Monday, July 29, 2013

Baby's First Triathlon (Small Texan Relay Race Report)

I was tempted to file this one under "related shenanigans," but it turned out to be quite a race! Of course Shelly has been my training buddy and bestie for years and years, and it's no secret that I've been missing her quite a bit in training lately due to her pregnancy. It's been great to be able to walk on breaks with her at work and swim with her - but that's no substitute for the daily smashfests on the bike and run that we used to endure together. I don't think she'd have any issue with me complaining about this.

What surprised me is that she misses the training and the racing too - I thought she'd be so wrapped up in nesting and whatever else you do to prepare for her little (now cantaloupe sized!) bundle of joy that she wouldn't really be missing all the triathlon stuff - but she totally does. So, because swimming is the one thing she can safely and comfortably do, we signed up for the relay race at the Small Texan out at Boerne Lake - with Shelly as the swimmer, me as the cyclist, and Orissa as the runner. The original Iron Whiners in action at this (sort of) Olympic distance race (1500 m swim, 45K bike, 10K run) under the name "San Antonio Smash."

All three of us talked about this being "just for fun," (ahem, isn't it all!?) but when race day came, of course we each had our goals. Shelly and I drove out to the lake together and met Brian and Orissa there. I have never done a tri relay before and it was quite a different feeling. Not the same pre-race butterflies as usual. Of course, because she was going first, Shelly had all of the butterflies racing around in her belly along with the little one.

We set up in transition and chatted with friends. Attended the pre-race meeting at the lake front, and the men's wave was off. Orissa and I hugged Shelly and sent her down to the water's edge. We watched from the boat ramp as the women and relays took off swimming 5 minutes after the men. Go Shelly! Her little yellow cap went off into the distance among all the green caps - there were only 5 relay teams for the Small Texan.

Orissa and I ran a quick (and exact) three-quarters of a mile to warm up and then we set up inside the transition area. Orissa would grab the chip off Shelly and transport it to my leg, and then I'd run out with my bike. As we stood there, the first racers started to come in. What a different experience that was! Some people are crazy and rushed and panicky in transition; others are smooth and quick. Some sit down and chat for a while. We saw one of the other relay people standing at the other side of the transition. I joked with him that I would chase him on the course later. Roland ran through transition so quickly that he forgot to take off his swim skin - Orissa and I screamed at him to take it off and grabbed it from him at the bike mount line before he took off to ride. Apryl ran through in first place. And then came Shelly! She had crushed the swim and made it up the long boat ramp and into transition in 31 minutes! We were in third place and it was my job to keep us there.

Off onto the bike! I ran out of transition and rushed onto my bike, smiling for Brian's photos and yelling at Linda and Heather who were cheering (so cool to have a cheering squad!). Out onto the I-10 access road and down the route that we used to ride every weekend when we were newbies a few short years ago.

The road was familiar with its chip seal and bumps. My heart rate was high and that was okay - even though Coachie had told me that I should plan to run afterwards, I knew that if I raced the bike right and treated it like a time trial, I wouldn't have anything left for a run and that was okay with me. I was flying. Racing past people and feeling super confident. The road was bumpy - it rattled my right elbow right out of my bars twice! My aero helmet felt hot at first but then I stopped noticing it. The route took us straight out to the Waring general store, and then we turned back towards the lake. Right before the turnaround, I caught a glimpse of the relay rider that I had joked with earlier. He was already coming back the other way. I yelled "I'm coming after you!" or something ridiculous like that, and made it my plan to catch him.

I love out-and-back courses because you can see where everyone is. You can also get encouragement from your friends - I enjoyed exchanging greetings with Carlos, Roland, Apryl, and others that I recognized as we flew by each other. The way back to the lake went by quickly as I picked off more of the riders in front of me.

Then, instead of turning into the lake, we had to ride past it, down a road that I've run on a few times but am not as familiar with. It turns out that there are some pretty nice hills out that direction too, and after hammering it back down the access road of I-10 and expecting more flat-ish terrain, it's a nasty surprise. But never mind, just keep on pushing because you don't have to run afterwards. I raced back into the lake, and as we approached the last half mile, I saw the relay rider...and he was sitting up and slowing down. What? Who does that? I flew past him, screamed and fist pumped like Mark Cavendish winning a sprint finish, and hustled into transition. I think I probably looked like an enormous fool, but it was sooo much fun. I never saw the relay cyclist who was in first place, but I was happy with my time - an 18 mph average! My fastest ever out in Boerne.

