Race 29 – No Label Sprint Triathlon

This race was my first in Texas.  I flew into Houston and headed a bit west to Katy.  This felt like a true Texas town.  Wide open expanses with a traditional feeling downtown.  The high school served as the anchor of the town.  This race went off without a hitch.  Going through the details of this race would probably be fairly uninteresting.  It was a 300 yard swim followed by a 14 mile bike with a 3.1 mile run to top it off.  This race was very well run and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

However, I thought it may be a bit more interesting to talk about what a race, in general, is like for a racer.  I know this may be difficult to relate to if you have never participated in a triathlon but I figured I would try to give an accurate depiction.  I paid close attention to the “experience” on Saturday in anticipation of this entry.  So here we go.

The morning normally starts very early for a triathlon.  5 am or earlier is not uncommon.  For some this is not a big challenge but for most this takes some effort to get the body going that early.  Further, most people don’t sleep all that well the night before a race as your nerves of the day to come and sleeping through your alarm keep you away from sound sleep.  When the alarm tolls your mind is a bit foggy from the distractions that creeped into your sleep.  However, your body is usually energized.  The first early shots of endorphin from your mind start to take hold.

One of the first things that a racer should try and do after waking up is get some calories into their body.  You want the calories available for your race without sitting heavy on the top of your stomach.  That is why you want to eat as far ahead of race time as you can.  Sometimes this is difficult though.  As your body is starting the flow of endorphins into your blood stream it has a seemingly adverse side-effect on your gut.  Your stomach feels disinterested in taking in food.  Not that you are full but rather that you stomach is churning a bit.  Your mind knows that it needs the calories but the stomach makes it hard to accept.

When you arrive at the race site it is usually still dark.  You now have to really focus your mind and visualize the race as you stand before your transition spot.  Not because it will help you swim, bike or run faster but rather because you need to anticipate what challenges the day will bring you in the three disciplines and how you are going to address those from a gear standpoint.  Often you go through this mental exercise days leading up to the race but it all has to come together at that moment race morning.  This is a much harder task for new racers as they have not been through the experience many times.  With each race it seems to get easier.  You go through the mental checklist of items you need for the swim, the bike and the run.  You place them in a fashion that allows for quick transitions.  All this is going on as your body is getting more and more excited.  Typically the skin starts to get its first sensation of perspiration.  It senses that there is energy all around you.  As transition is buzzing your body knows that it is about to be called upon.  Again, for new racers these sensations tend to overshadow the mental focus necessary to set up a good transition.  This often leads to mistakes later in the race.

After your transition is set up it is time to go to the swim start.  Since this race was a pool swim I will talk about that experience as it is vastly different from an open water swim.  As you line up around the pool your body gets more and more energized.  Your mind begins to align with your body more clearly.  It is thinking of the immediate event that is about to begin.  The sweating pics up a bit..even in cold weather.  The chattering all around is incessant.  Everyone from new racers to crusty veterans are talking about how their day will go, how their training has gone, their new gear, their excuses that will save a bad day, etc.  Your mind has to deal with this overload and try to maintain focus.  

The focus that I shoot for is not one of strict execution of the race plan.  Rather, my focus is to remain calm.  Your body is a lot like an engine.  There is only so much it can do.  At this point you have filled it with all of the fuel that you can to help get you through a race of this distance (longer races have more fueling opportunities).  Therefore, I want to make sure that I am not unnecessarily wasting my fuel and energy on stress inducing matters.  Listening to the chatter can cause a lot of stress for racers.  It makes you question your performance at a time where it doesn’t help to do so.  Therefore, the focus has to be one of calm and relaxation….as best as possible.

As you toe the start line and wait for your mark to go you really try to push that focus up a notch.  Calm is the word at those times.  As you step off the pool deck into a pool of chaos (there are already swimmers in the pool) you know your day has begun.  You are now racing.  The noise is still there until you sink under the water.  Then silence.  All you hear is yourself and the noise of the water.  That is the most interesting thing about triathlon racing.  From the very beginning of the race you are alone with your mind.  The internal race talk then begins.  The sensation of the water becomes highly evident.  This causes weak swimmers to get very agitated.  The sense of isolation and envelopment of the water.  However, especially at the beginning of swim, the key is to remain calm.  Fight the urge to sprint (unless you are a swimmer by background).  Rather, the only thing that you should hurry towards is rhythm.  You should get into a rhythm as fast as you can.  Feel the rhythm.  Triathlon is a sport that is all about rhythm and fatigue that is trying to destroy that rhythm.

