Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Chelanman 70.3 - My "A" Race

Chelanman Half Ironman didn't start out as my "A" race this year. That was supposed to be Pacific Crest Olympic. But, I get excited about triathlon (and shoes), and I am easily talked into things that sound fun. So on a whim a few months ago, I filled out the online form and hit that brightly colored "submit" button. Bang! Suddenly the olympic distance didn't sound very daunting and I had an extra few hours of training tacked onto each week. I trained hard and earned every single one of those 70.3 miles!

The distances, with some perspective:
Swim = 1.2 miles. Think NW 23rd down Burnside to the Portland waterfront (except the swim is not downhill).
Bike = 56 miles with 4200 feet of climbing. The distance = Portland to Hood River; the climbing = Timberline Lodge to the summit of Mt. Hood.
Run = 13.1 miles. If you've been on the Clackamas River, this is equal to the drive between Carver and Estacada.

Now onto the race report...

If you've ever tried herding a dozen monkeys into one vehicle before sunrise, then you might have an idea of what it takes to get a van full of Headhunters to the race site early in the morning. We arrived with just enough time to set up transition, lube up body bits that might chaffe, and struggle into the wetsuit. I downed a GU as I walked over the swim start, kissed Ken goodbye, and stood in line on the shore waiting for the gun to go off.

Time = 38:51, pace = 2:02/100m

This was a mass start from the beach. That means that everyone doing the half ironman lines up in a big crowd on shore and then tries to dive into the water all at once and head towards the buoy line. I was somewhere in the middle of the pack starting off. It was a total washing machine. I was not taking full strokes with my arm because I often couldn't push my hand all the way to my waist without it getting yanked off. And instead of having a nice long glide, my leading arm was in front of my face, protecting my goggles and nose. This only lasted about 5 minutes until I was able to make my way towards the front of the pack. Only...I didn't realize that I was in the front of the pack...

We were lucky and had an underwater buoy line to follow for the entire swim out. But once we hit the first turn buoy it disappeared. I wasn't quite sure where to go from here since the sun was now directly in my eyes and I couldn't see another buoy anywhere. So I sighted a couple of other swimmers and followed them. But I just couldn't shake the feeling that I was cutting the course, so I kept stopping and treading water trying to make sense of where I should go. I finally spotted the next turn buoy and swam like mad to it. It turns out I was on-course the whole time and wasted some serious time by doubting myself. Oy.

As we got closer to the beach I was able to breathe on my right side and look at the spectators. I actually spotted Ken walking away from me (he wasn't expecting me to be finishing the swim yet), so I popped up and hollered at him. More time wasted, but at least I have pictures now! I kept swimming until my hand touched sand and then ran the rest of the way in.


I had a pretty sweet transition spot. It was at the exact opposite end of where I came in from the swim, but that meant that I didn't have to run very far with me bike. As I came out of the water, I had difficulty finding my wetsuit pull cord. When I did finally get the top half off, I sat down to pull it off my legs. I have NO idea why I did that. I never sit down in transition. Huh. Oh well, I had the 13th fastest transition time out of 101 athletes. I sometimes wonder what takes everyone else so long. Are they brushing their teeth? Combing their hair? What?

Time = 3:41:16, pace = 15.19 mph

Many times in the weeks leading up to the race I was asked "what are you most nervous for?" My answer - "the bike". People were always surprised since I have been making tremendous gains on my biking lately. I'm not a timid rider. I'm not a weak rider. I'm not an especially slow rider. Unless of course, there are...HILLS. And this course had it's fair share of them. I was convinced that I would be slow on the bike that there would be no way for me to make up the time on the run. Because, you see, I'm an even slower runner.

This course starts out with an out-and-back along Lake Chelan. Absolutely beautiful at 7:45 in the morning. There are some nice rolling hills -- nothing too difficult and just enough to get the legs and lungs warmed up. I enjoyed myself on this section, which lasted about 32 miles. As we approached town again, the course veered off south on Hwy 97 and directly into the first long climb. Up, up, up, up. And then...up, up, up. At the tippy-top there was an aid station and a porta-potty. I grabbed a water bottle as I rode by and thought for a split second about the porta-potty. However, Jon had to buy me 2 beers if I peed on the bike, so I kept going. Straight into a spectacular downhill! It was straight and steep and we had a view of the Columbia river on our left the entire time. I shifted the hardest gear I had and pedaled until I was spinning out. And then I peed. 2 beers for me!

