Saturday, September 27, 2008

Post hoc race report...

Well, the summer's flown by, and although I never gave a race report for the first two triathlons that I completed, I thought that perhaps a little post hoc race report would be a fun and interesting way to spend this morning... So, monster mug/bowl of coffee in hand, Idgy the Cat in lap (where she can lounge around and swipe at the keyboard every now and again) here I go:

Post Hoc Race Report Numero Uno: Chicagoland Danskin, a.k.a. The Estrogen Triathlon.

Some backstory (please feel free to skip this if you're really just interested in a description of the event): I had always found triathlon interesting, and very Hard Core. So, when John and I met, I was intrigued when he self-identified as a triathlete. (Actually, I was more than intrigued...). So Sweet Johnny V and I ran together in a great running group that meets here in Chicago. During the course of our courting, he told me a little about what races he was planning to do this past summer, including Bigfoot Tri, and Steelhead 1/2 Iron (I remember thinking -- Oooh! A half-ironman! How sexy...). Anyhoo, fast forward a few weeks, and we started actively talking about me doing a triathlon... I was a little ... scared. But I knew that there were some female-friendly tri's around Chicago, so I looked them up, and before I knew it, SJV and I were signing me up online. It was to be Chicagoland Danskin, in July, for my very first tri. And, when they asked for a "coach or contact person" in case I biffed it on the bike, I added his name. It was a major moment in our dating relations, let me tell you... ;)

So then came the realization that I had not gone swimming in ... oooohhhh ... maybe around three years. Maybe more. I'm not a beach person, and I didn't have a pool at my gym... So I had this feeling that maybe I should "practice" -- you know -- so the likelihood of drowning was less... likely. Plus, although I had a road bike, I hadn't been on it in at least 9 months, and even before that hadn't ridden more than 7 or 8 miles at a time. When I looked at my odometer, it read 80 miles or so. Total, in the history of that bike. *sigh* I was going to have my work cut out for me -- even for a sprint distance like Danskin. (Danskin is 1/2 mile swim, 12.4 mile bike, and 3.1 mile run.)

So, to the swimming: I started out with the pool, trying a few laps at first... couldn't get more than one out and back lap (in a 25 foot pool, mind you) without resting (this from a long distance runner -- I was very humbled). I switched up my strokes, doing one out and back lap in freestyle, the next backstroke, the next side stroke, etc. Every week or so, I'd get a little better, until I could swim 20 out and back laps in freestyle, and then more, and then ... well ... it turns out I'm not a bad swimmer. :) First open water swim in lake Michigan with a wetsuit that I ordered online after a traumatic day of "fittings" (I'm scarred by that experience). And, honestly, it was fun. Sweet Johnny V was there with me for the whole thing, and kept commenting that I was just fine -- and honestly, I pretty much was.

The biking: SJV gave me a tutorial in June that helped a great deal. I needed to "refresh" (read: learn) some standard essentials. Like stopping. (I'm not kidding.) After that weekend course, I would go out on the lakefront path a few days a week and log some miles, starting out at a 15 mph or so pace, and, to my amazement, I would sometimes get up to 17 or higher.

The running was a given -- no extra training needed, as I was already going on with marathon training.

So... the big day arrives. I had been "training" mainly to be able to finish the event, but had recently been doing so well that I was starting to think I could break 1:30. So, that became the goal. Armed with that and a fully packed bag, SJV and I packed up to go to Wisconsin on that fateful July Saturday...

We drove up to Wisconsin, attended the expo, got me bodymarked (my first bodymarking!) got my event shirt,
and attended the course talk. Now, this was my first course talk, but let me tell you how lady-friendly it was... Lots of "you CAN do this" and cheers for the first timers, and high-fives, and... it was basically a Chick Pep Rally, and it really rocked for that reason. I was pretty confident that I could do this thing, but attending that talk made me even more certain. And I was pretty impressed about the variety and diversity of women that were going to compete. Pretty sweet!

