Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Patriot Half Race Report

As you probably already know if you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or <gasp> in real life, this past Saturday I completed the Patriot Half Triathlon in East Freetown, MA.  As a newbie to triathlons, I really set a stretch goal for myself in registering for such a big event, but I did whatever I could to be prepared!

I had taken Friday off work to pack and head down to my hotel.  What I didn't factor on was the torrential downpours and flood watch!  I was getting a little panicked seeing all that rain and it was a nuisance to pack the car and drive in it, but my bigger concern was what impact it would have on race conditions.

I first headed to the hotel in New Bedford to check in, because I wanted to make sure I knew my way from the hotel to the race venue and wouldn't be scrambling around at 5am.  (I know this is neurotic.  I test things for a living, what can I say...)  I was a little freaked out when I checked into the hotel, because it didn't look like a hotel and I'm pretty sure I was the only guest.  Since I only booked the room a few days ahead of time, all the suggested hotels were full.  It was definitely spooky and I can see why it wasn't occupied, but it was only about a 12 minute drive from the race venue so it really worked out just fine.  As long as you don't mind random pills on the floor, and a generous 1/4 roll of toilet paper.

I left there shortly after checking in (wondering if I'd ever see my stuff again) and headed to the race start for packet pickup.  The rain finally started to let up.  I picked up my race packet and attempted to donate some shoes but no one could tell me where to put them so I brought them back to my car (where they remain to this day, which is quite unfortunate on this 90 degree day).  I walked down to the swim start and saw folks starting to put buoys out into the water.  Really, really, really far out into the water.

Then I went to find my rack in transition.  How cool that they actually list out your number and name!

I met up with Ronnie, Rori, Rudy, and Mike, and we headed out to dinner at Fireside Grill.  I don't know how I managed to not get a single picture with these guys.  We had a great time over a couple beers, delicious food, and colorful conversation.  Talking with more experienced triathletes is a double edged sword.  On one side, you get a lot of good tips and insight.  On the other, you are bound to hear lots of horror stories!  After dinner we headed back to our hotels.

I didn't sleep well, and way too early the alarm was going off.  I ate a bagel with peanut butter, got dressed, and headed to the start.  Ironically I ended up parking right behind Rori and Ronnie, so it was nice having familiar faces (and Rori's bike pump) nearby.  I loaded up my nutrition onto the bike, gathered everything up, and headed to transition.  Transition was a tight squeeze with no room to spare, so I had to lay things out efficiently!

Since it was a damp morning with the threat of more rain, I didn't want to leave everything out to get wet.  I brought an extra large towel which I folded in half, and covered everything up while I was out swimming and biking.

After one final stop at the porta potty I went back to put my wetsuit on.  This, naturally, coincided with the singing of the national anthem, so everyone standing solemnly behind me got to watch me shimmying into my wetsuit like I was hoola-hooping.

I headed down to the water with Ronnie to sneak in a quick practice swim before the race started.  The water temp was 64, similar to what I had been swimming in during my open water swims, so I was thankful I had prepared.  The anticipation of the race, the number of people zigzagging through the water, and the water temperature all gave me some trouble breathing, but I quickly got it under control and got in some practice strokes before we got pulled out of the water.

Everything turned into a blur at that point.  I was slowly meandering my way towards the start of the swim, stopped and talked to Alex for a minute, noticed people were already swimming, realized it was 7:07, and my swim wave start was 7:11!  I needed to boogie to get to my corral!  The format of the swim start was a time trial, where they release three people at a time.  I was grateful for this, since I'm a bit of a nervous swimmer and don't like crowds.  However, I also knew that the running-into-the-water thing was going to cause an instant heart rate spike and most likely give me a breathing issue.  And it did!  I probably wasn't 10 yards offshore when the people lined up behind me were already passing me, and I struggled to catch my breath.  But, I knew that I had a long day ahead of me and it wasn't worth struggling right at the beginning, so I just treaded water for a minute, waited til my breathing found its rhythm, and took off at a very relaxed pace.  Maybe a little too relaxed, since my swim took 57 minutes, but I stuck to my plan of not wasting energy during the swim.  I knew this was my weakest segment so this was a matter of just getting it done, and I was actually expecting it to take an hour.  And man, that was about the longest thing I've ever done in my life.  57 minutes felt like all day.  There was so much fog in the lake, it was actually hard to see the buoys!  They just kept going and going and going.  I was happy for not panicking in the water, especially when I was bumped into and (almost) swam over.  I don't mind getting bumped from the side, but I really feel that there's no good reason to swim over me.  The lake is pretty wide, and I'm not taking up that much of it.  If you swim over me, I'm going to suddenly have very active kicking legs.  I know this is a waste of energy, but it makes me feel better.

