Saturday, May 22, 2010

Harryman Half - the EPIC version

I am for once in the (most unusual) position of feeling that I am perhaps too tired to write the blog post I have imagined!

(No, really I am never too tired to blog...)

It turned into a really lovely day. Results are not yet up online, so I have no link and no precise details, but it was Liz's first grown-up triathlon (she did the Olympic-distance race - the half and the Olympic are offered the same day, with combined field limited to 400 - distances are non-standard, about which more to follow). She and C. stuck around afterwards and greeted me with a most wonderful piece of news as I headed out for the second time on the out-and-back run course...

... which was that Lauren WON THE RACE! Yep - first female finisher overall - last year she placed third - but first is better!

(I wasn't at all surprised - I know she's good, and also I saw her on the bike course a couple times and it seemed beyond a doubt that she was significantly further ahead than the next female rider - of course a rogue super-speedy runner can then dominate the run course, but I was hopeful...)

They all very kindly stuck around for my much, much slower finish - I got good cheers, the race organizers and support folks were all very lovely - and then we drove to Piedmont and had a much-appreciated dinner at the Sidewalk Bistro in Piedmont. A very special day with a couple of dear friends who bridge the divide between my 'real' life and my life of triathlon!

I linger on these details because the post that I spent several hours around midday carefully crafting in my head (composing a mental blog post is my fallback consolation when all else fails in a race situation) started more like THIS...

IN WHICH I am an idiot of the first water
and then have my BACON SAVED by an amiable young man at the aid station

So - the race report.

The swim: interesting, problematic. Water was announced to be 56 degrees - I think really it must have been a bit warmer, or it would have been more unpleasant to swim in. Lauren and I put on our wetsuits and warmed up in a small fenced-off area, and then the swimmers were off. Right away I realized that something was quite wrong. Fortunately I really do feel comfortable in water, so rather than panicking, I approached it analytically.

Something is amiss with my body. Things are not right! What is it?

Used all my senses and soon realized that I was having a significant and singularly unpleasant fit of wheezing - I could take air in, but the air was only coming back out again through horribly frail pipes (the phrase leaky bellows came to mind!). I don't think it was overexertion - I presume it was the standard effect of putting one's face in cold water leading to hyperventilation and bronchial constriction (Liz and Lauren both said later that they had been wheezy as well).

It was a triangular course, with two buoys out in the lake and a third by the shore to swim around for a second loop. I kept my cool and kept swimming easy, and around the first buoy I felt that I had found my groove and then was luckily able to find a very good pair of feet to draft off.

Swam really easy around the next buoy and back to shore, feeling rather guilty at taking advantage but happy that lungs were benefiting.

Said feet then seemed to be faltering - it is always tricky drafting, as the minute one finds the feet, one is suddenly swimming almost too slowly. So I struck out ahead, and had a very good second loop - still extremely wheezy, but feeling that it was not impairing my performance in any noticeable way.

(Bad neck chafing from wetsuit, though!)

Time on clock as I emerged from the water and staggered up the beach - 56+!

ARGHHHHH! What happened? The course seems to have been VERY long - I should have swum 46:00 or so - I had a brief conversation with 2 fast fellows in transition just before I headed out to run (they were done, they were helpful, they suggested that I move my chip and ankle strap over a bit of sock to prevent further chafing and when I asked whether I was forgetting anything else obvious kindly observed that I needed to tie my shoes!), one said that he should have swum c. 27:00 and instead swam 34:00, I think that is about right - I would guess closer to 1.4 than 1.2 miles, though it may also have been an issue of a current that carried swimmers off course.

I started my Garmin as I headed out on the bike, and thus I have data. I provide them up front because I am surprised to say how satisfied I feel about an INCREDIBLY slow race time. Don't have exact details, but totals must be close to 8:30 - well over eight hours at any rate. This is not because I am unfit - it is because it is an INCREDIBLY CHALLENGING COURSE.

But that's not why my day was so mentally epic. The story has yet to begin!

So it was a 62-mile bike course for the half - they had to change the course at the last minute, as the pretty road was closed, so it ended up being 3 20ish-mile loops plus the bit in the park to get to transition.

Compared to last week's ride, trust me, this was a walk in the park. BUT - it still featured (I am going by my Garmin here) 5376 feet of climbing over 62 miles. That is a lot of climbing...

They were issuing a lot of cautions/warnings - racers' responsibility to know the course, caution at turnarounds (there was a particularly bad one near the beginning of the loop, a sharp hidden U-turn at the end of a very steep descent heading right back into a very steep climb - I dropped my chain the first time round, must take bike in tomorrow for a tune-up, not sure if problem is with front derailleur or chain itself but having been having considerable trouble with it recently).