We also took the opportunity to check out the course (I was most interested in this, actually). Here's the lake -- the swim goes directly across, and pops out on the other side by the transition. (Actually, the first photo in this post was taken by the swim exit...)

I was a little freaked out, frankly, by how far the swim looked. It's not far, but it looks it. It really does.

A word about the transition area: it's HUGE. Really quite large. Now, it's a bunch of ladies that are really quite polite, but there's still not much room for gear, and there are plenty of first timers that don't quite know whether to put their gear here, or there, or... well, suffice to say that stuff is everywhere, and since there are 4,000 or so ladies doing the race, logistics are rough.

(Because it's logistics-related, I've included the above photo of a line of people for the port-a-potties. Really, really huge lines for these both in and out of transition.)
So SJV and I check out the bike course next (the run goes around the lake, and appears to be Flat As A Pancake -- which is good, as I train in Chicago, where there is no incline to be found). We're driving along, my little map in hand, and we go to the first two big inclines -- and I'm thinking "Okay, that'll be a good push, but then you get the benefit of the downhill, and since you just learned how to shift you'll know what to do..." -- but there's a hard right at the end of the second of those inclines, so there goes that positive thinking... We keep going, and there's a nice long downhill that I was pretty excited about, and then we turn left... and it goes uphill. For a while. I gulp. SJV says (in his softest and most supportive voice) "There are some hills here, sugar. It's going to be a great, challenging ride for you...".
Indeed. There were hills like that throughout, and I was super nervous. I revised my goal from finishing in under 1:30 to finishing without walking my bike, and from finishing the bike with an average of 17 to finishing the bike (again) without walking my bike. *sigh* It took some pressure off.

Off we go to dinner, to check into the hotel, and to a good night's sleep. SJV let me use his tri mat and transition bag (thanks, sugar!) and I laid them out like I would the next morning.

(Note the supportive card that my co-workers gave me during our staff meeting on the Friday before the race. Such great folks...) I packed and re-packed, and tried not to rub the numbers off of my arms. Before I knew it, it was Belly's First Race Day!

Ate a cliff bar, drank some coffee, and SJV and I drove to the Dairyland parking lot. Again -- logistics. You had a choice: either park 1 mile away at an outlet mall and walk or ride into the race, or go to Dairyland and catch a bus.

The Swim: Here's what the lake looked like the morning of the swim...

Much different from the day before. There were big floating pallets on either side of the alley that the swimmers were (supposed) to swim. There were also kayaks. So, if you got tired, you could just swim over to one of the pallets or to the kayaks and hold on for a minute, and then go on. But there were A LOT of ladies in that lake.

When it was time to go down to the shore, all of us chatty ladies shuffled down to the start. And that's when we got our last pep talk before we started. (See photo of us during said pep talk)

Note, too, the "noodles" that they have on the beach there. Those are for the "swim angels" -- ladies that swim along with you with a noodle that you can hold and rest if you want. It's a very sweet idea that makes the race accessible and less stressful for new swimmers. Great concept, very female friendly. If you wanted an angel, you could ask -- or they would find you if you were crying, or hyperventilating... ;)

Then they counted us down, and off we went. I started out pretty strong, and then, suddenly, I panicked. About 50 feet into the thing, I lost it a little. So I flipped over to rest on my back, and all I could see was what seemed like hundreds of yellow caps coming at me. Whaaaaa! I took a few deep breaths, flipped back over, and started swimming for broke. I couldn't see well - the sun was coming up on the same side that I like to breath, and I didn't have mirrored goggles at the time. So, I just went like crazy -- and I totally zig-zagged. (If you go too far off course, they come and get you... so it wasn't that bad, really...) But once I had hit my groove, I really hit my groove, and I felt good and relaxed. I noticed that I was passing folks in other colored swim-caps, and I thought that was good... there was a bit of a bottleneck at the end, but I fared well, even though the sand at the end was deep, and your feet sunk pretty far down after so many other waves had loosened up the ground:

See dramatic photo of me ripping off my swimcap like a pro (above), and then running through transition (thanks, as always to SJV for being such an amazing photographer and man):

I had finished the swim in 15:13. NOT BAD! I had hardly any problems ripping off my wetsuit, but it was a bit of a mess getting from A to B in that transition. I'm happy with my transition time of 3:04.

