Weed and Crack: Just another Team Z Weekend

The Double Mussel
Geneva, NY
July 10 and 11, 2010

Thanks to my friend Melody for suggesting the title for today’s entry!

Mary and I worked it out that for a variety of reasons one or both of us have ended up in upstate New York every year since 2005.  Sometimes it has been circumstance (the small matter of having to register for and then compete in an Ironman, for example) but mostly it has been for bike touring and it has been a part of the country that we’ve fallen in love with.  The main roads have wide shoulders and long steady grades up and down so it is heaven for bike riders.  For that reason alone I had been looking forward to getting back to this region.  But with a large contingent of Team Z athletes (more than 120) competing in what is widely regarded as one of the best triathlons in the country, this promised to be a great weekend.

I’d signed up for the Double Mussel, racing a sprint on the Saturday and the Half-Iron on the Sunday.  Why?  For the money of course.  And the Wheaties contract.  And the groupies.

In part it was one of those things that seemed like a much better idea when I was snowbound in January than it did when I was standing at the swim start on a hot morning in July.  But dialing the effort level down has been one of the hardest things for me to master this year and I’m finding that racing consecutive days is helping me get my head around that.  But it was also a chance to test myself: even if I raced the sprint conservatively I would still be a little tired for the half iron.  How well would I do?

Blinded by the Lord.  Twice.

Sprint day did not start out well.  My aero bottle was leaking.  Nothing serious, just seepage but I was thankful for the roll of duct tape in my bag.  Standing at the swim start, I discovered a rip in the arse of my wetsuit.  Then, when I started to adjust my goggle strap and the entire thing snapped.  Fortunately, I had a spare pair, but it was about half a mile away at the Team Z tent.  So I got to experience the new fad of barefoot running.  Let me tell you, it is overrated.  Since I was also wearing my wetsuit it did, however, mean that I was pretty well warmed up by the time I got back to the start.

It was in in-water start, at the head of a channel through a small marina.  I felt very relaxed, and spent the few moments before the start lying on my back and breathing easily.  There was supposed to be a gentle current carrying us in, but as we waited to start I had the strangest sensation that we were moving backward.  The water didn’t smell that great, but fortunately for me, when I get water up my nose my sense of smell disappears almost completely.

The start line was quite narrow which made for a congested start; I was hit more in this race than any other event so far.  The water was pretty clear, thanks to the obliging filtering by the invasive Zebra Mussels that give the event its name.  That meant you could see the weed quite clearly.  And there was a ton of it down there.  I’ve never been a big fan of the stuff.  Freaks me out a little to tell you the truth.  But then so does swimming in general.  At least there wasn’t a lot of it on the surface.  Well, that is what I was in the process of telling myself when a great big piece of it spread itself across my goggles.  After quickly running through a checklist of reasons why the gods might have chosen to strike me blind and mentally repenting each and every one of them, I finally figured out what was wrong.

Oddly enough, the weed actually proved to be a factor in making this one of the more comfortable swims I’ve had.  The goggles made it appear much closer than it was (I didn’t get my hands on any until right near the swim exit) but it actually gave me something I’ve never had in an open water swim: a sense of forward progress.

However, I learned that the water could contain hazards far more dangerous than long tendrils of weed.  Because the water was pretty warm (mid 70s) a lot of people dispensed with wetsuits.  We were about half way through the swim when I was dimly aware that I was catching someone (a rarity for me in the swim).  It proved to be a. . .how shall I say this. . .gentleman of more than moderate girth–and his swimsuit was rapidly heading south.  Now bear in mind that underwater things are both modified and distorted.  So I looked up. . .and found myself heading rapidly toward a giant mutant ass crack.  Stricken blind for the second time in the swim, I just tried to power on past as fast as possible. 

(I’m never sure what the etiquette is in such situations.  You don’t want to be suggesting to another guy that he needs to adjust the tension in his drawstring.)

