Monday, August 12, 2013

If you don't try you'll only fail

And I’m back from a weeklong solo adventure to the Midwest.  When I was picking out conferences in the spring I happened to notice that the National Conference on Ecosystem Restoration (in a Chicago suburb) fell the week before Steelhead 70.3 (Benton Harbor, MI, two hours away).  Sold.  It was to become my attempt to qualify for Vegas world champs.  The problem (good one I guess) is that I qualified unexpectedly at St. George.  So, my motivation went out the window in mid-May.  I’ll avoid details, but let’s just say that my last 2 ½ months of training have not been pretty.  I was going to have to rely on my residual fitness and conservative racing to carry me through.

A lot of planning goes into combining work and training or racing trips, especially with this being my first time checking a bike on a plane.  This trip included two poster presentations and an oral presentation over four days of conference followed by a weekend of triathloning.  Preparing for my presentations went as typical—getting my stuff together at the last minute, picking up posters from the printer on my way to the airport, etc.  Madness.  Monday afternoon I had arrived at the conference hotel with all my gear, and my bike was in the same number of pieces as it had been when I left Tucson.  Success! 

Work plus triathlon travel=lots of gear!
Tuesday through Friday went as typical for a conference.  The days were a blur of technical and plenary sessions (read chugging coffee) followed by evenings of socializing (read drinking) with potential project partners—definitely not my normal race-week routine.  But I was able to mix in several good runs and a good ride (in the hotel gym) and two good swims in the indoor 25-meter saltwater pool.  It’s good to get put up in the Renaissance sometimes J

Wrapped up the conference on Friday and FINALLY re-built my bike.  Up early on Saturday for the drive over into Michigan.  Packet pickup was relatively quick and easy, followed by a quick brick on the bike course.  Scoped out the course, and was pretty sure I could look forward to a choppy swim.  Transition was super long (like 1/3 mile) and narrow, and I thought it would probably be very hard to navigate. The bike was rolling but without any major climbs.  Couldn’t preview much of the run course…  The plan was to go hard on the swim, be conservative on the bike, and have a solid run without putting myself in so deep a hole that I wouldn’t recover in time for Vegas (5 weeks later).

The longest, skinniest transition I've ever seen!
Off to the hotel (40 minutes away…) and took care of the final prep.  4 am alarm (1 am AZ time, yikes!), but as usual I was up and ready to go immediately.  Drove to the site, and threw my wheels on.  Realized immediately that my rear brake was rubbing, and I couldn’t get it set correctly!  Went straight to mechanical in transition, and they were able to work some magic in 15 minutes.  I was VERY glad that I got there so early—otherwise my race likely would have ended before it began.  Quick transition setup, and I was good to go. 

My warmup consisted of a 1-mile jog down the beach to the swim start with the wetsuit in-hand.  I watched the first few waves go off into the chop, and folks were not exactly enthusiastic to start swimming.  Seriously, I was having a hard time figuring out where the starting line was because people were slowly wading into the water.  It turns out the start line was on the water’s edge and people were just REALLY slow to dive in.
Got a quick 5-minute swim in before moving into the the corral.  When the horn sounded, I charged off, high-stepping and dolphin-diving.  Apparently others don’t practice this because I was alone at the first turn buoy (never happens).  The swim was definitely a hilly one.  I caught my rhythm fairly early (sight at the top of the hill, breathe on the way down), but it was not a fast swim for sure and I got a good advance on hydration.  This photo is from the day before just up the beach, but this is pretty much what we got to swim in.

Lake Michigan is big. Great, even.  And choppy.
Exited the water quickly, and I was happy to see most of the bikes still in transition when I came through.  On to the ride.

I found the course pretty spectacular.  Coming from Tucson, it was nice to see some actual greenery.  If you have done Vineman, the forest is very similar.  Take 1/3 of the wineries and replace them with blueberry farms.  Take the second 1/3 and replace them with corn and soybeans.  Leave the last 1/3 as winery.  There you have the steelhead bike course.  A few photos from along the course.

Forest scenery along Lake Michigan.
Corn on the left, blueberries up ahead on the right.
Awesome area about 15 miles (??) into the bike course.

Although I planned to ride fairly easy, I found myself constantly pushing to overtake the next person I saw.  I felt great until the last 10 miles, where I think my lack of bike fitness started to catch up to me.  I knew the run would be…interesting.

Quick in-and-out of T2, and I tried to ignore the cramping I felt in my stomach.  There is a good hill from mile 1-1.5 or so, and then two loops of rolling roads and paved walking trails.  I really liked the course!  I constantly switched back and forth with a guy in an older AG until I finally gave in to my stomach cramps around mile 7, and from there on, I walked most of the aid stations to keep from falling apart.  I thought I could probably pull out a PR by forcing myself through the cramps, but I was pretty sure I would be in a world of hurt the week after.  Vegas crept into my head, and I decided to (relatively) cruise it home.  I came in around 4:48 (0:33, 2:26, and 1:42-ish), which accomplished my goal.  My lack of cycling fitness definitely came back to get me on the run course.

Right at the start of both the bike and run courses.
I hung out for a while chatting it up with several other finishers who had come from various places around the Midwest and Canada, which reminded me of why I enjoy racing so much.  It is awesome to meet so many enthusiastic folks from all over the place with the common goal of pushing themselves and making it hurt just to see what they’re made of.  Some were hoping for a Vegas slot, and some were testing out the waters to see if they could actually finish the ironman they were already signed up for next year.  A few were just trying to complete their first triathlon (what a beast to start with!).  Of course there are a bunch of people that miss the point—blatant drafters, poor sports, etc.—but I think they are the minority. 

I am happy with my experience, and really had a great time exploring a part of the country I haven’t been in before.  That said, a week was too long to be away from home.  Next time, the family has to come with me!  After a couple days of recovery, my build for Vegas has started.  Hopefully I can improve my bike fitness enough in the next three weeks so that I won’t be dying while running through the hills in 100 degrees! 

Definitely needed to make up for lost time when I got back to Tucson :)

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