The only real problem I had with the swim was that I became extremely nauseous and dizzy.  I felt seasick, like my equilibrium was thrown off, and I kept burping up peanut butter.  I spent a good deal of the second half of the swim wondering what the water would look like after I vomited into it, and thought it might be a good way to keep people from swimming over me.

I made it out of the water (57 minutes later...) and jogged into transition while removing the top half of my wetsuit.  Ronnie was right ahead of me (despite starting 20 minutes behind me!!) so it was nice to see him.  I was able to get my wetsuit off quickly and got out of transition in relatively short time.  My only regret is that I carried my gloves with me instead of putting them on during transition.  I thought I would save time by putting them on while I was on the bike.  I don't recommend this, because it turns out I'm not that coordinated and was swerving all over the place.

Right as I was starting out on the bike I passed two elite guys who had clearly gotten tangled up.  They were bloody messes with dirty, ripped shirts.  I used that as my reminder to not do anything stupid, ride carefully, ride smart.  My goal was to start off slow, conserve energy on the bike, and finish in 3:30.  My biggest concern was that I would push too hard and have nothing left for the run, so I forced myself to average about 16mph.  I didn't really know if that was the magic number since I had nothing to really compare it to, but my gut told me that 16mph was mild enough that it wouldn't wear down my legs.  Because of the residual nausea I had from the swim, I had to adjust my nutrition plan.  I had expected to eat my Honey Stinger waffles immediately, and then switch to endurolyes and chews.  The nausea forced me to delay solid food for about 30 minutes, but I did start taking the endurolytes right away, and took 2 every hour.  I snacked on chews every 15 minutes, so the ride was like a 3 hour buffet.  My only real hiccup was the water situation which caused me great anxiety.  I only had my one water bottle, which I tossed at the bottle exchange at mile 18.  They gave me a new bottle, which was just a Poland Springs squirt bottle, and it bounced right out of my bottle cage not even a mile later.  This left me without water for about 10 miles, but I was able to get another bottle (and hold onto it) after that.  Altogether I drank about 3 bottles of water on the bike.  By about mile 40 I was looking forward to getting off the bike as some things were starting to get stiff and other things were starting to get chafed.  Despite the generous application of Body Glide, nothing seems to prevent chafing on this sensitive skin!

56 miles and 3 hours and 25 minutes later, and I was off the bike and trotting a long long way back to transition.  My legs felt a little wobbly so I really took my time.  I racked my bike, switched into run mode, and headed back out.  I think the trick is to do the transition so fast that your brain doesn't register what's happening.  If I thought about it too long I probably would have sat down and just hung out for a while.  I was surprised to realize that my legs actually felt pretty good running.  They were tired, yes, but not weak and rubbery like I expected.  My back was stiff and I wasn't sure how well I would be able to run, but figured I'd gut it out and see what happened.  By mile 3 my back soreness was gone!

The run went well and I'm surprised how quickly the miles ticked away.  There were aid stations at every mile, and since I wasn't really in any rush, I decided to take full advantage of them!  I stopped at each one, grabbed a drink or two, some ice a few times, and even some endurolytes.  I love the fact that they had Coke at every aid station, and I took some at probably at least half of them.  The run course itself was beautiful with some easy rolling hills and beautiful farms.  My only real issue was that I felt a blister developing on the bottom of my foot early on, around mile 5, which got progressively worse.  I decided the best thing I could do was to keep running because walking would just take longer!  I passed a surprising number of people on the run, so I was very grateful I had stuck to my plan of taking it easy on the bike.  By no means was I ripping up the pavement, but it was nice to feel surprisingly fresh.  The more I ran, the more I started becoming aware of all of my chafing spots.  The one that started bothering me the most was on my chest, where my tri suit was rubbing.  I tried unzipping it more, but that made it bounce against my skin.  I zipped it all the way up, but then that rubbed too.