I finished the swim in a little under 17 minutes, a hair over two minute pace, which is about what I’ve been swimming recently (taking the wetsuit boost into account).

The rest of the race was relatively uneventful.  The ride was beautiful, open, and basically flat; the only significant feature was a brisk headwind on the way back.  I settled into the middle of zone 3 and kept my average speed a little under 20 mph.  Transitions were sharp (well, still struggling with wetsuit removal) and the run was sprightly.  The whole way I kept thinking that I could be pushing harder, but had to keep reminding myself not to.  The organizers had been a bit shorthanded so Zers had been helping out with the body marking and were now helping out at the finish line as well.  So I was delighted to see Oli as he removed my chip. 

The road surface on part of the run was a little rough; I wasn’t paying attention at one point and turned my ankle a little bit while stepping over a speed bump.  It hurt, but it didn’t seem to affect my run.  I met Jason and Mary just after the finish and Jason was great.  He sat me down near one of the water buckets being used to anchor the Team Z tents and dumped a bunch of ice into one so I could soak my ankle.

Overall Time: 1:36:50
Overall: 225/738
Gender: 171/368
A/G: 18/34

Is this a Duathlon and I Missed the Memo?

I spent the afternoon relaxing, watching the third place World Cup game and the next stage of the Tour (thank God the cabin we were staying in had cable).  Had one of the best pre-race meals I’ve ever had (home-made pasta courtesy of Es, barbecued Salmon and Chicken, and a fabulous spinach salad from Mary).  A reasonable night’s sleep (for me) and then we were up at 4:15 to get to the race site.

One benefit of having raced the previous day was that I could streamline the race prep.  I didn’t have to walk the transition area or memorize the layout.  Moreover, a benefit of doing the double was that we had the same number for both days and were racked in the same place (and it was probably the only time in my life that I’ll get to wear a pro double digit number!).  I had coffee and a bit of food as soon as I arrived, got marked, chipped and racked, and then spent some time talking with people.  Well, dividing my time between doing that and repeated visits to the portaloos.  I’d been hydrating religiously with Smart Water for the last few days and let’s just say that the morning provided abundant evidence that I was well hydrated.

The day promised to be warm and the swim waves were consequently only 3 minutes apart to try and get us out in the course in the cool part of the day.  The start of the swim was incredibly shallow and for a while it looked as if we were going to be able to run the swim course.  This suited me just fine.  I was running through the water almost all the way to the first buoy and making faster progress than most of the swimmers around me and certainly faster progress than I could make swimming.  Eventually, however, I decided that for form’s sake I should actually make an effort, and I dived in.

I’m pleased to report that today’s swim was pleasantly crack free.  Not so for the weed, unfortunately.  There was a lot more floating around on the surface and I ended up sucking some in.  You might expect it to taste a little like Nori.  In fact, it was a like sucking on a day-old used diaper.  I felt a sense of accomplishment at just having kept my breakfast down.

Suffered a sighting fail on the second leg and swung wide.  I’m not entirely sure why except I was having a much harder time seeing these drum-shaped buoys than the triangular ones used by set-up events.  Nevertheless, I felt really comfortable during this swim (although the channel was much warmer than yesterday, and I was starting to get a little hot by the end).  I had been expecting to do the swim in about 50 minutes, because I thought I’d be a little more tired after yesterday.  So I was pleased to do it in 47 minutes.  Predictably, however, that put me well at the back.

Overall: 720/794
Gender: 464/501
A/G: 60/67

(There was some speculation that the course might have been a little long.  I was swimming at a 2:15 pace which is what I’ve been swimming longer intervals at the pool.  So you’d have expected that with the wetsuit it might be a little faster).

On top of the world

I’d made a conscious decision today to try and pace the whole day a little more like I plan to do for the Ironman.  So I walked out of the swim finish and took my sweet time in transition, trying to be more deliberate .  But I ended up taking a little more time than I had expected because I had to pee badly and for the life of me couldn’t manage it while I was swimming (not a great multitasker, me).