After I handed off the chip to Orissa, it took some time for me to collect myself and I barely had the energy to walk to rack my bike. "I'm not running," I told Shelly, Brian and Linda. Brian and I took a dip in the lake and cooled off. Then it was up to the top of the reservoir to cheer Orissa in.

Orissa crushed her run in the ridiculous heat on a course with no shade. She outran the relay runner behind her and put us in 3rd place by 40 seconds. Yahoo! I could tell that she was totally spent just like I had been. AND! She achieved her goal of a sub-9 pace. I poured water over her head and we all screamed excitedly at each other about what a great day it had been. Orissa dipped in the lake and then we went to eat some delicious barbecue. They even served beer!

I found the relay cyclist that I had been chasing and thanked him for motivating me to ride faster. He laughed and said he somehow could tell I wasn't joking when I said I was coming for him. It turns out that their team won first place in the relay division because their runner ran a 35 minute 10K. Amazing!

The girls and I agreed that being beaten by a relay team of 3 male Marines was not too shabby. The second place team ahead of us was quick and strong too. We were proud to be the only all-female team. And then when the awards ceremony came around, it was even more fun to be recognized as the only 4-man relay team, with Shelly's little cantaloupe joining her on the swim.

What a fun day! If you haven't done one before, you should try it. If for no other reason than to just smash yourself on the bike and see what you can do when you don't have to save yourself to run. It was a fantastic day out at the lake with great friends at a great race. I would definitely do this again - we don't even need to have a baby along for the ride as an excuse!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Buffalo Springs Lake Triathlon 2013 Race Report

The Buffalo Springs 70.3 is considered one of the most difficult courses on the half-Ironman circuit, and it's right here in Lubbock, TX, about 6 hours from San Antonio. Last year, when I was unexpectedly offered a discounted entry fee as part of a tri club, I thought, why not try an epic race and see what happens? Well, I had an amazing day in 2012 and even achieved a new half-Ironman personal record time of 6 hours, 13 minutes. So this year, when Dawn and I met after Ironman Texas to decide "what's next," I jumped at the chance to do it again, at Coachie's suggestion. (It's only 6 weeks after IMTX? Can I really do it? "Sure, you have a ton of fitness in you and you had a huge taper for IMTX due to injury and illness. Of course you can! Just think of Ironman Texas as your last long training day for this race." Okay, Coachie.) Bonus: Dawn was also planning on racing Buffalo Springs.

The course is tough because you battle hills, heat, and wind on the bike and the run. The swim and transition area are at the bottom of a (beautiful!) canyon, so the first few hundred meters of the bike course are up a huge hill, climbing out of the canyon. There are a couple of big hills out on the bike course, and because it's always windy in Lubbock and the course is made up of 2 out and backs (imagine one of those pointy barbecue forks with 2 prongs), you ride in all different directions, so you get headwind, crosswind, and tailwind at all different times. The run has 3 long, steep hills spaced pretty evenly through the course, and even has its own "energy lab" section, named after a particularly difficult stretch of the Ironman Kona marathon course that is completely unprotected from the sun and the wind. And it's Lubbock at the end of June, so the temperatures are usually in the 100s.

An added bonus for this race is that we have some good friends who live in Lubbock, so we made plans to get together with them after the race. Robert and I drove up Saturday morning for the Sunday race, with a plan to arrive in time for packet pickup and a warm-up ride and run. Everything went as planned and we arrived in Lubbock around 2 pm on Saturday. In and out of packet pickup/expo, and we headed out to the lake to make sure we could remember how to get there. It had been raining in Lubbock (weird!) and it was freakishly humid outside. The roads were wet and full of puddles. As we parked the car at the lake (trying not to get it stuck in the mud) to get my bike out for a practice ride, Coachie called. Don't do your warm-up stuff, she cautioned. It's too hot and humid. Get to your hotel and rest! She didn't have to tell me twice. I felt sick. Humidity! Just like Ironman Texas. This is not going to be good. I was counting on a "dry heat," which I typically handle far better than humidity.

Pre-race Smash shenanigans with Coachie and Alan.

At 4:15 on race morning, I woke up and checked the weather. Cool temperatures but raining. ARGH. Looked on Facebook and secretly hoped to see a post from the race director offering apologies that the race was cancelled. Nope. Fine then. At the lake, the parking situation was not good due to the rain/mud, so Robert dropped me off at the transition area and drove to find another place to set up to take photos.

