Monday, May 21, 2007

Race Report: Columbia Triathlon 2007

This was my third time racing the Columbia Triathlon and it was the most fun that I have ever had at a race. It was also, ironically, my slowest race time by about 27 minutes. Lesson Learned: Sometimes *not starting that watch* is the best way to enjoy your race!

HOLLY G. 37
ALEXANDRIA VA

OVERALL: 4:12:35
AG RANK: 96 of 100

SWIM: 43:02 (1500 yards)
T1: 4:45
BIKE: 1:58:23 (41K)
T2: 2:41
RUN: 1:23:47 (10K)

THE REST OF THE STORY (LONG):

Over the last few seasons of triathlon (2003, 2005) including my first race of this season (Kinetic Sprint), I have been struggling with severe panic issues in the open water. I can cover thousands of yard in the pool but in open water, all bets were off when it came time to put my face in the water. This has been a huge problem that needed to be addressed.

Sunday morning at Columbia was full of the usual early morning race prep. I got to the park about 5:50AM and headed over to transition to set up my gear and pump up the bike tires. With *Sunshine* all ready to go and all my shoes and gear in place, I wandered over to the other side of the transition and found Nancy and wished her good luck then headed over to my car to return the floor pump and squeeze and wiggle into my wetsuit in private. I was lucky that the car was parked very close to the swim start.

Then, wet suit in place, I walk down to the swim start to watch the pro-waves and get about a 30 minute warm-up in the water away from the swim start area. I had hardly stepped one foot in Centennial Lake, following another fellow athlete, when a race official came over and stopped us both. He said that they were not allowing athletes in the water until 6 minutes before our wave and warned that if we disregarded that, we could be disqualified.

Well there goes my open water swim warm-up! With nothing else to do but wait an hour for my swim wave to start. I stood near the fence and watch others on their way out for the day. Nancy came by and I shared my encounter with the official so we stood together and watch and waited. Nothing to do but drink some water, eat a Gu and wait.

Nancy suggested, "As soon as you get in the water, swim around as much as you can, keep your face in the water and get to the right, that way you will have a straight line to the first turn." This was excellent advice.

SWIM: 43:02

"PINK WAVE - First Ladies Wave - Let's get in the water! Six minutes to your wave start."

I stayed in the front of the pack of women so I was one of the first 10 ladies in the water. The more time, the better. I stayed away from the women who grouped together, nervously chattering and treading water in one place and I did 3 or 4 laps forward and back along the back of the holding pen. Then I places myself in the middle of the group far to the right and then...5...4...3...2...1

I just put my face in the water and started counting strokes. In an in-water start, there are so many folks trying to get started that is is a mash of hands and feet and bodies. I spent my time focusing on working my away around the other women who were struggling to find a way to start and within a minute I had some clear water and my swim began.

I focused on counting strokes, popping up to sight and, whenever possible, finding other swimmers to follow. I tend to swim to the right (dominant side?) and so I was sighting every 7-10 strokes. Up to the turn around, I had lots of free water around me and I felt like I was making good time. Most often what was going through my head was "1...2...3...4...5...hey I am doing this! ....7...Sight"

At the first turn buoy, I seem to get caught up in the main pack of woman - someplace I have never really ever been! (I have always been in the far back - drooped quickly) and I found that with swimmers around me, I didn't need to sight nearly as much. Pretty quickly we made the next turn for the long haul back up the lake to the finish. It was here that I think, while I was doing a great job of actually swimming, that I was doing a bad job of sighting. I found myself constantly off the right of the main pack which I had quickly learned, makes swimming much harder - drafting in the swim is powerful, once you have gotten a taste of it.

At any rate, I was doing it! I was swimming just like I was supposed to and making progress to that final turn buoy so I kept on counting stroke and sighting and made the turn for shore. At this point, I was pretty much surrounded by orange and white caps (the two waves behind me) so I new I was on of the back of my wave but I was sure I has just did the swim of my life!

Just 100 yards from the shore BOTH my calf's seized in rock solid cramps! I immediately rolled on my back and wiggled my legs, trying to shake the cramps out since I was supposed to stand in less than 2 minutes! The *wiggle* worked and rolled over, did two stokes, felt my hand hit silt and stood up and wobbled over the mat.

I looked to my watch, anxious to see my swim time...and the chrono read 0:00:00

D'OH!!!! I never started my watch!

T1: 4:45

So my watch started at Transition One and boosted by what I felt was my best swim EVER, I jogged up to my bike, methodically took off the wetsuit, put on my bike gear and got on my bike.