The end of the descent led right into the next long uphill on Hwy 971. Twice as long as the last one. And considerably steeper. I think this was the hardest part of the course. It was beginning to get hot, there wern't many people to talk to, and my legs were building up some heavy doses of lactic acid. I gave myself a few pep talks and made myself keep turning my feet in circles. I would count to 10 and then repeat. I would pick a tree and when I made it to that one I would pick another tree. I looked at my watch compulsively to make sure I kept to my nutrition plan. I also committed the cardinal sin of looking at my speed on the bike computer. 4 mph??? Really, I could push my bike faster than that. DON'T YOU DARE!

Finally I made it to the top. Only to be met by a couple miles of false flats. But at least it was easier. And then...the final climb! I had been dreading this climb all week. It's all I could think about. I was certain that I would have to walk it. Or at least stand out of the saddle to make it up. But as I rode, I found myself further and further up the beast. Hey, this isn't so bad! After a little corner I could see the summit. Yay!!!! And then the descent. It was STEEP and FAST. And CURVY. I wasn't expecting the curvy part and thankfully I didn't skid out on that one.

As I turned back onto Hwy 97 I looked again at my bike computer. Holy schmatoly, I was going to finish the bike leg in under 4 hours!!!!! It was that exact moment that I knew I was going to finish the race. Before the cutoff time. I let out a huge WHOOP WHOOP and pedaled my ass off into town.


I took my feet out of my bike shoes and dismounted pretty well. As I ran my bike down the steep embankment into transition I could hear all of the Headhunters cheering me on. (They had all finished the Oly distance; Kev, Tom, and I were doing the Half.) What a treat to have them all inside transition talking to me. I didn't need any assistance, but it was cool to have them there asking if I needed anything. I took my fuel belt out of the cooler, threw my runners on, grabbed my visor, and was off. Not a bad transition time considering I just climbed for almost 4 hours and had a few extras (like the fuel belt) to deal with.

As a side note, I had decided to use the fuel belt because I wasn't sure if the aid stations would still be stocked that late into the day. However, I ended up not needing it because this race is TOP NOTCH.

Time = 2:39:00, pace = 12:08/mile

My legs felt surprisingly fresh coming off the bike. And I felt hydrated and strong. The first few miles ranged from 11:10 pace to 12:10 pace. Too fast for me to maintain. And then...I had to pee. There were no porta-potties and not really any trees to speak of. So my options were (1) hold it for the next 10 miles, (2) go in someone's driveway or yard, or (3) just let it go dude. Haha, if you could smell my shoes you would know exactly which option I chose... I totally hadn't thought through the whole "wet feet for 10 miles" part. Oh well, the blisters will heal.

The pace started to slow down a bit, and as it got hotter and my HR started spiking, I stopped at the aid stations and allowed myself to walk up hills. This slowed my pace to the 12:30-13:00 range. But I didn't care, because I KNEW that I was going to finish! Around mile 9 I started to fall apart a bit. My fuel reserves were running low and it was becoming difficult to not overheat too much. I was also approaching the max distance I had done in training, so my body hurt.

And then...with 2.5 miles to go the Headhunter van comes rolling by. Coach Denise hopped out and ran with me! I don't think that this is really "legal" but I was one of the last ones left on the course and no one cared. At mile 12, Nadine was waiting for us to help run me in. I have the most awesome friends! With 1 mile left to go we could see the park and I knew I was soooo close. Denise said "if you have anything left in the tank, now is the time to leave it on the course." So I picked it up. Big time. My last mile was 8:01! I have never run a mile that fast. Even a single mile. Wow!

Crossing the finish line was amazing and had I not been so anaerobic, I probably would have choked up a bit. After getting my chip removed and getting the medal, I beelined it straight for the lake and laid down in the water. So refreshing! All of the Headhunters followed me down there and we had a fun time congratulating each other. And the best part - kisses from Ken. :-)

After listening to awards -- I got second place by default -- we hung around to watch the last people roll through the finish line and cheer on one more member of our group.

Some Important Notes:
* Special thanks to Ken for supporting me through all of this. And my Mom who was subjected to daily phone calls talking nothing about triathlon. Haha, just wait until Ironman!
* Also many thanks to my many training partners who helped me along the way and kept me motivated.
* My Auntie Anne and Uncle Gordy came all the way out from Puyallup to cheer me on. That was awesome!
* Congrats to all of the Headhunters! Everyone did so great. Nadine and Brian finished their first olympic distance tri. Denise got FIRST in her age group. Bob got second!