Water, especially cold water, has a very peculiar tendency to accelerate your breathing upon submersion of your face.  Your body, naturally, does not want to maintain your mouth and nose underwater where we can’t have easy access to oxygen.  Swimming, as part of developing the rhythm, is striking the balance between oxygen deprivation and speed.  The slowest part of the swim stroke is the breath stroke.  That is why rhythm is important.  If you can get into a rhythm where your body can begin predicting its next breath then it relaxes your body.  However, if you push the effort harder then your oxygen demand becomes greater.  You have to find a new rhythm to provide more oxygen more quickly.  This is hard for those who are not true swimmers.  True swimmers have different speeds.  Most swimmers do not.  We have one true speed and if we try to push above that it directly impacts everything.

Now that your heart rate is up and your body is accustomed to the water it is time to swim.  Stroke, stroke, stroke-breath, stroke, stroke, stroke-breath.  Hit the wall, make your turn.  In a pool swim you are confined.  You are, unlike an open water swim, worried about swimming head on into a swimmer heading the opposite way.  Being in a rhythm with your body allows your mind to be focused on the task of navigating you through the swim as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible.

As you come into the final stretch of the swim your mind changes focus.  It now is onto the next phase of your race.  Getting from the pool to your transition and out on the bike.  You pop out of the water onto your feet and head to your bike.  You strip off your cap and goggles.  You are often surprised at how elevated your breathing is upon making this transition from swimming to biking.  After all, when you were in the water you were breathing intermittently as you did not have free access to air.  Now that you do your body begins taking full advantage.  Your heart rate also feels more present.  The rate is elevated along with your breathing.  

You are dripping wet.  Getting to your bike you have to place immediate focus on the task at hand.  Get everything swim related out of your mind and only focus on bike related items.  Tunnel vision sets in as you try to black out everything ancillary that is occurring around you.  The cow bells are ringing, screams from the crowd for other racers, the emcee screaming over the speakers, the music blaring.   All those things are distractions from the task at hand.  Helmet on.  Sunglasses on.  Shoes on.  Slow down your breathing.  Deep breaths.  Get out of transition without forgetting anything, running into anyone or breaking any rules.  Get it done fast.  But get it done right.

I will stop this post here.  I will finish up with the bike and the run in my post for race 30 – Conroe Tri for Fun.  

The No Label Triathlon added 17.3 miles to the tally.  This brings us up to 647.4 miles.

Race 28 – Downtown Columbia Sprint Tri

After we wrapped up La Grange we packed into the car and headed east across the state of Georgia and into South Carolina.  This added one more state for little Lincoln.  We were heading to downtown Columbia for my race on Sunday.  I was pretty excited about this course because I knew it was going to be in downtown.  There is just something about racing through the heart of the city that is exciting.

One point I forgot to mention about the La Grange race which also happened at the Columbia race was a late start time.  These races didn’t start until after 9 in the morning.  This was a wonderful change of pace.  This later start allowed us to take our time (a bit) to get to the race.  It also allowed the temperature to warm up a bit.

Just as in the La Grange race I was a late entrant, registering race morning.  This was going to put me in the back of the swim start again except I was expressly told this morning to move myself up into a more suitable spot.

We headed into the pool.  This was the University of South Carolina’s competition pool.  Very nice set up.  The main pool was set up for long course for our 500 yard swim.  Since it was long course the swim was a lot less eventful than the day before.  The swim was a bit longer (500 yards).  Out of the pool and we had about a 1/4 mile run to and through transition.

Now, I have to admit, with all this racing and traveling I am not always as intimately familiar with the races as I should be.  I often find out how far we are swimming and riding race morning.  This was no different for Columbia.  Our bike course was going to be a 3 loop course through downtown.  I didn’t know that I was going to have a big climb coming out of transition.  That was a quick wake up for me.  Then, after cresting the climb the realization that I had to do it two more times was in the back of my mind.

