Monday, July 21, 2008

Race report

I feel it is allowable to blog about negative thoughts, but I prefer not to blog while actually in the grip of them - I spent yesterday afternoon in a most unedifying state of self-criticism which in retrospect probably has as much to do with race-day dehydration and underfueling as anything about my actual race performance.

That is to say, around five o'clock the unofficial results went up online; by that time I had eaten and drunk and napped, and when I looked at them they struck me as entirely reasonable. It was the New York City tri, it was my second triathlon and my first Olympic-distance (but this creates a misleading impression, since my first ever triathlon was the Florida 70.3 race in May!).

If you read here regularly, you know that I am an enthusiastic though not particularly fast swimmer, a timid and fearful cyclist with a hard time making myself even get on the bike and a relatively strong runner whose running has suffered because of the shift to a broader triathlon focus!

The two most pronounced earlier-in-the-day negative thoughts:

(On the VERY HOT run:) What is the point of even TRYING to get faster at triathlon if every single race I do is going to have running conditions of 85-95 degrees F with high humidity?!? I would have to have an EASY eight-minute-mile pace in order to run 9:00 miles today!

(Afterwards, syllogistically:) I am utterly committed to continuing in triathlon. Triathlon leads me to indulge in excessive self-criticism. Therefore I must stop having so much self-criticism!

But HOW?!?

Here are my results within my division, W35-39:

bib number: 1949
age: 36
location: NEW YORK, NY
division place: 130 out of 186
time: 3:23:59.45

swim: 21:19 [NB I am not a fast swimmer, it is just a fast swim b/c of river current!]
t1: 10:14 [Additional NB: 300-400m run to transition, I was not SO much dragging my heels as this number suggests...]
bike: 1:45:45
t2: 3:46
run: 1:02:58

The full story:

I approached the race in reasonably positive spirits, though I have been under a fair amount of stress this year and would have to say I haven't yet fully recovered from it (and I've got one more very stressful deadline to meet, so it's not yet really over - though when is life stress ever over anyway?!?). I had no time goals, other than thinking that I probably could finish in about 3:30 and it would be nice if I could go a little faster than that. I haven't been training nearly as well as I had initially imagined when I registered for the race in November, partly because of continuing bicycle-related anxieties but partly just because life's like that!

The focus of my nervousness was the descriptions of the start and finish of the bike course. If you know Riverside Park, you can imagine that is indeed a bit tricky - very crowded in and out of transition, a steep hill up to the highway and a sharp turn getting onto it. I saw one woman down off her bike barely out of transition, and it's definitely a race where you have to take things very slowly at either end of the bike ride. But I did the transition tour they offered on Saturday afternoon, and it slightly quelled my fears - I felt the race organizers were doing a good job at telling everyone to take it very slowly, and that the alarmist-sounding warnings were actually not geared towards people like me but to heedless fast people!

And we are in the midst of a four- or five-day NY heat wave, so really all expectations on my part were significantly lowered beforehand...

Here is the New York Times story on the race. It's well worth reading (except that it might be more for my mother's peace of mind if she does not read it!). It is a mixture of the solemn - a man died on the swim, and there were a number of heat-related medical situations - and the sublimely ridiculous:
Dozens of swimmers reported being stung by jellyfish, which were variously described as being clear, slightly purplish-pink and about the size of a salad plate. Swimmers said they were taken by surprise because they had not been warned about the jellyfish, which had not been a problem in past races.

“I was in the middle of a stroke, and whammo, it bit me right in the face; the pain spread across the side of my face and down my neck,” said Charlie Redmond, 59, from Demarest, N.J. “Everyone was talking about the jellyfish after the race.”

Burke said he knew of no serious allergic reactions and said the jellyfish appeared to be dissipating when the first wave of pro athletes entered the water at 5:50 a.m. He noted that the majority of the athletes were wearing wet suits. “We didn’t go out and actually blare it on the P.A. system that there was a jellyfish situation,” he said. “I’m not going to overalarm people.”
The swim: it was fine, but it was over so quickly I felt like I never settled into it! It was an in-water start, and we had a sort of rope to cling to so as not to be carried away by the current, but it was extremely crowded, and I did not have a chance to get my wetsuit really properly inundated on the inside with water before the horn went for the start.

