Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Starting Over: Great Clermont Triathlon Race Report

As I mentioned in this post the other week, I haven't raced an Olympic distance race in over 10 years.  I really didn't know what to expect.  And not having raced regularly last year, well, it felt like I was starting over.  Thankfully because I felt like I was starting over, I was super diligent about packing my bag early the day before and triple checking it.  What I did forget to do the day before was pump my tires and I spent half the night of my fitful sleep, reminding myself not to forget to do that when I got up the next morning.

Guess what I almost forgot to do race morning?  Yup.

Thankfully I remembered just as we were getting ready to leave the house.   We were already leaving later than I had wanted so add this to the mix and I was a bit of a stress bundle.  At least we were very close to the race start.  But I had lost about 15 minutes of chill out time due to the fact that we just couldn't seem to get ourselves sorted and out the door.

I didn't sleep well the night before the race which isn't surprising.  I was super nervous.  It was my first triathlon in over a year and my first Olympic distance race in a VERY long time.  I didn't know what to expect.   I had done a very short open water swim the day before and I felt pretty good.  The water was nice and calm and it was supposed to be the same for us race morning.   When I got up, I checked the temperature.  It was 14 degrees, which was perfect.  I knew I'd be just fine in my Zoot kit.  G had the news on and I caught a snippet of the weatherman saying something about a small craft advisory.  Um.  What?  There wasn't supposed to be any wind.  I dismissed that, figuring that they were probably talking about the coast.

The ride down to the park was a bit precarious in the dark.  Gary had put lights on his bike so I rode behind him.   I probably should have put a light on the front of my bike at least so I could have seen the road.  Even though I've ridden down this road pretty much every time I go riding, it's different when it's dark out.  The last thing I wanted was to ride over a piece of glass or hit a pothole and flat.  Luckily none of that happened and we turned into the park and rode over to transition.

We found body markers right away.  I have to say I'm not sure what the deal was with the body marking but I had my race number written all over my body.  It was on both of my arms, both of my shins and my age was written on the back of my right calf.  Seemed a tad bit excessive but hey, maybe that's just the way things are done here.

I made my way into transition only to find that the rack I was supposed to be on was totally packed save for a tiny little spot between two bikes.  Reason number 1005 that I like to get to the race site early.  Luckily I managed to wedge Tom Sawyer into the last little spot on the rack.  The other ladies shuffled their bikes over and gave me a bit of extra room.  I went about setting up my transition and getting my bike ready.  I went to pour my drink into my aero bottle and because my bike was racked and leaning forward, as the bottle filled up to the top, a whole bunch of it spilled out everywhere.  All over my helmet, my shoes, my towel.  Awe-some.   I quickly cleaned all that up and finished laying everything out.  I started to put my wetsuit on as I only had about 20 minutes to get ready and into the water to do a warm up.  Normally I like to do at least a 10 - 15 minute warm up so I was cutting it close.  I pulled the fro into a mini bun and went to put my swim cap on over it when all of a sudden heard pphhhhttt and felt the cap give.  You've GOT to be kidding me.  My cap had ripped.  I had my wetsuit half on so I waddled over to the registration tent to see about getting a new cap.  Apparently I wasn't the only one that had ripped their cap.  They gave me another one that was equally as flimsy so I stood by the registration desk and put it on just in case it split.  Thankfully it did not and I was off to double check everything in transition before I made my way down to the water.

I ran back into transition and gave everything a once over.  Then I went looking for G.  I had about 10 minutes left before the race start.  I booked it down to the beach and found G getting into his wetsuit. I wriggled into the rest of my wetsuit and had G zip me up.  A quick good luck kiss and I was off to try to get into the water and warm up.  I had less than 10 minutes.  NOT ideal but whatever.  Nothing I could do about it so I was going to make the best of it.

I waded in and let the water seep into my wetsuit.  It was cool, probably about 68 degrees, which is perfect for a longer swim.  I quickly dove in and started swimming.  The sun was just coming up so it wasn't quite light just yet.  I swam out past the buoy lines and noticed that the water was quite choppy.  Ugh.  So much for the little to no wind forecast.  I heard the announcer telling people to get out of the water so I turned around and swam back.  I made sure to swim hard so I could get my heart rate up.  I clambered out of the water and stood on the shore just as the announcer introduced the woman singing the national anthem.  My goggles started to fog up so I pulled them off.  My swim cap almost came off in the process.  I pulled it down a bit more but it didn't seem to want to cover my head and I was afraid to pull it down much farther just in case it ripped again.  The announcer counted us down, the gun went off and then all the women in the race were off.

