Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Whaddya mean the season is over?

When I arrive at a race site, it's always a pleasure to hear Jerry MacNeil's voice announcing the action. He has done much to support and promote the sport we all love. He is quick to provide color commentary about races and racers and provides a wealth of information to us all via MinnesotaTriNews. He has also always been very nice to me when we bump in to each other. He likes to promote this blog, which I appreciate. I may not have the same exciting stories that those who win races have, but it is nice that he allows me to share my tales of being a middle-aged, grateful to be at the start line, mid to back of the packer.  Here's my recap of SuperiorMan 41.5.

My 2015 “local” triathlon outdoor season ended last Sunday after I crossed the finish line of SuperiorMan‘s “short” course in Duluth. It was a fun day in a fun town.

The race initially intrigued me because of the swim start. Racers are loaded on to a Vista Fleet ferry boat and taken out on to Lake Superior and get to jump off the boat in to the lake. How fun is that?

I did the long course in 2013. It was the hottest day of the year in Duluth – heat index was well in to the 100s along with some pretty heavy humidity. Very unexpected for this time of year upnord der.  
I have long thought about doing the Escape from Alcatraz race, which also has a “jump off the boat” swim start. There are just a few other things about that race that keeps me away (sharks, currents, cold temperatures and a lot of hills to name a few).

SuperiorMan offers the same cool start without worrying about Jaws. It does have its fair share of currents, cold water and hills, though.

I had planned to race the long course again this year, but when Ironman Arizona 70.3 opened up, I made it my “A” race for the season. (And, truth be told, my pretty lazy training season left me not really ready to pull a ½ out of my legs yet. Fortunately, I have six weeks to get them ready for Tempe).

I pulled back to the short course in early August, which consists of a 0.5 mile swim; 35.4 mile bike and 5.6 mile run.

I’m not really sure why everyone calls the 41.5 mile race “short”. It is longer than an Oly but I guess in comparison to the event’s original 70.3 mile event (now known as the long course or ½ iron distance), I guess it is “short”.

The weather was much more cooperative last Sunday than it was in 2013. Morning temps were in the 60s and the sunny skies predicted didn’t really break out until late morning, so we had some UV protection while out on the bike course. What wasn’t predicted was the wind off the lake. Forecasts had called for mild winds, but we ended up with solid and steady winds.

The first of the long course athletes got on the ferry boat at 5:45 am. I was still in transition at that point with the second wave of long course folks and all the short course people. Transition is inside the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC), which is also a nice feature of this race. Plenty of room; lots of nice bathrooms and showers.

The shower feature was helpful prerace too. Because there is no beach near transition, racers can’t get in to the water before the big jump. I like to have some water down my wetsuit before I start a race. The water helps to loosen up the wetsuit a bit and provides a little bit of added insulation.

After putting my wetsuit half way on, I went to the shower room, filled a throwaway water bottle with water and poured it down the inside of my wetsuit. Almost as good as a prerace dip....

I filled up the water bottle again to take on to the ferry with me and went out to queue up for my ride. I bumped in to Nicole Cueno, Endurance Coach and Race Director for the YWCA Women’s Tri. She was racing the long course. Nicole is a phenomenal athlete and one of the nicest people you can meet. We caught up on our summers for a bit and then I left her to get in to her race head. (I found out later that she got a flat on the bike course and STILL came in third of all long-course women. A-maaaay-zing.)

I got on to the ferry at 6:45 am and we took the short ride to the swim starting point. We had heard that the water temp was 62 degrees. Plenty cold. Many of us were prepared with our neoprene booties and skull caps in addition to long sleeved wetsuits. I saw a couple of racers who were wearing sleeveless wet suits. All I could think was “brrrr”.

Organizers queued us up so that the rest of the long course folks jumped off the boat first; then short course folks. I was in Wave 1 of the short course. As I got closer to the open gate that I’d be jumping through, I squirted the rest of the water from my water bottle underneath the neck of my wetsuit, adjusted my goggles in-between my skull cap and my race cap and tried to stay calm.