Not long in I felt a very sharp pain on my wrist, but did not immediately think of jellyfish - you know, it is the Hudson River, my thoughts were more running along the lines of broken glass or hypodermic needles, only it did not really seem worth losing momentum to stop and perform a visual examination! Then I started feeling a lot of small stings on my face, and fortunately I had the experience of Caymanian thimble jellyfish a.k.a. the non-melodramatically-named sea itch to tell me what it was. Everybody was talking about it in transition! I did see a really big purple one, too, as well as feeling the stings (which made me think, utterly inappropriately but cheerfulness-inducingly, of a phrase in the lyrics to one of my favorite Antony and the Johnsons songs!)...

Bike ride was uneventful but for the most part enjoyable. I was nervous, but only at sustainable levels: some fairly steep downhills made me anxious, but it was fine... I did not drink enough water or eat anything - I used my Camelbak, and I did get some good swallows out of it, but I was nervous enough that I never quite got in the swing of lifting my hand off the handlebars to get the drinking tube into my mouth! Which is ridiculous - but it was a fairly crowded course, you're quite close to other cyclists at all times, I did not want to wobble into someone's way. In retrospect, I should have just gotten off my bike at the turnaround and drunk a bunch of water and eaten some Clif Blox - but I remembered from Florida that it causes volunteers worry when one does this - and I did not want to worry anyone! Next time I will just do it, though...

In Florida, I mentally suffered from seeing a sign that turned out to be an arrow but which I mistook for a "1" i.e. I thought it was only one more mile of biking but it turned out to be more like 5. This bike was a much more manageable distance for me, but I again suffered mentally from a foolish mistake. My hands were getting very numb and pins-and-needlesy from death-grip on brakes, and it was a huge relief to see the signs coming up for the 72nd St. exit - only I forgot what I knew perfectly well, which is that the bike course actually overshoots and goes down to 59th St. for a turnaround! In this case, it was only barely a mile more, nothing to speak of, but I really was ready for the bike leg to be over...

The main thing to be said about the run is that it was hot. I ate some Blox in transition and drank a very warm bottle of water I'd left at my area, and took 2 cups of water and drank them at every water station on the run (basically every mile). But I was kind of dehydrated already, and mentally shot post-bike (that is where there is the most room for improvement in my triathlon performance, the mental energy the bike uses up leaves me with little on reserve for the run). And it really was hot and humid! It felt like a cop-out, but I decided right away that I was only going to run flats and downhills, and walk all the uphills. I felt thoroughly ashamed of myself for deciding this, because I actually felt very strong and not un-fast (given heat/humidity issues) while I was running but did not have the energy to talk myself into a more energetic strategy!

Immediately post-race, I felt very demoralized. I gulped down a bottle of water and a bottle of some flavored-sweetened water-type drink and decided to head back to Tavern on the Green, where they were running free pedicabs back to transition in Riverside Park (more than a mile away). I headed in a relatively crowd-free direction but then realized I had lost my way and had come all the way to the south end of the park, in other words walked at least a mile just getting back to Tavern! And then it was a hot wait for a pedicab, and then, frustratingly, a long hot wait to be allowed back into transition - probably at least half an hour more of waiting in direct sun. They should have had volunteers handing out food and water to the line, we were all getting very restive and grumbly! In other words, by the time I actually got back to my transition stuff, it was at least an hour and a half after my race finish, still hadn't eaten anything other than some more Blox while waiting in line.

Couldn't face riding bike home with huge nerve-rackingly wobbliness-inducing backpack of transition stuff, so I took the subway, which I think was the right choice...

Very discouraged yesterday afternoon about running leg--I did not check the time on my watch, I couldn't stand to, I felt that I had walked almost the whole thing and it must have been intolerably slow! But interestingly, once I looked at the results online it all seemed different to me. Yes, this is depressingly slower than my all-time best 10K from last winter (which was 8:18 pace, if I remember correctly, also on the Central Park course i.e. with hills though of course in delightful wintry conditions). And I am running more slowly in general, because I've diversified into triathlon (with an endurance focus, so NOTHING very fast) and have not been doing any LT runs. But 1:02:58 is 10:06 pace, and given hills and heat and triathlon context that seems to me just fine.

The most interesting thing to me, which makes me think that a run-walk strategy might be wise for me in general in longer-distance triathlons, is that the time isn't that much slower than the utterly awful hot-humid standalone 10K I did in June. I had a pretty awful run that day. I was struggling, it was horrible, I did it in 1:00:01 (obviously I was not watching the time or I would have sped up to come in under one hour) for a 9:40 pace, my slowest race ever (slower mile pace even than the half-marathon I did as a training run the month before)! The weather was similar that day to yesterday, if anything yesterday was hotter but comparable humidity. So if walk-run only costs me 20 seconds/mile but makes me feel that much better while I am doing it, and that much more able to drink a lot of water while running, then it is worthwhile...