On to the bike! I started out feeling pretty good -- getting up those hills wasn't so bad, and I wanted to get done as fast as I could... I knew there would be a wind coming and it would get stronger as the day went on, so I wanted to get going. I blazed down that nice long downhill, and hit 25mph at one point, which got me a little scared. :) It seemed like another woman and I were just trading places -- so we started chatting, and encouraging one another. I was passing ladies left and right, and trying to keep up with my new friend. Once we hit the part of the course that was pretty bad road and some gravel, the wind hit straight on, and everyone got quiet. The wind was probably around 15mph, and when a gust hit, everyone slowed considerably. But the most amazing thing about this race was the support from other competitors -- lots of "you go, chica," and "looking really strong" -- both from folks you passed and from those passing. Finally, I was coming around to the last two inclines back into transition, and let me tell you how hard those were -- the wind coming straight on, and going up those inclines with no real training on hills... Everyone was having a hard time, and I was no exception. I just ground it out...

I was happy to get into transition -- my heart rate was through the roof, so even though I knew I could just run off, I dawdled a little to get it down.

The great news? I averaged 18.3 for the bike! Nice-- total time, 42:31. Transition: 2:03. Also not bad, considering.

Next, the run. This, I figured, was my "easy" event. Ummm... I hadn't ever run that hard after cycling that hard (I'd done a few bricks, but nothing like that...). So, a few minutes after starting, I had to pull over to the side to get my breath again... I was unbelievably thirsty (because I can't drink on the bike well, and hadn't taken my water bottle from transition) and then I got a side-stitch around mile 2.5, and had to walk for a bit. In any event, it's a good run course -- just all the way around the little lake, with a bit extra, and then you come in by the recplex. There's not much shade, and I was annoyed that there was only one water stop, but that's plenty for someone who hydrates well on the bike. Also, there's lots of room for spectators to cheer you on, and it's darn accessible to them.

Back to the run: after my crudilicious performance on the running path, and what I could tell was NOT going to be a PR on the run, I figured I'd miss my goal by a lot. I also couldn't really go any faster than I was going -- my side-stitch was pretty bad, and, well... the hard efforts were catching up. So I was really happy to see the finish line, and to see My Sugar at the finish line, and to get some water at the finish line.

Then, I checked my watch: I had run the run in 28:43.

I then started adding things up, and realized that I had missed by goal by only 1:36. That's right! (And that's using the official time) I had finished my first sprint tri in 1:31:36. I was very happy. Very happy! (Followed, of course, by kicking myself for not running faster... blah blah blah)

Final results: Overall rank: 417/3655, 63/370 (age group); Swim 599/3655; Bike 543/3655; Run 756/3655.

And that's when my favorite photo of SJV and I was taken:

SJV and I hung around for a while, enjoying the day -- it was gorgeous, and then we had to figure out logistics for how to get home. That's really the only down-side to this race. We had to get on a bus, to go get the car, to get the car as close as possible to the race, so that I could ride my bike to the car... Doing all of that took longer than the race itself! Still, it was very well organized -- with that much of a logistical challenge, it would have been far worse if it wasn't well organized.

Sheesh, I'm long winded. :) So there's my first post-hoc race report about Danskin Chicago. I highly recommend it for first-timers, and for other ladies that want an easy-going race. Very supportive, very fun. But it's probably not a place to get a PR -- there are a lot of ladies that don't really understand the rules yet, so sometimes you just can't go that fast. Still, I did pretty well with my time, and I liked the course.

Thanks for listening, and have a great weekend everyone!


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