Race 35 – Hammer Sprint

Race 35 was a blast from the past for me.  I raced this course many years ago when I was very new to the sport.  Memories flood back from the strangest things.  Sometimes it is from a distinct smell from long ago or the lyrics of a song from high school.  For me it was all of the subtle things about this race.  From the swim start to the picnic tables.  This race brought back a lot of memories from when I was new to the sport.

The course was essentially the same with a slight change to the run course (a good change that cut out a rocky out and back along an access road).  It was a cool morning and the crowd was excited to get going.  For many people this was their first race of the year.  You could just see it in their faces..in their anxiety and excitement.  It became very apparent at the sound of the gun which started the chaos.  It was an open water swim.  We had about 100 yards to the first turn buoy and it was bedlam.  Everyone around me was racing to the first buoy.  This is normal for early season races because everyone wants to make sure that they hit their “target” goal for their first race of the season.  They don’t want to give away any time especially early in the race.  What ends up happening, rather than a smooth fast swim to the turn buoy, is unorganized chaos.  Everyone was slamming into each other.  

Once we got to the turn buoy we started heading back into shore.  The sun must have started to rise with the start of the race also.  You could not see anything but the sun in your face.  This normally would just be frustrating but in this case, at least for me, it was worrisome from an injury standpoint.  Coming into the swim exit there were two yellow booms that created a wake free swim area along the beach.  These were made of very hard plastic.  We had to either swim under or over these booms.  The problem was that you could not see them at all until you were within a few yards.  So, no open and rhythmic swimming heading into the beach because I was afraid of slamming my hand on one of the two booms causing a hand injury.  It would be something silly like that to jeopardize the rest of the season.  So, because of the chaos to the first buoy, the sun and the booms coming into the beach, this was a very disappointing swim for me.

Off onto the bike.  Really a nice lollipop course with a small section of road construction on the out and back portion.  It was a nice course with a few noticeable climbs that made the legs wake up a bit.  There were some fast bikers on the course that day.  It is always fun to watch pure speed on the bike.

Back into transition.  Out on the run.  The run, in order to keep the course from sprawling too far, was several looped or out and back sections.  This day I enjoyed this course.  It allowed me to keep up with where I was on the course and where the other racers were out there.  The run felt good (as good as it can) and soon enough the race was no longer an experience but rather it had moved over to a memory.  Race 35 done.  17 to go.  This race was a total distance of 19.7 miles.  We are now at 752.1 miles.  Less than 250 miles until our target mile goal of 1,000 miles in 12 months.

Race 34 – Heart and Soles Triathlon

Back to Kentucky horse country for race 34.  Versailles, KY hosted the 11th annual Heart and Soles triathlon.  I showed up race morning feeling under the weather after a week of a head cold.  This, fortunately, was the first time all season I had to race under the weather.  I was a bit dizzy and congested.  Great combination for a triathlon.  

Got the transition set up and headed into the pool area.  Low and behold I was to be the third swimmer in the pool.  Apparently I had put down a swim time for a 300 yard swim when in fact this race was a 400 yard swim.  This means I was positioned too high for my swim abilities.  The way this race was set up I was not able to move back to where I should be so I knew I would have to push the effort a bit harder than normal to ensure that I didn’t mess up the flow for the other racers.

The swim went well.  Got passed a few times y some very quick swimmers.  Off to the bike.  This course took us through true horse country.  It was beautiful.  There are few places you can race with some much scenic beauty as horse country.  The bike was well spread out and everyone just kept their head down and raced their own race.  I tried to not push too hard as the dizziness and congestion was still lingering.  

We rolled back into transition and I knew I had a tough 5k to go.  They had us set up to run an off-road 5k which is always a bit more taxing on the legs.  The undulation of the terrain saps the legs more that steady and level pavement.  Just after the 2 mile mark we hit a section they affectionately termed “the wall” on the course map.  This was an appropriate label.  This was a tough, albeit relatively short, hill.  After you ascended this climb you then had a longer, not quite as steep, gradual climb.  Finishing these climbs brought you into the finish and a conclusion to race 34.

Heart and Soles was a fun race that had a lot of local support.  That is a good sign of the viability of races of this sort.  Any event that can cross the ten year mark is doing something right.  This race added another 17.4 miles bringing the total up to 732.4 miles.  

Race 33 – Boiler Sprint

So I find myself, once again, behind on my blog. I raced another race this morning without talking about the great race I had over Easter weekend.