I stopped at the final aid station, just after mile 12, for my last dose of Coke.  I walked for a minute, and then my Garmin gave me a "low battery" alert!  It was like my Garmin was kicking me into gear, because there was no way I was going to let my Garmin die without tracking my full race.  I picked up the pace and ran the last mile strong.  As I ran onto the grounds I was so excited I had goosebumps!  I couldn't believe I was finishing this thing, and feeling so good!  I ran into the final stretch strong, high-fived Rudy, and gave a big wave to the Caruso family.

I crossed the finish line, got a nice cold towel and bottle of ice cold water.  Then I dunked my feet in an ice bath!

I checked out the bottom of my foot, which was sporting a super ultra disgusting blood blister.  Finally I made my way out and met up with everyone.

It's weird to finish such a long event feeling good.  Usually when I finish a race I feel like I couldn't possibly take one more step.  My body is completely depleted and I'm running on fumes.  On this day I crossed the finish line feeling fresh and fantastic.  I don't know if that means I did everything right, or if I took it too easy.  I don't really care though, because this was definitely the better way!

Final stats:
Swim (1.2 miles): 57:26
T1: 3:21
Bike (56 miles): 3:25:41 (16.3 mph)
T2: 3:50
Run (13.1 miles): 2:17:11 (10:29 min/mile)

Total (70.3 miles!!!): 6:47:29

As for post race damage, I felt pretty good.  My hip flexors were a little sore the next day, but muscle wise I was in pretty good shape.  My skin, however, was another issue.  I had major chafing on so many parts of my body I looked like I belonged in a burn unit.

One final thought: I had a surprisingly good attitude during this race.  I reminded myself that I had trained for it.  I was good enough to do it, I was going to relax and enjoy it.  I never got sucked into anyone else's pace, and I never got down on myself when I got passed.  Several times I reminded myself how fortunate I was to have a body that can perform like this.  When I felt the sting of the chafing throughout my body, I looked at the guys with road rash all over theirs and reminded myself how lucky I am.  I consciously gave myself a mental pat on the back when I completed the bike ride, for doing so safely, and did so again when I finished the run without injury.  I absolutely believe my positive attitude played a big part of having such a successful day and it's something I will remind myself!

And one more final thought: This was a top-notch event.  Sun Multisport Events really knows how to put on a heck of a race.  Every detail was well done.  The volunteers were outstanding.  The aid stations were bountiful.  I think if I asked someone for a meatball sandwich, not only would they have given me one but they would have given me a choice of cheeses.  I can't say enough great things about this race, and now I see why it sells out six months in advance.  I'm already looking forward to next year!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Wetsuit wrestling and other triathlon nonsense

Well, time sure flies when you're busy training for a half iron!  I've been swimming, biking, running, and horsing around all over the place in the last month, and apparently I didn't leave myself anytime for a quick blog update.  I'll try to catch up here as concisely as possible, since this Saturday is the big day!  The Patriot Half is this Saturday, and I'm pumped.  The weather forecast looks like AM clouds and maybe a shower, then afternoon sun, and highs in the upper 70's.  Couldn't ask for anything better.  But before I get into that, let's recap some of the more interesting parts of the last few weeks.

Wetsuit wrestling
A wetsuit is a necessary piece of equipment for early season triathlons, especially for long distances.  I had never swam in a wetsuit before since I've of course only done one tri in my life, and that was last July.  But I had gotten this super nice Xterra Vector Pro on a steal last year.  I remember getting it in the mail, attempting to get it on, giving up, and hanging it up for six months.  Well, eventually the ice melted and it was time to get in the open water, so I met up with Joe for a very chilly early morning swim a few weeks ago.
Farm Pond, Sherborn MA
The night before the swim I dusted off the wetsuit and tried putting it on again.  It took 25 minutes and I was lathered in sweat by the time I was done.  Luckily, over time I've gotten a little better at it!  The first time swimming in it was shocking.  I wasn't prepared for how buoyant it would be, and although that can be a good thing, it was alarming and I found myself fighting it a lot.  I felt like I was hanging upside down!  The biggest problem was that I couldn't breathe.  Between the tightness of the wetsuit and the cold water temperature, my lungs felt paralyzed.  I couldn't even exhale.  It was an awful feeling, but eventually with Joe's advice I was able to get things under control and had a good second half of the swim.  After that, I got in a bunch more open water swims through MRA and attended an open water clinic, and I'm feeling a lot more confident now!  I also picked up one of these awesome little inventions:

Not sure if I qualify as "competent"! 
This swim buoy is awesome.  It can hold your belongings and makes you very visible to other swimmers and boaters.  A must have for open water swimming!