I hit start on my watch and waded into the water.  I let the hordes go so I could ease into the swim.  I waded into the water until it was up to my thighs and then I dove in.  As soon as my feet left the ground I felt my timing chip start to slip off my ankle.  AHHHHH.   I stopped and grabbed it and then fumbled with trying to get it secure and under my wetsuit so I wouldn't risk losing it again.  I watched the pack swim away from me.  I finally secured it and managed to tuck it partially under my wetsuit.  I put my head down and started swimming.  Stroke stroke, gasp, stroke.  Oh boy.  The water was smacking me in the side of my head so I had to adjust my breathing to one side.  I chugged along, past the buoy line, out into the more open part of the lake.  The sun was starting to come up over the horizon and it was quite pretty.  The lake was PITCH black.  I could barely see my hands in front of me and I couldn't see anyone in front of me so when I came upon my first set of feet, I popped up out of the water.  I realized I had gotten into a bit of a congested pack so I swam off to the side to try and get around them.  I put my head down and started swimming.  I tried sighting but just couldn't get my breathing rhythm down, nor could I really see anything.  So I popped my head up again and realized that I had swum way off course.  Ok then.  I turned hard and swam towards the pack again.  Once again I tried to get into a rhythm with my breathing but I just couldn't.  I swallowed a bunch of water. So I stopped and breast stroked.  And breast stroked some more.  Surprisingly there was no panic, which is a first for me.  Not once did I think OMG GET ME OUT OF HERE!!!!!  It was more a slightly mild annoyance at the fact that I couldn't swim straight, that my goggles were fogging up and that the water was slapping me in the face.  I know that doesn't sound ideal but I was pretty darn happy about the fact that there was no panic.

I put my head down and started swimming again, counting strokes and making a point of really exhaling when I put my face in the water.   I managed to stay in somewhat of a straight line and got a better sight line on the first turnaround buoy.   I could feel my forehead getting cold and brought my hand up to my head.  All I felt was the skin of my forehead and my hairline.  I stopped to tread water and put my hand on the top of my head.  Sure enough my swim cap was almost off.   Piece.  of.  crap.  I pulled my goggles up, pulled my swim cap down and put my goggles back on.  I hoped it would stay in place.

I made it around the first turnaround buoy and managed to get into a bit of a rhythm for a bit.  I looked up to sight and realized that once again I swam way off course.  Good lord I was really struggling.  I reoriented myself and headed towards the second turnaround buoy.  The water was now slapping me directly in the face.  AWE-SOME.   Once again I swallowed a bunch and almost immediately started choking and coughing.  More breast stroke ensued.  I finally caught my breath and resumed swimming.  I was starting to get really annoyed but I kept swinging my arms in circles and kicking my legs, in the hopes I'd soon be at the shore.

I made it to the second turnaround buoy and was now heading towards the shore.  The waves were no longer slapping me in the face but I could feel my head getting colder and colder.  You have GOT to be kidding me, was all I could think.  I stopped and put my hand to my head.  Sure enough my swim cap had popped off again.  Grrrr.  Once again, I pulled my goggles off, pulled the cap down, put my goggles back on and started laughing.  That's all I really could do.  I put my head down and started swimming.  I could see the shoreline starting to come into view.   I looked for my extra gear.  Apparently I don't have one in the water at the moment, ha ha.  My hand finally scraped bottom and I took a couple more strokes and stood up.  I didn't have the energy to sprint out the water.  I jogged out of the water and up onto the beach.  I pulled my goggles off and once again my swim cap popped off, taking my hair band with it but I was so out of it I didn't notice until a spectator ran up to me and handed it to me.

Swim time:  30:25.  A personal worst for me in terms of time (pace per 100/m)  but a win in terms of keeping a cool head and no panic issues.

Even though this is only an Olympic distance race, they had WETSUIT STRIPPERS!  So of course I ran to the first group and let them go to town on me.  I was out of my wetsuit in no time.  But then there was the long run up to T1.  I had forgotten about that.   Once my wetsuit was off, I booked it towards my bike.  I crossed the timing mat into T1 and remembered to hit lap on my Garmin (winning!)  I was on the second rack so it was easy to find.  I dropped my wetsuit, grabbed my bike helmet and put it on, only to find that the visor was completely fogged up.  Once again I laughed.  Let's see what else this race has in store for me.  I scrambled to wipe my grass covered feet off and pull my socks on.  Normally I go without but it was a bit cool and I knew I was going to wear them for the run so I figured I might as well put them on now.