In sum, I feel I acquitted myself honorably, which is important to me, and that in fact it would be wholly unreasonable to expect anything much better at this stage. I have not done the bike training necessary to earn a faster time and a better triathlon run - it is this question of mental fortitude almost more than physical conditioning, bike riding just takes it out of me mentally. So I hereby proclaim, with resignation, that 2009 is going to be the year I work to become a decent cyclist. From January through July, cycling will be the top priority - I will keep the running and swimming going very steadily, barring unforeseen calamity of one kind or another, but I really will devote the time (arghhhh, cycling is so much more time-consuming than the other two disciplines!) to becoming a mentally and physically stronger bike-rider. Because really I want to do an Ironman race, but I cannot even think about it until I have become a very strong cyclist! 2010 is probably too soon, 2011 would be more plausible...

Thank you for staying with me for this lengthy screed!

(I cannot find any official announcement, but this rather charming list of dog finishers leads me to believe that they cut the swim leg of the doggy duathlon - maybe on account of the jellyfish?!?)

Best sight of the day: as I trudged south post-race in Central Park through oppressive heat and humidity, I saw a woman pick up her little short-haired brown-and-black dachsund, sort of under the arms, as it were, and lean over the fence to hold him closer to a sprinkler. Whereupon she started swinging him back and forth so that the water from the sprinkler could play over his belly! He seemed to be enjoying it...


Wendy said...

Heat + humidity + underfuelling + dehydration = nasty thought process.

I really do hope you will feel better and better about this experience as time passes -- I was feeling very proud of you as I was following along at home.

I will take this opportunity to point out that you were going 14.1 miles an hour on the bike. That's not so bad! When your confidence grows, the speed will come.

Jenny Davidson said...

Yes! Thank you, Wendy. I think this is right. I guess I would say, too, that I actually (in spite of "how am I ever going to run faster than this in a triathlon?!?" thoughts) suffered much more strongly from negative thoughts after the race was over than during (to tell the truth, I felt pretty strong on the run leg, I was not struggling either mentally or physically, I was just slow!), which is clearly a function of need for liquid and calories...

Dorothy W. said...

Well, nice job out there on a tough day, and I'm sorry about the mental difficulty afterwards -- it sounds to me like you did very well, and I'm positive that the bike comfort and speed will come in time ...

Valerie said...

Hi, Jenny. Wow! What a great account of the mental and physical experience. Congratulations on your accomplishment!
I wonder if for bike confidence, it might be helpful to try some mountain biking? I was a semi-nervous city rider before doing a bunch of mountain biking in Australia. Navigating all the bumps and quick turns (but without taxis, buses, and pedestrians) gave me a new set of skills that helped when I returned to Boston.
Hope to see you sometime. We're stay-cationing with Dave in a few weeks. Looking forward to swimming in Walden Pond. Stop by? ; )

Becca said...

I checked your stats late afternoon and was totally impressed by your 10-minute miles on the run, given everything!

Leah said...

Well done in spite of the conditions. I'm learning that there is nothing straightforward about triathlon and almost always something completely unexpected. Jellyfish in the Hudson? I would have DNF'd for sure!

J-Wim said...

Yikes! Jellyfish?? I can't even imagine how bizarre that would be in a race.
Excellent job. It's tough on the hot days to keep it going and keep your head in the right place.
Keep on biking!

Brent Buckner said...

Worthwhile experience, and grinding it out counts!

Laura said...

I'm just so impressed that you got stung by jellyfish and still kept going! Way to be a trooper :)

ShirleyPerly said...

Jellyfish stings, yikes!

Great job out there. I know how hard it is to race in hot & humid conditions, particularly when dehydrated and not properly fueled. You are tougher than you perhaps realize. CONGRATS on your race!!!

withneedle said...

It sounds like you did a great job keeping going on a difficult day. I think I would have had a meltdown at the jellyfish.

As far as bicycling confidence goes, something that was hugely helpful to me was training with a group at a velodrome. There's no traffic, and one gets practice riding in tight groupings. I'm a horribly timid cyclist in many ways, but I have no trouble at all blowing through the center of a pack if I have the speed and the momentum. Oh, and that's another plus--one can get used to the feel of riding fast under safe conditions.