A Quiet Relaxing Weekend

Nope, sorry, that is a post from someone else’s blog.

This one is for my friend AJ, who passed me in transition, making a face like  a gothic gargoyle, and said “You need to blog about this and tell everyone how much it sucked ass!”

Rumpus in Bumpass, International Distance Triathlon
April 16, 2011

Only problem is, for me, it didn’t suck ass.  In fact, I had a great day.  One of my better days, all things considered.  The major things that contributed to this being such a great day were a) I wasn’t swimming, and b) I wasn’t running.

Those things weren’t in themselves guaranteed to produce a happy ending (no, I’m not talking about the “massage” kind; the day was great but not that great).  The biggest obstacle was the weather.  When I finished packing the car and left the house at about 6:30 (you’ve got to love a race organization sufficiently civilized to offer a 10am start time!) to drive down to Lake Anna it was spitting.  I made good time on the way down, rocking out to my tunes, which I periodically had to crank up to drown out the intermittent rain hitting the windshield.  Big splattery drops, the kind that usually presage thunderstorms, hail, or both.

Reaching the race site, I followed directions and parked in a field near the Marina that seemed as if it was going to be a prime candidate for a quagmire later on.  It was–what else–raining, with a driving gusty wind behind it.  I hit the portaloos before picking up my part of the packet, and couldn’t decide what was more unnerving, the rain pounding on the roof or the whole thing rocking in the breeze (at least I think it was rocking, maybe my aim was just off).

I made my way over to the Team Z compound and was delighted to discover that it was right next to the place where the Papa John’s people were setting up the post-race food (at first I thought that it was Ed trying to up the ante on usual feast laid on for the athletes; I knew I shouldn’t have challenged him to one-up the hand-cut cajun-seasoned fries!).  The team tent seemed to have expanded, yet again, and was already full of people cowering from the intermittent squalls.  The lake didn’t look too rough, not like last year.  It was, however, a rather disturbing shade of brown.

Touched base with the other members of my relay, Tom (swimmer) and Claudia (runner) and then got the bike set up in the transition area, which was already showing signs of considerable wear and tear.  I spent some time chatting in the tent, trying to find out what everyone was doing, offering encouragement to other members of the team who were doing the race for the first time (or even their first tri) and even some total strangers. (There was a woman in line at yet another visit to the portaloo who hadn’t done the race before and was panicked about the swim.  I tried to be encouraging, warned her that the buoys would probably get blown out of line so not to sight on them, but I had a feeling it was all in vain.  She was complaining about absolutely everything (the number of toilets, the weather, the lack of people in transition to tell her what to do (?) and had a permanent sour expression on her face.  With that attitude, she was probably right: she would have a shitty race).

As the first of the swimmers hit the water I went for a short warmup run and discovered that the path through the woods on the run course was already a sea of mud, with many of the tricky root stumps that I remembers so well from last year already covered in water.  I stretched, then stripped down to go and stand in the transition area with my fellow relay cyclists to await the arrival of our swimmers, all of whom had gone off in the last wave.

And we waited.

It is a pretty common experience in cycling to discover that you have dressed completely inappropriately for the conditions.  Usually, however, that happens when you are actually moving (well, OK, it also happens pretty regularly when you wander into a local supermarket or service station to purchase supplies).  I was pretty confident that I was dressed just right for the conditions when it came to biking (my preferred cold weather racing get-up of a full-sleeve underarmor layer with the Team Z singlet (I keep wanting to type zinglet!) over the top and shorts).  For standing around in a transition area on a cold and blustery day, however, I was radically under-dressed.  But I was at least in good company.  Most of the relay riders were in the same boat, and all our swimmers were taking longer–much longer–than anticipated.  From the grim faces on the racers going past us we had already gathered that it was pretty tough out there.  So we were sympathetic.  For a while.  Finally, just as I was on the verge of jumping in and reverse swimming the course to see if I could find Tom, he appeared jogging at the far end of the transition area, shaking his head ruefully.  He fastened the chip to my ankle, and then I was off.

My goal for the 24 miles was to do it in an hour and 12 minutes.  Sounds like a completely arbitrary time, right?  Well, it is actually what you get if you were able to sustain a 20mph pace for that distance.  This is something I’ve only been able to do in one race (and it was a very short bike leg) and (I think) on one time trial.  So it was a bit of a stretch for me, even on a relatively flat course like this one.

Starting right at the back I had a ton of people to pass but it didn’t present too many problems because, not to put too fine a point on it, I was booking.  I just put my head down and went.  Mercifully, apart from a few spatters at one point, the rain pretty much held off for most of the bike leg, which was fortunate, because there were a couple of banked areas where you could tell water would have just sheeted down.  Still, the road was slick in many places, and the uphill portion of the course coincided almost perfectly with a headwind which was pretty strong.  Apart from that, however, I didn’t notice the wind that much.