I grabbed my bike and waddled out of transition.  Both my ears were plugged with water so I couldn't hear anything.  Usually I'm able to shake some of the water out but I wasn't able to.   I ran up to the dismount line, hit lap again on my watch to start the bike timer and hopped on my bike.  I couldn't see a darn thing because my visor was completely fogged and I was deaf, ha ha.  I knew that the bike course starts with a nice little climb and a turn.  There are a lot of turns on this course as it’s kind of Y shaped.  Anyway, I at least had the foresight to have my bike in the small chain ring so I wasn’t killing myself trying to blindly climb the hill in the wrong gear.  There were a couple of climbs to get out onto the main part of the course so I kept it in the small ring until we got out of the residential neighbourhood we were in and onto the main road.  At some point along here, I opted to hit lap on my watch again because I had seemingly forgotten that I had already done so TWICE.

For those of you that have a Garmin 920xt, you know that you are only supposed to hit lap in triathlon mode when you’re transitioning between sports because that’s what tells the watch that you’re moving either into transition or into another sport.  Because I hit the lap button a third time,  my watch thought I was in T2, but I didn’t realize it at the time.   I was so focused on passing the handful of women in front of me.  I had my head down and I was hammering.  Trying to find the sweet spot between going too hard and just hard enough.  My legs certainly didn’t feel awesome.   Riding 55km the day before probably wasn’t the best idea but I’m down here to ride and this wasn’t an A race so it was what it was.  I was going to do the best with whatever my body had that day. 

I had ridden about 75% of this course on a regular basis over the last 6 weeks so I knew what to expect for most of it.   A  short steep climb, a couple of short grinder climbs, plus one longer grinder and that's about it.  I knew that once you hit the turnaround from the second out and back, you could get some seriously good speed which I had every intention of taking advantage of.   When I came out of the water, the announcer called my name and said I was 22nd out of the water so I had that number in my head.   I had caught and passed 4 women on my way out onto the main road and I had another one in my sights along the flats.  Once I started climbing on the first out and back, I caught two more.  That first climb was steep.  Normally I’d leave it in the big chain ring and muscle it out but 40km is a long way to go when you haven’t raced it in years, so I flipped it into the small ring mid way up the climb and spun my legs out.   I got to the top and was greeted by some wide open space, a false flat and a lot of wind.   No problem.  I've been riding in the wind ever since I got here.  Florida is very windy.  Don't get me wrong, it was still hard, I just wasn't as bothered by it as I normally am.  

The road in this section was fantastic.  It was smooth and rolling and there was a nice big shoulder.   There was also some crowd support at the turnaround which was great to see!  The turnaround was at the bottom of a hill so once you turned around, you had to start climbing again.  The turnaround was nice and wide which meant that for the first time in AGES, I actually didn't unclip when I made the turn.   A-MA-ZING!  I think all my bike riding is paying off.

I made the turn and started up the climb.  I was curious to see how I was doing time wise so I glanced at my Garmin.  What I saw confused me.  It was a screen I didn't really recognize.  So I looked at it again.  I saw 33 something in the corner of the watch face, not in the middle where I expected it to be.  I didn't any distance, speed or power stats.  I glanced at it again.  And then I realized what I was looking at.  Because I hit the lap button THREE times, my watch thought I was in T2.  UGGHGGGHHHHHH.  I didn't want to totally mess myself up for the run, so, I hit lap again and then hit stop and save.   Then I started my watch all over again until I got to the bike section.  At least I'd have half the data from the bike and all of the data from the run.  I did this all while climbing.

By the time I got back out to the main road, I had caught and passed two other ladies.  I was back on Cherry Lake Road, a road I had become very familiar with over the last several weeks.  The climbs out are grinders but the descents on the way back are SO MUCH FUN.   I went up the climbs, made it around the turnaround without unclipping once again (WOOHOO!) and then pushed the pace to the descent.   I put it in my hardest gear and pedaled like mad.   The descent on Cherry Hill has a wide sweeping turn that opens into a nice flat straight away.  It's like a sling shot.   It's such a fun stretch of road to ride.  I whipped along here grinning from ear to ear.  I had one more climb before I turned onto Jalarmy and took it down to Minneola Shores, which was the road I'd take almost all the way to transition.