Last weekend we headed to West Lafayette, Indiana to take part in the Boiler triathlon on the campus of Purdue University. The organizers were gracious enough to allow me to come up and race this event on very short notice.

The race was great. This race was put on by a great group of triathletes. It was another chilly morning. The swim took place in the Purdue team pool. Second time this season that I have had a chance to race in a collegiate long course pool. This pool was exceptional. It may seem silly but it is really nice to race in a good pool. No bunching on the swim this time. Everyone found their place and swam nicely separated the whole way.

The bike was best described as a tale of two stories. An out and back course. On the way out I could tells here was some wind out there. There was a section where we came out from the trees into an open area and a side wind popped us. It was a heck of a gust that pushed me close to the shoulder.

We headed further into the course. Made a right and now had the wind at our back. We were moving now. I knew I had to take advantage of all the blessings the wind provided on the way out because I was going to have to pay it all back on the way in. The turnaround came and the anchor dropped. It was brutal all the way back to the turn back out of the wind. It was nice to get out of the wind. Back into transition and off for the run.

From the start I knew this was not going to be my run day. The legs just sucked. It was a perfect run course. Part on a mulched path and the rest on sidewalks. The weather had warmed. The run was survived and race 33 was done.

At the end of the race I thanked the race directors for a great event. Talked with a large crowd about the season and the bike. Handed out cards hoping they would turn into donations. Race 33 was a great event. If you ever find yourself around Indiana in April plan to race this event. You won’t regret it. This race added 15.7 miles bringing us over the 700 mile mark. We are now at an even 715 miles.

Race 32 – ADPiTriathlon

I am a bit behind on getting this one posted.  Life has been hectic.  Lincoln had his first birthday, baptism and Easter.  However, I am back on track with my blogging.

The ADPiTriathlon was a race in my backyard – Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  We headed back from our race in Atlanta to sleep in our own bed before Race 32.  This may seem like a small thing but it is really nice to be able to get ready in your own home.  

We arrived at the local race on another cold morning.  It was very nice to see familiar faces.  This allowed me to catch up with old friends that I had not been able to see since I have been gone on this crazy circuit for the last 9 months or so.  This season has taken me away from a lot of my local, familiar races in exchange for race locations that would allow me to tackle two or more events in one weekend.  So, the combination of a night at home and friends made this a very special race.

The swim was another pool snake swim of just 300 yards.  It was a bit crowded as everyone jockeyed for position early in the race.  Sometimes that is just part of racing.  Out of the swim and back into the cold.  This race was cold enough that I fought to get on some thin gloves before I headed out on the ride.  These few extra seconds made the ride a lot more bearable.  It was cold.  Not painful just annoyingly cold.  The gloves took off that bite that can distract you from what you are there to do.

Off the bike and back to my rack to get ready for the run.  As I was running my bike through transition I noticed that I was running next to my rack-mate.  I had a chance to meet him before the race and we talked for a bit about what laid ahead of us.  As I was racking my bike he was about to get on his.  That’s right…I had finished with my bike around the same time as he was finishing his swim.  Some people in his shoes may get frustrated with their day or frustrated with seeing me with only one leg of the race to go.  But not this guy.  He looked at me and said “solid, now have a great run.”  I told him thank you and offered similar words of encouragement to him.  That is what is amazing about this sport and about this racer.  Triathlon is a race against yourself.  He knew this.  He wasn’t concerned about my race or anyone else’s race at that time.  He served, probably unbeknownst to him, as a great example of how a triathlete should act.  Kudos to him.

The run was flat.  I didn’t have much in the legs since I had such a hard day in Atlanta the day before.  The hills of Atlanta sucked any speed (which I don’t have much of at this point) from my legs on the run.  It was a nice relief to see the finish line.  This race added another 13.4 miles to the total.  This one tantalizingly close to crossing over the 700 miles mark.  At the end of Race 32 we had raced 699.3 miles total.  

Race 31 – Tripathlon Atlanta

Race 31 brought us back to Georgia for the second time in a few weeks.  This race was right outside of downtown Atlanta in the suburb surrounding Chastain Park.  I read the race description prior to the event and saw that I could expect rolling hills on the bike and the run.  I was happy to see that there would not be any real serious hills as I am still working my way back into shape.  

Well, I came to find out, as I headed down into the race venue, that the definition of rolling hills in Atlanta must be pretty different than mine in Nashville.  These were some real hills that I was going to face.  The swim start and transition were in, what felt like, a hole down at the bottom of a funnel.  Even the transition was on an incline.