So I rode the first loop, it was fine, the first ascent was HELLACIOUS but tolerably so and really nothing like last week's mountains. I rode away, pretty happy, nice day - I was surprised when I saw Lauren (it was the style of course that reminds me of a red blood cell, sort of a dented pill-shaped thing, with lots of opportunities to see friends coming in the opposite direction) that I wasn't as far behind her as I would have expected, but I didn't really mentally process.

On the climb at the start of the second loop, I did become a bit worried. I only had 14 miles on my Garmin - GOD BLESS THE GARMIN is the moral of today's story - and it seemed to me I should be more like in the 20s if I was in the second loop. Could this mean I was going to have to do that climb 4 times rather than 3, with a sort of extra bit of loop? But there was no point worrying about it, I would ask somebody near the end if I remained confused...

Some time later, I followed a course marshal onto a bit of road that seemed very lovely. Trees! shade! Riding alongside the water!

Hmmm, this is odd. I could swear that I have not ridden this before. Could the second loop somehow be different from the first?

The trouble is that I truly (like Brent, who always says this of himself, but I am sure it is more true of me!) am inattentive to my surroundings.

On the one hand, it seemed mildly unlikely that I would have so thoroughly ignored this rather attractive bit of the course.

But I was pondering all sorts of other things and concentrating on my race, so it seemed entirely possible to me that the reason this scenery looked absolutely unfamiliar to me was the reason that almost ALL scenery looks unfamiliar to me - a sort of inattentiveness that amounts almost to landscape dyslexia, and lets me get lost pretty much anywhere!

But then the road became very smooth, and I thought - no, really I would remember this. Because the road in the rest of the park is pretty horrible - full of seams that cause you to bump on the bike, and lots of potholes and rough bits.

Wait a minute - was it possible that this bit of the course WAS part of the first loop, and I somehow missed it?

My thoughts went back to the traffic circle that immediately preceded this bit of the course - yes - it seemed to me quite likely (though my brain could not tell me anything more useful than that) that I had ridden around that, there had not been a course marshal there the first time and there were few other riders on the course as the Olympic-distance racers hadn't set out...

... and so it struck me. I had skipped a HUGE CHUNK of the first loop!

I proceeded to enter a total mental tailspin.

The worst thing was that I still was not quite sure whether I was just having an OCD-type fit of maniacal non-reality-based scrupulosity, or whether I was in fact correct. And as I became increasingly certain that I was correct, I had a horrible realization...

I WAS CHEATING! I had skipped many miles of the first loop and assumed a place I had not earned, possibly actively misleading other riders and breaking the fundamental rules of play!

I am laughing now, it is absurd, it will sound both ridiculous and self-promoting (like how you are supposed to answer a job interviewer who asks what your flaws are by proclaiming that you sometimes find it difficult to detach from a work project and are described by friends as workaholic). But there could be NO SINGLE THING MORE DISTRESSING TO ME (well, that is hyperbole - but nothing of this sort) than being given credit for something I have not earned! I would MUCH rather not get credited at all than get undeserved credit.

I worked myself into an increasingly distressed state - what should I do? First of all, how would I even know whether or not I was correct? If I told a course official, and if information provided by them about course mileage proved my suspicions were actually grounded in reality, would I have to drop out of the race? But I COULDN'T have another DNF - I had a righteous one last weekend, but two in a row would become a habit! But if I told someone and they said, oh, you are disqualified, but you are welcome to finish riding and running the course, would I have the stick-to-it-ness to finish what was already a quite challenging ride?

This of course then spiralled out into increasingly baroque and recursive forms of self-criticism and self-castigation of the furthest-reaching and most impractical kind, which I will not reproduce here....



I was CHEATING, I had not intended to and it was an innocent mistake (the course should have been more clearly marked - maybe the marshal just briefly stepped aside, or maybe he hadn't gotten to that intersection yet my first time through), but...

I had about 1.5 hours of this, and then I came to the third loop, and did my hellacious climb, and arrived at the aid station. I figured at this point that I was making myself so thoroughly insane with this that I had better at least try and figure out whether I really had missed miles on the first loop. And if I was riding the third loop (which I was), I had to refill the Camelbak with Gatorade.

So I asked two slightly perplexed aid station workers what mile I SHOULD be at. They said they did not process things in this way! But when I explained what was up, they said, yes, I should be 'at' mile 47 or so - and I was only at mile 37, the evidence on my wrist unit was incontrovertible.


I was dismayed! I felt I might have to scrupulously disqualify myself, but I did not want to, I REALLY wanted to finish my race!

This is where common sense comes in. A trouble shared is a trouble halved! After very brief pondering, aid station worker #2 pointed out something INCREDIBLY OBVIOUS that I, in my state of complete mental insanity, had not even thought of.