Off the bike and onto the run.   The run was on a pretty cool course.  Downtown Columbia has several skywalks over the roadways that we used to string together a run.  Anytime you can mix up the run course it creates a positive race experience.  The only part of the run course that was visited with a deep groan was the finish.  It was an uphill right after a downhill.  It is just tough to get those legs moving quickly again after a gradual downhill at that stage of the race.

Anyway, across the line and race 28 done.  One point that made my day occurred when I was just starting my run.  I was making my climb up the same hill that we had to ride up on the bike as I heard “Mr. 52”.  It was a racer that had been working at the La Grange race the day before.  He recognized me and the effort for which brought me to Columbia.  This reminded me that what we are doing is being noticed by people.

This race totaled 13.5 miles.  Add that to the total and we have raced a total of 630.1 miles.  Tomorrow and Sunday will add more as we race towards 52.

Race 27 – La Grange Sprint Tri

Well this past weekend kicked off the final big swing to the end of the season. This was the first weekend of about 13 in a row where I will be out on the road for Team Chad. I am writing this post as I sit in the Nashville Airport ready to head to Houston, TX for my next two races this weekend. It was great to get back into the swing even though I can tell that my busy winter left me undertrained for the performance I am accustomed to.

The race was a 300 yard pool swing. I was late to register for this race as I was originally scheduled to head down to Florida. When I realized there were some closer races to home I switched the schedule. Because I was a late entry I found myself as nearly the last person to start. I can move up in the swim but I am always concerned that I am going to mess up the start timer by having a racer out of order. So because of this I was stationed back with the novice wave.

As we approached the front of the line I guess it appeared that I was not a novice. Nice to think I sort of look like an experienced triathlete. They bumped me up in front of the novice wave. My race started and pretty quickly I was on the heels of the swimmers in front. This race was a snake swim where you work yourself across the pool from left to right. As I got into the middle of the pool I started swimming into packs of swimmers/walkers. This was fine with me. A one time in my racing I would have been frustrated and rude about this. Now I am glad to see new people trying the sport.

I made my way out of the pool and ran the couple hundred yards to transition. The ride was on a nice course. The only memorable moment of the bike came as I was stuck behind a truck on the longest downhill section of the course. Riding upright and braking coming down a hill like that cost some time. Again, I just shrugged this off and got back into transition.

I knew that the part of my race that was going to hurt the most would be the run. It always does. Especially when you aren’t in great shape. Fortunately the weather was great. We were out on the run course in a bit of a pack which helped as a good distraction. I was thankful to come into the finish and knock out race 27.

Fortunately and a bit surprisingly I found myself on the podium. Prior to the award ceremony I thanked the race director for his generosity in accommodating me on late notice. He asked if I would like him to make an announcement about my journey. I told him that would be great if he could. As I climbed up on the podium he was so generous. The crowd was still fairly full and very responsive to his announcement.

We handed out a handful of cards that day for TC. The bike did it’s job on the course and at the post race festivities. We added mouthed 13.3 miles to the total. This brigs the total to 616.6 miles.

Race 26 – Tritonman Sprint – San Diego

I headed back out west a few weeks back to keep charging forward towards the 52.  I headed out there to tackle two races.  The first was scheduled for Saturday in a draft legal format and the second on Sunday in a conventional, traditional format.

I signed up for both of these races because it provided me with a nice opportunity to knock out 2 races in the same weekend on the same course.  I knew I was a bit out of shape heading into this race (tends to happen over the winter months).  On Saturday I planned on pacing through the whole thing in order to have some gas for Sunday.  

When I showed up I was surprised.  I noticed that I was the oldest racer there.  I had, apparently, signed up for a collegiate focused draft legal race.  This was a tune up race for these young racers before they got into their season.  I didn’t know this until I got pulled off the course for being lapped on the bike section.  Humbling.  This is a kind of race that you can’t show up to out of shape and certainly not one you can maintain a comfortable pace on throughout.  These guys were pushing hard from the start to the finish.  I know this because I had a rare opportunity to watch them all come across the finish.

So, I packed up my stuff and knew I would be coming back the next day to race the course again with racers more my caliber.  Sunday was a good day of racing.  Still out of “racing” shape but you can’t complain too much about a day of racing in San Diego in February.  I was happy to bring this race to a close and get me to 26.

This race added 16.5 miles to the tally.  So, north of 600 miles we go.  603.3 total miles.  26 races to go and looking forward to getting back into the meat of the season and spreading the Team Chad story.