Alone for the first time ever before a race, I felt sick and nervous as I wheeled my bike down the hill into transition to get set up. My goals for the race were to be brave (i.e., stay in my aerobars) on the bike, and to PR the run. How could I make the first goal with wet roads and hills? The forecast said that the rain was passing through and would stop by the time the race started. But the roads might still be wet, I whined to myself.

Everything went smoothly and very quickly. I socialized with some friends from home, Kelly, Bob, and Roland. I saw Dawn briefly. And then, before I could blink an eye, it was time to race! We lined up for the beach start and watched the pros go. Two more age groups and then my wave was off. Started my watch, ran into the water with all the women 44 and under, and started swimming. There was less contact than last year because the women were split into 2 waves instead of one, but the sun was out and was directly in our eyes. I sighted off the silhouettes of the swimmers in front of me and prayed they were going in the right direction.

Gorgeous sunrise; yes, this really is Lubbock.

As usual, I couldn't tell how I was doing on the 1.2-mile swim. I felt like I was breathing hard, so I was probably "racing," but I couldn't be sure. Once we turned away from the sun, I sighted the buoy line and passed people from waves ahead of me, which gave me confidence. My new sleeveless wetsuit felt good. And before I knew it, I passed the final turn buoy and was hauled up out of the water by 2 energetic volunteers. Had my wetsuit stripped off and looked at my watch. 32 minutes - I screamed with joy. Are you kidding me?! That's a swim PR by like 3 minutes. I was over the moon, but also trying to figure out if my watch had somehow malfunctioned. (I'm pretty sure the swim was short. After the race, everyone was talking about record times.)

Up the big hill on my bike and out onto the 56-mile course. Saw Robert at the bottom of the first big hill and screamed incoherently at him - it was so great to see him. Rode up the next big hill and settled in. I was actually talking to myself out loud, "That swim time, ridiculous! No way! Ok, forget the swim. Settle down. Focus." My heart rate was high (168) - focus on getting that to come down. Get some nutrition in. It's funny - when I have a bad swim, it affects at least the first few miles of the bike and I have to force myself to get over it. I didn't expect the same thing to happen with a good swim. It took some serious self-talk to get myself to focus on the task at hand.

No need to fake this smile. 

After the first few miles inside the park, we got out onto the farm roads and I was flying on the bike course. Over 20 mph and passing people. The roads were dry, for the most part, except for a few deep puddles that filled the whole road, that I went through praying that there were no potholes hidden underneath. I got down into my aerobars and stayed there. The first hour of the bike flew by. Throughout the ride, I watched the average speed on my Garmin fluctuate between 17.8 and 19 mph. I really wanted to ride faster than last year, and to do that, the average had to stay above 17.8. Saw Coachie and Carlos out there on an out-and-back, and they shouted encouragement. Then the wind picked up (or, we had a tailwind for the first part of the ride. I'm not sure which). For a good 45 minute stretch, it was tough and I was struggling to go 15+ mph. Kelly and Roland passed me and I started to get discouraged. Come on Kris, you're a better cyclist than this. Stay with them. But I couldn't. And I kept thinking about the massive headwind that we had last year for the last 10 miles of the bike, and knew I wouldn't get a bike time better than last year - impossible. Kris! Focus. Stay in the moment.

And then, as I turned for that final stretch, I realized that the wind pattern was the exact opposite of last year. Tailwind! Woo hoo! The final 10 miles were a blur and I went screaming down the road at 25 mph. Even the headwind that I had to fight going back into the park couldn't bring the average back down, and I ended up with a bike split 4 minutes faster than last year.

On the way back into the park.

Seeing Robert and Tony cheering at the park entrance was a huge boost, too. I screamed at them about how great I was feeling. The run course went out past the park entrance in the opposite direction of the bike route, and I knew that they would be expecting me soon on the run. I think that made me move a little quicker. I hustled through T2 and headed out onto the run course. The first 3 miles of the run inside the park were a blur. I felt like I was on familiar ground - I remembered the course well from last year and particularly remembered enjoying watching the pros come in on the the first 3 miles of the out-and-back course. So inspiring to see them racing by to win when I still had 13.1 miles to run. They are so unbelievably fact, Greg Bennett, the winner, posted a new course record of 3:48!