BIKE: 1:58:23

The hilly challenging bike course was wet from on & off drizzle that started early in the morning. Each turn, downhill and climb came back to me as I rode the course. Just about mile 13, Nancy and Buttercup, who started 2 waves and 10 minutes behind me, caught me and with a Looking STRONG!" passed me by! I have not been as strong on the bike as I have in the past, but I had a pretty good idea of what I could expect and my goal was to ride the course in under 2 hours. I pulled in to T2 with 1:58 on my bike computer for a pace of 12.9 mph. I was completely satisfied with that time.

T2: 2:41

T2 was deliberate and not as speedy as I hoped. I had some problems keeping my balance and stepping into my running shoes but once they were on, I was jogging out of transition to the port-o-potties just passed the timing matt.

RUN: 1:23:47

After a much needed Port-o-Potty break, I began the run. As Coach Graham had instructed, I walked the first 200 yards or so then slowly settled in to my running pace. There was nobody around - NOBODY! The though occurred to me that I might just be the last runner to start the course. I had not passed anybody on the bike from mile 15 to the end...hmmmm.

For a moment, I was a little upset but then I though "Who cares! They let me start the run, they know I am out here. So I am last - I will finish!

The run course is as challenging as the bike and very hilly. As you start the run, you can hear the finish line cheers as the announcer gives names and locations of finishers. I listened to the cheers and said a silent prayer that the water stations on the course were still open. I reached Mile 1 in just about 14:00 (that included the Port-O-Potty Break!) and the station was still full of volunteers who handed me water and cheered me on! One of them said my number into their race radio and I though "Yep I am last..." but the pace felt good and I kept going. I settled into a 5/1 run walk pace that was only interrupted by walks up the steepest of the climbs and when my "walk break" was on a downhill, I would skip it until I came to the next incline because nobody should waste a downhill!

Just before Mile 2, I passed my first runner. At first, I though it might be Nancy, because it was a woman with a 50 on her calf and long red hair and a similar body type. As I drew closer, I realized "No that is not Nancy" and I was actually relieved because it would have meant she was having a bad run. (as it turns out, she was having a bad run and was just 6 minutes ahead of me running the same exact pace...)

Passing that runner and then hearing footsteps as a 29 year-old woman passed me, gave me some hope. Maybe I am not quite last. There are still people out here. Mile 3 and Mile 5.5 are the same water spot on this course at the top of a big climb and as I got there, I could see so many athletes on their way to the finish line! Being around others, cheering them on and getting encouragement, AND reaching the 3 mile point of the 10K, was just what I needed. From that point on, there was always somebody around. Runners headed to the finish, one gentleman that I passed just after the 4 mile mark who was run/walking the course barefoot (WOW!) and as it turned out a good 10 people who were still heading out on the front half of the course as I was finally heading back. The last 1.2 miles of the course are downhill and flat and I kept at my pace. Slow and steady. The six mile maker came, I went up the small rise and around the bend and there was the FINISH Line and another Columbia Triathlon Finisher Medal was placed around my neck. Number 3 for the "Columbia Tri" collection!!

Later when I got my final split times, I was dumbfounded by my swim time. I certainly didn't feel that slow. Not starting my watch was a blessing. If I had seen that number, right out of the water, my whole attitude on the race would have changed. As it was, when I crossed the finish line (and even now) I had the perfect race! I wasn't fast but my bike and run and transitions were right where I expected them to be and I had a perfect open water swim experience. So when it all comes down to it! It was the best possible race day so far this season!

Columbia Triathlon is in my heart. It was the first triathlon I ever did. It is a challenging hilly bike and run - the course doesn't lie to you, it will tell you where your are really at, and this 2007 race was my return to the OLY distance after a 2 year break.

Life is Good! And sometimes...it's better to judge your race day by how you feel at the finish line rather than what your "chip time" says.

LiveSTRONG!

3 comments:

Carver said...

Hi Holly,

I love your blog and you are indeed living strong! My brother is also a tri-athlete and I went to see him in the Escape from Alcatraz triatholon many years ago. He lives in the San Francisco area and that's the one he's done the most. I remember him saying that the hardest thing for him as an adult starting to do triatholons was to realize that finishing was winning. He had been competetive in various sports and track events as a high school and college athlete but he had to psych himself up to realize that it wasn't where he finished in a triatholon but it was completing it that was his goal. You are winning so many victories and I am so impressed with what you have done during and after the gruelling interferon. Cheers, Carver

TriFeist said...

Girl you totally owned that swim! Who cares about the time? Now that you have confidence, faster paces will come. Well done!

Karen said...

Hi! Great race and great race report, you write really well :o) OW swimming is just so different from pool swimming isn't it! This race looks like a great one for the bank for you. I have a dream of doing an Oly - aiming to simply finish my first in August - ek!