Monday, May 31, 2010

the first year and an awesome race outfit

Lately I've been thinking back to my first few years in triathlon to remember the excitement I felt at each race. There was no pressure, no anxiety (well, except maybe that first Dragonfly during my panicky, dog-paddled swim), no risk of "failure." The newness of the sport was part of it I'm sure, but after finding these pictures, I realize it was really this awesome race suit that did it for me.

This picture is from Mightymite 1996, my very first race. It used to finish with two laps around the football field at the high school. Please note the man in the background, in his tiny speedo, which was the only thing men wore back then. I also like the woman next to me who looks like she just jumped up from a picnic and started running. Also noteworthy is my neon  yellow race belt, which I bought just for the race, and who, after 13 good race seasons, was retired last year and replaced with an identical one (but with those darn snaps instead of the lace lock gadgets). 

I was hooked after this race, or at least hooked enough to sign up for another one. Not hooked enough to buy my own bike or start training. I had ridden a borrowed mountain bike with road tires, and when I got to the one significant hill on the course, I had to get off and walk. I had no clue how to shift it. I think I finished 4th in my AG, just out of the hardware.

My second triathlon ever was Dragonfly 1996. It was held in August back then, and this particular year they were draining the lower lake, and the race was held in the much deeper, darker waters of the upper lake. Now this is where I'd learned to waterski, so I knew the lake well. Which meant I had learned a) how deep the water was (over 200 ft!), and b) to be terrified of the overflow spillway right around the corner from the swim (I have no idea why). I attribute my excessive hyperventilation to this.

This picture appears to be before the race, with my great-aunt Ethelyn. I think I was trying to hide my belly button in that suit, and I was almost successful. But I was totally in style, I promise! 

I rode the same borrowed mountain bike this time, with no walking hills, even when riding up the dam. The run was an incredibly hilly 4 mile out and back. I remember when I got the paper results in the mail a few months later how disappointed I was: they had taken 10 minutes from my bike split and added it to my run split, changing it from 28 to 38! They probably looked at the hand-written splits and decided there was no way anybody could've ridden that slow.

This race outfit lasted only that first season; I traded up for a one piece the next year. As for the bike, I borrowed a Peugeot road bike that was slightly too big (learned when I dismounted and crashed down on the top tube) for 1997. Peugeot made bikes, you ask? Yes, until 1987. That bike was old even then.

By 1998 I bought my very own bike, a beautiful green Cannondale, clipless pedals, and a monochromatic race suit. I entered an Olympic distance tri in Chattanooga, and did my longest ride ever the weekend before. It was 20 miles. I wrecked at the end of it.

It was a slow progression into the multisport world, and I've enjoyed many years of it. I think it's time to get back to my roots again: the excitement of lining up on the beach, the thrill of racing and seeing how far I can push myself. I may even bring back the neon flower suit for motivation.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Honeymoon

We spent an incredible 8 days in St. Lucia, doing lots of training... er, well, actually make that NO training to speak of. Which was awesome. On about the second day there we tried out the resort's treadmill, which was located in the open-air gym. Surrounded by palm trees, a view of the ocean... it sounds really great. It was a nice place, except that by 6:30 am, the heat index is already at least 90. So after about 15 minutes on that treadmill, it overheated. In the days following, we took turns running 5 minutes each on it, and gave it a 5 min break in between. We added to that a 30 min run on the very canted beach one morning, plus lots of snorkel-aided slow swimming, scuba diving, hiking and zip-lining in the rain forests, kayaking in the bay, and adrenaline-pumping driving on the wrong side of the narrow, pot-holed, 25% graded roads along the coast. Oh, and I almost forgot the climb up to Fort Rodney, which included some rock- and stair-climbing. Of course I have to include some pictures as evidence. 

First, the fort overlooking Rodney Bay:

At Diamond Waterfall in the Botanical Gardens:

Overlooking Soufriere and the Pitons:  

Kayaking....or rather, resting while sitting on a kayak: 

Demonstrating the zip-line perfect take-off form:

You really can't smile while holding a regulator in your mouth. This was the best we could do.