I saw Robert on the way down the second hill near mile 4, and yelled joyfully at him. Throughout the run, I ran steadily and never stopped to walk, not even on the hills. I actually felt great the whole time. There were a couple of times in the last 3 miles that I felt my calves and shins wanting to cramp, but each time, the feeling passed. The entire time, I just kept watching my watch and calculating what I needed to do to get under 6 hours. I had this goal in mind and planned to achieve it by running 20 minutes faster than last year - well, now I had some padding with faster times than I'd counted on for the bike and the swim, so I didn't have to. Which is good, because I didn't. With a 2:13 split for the half marathon, I was only 8 minutes faster on the run than last year. But I will take that, because I know I was moving as fast as I could the entire time.

Ok, maybe I didn't feel awesome the whole time. Trying to fake it here.

I knew that I was going to make my goal of a sub-6 hour race, and as I approached the final half mile, I started to get really emotional. I needed to do well at this race. After spending a year and a half preparing for Ironman, then DNFing in November at Arizona, and then coming up way short of my time goal at Ironman Texas, I needed that feeling of racing. I needed the confidence and pride that it brings. I didn't race at Ironman Texas; I survived it. I raced Buffalo Springs and I'm so proud.

I was feeling all of this as I ran down the final stretch, and I started to cry - an ugly, hyperventilating, dry heaving, sobbing cry that left spectators looking somewhat horrified and Robert, who I passed without a word, looking concerned. And then I crossed the finish line with a time of 5:57 and ran straight into the arms of Dawn, who was there waiting for me (she had finished nearly an hour earlier, in first place in her division) and I started weeping and she was hugging me screaming at me about how f-ing proud she was. Such a cool, ridiculous, overwhelming moment, and I was just thinking and probably yelling out loud, "I LOVE THIS SPORT!" I really do. I am totally, completely in love with the sport of triathlon. And I know now that the 70.3 distance is my soulmate!

Here I am with proud Coachie. Sniffle.

We packed up pretty quickly after the race and headed back to the hotel to clean up. Went to have some lunch with Dawn and then the plan was to go to the awards ceremony and then Robert and I would head to Tony's house for dinner. It would be cool to see Dawn get her award for first place in her age group - how awesome is that!? But I had another reason for wanting to attend - the top finishers in each division get offered a spot at the 70.3 championship race in Las Vegas, and if they don't want the slot, it rolls down to the next person in that age group, and then the next person, until someone claims it. You have to be present to get it. There was a very slight chance that I could claim one of these spots if it rolled down far enough. I can't imagine anything cooler than racing in Las Vegas with all the pros and the best athletes in the sport. I had finished 17th in my age group, so it was a very outside chance.

To make a long story short, I didn't get a Vegas slot. It was pretty cool to watch it happen though. They went through the awards, one age group at a time, starting with the oldest age groups first. As each set of athletes came up to claim their awards (a buffalo statue and a bottle of wine for the top 5 finishers), the announcer called the names of the winners, pictures were taken, and everyone clapped politely. Then he asked the important question of the first place finisher - do you want to go to Vegas? This is when everyone listened a little closer. If they said yes, the crowd clapped politely. If they said no, the announcer asked the second-place person, and so on. And everyone listened intently to see what each person would say.

Coachie on the far left - 1st place AG!

In most cases, the first and second place athletes declined the slots, usually stating that they had already qualified at a previous race. Once everyone on the podium had been asked if they were interested, the slot would roll down in that age group. They brought up a projection of the finishers in the age group and just started reading down the list of names until someone in the audience yelled out "YES!" Most of the slots were claimed by someone in the top 5 athletes. A few age groups rolled down, though. In my age group, the second Vegas slot rolled down to maybe 8th place. In the male 35-39 age group, because there were more competitors in the group, there were more Vegas slots available, and the last one rolled down beyond 25th place. It really is about the luck of the draw!

The whole weekend was pretty awesome. Instead of epic weather, we got beautiful, unseasonably cool temperatures to race in. It was great to be there to see Dawn standing on the podium in first place at the awards. I loved chatting with nervous new triathletes at the start line, socializing with friends before and after the race, and making new friends out on the race course (hmm, I suppose I lost focus for a few minutes on the run after all). I really loved seeing Robert so many times out on the course, and it was so cool that Tony came out to cheer too and to learn a little bit about the sport from Robert. I enjoyed and appreciated the words of encouragement from other competitors out on the course, and the energy and joy coming from spectators and volunteers. There's something really special about the triathlon community, and I'm so grateful to be a part of it. All in all a great weekend of racing!