We got ready to start the race.  I was starting 17th in the time trial swim start. The swim was another snake swim course through a heated pool.  Fairly uneventful swim with just a few bumps along the way as everyone made their way across the pool..lane by lane.

Out of the pool and into the fridge.  Another cold morning on the bike.  The weather was a balmy 45 degrees or so.  Gloves on, down the hill to the very bottom of the funnel..onto the bike and off we went.  We started climbing right away.  The hills were unrelenting throughout the entire race.  You would climb a “hill”..catch your breath…scream down the backside…hit a flat section….start climbing again.  I will say this for the race, they did a very good job controlling traffic throughout this race.  These hills would bring us through many intersections which would have been very precarious at the speeds we were traveling in certain sections.  However, the downside of the bike course came in the quality of the roads.  The roads were fairly chewed up.  Speed made certain sections dangerous.  You really had to pay attention to the direction of your front wheel to ensure that you did not drift into trouble.

Coming off the bike and off to the run through the sloped transition was different.  You are coming down the hill braking the whole way.  You climb off the bike and start the downhill run to the rack.  This was a unique experience for me because the transition was generally empty as I came in.  Since I started at the front of the race there wasn’t much traffic in transition to navigate.  Bike racked..shoes on…downhill back to the base of the funnel.

The run had 4 real hills on the course.  This made for a painful run for a big clydesdale working his way back into shape.  Fortunately we were racing around a beautiful golf course and the weather, at this point, had become very nice.  The run finished and race 31 was all done.

This race was hard.  Not the hardest I had ever done but still one to remind your legs and lungs that you were doing work the whole way.  This race was 18.5 miles.  Bringing the Team Chad annual race miles up to 685.9 miles.  More to come later.

Race 30 – Conroe Tri for Fun

I have received good feedback from my last post about the experience of racing.  Therefore, I will get back into the balance of that story after a brief description about Conroe Tri for Fun.  This race was north of Houston at the local YMCA.  This was a fun event.  I have raced big races (15,000 racers) and I have raced small races (30 racers).  They each have their benefits.  This was a “small” race in comparison..about 90 racers in the adult wave.  This makes for a much more relaxed and overall jovial atmosphere.  Less peacocks walking around pre and post race.  This event was well run with a heated outdoor pool swim, a 16.5 mile bike through traditional Texas countryside (from fracking manufacturers to outdoor shooting ranges…felt very Texas).  Coming in off the bike we had a trail run for our 3.1 mile section with a finish where we had to run across a very pristine lake.  Very cool race and very happy I added it to my calendar.

So, after you have made your way out of transition you try to make the true transition.  That from swimming (with a bit of running) to cycling.  All of the sudden a whole different group of muscles begin to start firing.  They are warmed up from the swim (which is a total body event with a heavy focus on arms, shoulders, back and core) but now the lower half of your body is being called up to primary action.  Even though you tried to slow your breathing down before you headed out of transition it was not fully possible.  Your breathing is elevated.  You can start feeling your heart ticking along at a rate somewhere between true aerobic and anaerobic.  Your body is working now.  It is an interesting feeling right at this point.  It is something akin to a runners high.  Your body is not exhausted.  You are not fighting your muscles or your breathing to keep going.  However, everything is just starting to burn.  You are in that space where the body is truly alive….you feel yourself from the inside out.  I think it is this feeling that makes the sport addicting.  In the world we live in, with so much time behind our desks or steering wheels, it is tough to get that feeling of performance from our truly amazing body.  Now, that period of “physical bliss” is brief.  After all, you are racing.  Soon the burning starts to pick up.  You have settled into  the bike and things start to change as you pick up the pace on the bike.

The bike, like the swim (and the run for that matter) is also about rhythm.  Finding that balance of speed and control that helps you get through the bike leg as quickly and efficiently as possible.  It takes a while for new racers to learn how to “use” their bikes effectively.  With 18 or more gears at your disposal it can take a while for the art of bike racing to develop in the mind of a racer.  But when it happens, when you become in tune with your bike it is a cool transformation.  Your body feels the resistance that the bike is facing and makes the necessary gear changes or position changes without conscience thought.  I have no idea how many gear changes I make in any given race because it is all done without much thought on my part.  The legs and lungs feel the need to shift up or down and the hands react.  