He said, "Well, your split times for the loops will look pretty funky, but there's nothing to stop you just riding that bit of the loop one extra time - then you have ridden the same distance as everyone else, and it's fair..."

I was ready to THROW MYSELF ON HIM in gratitude, but instead I resumed the Camelbak and got back on the bike. It is hard to explain the mental relief. Everything else was a breeze - everything else being about four fairly arduous further hours of exercise!

It is a truly tough course. So, times, slow, they will sound terrible - but they were pretty decent, under the circumstances. I did the best I could do on the day - I am sure I could not have gone much faster.

And as I thought about things on the run course (where by the way I felt incredibly strong in the legs, very cheerful, much less overheated than on previous occasions, but strongly limited by tender/sensitive post-asthmatic lungs and also by the fact that I knew I didn't have a lot of fuel left in me and had to take things very cautiously), I thought:

Well, it would have been a big ego-boost and confidence builder to match or beat my for me fast time from the Bassman Half last fall (c. 6:40 - and I KNOW there is a sub-6:00 half in my future). But this was a better training day for Ironman...

Some numbers, which I suppose I have been postponing providing because they are really appallingly large (you will have to trust me that I really did do a respectable race):

swim, 56:00ish?
T1: no idea
Bike: 61.66mi, 5376 feet of climbing (THAT IS A LOT), 4:41:49, avg speed 13.1mph, avg HR 145, max HR 162
T2: 3:28
Run: Garmin says 12.69, hopefully it really was 13.1! But we will go with Garmin's numbers: 12.69mi, 3216 feet of climbing (!), 2:37:10, 12:23 min./mi avg. pace (not at all bad, under the circs), avg HR 142, max HR 164

Random thoughts:

1. I will not wear the wetsuit in the NYC triathlon. It is bad enough getting into it on a regular-temperature day, I cannot face it on a hot one - I decided not to wear it at the last minute last year, and it will make my packing tasks simpler if I take it straight to Cayman and thence to Wisconsin in September rather than leaving it with my other stuff at G.'s place in NY and using it in July and then packing it to travel.

2. I have to keep working on cycling. I have to be patient!

3. But really I have to weigh ten pounds less on race day in September.

4. The asthma remains a problem. Keep attending to this (and also see if I can get a personality transplant - this time I will decline the self-castigation functionality, it does not stand me in good stead).

5. But I think that I did well today. I turned my mood around, and I REALLY kept moving on the run course. I followed my plan - walk hills, jog flats and run downhills.

It is not an Ironman, but it gave me some good simulacra of parts. The swim was close to 2/3 the time I'm hoping for; the climbing on the bike also makes it in some respects closer to 2/3 than just half the distance; and I actually really and truly think I could have done a full marathon's worth of walk/run at that pace even on that very hilly course, with some nutritional tweaking. I am pretty certain that I will need to eat some solid (salty!) food on the Ironman bike - like a turkey sandwich! At the slower end of the field, the energy benefit from real food seems to me to greatly outweigh the risk of stomach distress. I can walk-run forever, in the sense that it is an incredibly good metabolic deal (I am a brisk walker and can definitely cover ground almost indefinitely in this manner without running into a bonk-type fueling situation), but though in this case the limiter was the lungs, fueling would have been an issue if I'd continued longer - I didn't want to eat a cookie, though I was tempted, because I worried that it would impact my stomach, and I had the kind of slight stomach-ache that really just tells you your body WANTS FOOD. (No GI distress of any kind, though.)

Anyway, that really is quite long enough, though I am sure that I will get offline and then think of 3 crucial things I forgot to say!


Unknown said...

Well done all! And glad to hear the day was so successful!

It is good you were able to solve your distance conundrum.

Becca said...

I am of course hugely impressed, at the very least by eight straight hours of self-movement, but the personality transplant does seem worthy of consideration! Wondering how much some odd displacement of competitiveness plays into root cause along with hyperethicity. (And we can all agree that Wendy is much nicer than I am!)

Leah said...

What a mental struggle! I'm glad you were able to finish and feel good about it. Nice job! (I've heard the Harryman course is very difficult.)

Brent Buckner said...

Good fix on the bike loop situation!

IronLinae, PhD said...

OMG. You suffered 10 fold for a very small error that was easily fixed. Clearly you are ready for the mental challenges of the ironman. Well done on the race. It's always encouraging to feel strong on the run.

ShirleyPerly said...

Wow, what a distress that must have been to have realized you'd missed some mileage on the bike course. I know I would've gone through similar mental gyrations. So glad you were able to find a quick fix and finish in good stead. CONGRATS!!!