Hard to smile with a snorkel too... but Jeremy is doing a pretty good job.


We did spend a little time sitting on the beach drinking some rum.

I'll have to work on getting some videos online. Now back to lounging and drinking rum all day. I mean training. Yeah, that's it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

record breaking

It occurred to me at some point last week that I haven't done a half ironman in over a year. The disastrous attempt to cover that distance in New Orleans, combined with 2 full IMs later in the year, left no room (desire) to do one of my past favorite distances. Writing that last sentence made me wonder what my current favorite distance is. I'll have to get back to you on that one.

So onto the race that I have now done 8 times, if my finger-counting is accurate. First of all, I need to drop this whole "I USED to be able to do such-and-such" attitude that I've had for over a year (see NOLA) now. I think one of the reasons I feel the need to remember past performances is the husband. He didn't know me before this recent wave of slowness, and when he tells me he's proud of my sucky run time, it's almost frustrating. I want to yell NONONO! Let me look up results from 4 years ago; THAT was a good run! So for now, I'm going to try and compare my races to last year's, which tended to be mostly record breaking, in the slow kind of way. 

This year was the 28th running of the Gulf Coast Triathlon, one of the classics down in Panama City Beach. It runs on much of the same course as IMFL, except it's flatter. Yes, it's possible. So a few concerns leading into the race were 1) the wind, as usual, 2) the threat of thunderstorms, and 3) the oil spill in the gulf. The potential of this oil spill to hurt the beautiful gulf coast just breaks my heart, and I was hoping to get to swim there at least one more time before it hits. As of now, I think they're doing a pretty good job of keeping it off the beaches, but time will tell. (Side note: my family has always gone on vacations to the gulf coast, from Gulf Shores to Panama City, and we spent lots of time in Perdido Key. The bike course even goes by Mom and Dad's honeymoon spot, the Fountaine Bleau. It's still kicking too, after 40 years.)
The oil stayed away, the thunderstorms held off, and the wind was a usual part of the day. Now the details. 

Swim: The breakers seemed smaller than usual, so there wasn't much of a problem pushing through them. The warm, green tea-colored water seemed to be dense with algae and murkier than usual, so I defaulted to my closing-eyes-under-water, so as to not freak out at the darkness (dark water means you can't see those large predatory sea dwellers before they snap you up, obviously). If I were to catch a glimpse of something underneath me, I'd probably have a heart attack out there. 

 I know! Doesn't look that bad, right?

Even though the breakers weren't that bad, the sea was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to return soup to a deli (George Costanza). I figure some strong swimmers and larger people are kind of like barges through the ocean. They cut through the waves with little tossing about. On the other hand, I am like a toy sail boat who gets thrown about, up and down, over and under. Somehow I managed to have fun out there despite the tossing. There was no freaking out or hyperventilating. It was more like body surfing. I happened to spend a little too much time having fun though, and set a new record for myself, 4 minutes slower than ever before.

If just my Garmin was waterproof, I'd have to report my actual distance swum. I think it was something like this:

Uhhh, can I have a do-over? It was almost comical how every other person I'd see out there was swimming almost exactly perpendicular to me. I may have broadsided a few. I was breathing every other stroke and sighting every 4th, and still I was never headed toward the buoy on my next sighting. At one point I was well on my way to Tallahassee. Thankfully I exited the water in the general vicinity of the timing mats.

T1: My only real thought was, "where are all the bikes?"

Bike: There is always always wind coming from some direction out there. It is May after all. I had told husband to go easy for the first 10 miles, so I followed that rule as well. We had a short out and back with a good tail wind the first 3.5 miles, a little headwind the next 7ish. Turning north on 79, I knew there was wind tunnel potential in that pine tree alley. Thankfully it was mostly crosswind. I picked it up here and started seeing the speed increase. In the back of my mind was the last 10 miles out, along 388, which has finally been freshly paved after 10 years of bumpiness! 388 proved to be slightly windier, but overall, I was surprised at the speed I was able to maintain. Coming back into town, especially along the beach, there were some stronger cross gusts that made me grip the handlebars, but nothing outrageous. I kept reminding myself of how many bike workouts I'd done in the last couple of years with Liz, and how much stronger I must be on the bike. I managed to have my fastest bike ever on that course, and even grabbed #1 in my AG! That's new for me.