The bike leg has so many more variables than any of the other disciplines in the race.  For that reason I think it is the most mentally taxing leg of the race.  Even if your mind is processing information outside of your mental presence it is still sapping mentally.  I was thinking about all the things that my mind is doing while I am racing.  As discussed above it is handling the shifting.  It is watching for debris or dangers on the road (this gets even more important at higher speeds or in bad conditions such as rain).  It is ensuring that my riding is within the confines of the rules of the race.  It is calculating progress and distance to go.  Race rankings.  Calorie and fluid consumption.  It just goes on and on and on.  The bike leg is definitely a physical endeavor but it is also one that requires a good deal of mental fortitude in order to maintain the focus of speed and efficiency.

That is why rhythm is important on the bike.  Once you slide into the groove of a rhythm you are able to give your mind a break.  Once your body finds the pace and starts holding that pace then your mind can relax from several of its duties and start thinking about how much you are hurting.  And this is interesting, at least for me.  I told someone a few weeks back that if you aren’t hurting your aren’t racing.  There is truth to this.  All racers, from the tip of the spear to the bottom of the broad handle, share one common thread.  When they are really racing they are hurting.  The elite racers are just able to go faster and endure the pain better than the back of the pack racers.  So, when I get into the groove or rhythm I try to analyze the level of hurt.  Is there more hurt I can endure at this point?  If so lets pick it up a bit and re-analyze in a bit.  Hurt without injury.  Hurt that can be maintained over the distance required.  Those are the things you are looking for in any given race.

The bike progresses until you find yourself coming back into transition to move onto the run.  Again, in anticipation of the run you are wanting to make sure that you calm the body and mind down.  A surprise for most new racers comes as they approach transition and have to dismount their bike.  Triathlon racing usually does not involve a lot of tight turn or heavy braking at any phase of the course except when you come back into transition.  I have said that cycling is a lower body sport…which is mostly true.  However, when you come back into transition you quickly recognize that your shoulders, arms and hands have some fatigue also.  Some of this has to do with how comfortable and relaxed you may be.  A good relaxed position helps eliminate some of this fatigue.  But often, spectators see an excited racer coming into transition.  The excitement changes to a sense of perplexity as they try to navigate to the dismount point and get off the bike smoothly and quickly.  This gets easier with experience as you begin to understand how your body is going to feel and how you need to approach this transition.

As you step off the bike and take your first steps (whether they are running or walking) you are immediately struck by a sensation that you are on a moving boat.  Your leg muscles are still firing in a cycling fashion.  They can’t make the transition so quickly.  The cycling motion is pretty different than upright ambulation.  The racer has to push through this sensation of unfamiliar legs if they hope to make a successful transition.  Most new racers think they need to allow their legs time to stop firing in a cycling manner and get ready for running.  This often is not the case.  The legs will do what they are called upon to do…even if the mind thinks differently.  

Heading back to your rack you try to get your bike back into position.  You again have to clear the mind and focus on the task at hand.  Get your cycling shoes off (if they aren’t already). Get your helmet off (unfortunately there are racers that forget this as they head out onto the run).  Get your running shoes on.  Race belt on.  Hat on.  And then remember where you have to run out of the transition.

On the run.  The legs and lungs are already hot.  They have been through the swim and the bike and now your mind is asking why we have to run.  The bike involves a lot of mental fortitude to keep you safe and get you through quickly.  The run requires a whole different type, in my opinion, of mental fortitude.  It requires a lot of positive self talk.  A lot of determination and drive to get you through the run.  Your legs don’t start feeling like running legs for maybe a half mile (sometimes longer if it was a tough bike).  Getting to this point is taxing on your cardio.  You are fighting the burning in your chest.  It seems that once your legs get in line it helps to calm down the cardio system.  You find the rhythm.  Now it is just a matter of enduring the hurt.  You are going to hurt on the run.  But you have to make sure that you are hurting enough to race like you want to.  This is where the mind and the body disagree.  In fact the mind and the mind often disagree.  Your subconscious mind is telling you to stop..this is dumb…you should walk.  Your racer mind is telling your subconscious to shut up and for the muscles to keep firing…get me to the line.

As you get to the finish shoot the endorphins that helped you start the race start releasing into your system again.  The accomplishment and joy fuels the push to the finish.  You come across the line and are greeted by volunteers who have dedicated their day to helping you at this point.  That’s it.  The race is over.  You wonder why you put yourself through all that pain.  Your legs and shoulders are twitching.  Your lungs are burning.  Sweat coats your body in an effort to get your core temperature back down to a normal level.  You make your way out of the finishing chute…relax.  Start thinking about when you can do it again!

Conroe added another 20 miles to the total.  This brings us to 667.4 miles thus far.  Many more miles to come.