The person in front of me jumped in; the nice lady who was staggering the jumpers held me back for about 4 seconds. I just looked down and the churning water, she tapped me on the shoulder and said “go” and I did.

Keeersplash! YIKES that water was cold! My body and head were plenty warm, but my face was very cold. I knew I needed to get out of the way so the next jumper wouldn’t land on me, so I paddled off.

My breathing was a little too rapid, though, so I stopped a couple of strokes in to just calm down for a few seconds. Then put my face back in and started to swim toward the first buoys. The water was much choppier now than it had been for the first set of racers. I took in much more water than I normally do and had to stop a couple of times to cough it out. I was never panicky about it, though. Just inconvenienced.

Short course swimmers swam a three-quarter loop for our 0.5 mile swim. I got to the final turn buoy and angled in only to bump in to a couple of swimmers also trying to make it to the exit. (I don’t know why this happens. Big, old lake with lots of room and there is always someone who swims right in the same path as you are trying to get out. …)

They had a ramp in place to helps swimmers get out, which made exiting the water pretty easy. My swim time was very average for me for a half-mile. Plenty happy about that.

A quick little jog back in to T1; and the fun of getting out of my wet suit and neoprene booties began. I got “stuck” trying to pull the dang thing off. I eventually had to sit down to get the thing off. My T1 times have been pitiful this year. If it isn’t the wetsuit being stubborn, it is the socks begin tough to get on wet feet. I know there is plenty of room for improvement on my T1 times. Will give me something to practice over winter (HA!)

Bike: the long course takes you out to just past Two Harbors out Old Hwy 61. The route back follows
the Grandma’s Marathon route. For the short course, the turn around comes at Homestead Road, and joins the marathon route just beyond the halfway point.

The way out was very straightforward. Road conditions were pretty good, scenery along the way was nice. I kept a very solid pace and passed a bunch of folks (always a great feeling). I got to mile 20 in 1 hour and 4 minutes.

The headwinds hit on the way back. Solid, sustaining winds but a damper on the speed train. There isn’t much foliage on the lake side of the road to soften the impact of the wind. You just have to keep aero and pedal.

Right before Lemondrop Hill, they route goes off the road and on to a narrow bike path. I saw two crashes along this section. One looked pretty painful and the other was just a rider that misjudged a sharp turn at the bottom of a hill. I just slowed down, made sure that the riders were okay and then kept on.

I was hoping for about 2 hours for the ride and came back in to transition at 2:04, averaging 16.9 miles per hour.

T2 was faster (no wetsuit involved!). Then out to the run. In 2013, my coach at the time, Greg Rhodes, and his girlfriend Devon, both surprised me by coming up to watch the race. By the time I got out on to the run course that year, I was very much in “mule” mode.

You know that mode: stubborn, headstrong, will only do what you want to do and nothing more…..

The temps were super high and the sun was blazing. Devon, who runs like a deer, found me on the run course where I was walking (and cursing the sun.) She tried her very best to coax me in to running with her, but I was having nothing of it. I pretty much walked the entire 13 miles.

This year, I vowed to run the run course. This was a tough vow to make because of my continuing, stupid hip issue that does not seem to want to go away. The problem impacts my gait, which is reduced to sort of a stride/clomp; stride/clomp. (Because I think I want to do another Ironman next year, I am in complete denial about what this hip issue really means. I do NOT want to go back to Tria and have them tell me that the jig is up. But, that is a story for another day….)

I did “run” most of the 5.6 mile run, and It wasn’t bad. It was just slow. Pitifully, pitifully slow. (I did take some perverse pleasure in seeing at least two other runners who were 50 plus that seemed to have the same stride/clomp gait that I do….).

Always trying to find a little bit of a silverlining in my slow run, I enjoyed the beautiful views of the lake from the run course; I thanked the volunteers; I sent up some prayers of gratitude for being healthy enough to be able to jump off a perfectly good ferry boat in to the very cold waters of Lake Superior. And then I crossed the finish line.

This year’s outdoor season passed in a blur. Thirteen weeks and seven tris, each of which were super fun. One outdoor tri left on the calendar for this year: Ironman Arizona 70.3 on October 18th.  
The season ain't over quite yet....