T2: Coming in toward the dismount line, going all of 14 mph, I chuckled at all the volunteers telling me to slow down. I was about to show them all how to dismount. I had unstrapped the shoes and was swinging the leg over for a flying dismount when it caught on the spare tube and caused a wobble that zapped the grace right out of it. Thankfully there was no fall, and I landed inches from the line. Then I continued on to win my AG split for T2!! Can you imagine, I ranked first in 2 events in the same race! I was excited to see that there were still not many bikes back in the racks at this point.

Run: I ran out of transition with a guy who immediately asked what my goal pace was, and then continued to tell me he had done hundreds of 40/10 bricks on this course, with the run being at a sub-7 pace. You go for it then, dude. I let him go at the first water stop, only to pass him again at mile 10. I thought surely I could manage a 1:45 on this course, given that my last marathon here I'd averaged that for both laps. The stomach thought otherwise, and continued to give me stitches until I figured out how to run more hunched over and find relief. I'm sure that was a nice sight. I straightened up just in time for Amy to take my picture out in front of the Terp house. 

I really tried to smile for this picture. At that point I was just d.o.n.e. with this whole experience. I had just looked at my watch for the first time and seen that it might not be my worst race here, but it surely wasn't my best. I couldn't blame the weather (ok, maybe the wind during the swim); it was mostly overcast until 10 miles into the run, which doesn't mean it wasn't hot. But past years have seen 100+F, and it was far less than that, 85 tops. 

I'm hoping J will do a guest blog post giving his account of his second ever 1/2 IM. He PRed by quite a bit (despite the puking x3), most likely due to the excellent coaching he had :). And while I'm not ready to retire, I am ready to retire this slowness once and for all. I have now seen success in 2 of the 5 events, with a 3rd on the horizon (T1), and I'm not stopping there. 

Next up is my local race, Heatwave!

Epilogue: J and I spent the rest of Saturday and Sunday morning eating pizza, drinking beer, and floating on the clear, flat ocean in our tubes (that was Sunday). We must've drifted to a different beach, different state maybe, to see that big of a change! It was beautiful.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

to the coast we go

It's Gulf Coast time! I haven't been to this race in a couple of years, but I think I can still point out every bump in the road after so many loops. 

In our final race preparations, J wore his new wetsuit for the very first time. This was also the very first time he'd gone swimming in any wetsuit, and apparently he was underimpressed by my assertions that wetsuits are the best thing that's ever happened to a less than stellar swimmer. Until he actually swam in it. A few laps in, he said, "so that's where my feet are supposed to be!" and continued on to swim a 100 about 15 seconds faster than he ever had before. He's been won over to my camp now. 

The non-oil-slicked-as-of-now water is still a cool... wait, crap... it's gotten warmer. According to the nearest buoy it is now 78F, but started the day around 75. But wetsuit or no, and being the lousy swimmer that I am, I still want to do the swim rather than a time trial start on the bike or some ridiculousness. 

The website says that it's been since the early 90s that the swim had to be canceled due to rough water. I can only imagine the surf that day, since I've seen many other swims held in what would probably call for a red flag on any other day. I distinctly remember watching a wave of older women go ahead of mine, and one swimmer had a particularly difficult time getting past the breakers. The crowd noticed and started cheering her on with the roar of applause and whooping calls. She turned back around with new found courage and made it out to the smoother water. It still scared me to death. :)

So my expert forecast calls for 75F water, blue skies, light wind, 80F air, 30% humidity, and the fastest race of my life (on this amount of training). And is going to best his 1/2IM PR by over an hour.

Race results to come.