The bike was, quite simply, gorgeous.  It is a very exposed course, but one thing that both Mary and I have loved from biking around this area is the sense of space.  Most of the climbing today was pretty gradual, and then all of a sudden you would look around and find that you were looking out over everything.  Lakes sparkled in the distance, a patchwork of yellow and green in all directions.  The course approximated a figure eight, and after we reached the crossover point the course gently shifted downhill, and my speed began to pick up.  The shoulders were wide, but from biking in the area before (in fact, I realized I’d actually biked about a third of the course previously in a couple of different tours) I remembered that the pavement is often the smoothest right over on the edge.  Sometimes it is a little nervy to hold what can be a narrow line in places, particularly if you twitch your bike over the place.  But the speed difference was palpable.  This gentle downward trend led to a rocketing downhill toward Lake Cayuga, and then some tempo riding along the shore of the lake.  Looking at my data afterwards, for a stretch of about ten miles I averaged over 22 mph.

Things pitched upward rather abruptly and then settled into a long, slow grind back toward the intersection.  Coming from the back, I was able to see a lot of other people on the team.  In fact, I wasn’t the only one who was able to appreciate the size of the team.  One cyclist passed me and said “Who are you guys?  There are hundreds of you!”  You can’t say we didn’t have a team presence! 

As we approached the intersection again, I was thrilled to see a Team Z cheering contingent: Mary, Kevin, Priscilla, Kat, and Debbie (plus Angel Dog Tina) were the ones I noticed.  I noticed Kat first, because she was wearing the same rainbow tutu she’d worn in the micro-Mussel tricycle race.  I was pleased to see them because we’d been going uphill for quite a while by that point and I was a little grumpy.

However the road soon pitched downward again, and we were rocketing into a glorious sweeping descent toward Seneca Lake.  We suffered a bit of a rude interruption when the route took us over narrow, rough roads through an old air station now a state park and museum.  The road was broken and juddery–a lot like the Ironman Wisconsin course, in fact!  I passed a few people here, because most people slowed down.  Oddly enough, I remembered a segment on the tour coverage where they had been talking about how to ride cobbles: using a big gear to keep your speed up.  I thought, what the hell, shifted up, and was mildly surprised to find that it worked well with the rough road.  I can’t say it was entirely comfortable, but it was certainly smoother.  (It didn’t stop me hitting a really bad pothole and ejecting a water bottle; I had to circle back and pick it up because it was the one containing the last of my nutrition and we still had about 13 miles to go). 

Fortunately, the next long patch of road was as smooth as the previous segment had been rough, and I was able to push it a bit toward the finish.  Final time: 3:09:41.

Overall: 462/794
Gender: 356/501
A/G: 38/67

Ran what I could, walked when I had to

I’d felt really comfortable during the bike, cool, well-hydrated and fed, and relaxed.  I didn’t realize how hot it had become until I was racking my bike and saw my arms glistening.  Again, took it slow and again, I had to pee really badly (although this didn’t manifest itself until I got off the bike).  There was another Zer in the portaloo in transition, so I spent a comical couple of moments literally running backwards and forwards as I thought “Never mind, I can wait.  No I can’t.  Yeah, I’m good.  No I’m not.”  After I got inside, however, I almost wished that I hadn’t: second worst portaloo I’ve ever been in.

I’d screwed up the multisport function on my watch and had to reset it but I got into my stride pretty quickly, and the fact that the first three miles were flat helped with that.  In fact, I was running too quickly, settling naturally into a sub-10 pace which I knew I wouldn’t be able to sustain.  It was hot, and I began throwing water on myself at the first available opportunity, while gradually pulling the pace back.  After the first three or so miles things began to get a little scary.  We passed through the cool of an underpass (and I thought longingly of just camping out there for a while) and then immediately hit the first of the hills.  I caught up with Brian as we walked up it and we chit-chatted a bit before reaching a section where we had to either scramble up a grass bank or take some stairs.  I figured real men would take the grassy route.  Note to self: you are not a real man, take the stairs next time.

