saturday morning. As I left my house, the thermometer read 37 degrees. I didn't notice much wind, but it wasn't really forecast to pick up until 9 or 10 am -- right when I'd be getting on my bike in the race. Sure enough, when I arrived at Belews Lake 90 minutes later, the wind had already picked up. I wore my down jacket to the race check-in. At the body-marking station, racers stripped off several layers and left their clothes in heaps to get their numbers and divisions marked — only to cover them back up to avoid freezing!

I walked my bike down to the lake and looked down at the swim course. The wind was howling across the course, and there were whitecaps in the water where we were scheduled to be swimming in an hour! Here's a photo of the course:

If you look carefully, you can see the orange buoys we were supposed to swim around
As the morning progressed, the wind just got stronger, and after I laid out my gear in the transition area, I headed to the warm up tent. About 30 minutes before the race start, a guy popped into the tent and said "swim's cancelled." Most folks let out a sigh of relief. I went outside to see what the problem was and saw that the whitecaps and gotten even larger, and one of the course-marker buoys had blown at least 100 yards out of position. And the wind was only forecast to get stronger. Probably the right call!

Waiting for an open-water swim in a down jacket....

So now we would be running a duathlon - a 5k run, 27-mile ride, and another 5k run. I decided to wear my cycling shirt, arm-warmers, and bike gloves for the run. Then my first transition would be easy -- just throw on my helmet and bike shoes and go. But as I prepared to start the run, I noticed that I had forgotten the toe-covers on my bike shoes. Nothing I could do about that -- I guessed I'd just have cold feet during the ride. Next I tried to start my heart rate monitor -- no luck with that either. No problem, I could run and ride by feel.

I headed up to the start line, where the race had already begun. As they had planned to do with the swim, runners were being released gradually to minimize congestion in the transition area. I ended up lining up near the back. No worries, I thought, It'll be fun passing people on the run and ride.

Sure enough, as soon as I started I was passing people with regularity. The 5k course was a hilly out-and-back:

Holy mother of mountains!
The total elevation gain for the course was 213 feet. Compare that to the "hilly" Tightwad 5k course I ran in January -- 141 vertical feet. I did that race at an average 7:07 pace and was dying by the end. This time around, a similar pace felt comfortable. I guess the three months of training since then have paid off! I ended up measuring the course at 3.23 miles, with a 7:06 pace, officially a time of 22:53, feeling like I had plenty left for the ride. As I passed by the finish, Ryan, the official announcer (and a running buddy of mine), said he figured I'd passed over half the field during the run. I'm not sure about that but it definitely gave me a boost.

My transition went smoothly (1:25), and soon I was on the bike. My plan for the ride had been to pace myself using heart rate zones: Zone 4 for the climbs and Zone 3 for everything else. But that plan had to be tossed because I didn't have an HRM. My hope had been to go at least 20 mph on average, or 21 if I was really feeling good. But that plan hadn't accounted for the winds. By the time I was on the bike, the forecast proved to be quite accurate: 18-mph winds gusting to 30+. The one consolation was that the wind was mostly from the side. The course layout, a double loop, turned out to be very forgiving for this wind:

The wind was from the northwest, but the ride was mostly north/south, so for the most part it was just a crosswind. It was tending to a tailwind on the southbound part of the route, which was mostly uphill, and much of the dead-on headwinds we got on the northbound portion of the course were on downhill segments. As on the run, I passed lots of riders on the bike leg, and I'm pretty sure no one passed me, so I had a good ride. I also was experimenting with Tailwind for my nutrition on this tri. I've never carried anything but water to drink during a race but I've tried it at aid stations during ultras, and unlike Gatorade, it goes down quite well. My mixture had 3 scoops, or 300 calories' worth of nutrition, and I made sure to drink regularly. I'd almost finished it by the time I got to the aid station around Mile 15, so I decided to grab some water. I may have been going a bit too fast, because as I grabbed the water, it squirted out of the top like a geyser. Fortunately, I managed to hang on and dumped it into the bottle with the rest of my Tailwind.

There were a couple points on the back side where the wind really whipped across the course. I had to lean in and oversteer dramatically to counter the wind. I'm not sure if I would have been able to maintain control if I'd been using aero wheels! That said, many riders did finish the course using aero wheels, and one brave biker even had a disk on the rear wheel, so maybe I'm just being chicken. Either way, I don't think they would have given a huge advantage except for the few miles on the course when we really were riding straight into the wind.

In the end, I finished the ride, which I measured at 27.2 miles, at a 19.7-mph pace, officially 1:23:03. That was a little slower than my goal, but given the conditions, I'm pretty happy with the ride.

I didn't feel especially cold during the ride (and I LOVED the new arm-warmers), but as I rode into the finish I could tell that my feet were quite numb. I hopped off the bike and hobbled into the transition zone. I found I just couldn't get my legs to move as fast as I wanted. I sat down and took the time to double-knot my shoes and take one last swig of Tailwind from the extra bottle I had in the transition area. Then I climbed back on my feed and stumbled out for the run. My T2 time was 2:13, slower than ideal, but not terrible.

Starting out on the run, I really struggled to get my legs moving. I simply could not feel my feet, and while I trusted that they would do what I wanted them to do, my legs were cold enough that they were not responding like they normally do. Add to that the fact we were running up an 8 percent grade, and it felt like I was crawling up the hill. The guy ahead of me actually started walking less than 100 yards from the transition zone, so clearly I wasn't the only one struggling with this!

