Work once again interfered with my fitness world. I usually avoid travel the week of my marathons (except to get to them,) but the week leading up to my race I punished myself with meetings in Dallas and Phoenix. Only problem is that both were hovering 110 degrees and dry as a cotton ball in a desert. Did I drink enough? mmmm probably not, and beer doesn't count. I got home late Thursday, had to work Friday, and headed up I-70 to the Vail area Friday night for a Saturday race. Not one of my smartest moves.
The Bec Tri is a smaller race so there was no expo. Registration was at the Avon Recreation Center which was sat across from the Harry Nottingham Lake and Park which served as the open water swim, transition area and finish line. One of the internet tidbits I picked up was to walk around the open water swim to pick out landmarks to swim towards. I went through this walk through after grabbing my bib and marked my arm and calf with my number for the race. Given my somewhat "last minute" decision to train for a triathlon and my busy schedule, this was going to be my first open water swim, and first open water wetsuit swim. I know, I know...I knew better, (and you experienced tri athletes are laughing about now.) I'm not always smart when it comes to my passions. As I looked at the lake, the buoys looked awfully far away from the start. Gulp...
After a local dose of dinner pasta and a quick stop at the grocery store for my breakfast, the rest of the evening I used my instinctual habits as a marathon runner to prepare for the race by re-checking my gear more than once then laying out it out to put on in the morning with the rest of my transition gear in my swim bag. I "crashed" hard as I went to sleep mentally preparing for my big race.
I arrived early just as the transition area opened at 6:30 and set up my gear just as I'd learned to do on YouTube. I brought my "garage" mountain bike up, but opt'ed for my brother-in-law's road bike for the race. I figured, I'm swimming in the open water for the first time, why not use a bike I've never used before (other than the lodge parking lot the night before.) I wandered across to the rec center to use the toilet and nestled into a lobby couch for 10 minutes of rest before I was told the rec center wasn't opened yet and I politely had to leave. You can't blame me...wet grass nap or nice warm leather couch? Nevertheless, an awkward moment.
I waited for the more experienced athletes to put on their wetsuits as my cue to put on mine. I used a combination of Body Glide and KY on shoulders, knees and lower legs to ease in the removal of my wetsuit in the first transition after the swimming leg. Not every day I put on a rubber suit lined with oil. I eased into the water and felt quite comfortable in the suit and felt pretty good about things especially after "christening my suit" in the lake. Once you are zipped in, there's no getting outta that thing again until the transition area for a potty break. After a few more instructions, I was off with the first wave. I have to admit, the start was much like I'd expected. Kind of like when they yelled "shark" in the movie Jaws in the beach scene. Arms, legs, kicking, and shoulder-to-shoulder combat. The closest comparison was my Chicago Marathon which was shoulder-to-shoulder for nearly ten miles.
Before I reached the first buoy, I had something happen I've never had in a race and didn't see in any of the YouTube videos I watched; nausea. I wasn't that nervous, and hadn't swallowed any lake water. I threw in some breaststroke with my freestyle to try and get more wind into my body to calm things down. What felt like 15 minutes was actually 8:52 for the 400M swim portion of my race--far slower than the times I did in the calm tranquity of the local pool. At least three times, I wasted strokes as I veered off my trajectory. Did I mention I'm new at this? There was also no pool stripe below me to guide my path, just murky lake water.
As I literally tripped getting out of the water, I headed towards the toughest transition (from water to bike.) I felt like I was running in slow motion as the nausea was still there and I headed towards my transition towel and bike. My wetsuit came off just like it did in practice and as I'd learned on the internet. I sat on the towel to compose myself and put on my socks and shoes. Slightly delirious, I grabbed my running hat with my Amphipod belt (which had my banana gel) and bib number attached. Why did I grab the hat? Instead of tossing it aside, I tucked it into the belt. I jogged the bike up to the street and still didn't seem to have my senses, and slowly hopped on for the spin section.
As awkward as my swim was, I started to regain composure on the bike on the 15Km leg. I had studied the course which had a "moderate" hill climb of 400' in a neighborhood over a 1.7 mile stretch. Note to self and visitors to Colorado, one man's moderate hill is another man's mountain especially when described by a mountain local. Despite studying the map, I found myself climbing the hill without knowing I was on that portion of the route and muttered to myself, "this must be it." Kind of like "heartbreak hill" in Boston. I did pretty well, but had a few experienced bikers pass this rookie on this portion. The fun part was once I'd hit the apex, we got to fly down the hill. I don't think I've ever gone as fast as I did down a hill on a bike, and nervously tapped the breaks a couple times going into some corners.
My only regret or mistake on the bike was my awkward Garmin moment. I'd attached the Garmin to the handlebars of my bike and figured, I'd move to my wrist along the route. At one point, I took both hands off the bars to move the Garmin (which I'd already started) to my left wrist. On my own bike in my neighborhood would be fine, but with wobbly legs on a new bike with highway 6 construction just before railroad tracks was just plain stupid. I avoided calamity.
The second transition was much more graceful as I didn't have to deal with bike to running shoes since I went with running shoes for both biking and running legs. Ditch the bike and helmet, grab the hat from my running belt and I was off in to my comfort zone--running a 5K. The run route had an out-and-back element, so I could start to see how many men were ahead of me. My legs were a bit wobbly, but I once again got into a groove. This was the fun part of the race as I was able to pass three men on this portion and didn't allow any men to pass me. As I got down to the final stretch near the lake and finish line, my son was waiting on his bike and egged me on to turn on the jets. I found my fifth gear and blew past a younger woman who had just eeked ahead of me moments earlier.
As I passed the finish line mat, they removed my ankle timing chip and I dropped to my knees on the grass, and tried to hurl. I'm sure the onlookers looked at me like I was some kind of frat boy "laughing at the grass," but this was no laughing matter , as I tried to regain my composure. I moved to the results table and t.v. screen and realized I'd come in third in my age group. This reminded me of the Steamboat Marathon last summer which was another tough mountain race and also yielded a 3rd place. I guess good things happen in threes and summer mountain races agree and disagree with me.
So for all my TRI friends on DailyMile, Facebook, and twitter, you're probably wondering, "how did you like it?" and "will you do another?" The best answer would be, what did I do for my Sunday after rest or workout? I went to the pool for an 800 meter swim. I'm considering another Sprint Tri before the end of the summer to prove to myself that I'm not Gus Grissom* in the water and now that I have one under the belt, it's time to go for a PR!
As far as the race and organizers, I'd have to give them two thumbs up. "Bec" Yarberry was a local triathlete who lost her life in a tragic car accident in 2007. They host the annual race in her honor. I would recommend the race to beginners like myself as I loved the city, the course and the volunteers were "top shelf!"
* Gus was an astronaut who flew in Project Mercury. Upon landing in the ocean, he was accused of panicking in the water, blowing the capsule door hatch, and sending a very expensive piece of gear to the ocean floor.