The next few miles trended gradually uphill and fortunately there was a lot more shade than I was anticipating.  I’d filled my fuel belt bottles with electrolyte water and was taking my regular diet of margarita-flavored shot blocks, although taking slightly fewer of them than at Kinetic.  I traded places for a while with a guy who kept walking then running; he was cramping quite badly.  I offered him some of my e-caps, and at first he seemed inclined to take the, but then he said “No, thanks, that would be aiding.”  He was genial about it, and didn’t seem to intend it as a rebuke.  He even made a joke of it, saying “I don’t want them taking it away when I win this thing.”  Still, it was great to see someone honoring what is probably, after drafting, the most violated USAT rule (mainly because, like the ban on headphones–I ran for four miles behind a woman openly wearing headphones–USAT officials don’t seem interested in enforcing it). 

We reached the first of the real climbs about mile 6 or so and I walked the last part of it.  Suddenly, to my surprise, I began to feel quite good.  Part of this had to do with the amazing support as we went through the neighbourhoods of Geneva.  The rest stations were efficient, and most of them had plenty of everything including ice.  But town residents were out cheering, thanking us for coming to their town and, best of all, spraying the racers with hoses.  In fact, I don’t think the run would have gone as well as it did without the many hose-wielding residents (at least a dozen that I encountered).

There was a nasty surprise in the form of a long, hot climb on a gravel road through a vineyard.  I was able to run more of it than I expected and walked more of it than I wanted to, but once I’d recharged at the top I started running again and found that I still felt pretty good.  This was a really new feeling for me: it was hot, I was dripping with sweat, I was running, and yet I didn’t feel like total shit.  This was not the Kinetic half-Ironman, in other words.

Lots of downhill in the latter part of the race, which is one of my strengths.  Then before I knew it, we were back on the flat.  Just past the water station at mile 10, I think, there was a young guy with a hose.  Not everyone wanted to be sprayed (some people were worried about mushy shoes) but those that did were getting a nice fine mist.  I spread my arms wide and called out “Hit me!”  Next thing I knew, a fire-hose strength jet of water hit me full in the chest, splattering everywhere.  The kid looked aghast, everyone around me cracked up, and shaking my head ruefully I dripped my way up the road.

The only really bad moment for me came just after mile 11 where my legs just suddenly locked up.  It didn’t feel like cramp, just like an enormous tiredness kicking in.  I walked for about a minute, and then kicked into gear again.  Mercifully, my legs responded.  In fact, they responded well; I began pegging a couple of people back and to my surprise I looked at my watch and saw that I was running a pace under 10 minutes.

I passed a couple of twenty-somethings, which is always a buzz on the run.  (Passing the young’uns on the run is almost as much fun as passing people with more expensive rides on the bike leg!).  Soon, I could hear the finish line, and I knew that most of the noise would be coming from my team.  Sure enough, they were spread out across the finishing chute on either side, a sea of green.  High fives from Ed and Iwan, and then I was done.  Run time: 2:15:41.

Overall: 422/794
Gender:295/501
A/G:42/67

Someone hung the distinctive Musselman finisher’s medal around my neck.  They use re-cycled bike chain rings: as soon as I’d seen a picture of this I’d wanted to do this race.  Yep, I’m shallow enough to choose races by the finisher’s medal.  Mary met me and I practically grabbed the Coke out of her hand as I wove my way uncertainly toward a seat at the Team Z tent complex where I could cheer in the remaining athletes.

Everything hurt.

Total Time: 6:22:24

Overall: 500/794
Gender: 363/501
A/G: 44/67

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One response to “Weed and Crack: Just another Team Z Weekend

  1. Mark!

    Very funny and inspiring race report. I’m glad you had a good race. 🙂 Hope you’re recovering well.

    Best,
    Rohini

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