The first lap went by in 36.35, slightly behind pace but not bad.  I attacked the small hills a little more aggressively, tried to be smarter about my lines.  I thought my chances slipped a bit when we were stopped by a police officer as he let some traffic through; I thought it was supposed to work the other way round in a race, but I quickly pushed it out of my mind, got back up to speed and back into my aero position.  The pack had thinned considerably on the second loop, and for several stretches it was just me, the hum of the gears, the swish of the tires across the glossy pavement.  But there were still enough people that I could use them as targets for catching.  I tried to call out encouragement to every Zer I passed but I was getting short on breath and my comments became correspondingly more brief.

Finally I reached the entrance to the park and pushed hard right to the dismount line (I’d had visions of myself screwing up spectacularly here, but the dismount was free of any YouTube-worthy moments and I was off and running).  The sloping road was treacherously slick so I took the route that everyone had obviously taken before me, along the grass verge, which was now nothing more than a few clumps of greasy grass sticking out of a World War I trench-scape.  I pushed hard all the way into the transition area, using my bike as a prop while Claudia grabbed the chip and took off, and then doubling over for a while to get my breath back.

Final time: 1:11:42.  20.08mph average (but who is counting!).  I took more than a minute off the second loop.  Better than that, mine was the second fastest bike split (by a goodly margin) among the 16 relay teams (losing out by a country mile, however, to my team-mate William and his aerodynamic hair).  Sadly, our team was just pipped for a podium spot by ten other teams. . .  No reflection at all on my team-mates, I hasten to add; I easily had the best end of this deal.  I’m impressed that Tom finished the swim at all; unpredictable chop, competing water and wind currents, migratory buoys. . .  And Claudia had an equally tough task ahead of her thanks to the rolling terrain and the mud.  But she finished with a smile on her face and overall I thought we did well to finish.

I’m pleased with my bike time.  It is five minutes faster than last year, but of course this year I wasn’t holding anything in reserve for the run and I’m not in such good shape.  However, the big factor this year was racing the duathlon last weekend; I was pretty tired after that and I didn’t not how recovered I’d be.  Physically I did feel that I ran out of gas (when aerobically I was still doing OK) but my pacing was good, mounting and dismounting were all spot on and my decision making out on the course was good.  So I was very happy.

My bike?  Not so much.  It looked as if someone had just used it in a 24 hour mountain bike race.  I, too, was covered in mud spatters from head to foot.  I threw on multiple layers, and grabbed some hot food as I listened to the stories that were swirling around me: tales of woe, triumph, bemusement, disappointment.  Then it was back out to the finish line, under a grey sky and a gathering wind to watch the last people come in.

So sorry, AJ, my day rocked!

Postscript: now THIS sucks ass
What do you do to recover from a 24 mile time trial?  But of course, you try to bike 80 miles the next day.

I had 80 miles on my training schedule for this weekend.  Yep, that’s a lot for this stage of the year but those of us doing Mountains of Misery are on a bit of an accelerated plan to ramp up the mileage.  So I could have just counted my 24 and only ridden 60.  That was in fact plan A.  Or I could have stayed in bed.  The ever reliable Plan B.  Instead, a group of fellow Zers who are training for IM USA in Lake Placid in July invited me to join them.  Once I’d said yes, there went the staying in bed option (at least with the ability to save face afterwards).  So I joined a small group of about half a dozen or so riders doing a couple of loops from Poolesville High School.  It was sunny, there was a lot of blue sky, and temperatures were forecast to rise into the high 60s.  Beautiful biking weather.  So what was the problem?

Wind.  Lots of it.  When I got to the parking lot it was already blowing like forty bastards, a steady 20-30mph out of the west.  This was much stronger than anything I’d faced in the race the day before.  Our route was a loop of almost 38 miles that meandered back and forth across a Monocacy that was swollen, angry, and the color of infant diarrhea.  While we got some respite from the wind in wooded areas, much of the Poolesville area is pretty exposed and the wind was blowing strong and steady.  There were a couple of long stretches on the first loop especially where we were biking straight into it, and even though there was little speed to be gained from staying aero (when you are chugging along at 10mph) there is a lot to be lost from sitting up.  The worst, however, was a long pitch on New Design Road with the wind coming full force from the side; I had the bike on a slight lean, my arms offset on the aerobars, trying to avoid a death grip but still be enough in control to fight against the bike’s constant twitching and bucking.  Mysteriously, despite going in a loop, there never seemed to be a really nice direct tailwind!

Still, I felt surprisingly good when I finished the first loop, so I went out on the second, and while there was a point where I could have stuck to my plan A, I opted to do the whole thing.  I think it was because I was conscious of feeling a bit intimidated now having a good sense of what was waiting for me on the exposed sections, and while it would have been easy to avoid those parts of the loop, I didn’t want to give in to that kind of mind game.  Fortunately, the wind, while still Westerly, had backed round to the south a tad and on a couple of the sections that made a noticeable difference.  The result was that my second loop was actually a little faster, and I did the entire ride of near 76 miles in a little under 5 hours of riding time (a few stops to pee and stretch thrown in, but I kept them short).  This was a bit of a stretch for me at this point, so I’m glad this is a recovery week, but I’ll take it, especially in that wind.

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