And like any other piece of sporting equipment, the wetsuit found a way to chafe me.  Ah the perils of having such baby soft skin!

Grossness on the back of my neck!
And finally, does anyone else like to play "dress up" with their wetsuit and put them in funny positions?

Pavement Pounding
I've been diligently trying to get in long rides on the bike, and whenever possible I try to get someone to go with me.  But on Memorial Day I went out alone.  The weather was iffy,  but finally the weather man insisted that the rain was done, the clouds were breaking up, and we were in for a sunny afternoon.  I headed out for my 30+ mile ride, and got stuck in a rainstorm about 10 miles into it.  I pedaled through increasingly heavy rain through Grafton, Upton, and Westboro, and finally took shelter under a tree in Hopkinton until the rain let up a bit.

Hiding under a maple tree
At this point I just wanted to be done, so I hopped back on Lexi and headed home.  I got to Winter Street, which is where my favorite hill is.  I started hammering up the hill and my chain let go, and instantly I was pedaling with no resistance and toppled right over.  I thought the chain broke but it didn't (thank GOD because I was a long way from home!).  I scuffed up my knee, and my knuckle started swelling immediately, but otherwise I was fine and so was Lexi.  I tested out the chain a few times and it seemed okay so I hopped back on and continued up the hill (which was very challenging starting from a stop on that steep incline!).  Several miles later, in Upton, I got stung in the throat by a yellow jacket.  I spent the rest of the ride wondering if I'm allergic to bees, since I hadn't been stung by one in probably at least a decade.  By the time I got home and was still alive, I concluded that I must not be allergic!  That was definitely not my best ride, but all you can do is laugh it off!  Oh, and spend a butt load of money at the bike shop getting the bike fixed up.

This is my sad face, dropping Lexi off at Landry's for some repair.  This is *not* my blue steel face.
Sporting a pretty impressive bruise on my knee after the crash, which bulged out like an extra knee cap
Maximum exhaustion
Two weekends ago I hit my peak volume before starting to taper for this race.  On Saturday I did a 1 mile open water swim, then 25 miles on the bike with Marie, and then a 5 mile run.  On Sunday I met up with Rori and did a 53 mile ride with him through a bazillion towns.  I was actually tired going into the ride, and pretty pooped about halfway through.  I was also having a lot of neck pain and had to stop a couple times to stretch.  I picked a pretty sweet place to stop though!

I could've spent all day watching those chickens!  This was in Dover, MA
I was very tired by the end of that ride, and my neck was killing me.  But Rori gave me a hefty dose of Ibuprofin and a beer as a parting gift, so I'll ride with him anytime!  As soon as I got home Stanley wanted to hear all about it and make my tired legs feel better.

That busy weekend left me feeling tired for days, so I listened to my body and backed off a bit.  In the meantime, I had other things to do!

After being out of commission since winter, Rocco is finally ready for some short rides.  If there's an upside to this, I guess it was good timing since it allowed me to invest more time in my triathlon training, but I'm really looking forward to hitting the trails again with this handsome fella.

Kayaking!  Julia and I went out last weekend for Julia's maiden voyage of the kayak she got for Mother's Day.  It was only my second excursion in mine, but we looked like pro's out there and had a blast paddling around all the little islands of Lake Whitehall in Hopkinton.

So, tomorrow afternoon I head down to the race venue.  I'll be staying at a hotel about 10 miles from the race start, so I'll check in and then head to packet pickup.  They're having a seminar for race day strategies, and although by now I should have my strategy nailed down, I could probably use a few tips!  Check back in next week to hear all about the 70.3 miles of pain fun!