After the hill leveled off a bit, I did manage to gradually pick up the pace, but nothing like what I had done during the first run. I made it over the top of the hill and started heading back down, but still I struggled to make my legs move like I wanted them to. I still had no feeling in my feet! I've experienced numbness in my feet after a ride before, but never to this degree. It was very frustrating. Somehow I managed an 8:01 first mile.

For the next two miles, I gradually warmed up a bit, sliding off my arm warmers and breaking a sweat on my forehead. But the feeling never returned to my feet. I did gradually increase the pace, with a 7:37 Mile 2 and a 7:26 Mile 3, but I never hit the pace I had attained for the first run, and I felt like, if not for my cold muscles, I could have run faster. Overall my time for Run 2 was 24:38.

My total time for the duathlon was 2:13:56. This turned out to be fourth in my age group by less than two minutes. Argh! But it was my best age-group result in a triathlon to date, so I'll take it!

It was frigid in the finish area so I didn't hang around for long. I put sweats on over my race gear, put my down jacket back on, and packed everything up quickly to get back to the car. It was only then that I realized that I hadn't taken a post-race photo, so I snapped a quick shot in the car:

Still looking pretty cold!
So not the ideal setting for a duathlon (or triathlon), but I'm pretty happy with how I performed under the conditions. I'd like to try another one before my main race in June, and I'd also like to sign up for a nice, flat road 5k to see how I do in that. We'll see if I manage to do either of those things! Next up is a 10-mile trail race at Leatherwood. Details on yesterday's race are below:

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Race Preview: The Belews Lake International Triathlon

My first triathlon of 2016 will be a "tune-up" with a total of 34.1 miles of swimming, biking, and running. In other words, it matches my longest triathlon. I consider it a tune up because I'm training to do a 70.3-mile half-Ironman in June.

The Belews Lake Tri is known for having cold weather, a hilly but fair ride, and a tough run. This year, the weather is currently forecast at 47 degrees for the start, with a chance of rain. The organizers are concerned enough about the cold that they added a duathlon option -- run 5k, bike 27 miles, run another 5k -- in lieu of the full triathlon.

But 47 degrees doesn't strike me as awful. I'll be in a wetsuit for the swim so that will be fine, and on the bike I've been riding in much colder temperatures this winter. Conditions should be nearly perfect for running. The only downside is that there does look to be some wind.

So what's my plan for the race?

On the swim, this distance shouldn't be a problem for me. My training swims have been close to 3000 yards, so 1500 meters should be a relatively easy effort. I've done two open-water swims in the past week, and with my wetsuit, I'm comfortable swimming faster than 2:00 per 100 yards, which is much faster than I swam at last year's International tri. I think a stretch goal might be to swim 1:45/100, which works out to a sub-29-minute swim leg. For a B goal, 2:00/100, or 33:00. Both of these would be considerably faster than last year's 37:21 swim.

For T1, this will be the first time I have to remove a wetsuit. I don't have a lot of practice doing this but I've gotten some tips from fellow triathletes, so in the best case I think I can do it in 30 seconds. I will have to put on a little extra gear as well -- arm warmers and gloves, and a shirt -- so I'd be happy with a T1 under 3:00. (Compare to 1:51 last year)

On the ride, I'm actually glad that it starts with a gradual uphill. This will give me a good chance to warm up. Hopefully I can keep the pace in the 19 mph range here.

The second 5 miles are all downhill, so hopefully I can really crank things up and be solidly in the mid-20s here. Then the next 10 miles are mostly uphill, so once again probably 18-19 mph there, and finally a final 10 miles with only one big climb that should be really fast. From what I've read, keeping your heart rate in Zone 4 is a good plan for this distance. That seems pretty high to me though -- even riding in Zone 3 for 30 minutes takes a lot out of me. I might fudge this a bit and look to ride in Zone 4 for the climbs, letting it slide back to Z3 for the descents. A Goal for the ride: 21 mph, about 1:17. B Goal is 20 mph, 1:21.

T2 should be more straightforward, so I'll look to be sub-2:00.

The run is a notoriously hilly double-out-and-back. Even though Stumpy Creek was supposed to be a hilly run, this one will be hillier, with three big climbs and several smaller ones. That said, I felt very strong on the 8-mile brick run I completed last weekend, so I think a pretty quick pace will be warranted. My plan is to try to hold back to around an 8:00 pace for the first (uphill) mile, then pick up the pace, ideally averaging 7:30 for the whole run. If I did that, my time would be 46:36. B goal is 8:00 miles, or 50:00. But if I'm feeling good I might push the pace even more...we'll just have to wait and see!

After a very high workload last week, I'm on a cutback week now, and I can really feel my muscles settling into place after aching all week. It's giving me confidence that I can have a strong race.

To sum up:

A Goals:
Swim: 1:45/100y, 29:00
T1: 3:00
Bike: 21mph, 1:17
T2: 2:00
Run: 7:30/mi, 46:36
Total: 2:38

B Goals:
Swim: 2:00/100y, 33:00
T1: 4:00
Bike: 20mph, 1:21
T2: 2:00
Run: 8:00/mi, 49:43
Total: 2:50