July 11, 2015
To say that I was undertrained for this event would be an understatement. Ironman Wisconsin severely burnt me out on triathlon at the end of last season. I needed a break, and the northern winter was happy to accomidate. In an effort to keep myself off the couch, I focused my energy of the one discipline that I could easily carry me into fall and winter…running. The plan was mostly successful. I ran three marathons and a 50k since Madison. My swimming and cycling languished. I got into the pool on occasion and made a few painful rides on the bike trainer. But I really did no “training” until after my 50k…one month ago.
Here are my swimming and cycling stats since Madison (over 10 months ago):
Bike Trainer: 7 sessions
Cycling: 3 times (all in the past month)
Pool Swimming: 11 times (5 times since June, before that…January)
Open Water Swimming: Not Once…
Yep. That is over ten months of training. At least I was running consistently.
To complicate my return to triathlon training, a few open water issues have recently emerged.
The first is Swimmers Itch. For those who are unfamiliar with it, swimmers itch is caused by a parasite that lives in shallow open water. It burrows under the skin and causes an allergic reaction…resulting in a very itchy rash. It pops up yearly as water tempuratures climb. When it shows up in a lake, it generally gets posted. This has been the worst year for swimmers itch in a long time. This killed any motivation of jumping into a local watering hole.
The second concern is much rarer, but potentially deadly. A parasitic amoeba (which has almost never been reported this far north) had infected and killed three otherwise healthy people after swimming. It enters thru the nose and gets into the brain causing swelling and encephalitis. With 10,000+ lakes in MN…most of which are popular with swimmers, the odds are very low. But this has also kept me out of the water.
OWS (open water swims) are also a logistical issue for me. I don’t swim alone, and I don’t have a swim buddy. So, my OWS tend to be at congested beaches with lifeguards present. This is not ideal. But OWS are so much different then pool swimming that they are essential for triathletes.
Well, not this triathlete, not this year.
Suffice to say, I was undertrained. My goal was to make todays event a useful training session for the rest of the season. I also just wanted to enjoy myself. Ironman was wonderful, but I needed a break, and that break needed to end…or I would not return to the sport.
Good thing I only signed up for the sprint (short course)!
I drove to Lake Nokomis the day before the race for the mandatory packet pick-up. These usually annoy me, but I understand the need at triathlons and at larger marathons. It helped me get back into the swing of triathlon. The triathlon rituals are different then running. There are a lot more moving parts. I got my bib and timing chip. I also got my race shirt (60% cotton…I don’t understand this), a truckers hat (for being one of the first 100 registrants) and a bonus tech shirt for participating in two of the three triathlons in this series. I love bonus swag! I then listened to the pre-race course talk. There is always a lot of useful info at these…road conditions, tight turns, aid station locations, rule summary, etc. Water tempurature was 75.8F. Cutoff for wetsuits is 78F…so it would likely be wetsuit legal (but not mandatory). Bikes could be dropped off, but not required (I elected to wait until race morning).
Finally, I checked out the expo. There was one item I wanted…a nose clip. Given the reports of life threatening parasitic encephalitis, this seemed like a reasonable precaution for $5. Never wore one before, and trying something new on race morning is never a good idea, but this seemed like a reasonable exception to the rule.
I returned to Lake Nokomis on race morning with all my gear (which I rechecked at least 5 times…I was out of practice). I got there insanely early. I arrived at 4:30 am. My wave would start at 8:16 am. Part of this timing is out of necessity. We are given a couple of hours or so to get our transition spot “race ready”. Transition “closes” at 6:30 am (15 minutes before the race starts). After that time, only racers transitioning from swim to bike, or bike to run, are allowed in. Transition opens at 4:45am. Parking would be a problem if I didn’t get there right when it opened.
Setting up transition for a sprint is much easier than an Ironman (or any longer distance event). Official water temp was announced as 76.0F. I elected to go without a wetsuit. There was a small area on the lake for warmup swims. I hop in…it was very pleasant without a suit. I put on the nose clip and take a few test strokes. I feel like I can’t breath. I am on the verge of a panic attack. I take it off and try again…no problems.mI try the clip a few more times…no change. I simply don’t have time to get used to this. I weight out the risk of encephalitis vs the risk of drowning if I panic. It’s a no-brainer…I put the clip away.
The weather starts out beautiful-sunny with no wind at all. While waiting for my wave to start, the clouds and the wind start to roll in. The lake was perfectly calm. Now, it was a little choppy. Nothing I can’t handle, but calm waters would have been nice.