Once I made the turn onto Minneola Shores, I was smacked in the head with a lovely headwind.  Thank you Florida.  I fought that wind for what seemed like ages.  I could really feel my legs getting tired.   40km is a long way to go when you're pushing the pace.  I was definitely starting to fatigue.  I think had I metered my pacing a bit better I might not have hurt so much.  But hindsight is 20/20.  I finally turned off of Minneola Shores and wound my way through residential streets back to transition.  There was lots of zig-zagging but before I knew it I was back on the descent towards the dismount line.  I hopped off my bike and shuffled into T2.  My legs felt like garbage.

Bike:  1:14:36 - pretty much right where I thought I'd be!  Pretty pleased with this given that it's only March.

I racked my bike and pulled off my helmet.  I was feeling a little discombobulated and I struggled to get my running shoes on.  I finally got them on, grabbed my sunglasses and race belt and ran out of T2 onto the bike path and into, you guessed it, an AWESOME headwind.   To top it off, my legs felt like tree trunks.  I'm not going to lie, I was questioning my choices at that point.  My first km felt awful but eventually I settled into a decent rhythm.  I actually started to feel pretty good in a weird sort of way.  Perhaps everything was going numb so I didn't know any different....Anyway, I was starting to catch some of the women in front of me and I think that lit a fire in me.  Nothing like a target to make you go faster!  Every time I glanced down at my Garmin I was seeing between 4:30's and 4:35's.  Woohoo!  I wondered how long I'd be able to hold on to that pace.  I was feeling pretty strong.  I caught one woman, and then another, and then another.  5km in and I'm still feeling pretty good.  I see the first place woman on her way back so I thought I'd count the number of ladies in front of me.  The first place woman had a pretty big lead on second place and second place had a pretty big lead on third place.  After that the women were much closer together.   At about 7km in, I was starting to fatigue.  Everything was starting to hurt.  I had counted 8 women in front of me at that point.  I caught one and was reeling in another.   There was a lot of YOU GO GIRL and Nice Work - I love that about triathlon - I ALWAYS see that with women when they race.  I don't hesitate to congratulate someone when they pass me or when I pass them.  I had moved up into 7th place.  As I entered the park, I knew the finish line was only about 1.5km away so I started to empty the tank.  The path was lined with spectators, I could hear the finish line music.  Up ahead I spotted another woman.  I couldn't see what was on her calf as the number had smudged.  As I got closer I saw there was a 4 but I couldn't see the other number.  Oh boy.  She was on Team Wattie Ink and a bunch of her team mates were cheering for her as I closed in.  One of them started yelling go go go.  The finish line was literally a few hundred meters away.  I was turning myself inside out to catch her.  I caught up to her a few meters before we turned into the finishing chute.  Her teammates were going nuts encouraging her.  I said nice work as I caught her and fully anticipated a sprint to the finish but I think she was already giving her all.  I passed her and ran like crazy to the finish line.  I left it all out on the course for sure.

Run Time:  45:43 - Better than I had anticipated and right where G thought I'd be!

Overall time:  2:35:34.   Exactly where I thought I'd be, ha ha.   It was definitely a hard fought effort and my Garmin recovery advisor confirmed that.

I had seen G out on the course a few times and he was hurting a bit.  I was hanging out with a few of the people I swim with here, waiting for him to finish.  Sure enough a few minutes later, he comes running into the finishing chute.

We went and got some food and then G asked if I had checked results yet.  I hadn't so we went to check and he told me I had won my age group.  WOOHOO!  He ended up in 5th and a couple that we swim with also ended up on the podium in their respective age groups.

Olympic distance racing is HARD.  It's definitely given me a good idea as to where I'm at fitness wise and what I need to work on over the next few months leading up to Mont Tremblant.  I'm also thinking that at some point I'd like to race another one, maybe later in the season, to see if I can break 2:30.  I know my swim needs some serious work and my transitions were atrocious (3:00 for T1 and 1:50 for T2!) so if I can work on bringing those times down, then I think I have a shot at it.   There's always room for improvement!

We'll be back in Clermont again next year so I think I'll probably race this again.  And I'll make sure I bring a back up swim cap, ha ha.

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