I watch the elite start the long course, then all of the long-course age-groupers. Then there is a break in the action as they reset the course to the sprint. The first wave of sprint age-groupers started at around 8am. The other waves started lining up behind them. It was go time…
Our age group gets to the front. It is a time trial start. Two racers start every three seconds. I cross the mat and I am on my way. The goal of this race is to enjoy myself and to use it as a training day. As such, I don’t try to push myself too much in the water. Good thing. About a hundred yards out, I start getting a little anxious. This is normal when I haven’t been in the lake for awhile. There are no lines, nothing to grab on to, the waters are murky, and you make contact with other swimmers. Just knowing that you can’t touch the bottom and that there is nothing to grab hold of is a little intimidating. Getting jostled in my first lake swim in 10 months didn’t help. I could feel my right calf tightening up. I strained it a week or so ago. The wrong move and it sets up a charley house. I never even thought about this until now…and the thought of having a charley horse mid-swim wasn’t a welcome one. I forced myself to relax and to just find my stroke. I got into a groove and the tension melted away. I wasn’t pushing myself and I was ok with that today. I was passing some, and others were flying by me. For the most part, I barely noticed. I just went from one buoy to the next, trying to let my mind go blank. A couple of turns and I was sighting the “Swim Exit” arch. A few more minutes, and I was out of the water.
Swim Split (750 m) – 19:05
Age Group Rank – 25/44
Overall Rank – 388/648
I still wasn’t moving fast. I rarely do in transition. But I didn’t want to be the slowest one there either. I was close…
T1 Split – 5:52
Age Group Rank – 38/44
Overall Rank – 586/648
I get to the mount line and I get on the bike. I do this cautiously (out of practice clipping in). A couple of quick turns and I am on the first straightaway. Someone passes me… but I am passing quite a few. I glance down at my speedometer, and I am easily going 21 mph. I pass a few more people. I start feeing competative and start to hammer the bike. The course is COMPLETELY closed to vehicular traffic, but can get bumpy and narrow at times. It is mostly flat, but the short hills can kill your speed, as can the sharp and narrow turns. But, whenever I can, I push hard. My Garmin chimes at every 5 mile split while cycling. I almost never see a split time of 16:xx. This year, an 18:xx is the best I could do (most splits have been in the 22:xx minute range). So, I am thrilled to see a 16:10 pop up for my first 5 mile split. I keep pushing as hard as I can. My initial “training day” mentality was gone. I was determined to push it the rest of the way. I was rarely passed by anyone, but I was passing others quite frequently. Getting a hoarse voice from yelling “On Your Left” a lot is a good problem to have! My next two 5 mile splits were both 15:xx minutes! I was ecstatic!
Bike Split – 48:55 (18.4 mph)
Age Group Rank – 16/44
Overall Rank – 204/648
Still can’t move fast in transition…
T2 Split – 3:08
Age Group Rank – 34/44
Overall Rank – 486/648
I knew that I aced the bike, and I was determined to carry this forward onto the run. The weather was getting a little warmer and I hit the aid station coming out of transition (first of the day). I drank the Gatorade and wore the water. I then found someone that was running faster then I wanted to move, and used them as a pacer. I was pleased to find that my legs were not Jello coming off the bike. The run course should have been straightforward…it was one lap around the lake with one “out and back” to make up the rest of the 5k distance. Only problem…nobody was directing traffic. I would estimate that about half of the runners that I saw missed the out and back. Everyone hitting that intersection had no idea where to go and many cut the course (by about a half mile). I ran the full distance. Many didn’t. I don’t think that anything was done to address the issue…although it is the race organizers that are to blame for this mess. I finished my run knowing that the results were tainted. Despite this, I was pleased with my effort and result.
Run Split – 26:28 (8:32/mile)
Age Group Rank – 19/44
Overall Rank – 227/644
Overall Result – 1:43:27
Age Group Rank – 23/44
Overall Rank – 287/648
I had fun today. It is a beautiful course (it’s my favorite triathlon course) and my third time at this event. I have gained confidence and I have rediscovered my passion for triathlon. I also did much better then I expected given the state of my training. I never would have thought that the bike would be my strongest discipline in an event. This gives me a boost of confidence going into the heart of my triathlon season next month (3 triathlons and one duathlon in 16 days-all events are sprints).